Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Carter, Reagan and the Cargo Cult (1980)

From the July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two long-running news stories have been jostling each other in the headlines of the daily papers for some time now: the troubles in the New Hebrides, and the United States presidential elections. There are perhaps more similarities between them than appear on the surface.

The New Hebrides group of islands, east of Australia and north of New Zealand, came to the attention of French and British sailors in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, said a recent article in the Observer (25.5.80) by Alexander Frater, who was born there, “great forests of sandalwood were found, and the European invasion began. It was a holocaust of wholesale kidnapping, treachery and casual slaughter. Western diseases swept the islands, huge tracts of tribal land were stolen”. A hundred years ago the population was supposed to have numbered about a million. In 1936 it was down to 22,000—ninety-eight per cent of the native people had died out under the impact of capitalism. It is a common enough story throughout the areas of the world colonised by Western European entrepreneurs.

European greed
Britain and France both wanted the islands, but neither was prepared to fight for them; so they established a joint-ownership, a condominium, which began in the 1880s. So the two powers were jointly in control while the native population nearly died out. At the same time the Scots Presbyterian Church started sending in numerous missionaries (including Alexander Frater’s grandfather). They denounced the greed of the Europeans, but they also, wrote Frater, inflicted “terrible damage on the population. Having banished traditional tribal values and practices, they offered nothing substantial to replace them: the Sunday ‘sing-song' was not enough. The people grew apathetic: many sickened and died. To make matters worse, a few islanders went to the other extreme and formed themselves into vigilante squads, punishing anyone disobeying the mission teachings. The social centre of many villages became the whipping post.”

Now Britain and France, dwarfed by the growth of capitalist super-powers like Russia and America, and forced by by their reduced importance in the world to liquidate their empires, are getting out. An independence day for the New Hebrides (where the population has now recovered to all of 112,000) has been fixed for July 1980. In a condominium (called a pandemonium by the natives, since the British and French rulers are always at odds) irrelevant antagonisms are immediately available; an English-speaking and a French-speaking party contested a general election, and the former won (by means of rigging the polls, say the latter). So the party to form the first independent government will be Anglophone. Secessionist groups are springing up, covertly supported by the French. Two islands are chiefly affected: Espiritu Santo in the north, where a local Eurasian notable called Jimmy Stevens has already declared UDI, and Tanna in the south.

The jumble of competing economic, national and religious influences in the islands (the French, Catholic themselves, deliberately supported heathenism to counter Scottish Presbyterian influence) has resulted in the appearance of the Cargo Cult in the New Hebrides. This seems to have originated in Papua, which had a similar history of colonial exploitation (by the British, in this case, on their own: the British and Dutch divided the island of New Guinea, the British half being Papua; the other half was ultimately conquered by the “liberating” Indonesian army and is now being held down by a murderous Indonesian dictatorship, under the name of “West Irian”). In Papua the idea spread that a great man was coming, who would solve all problems, make his followers immortal and distribute cars, washing machines and so on to all the faithful. He is coming in an aeroplane, a great white bird, and the Papuan Cargo Cultists have cut airstrips in the jungle, complete with rickety “control towers” and land-bound “aeroplanes” to attract the forthcoming white bird, which will also carry the believers’ ancestors. The cult has taken root in the New Hebrides, particularly on the island of Tanna. There the coming hero is known as John Frum, and the movement’s political wing, the Jonfrum Party, has two MPs in the New Hebrides Assembly. Subdivisions of the cult on Tanna have identified John Frum variously as ex-President Lyndon Johnson, several members of the French Communist Party and the Duke of Edinburgh. (Death, which has in fact removed Lyndon Johnson from active campaigning, is no impediment to the religious enthusiast: the dreadlocked Rastafarians of Jamaica and Brixton know that their chosen Messiah, the ex-Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, is still going to lead them to a land of plenty, despite his recent decease.)

The apotheosis of the Duke of Edinburgh apparently came about because a British Resident Commissioner suggested him as a candidate (no doubt the French Resident Commissioner was advocating prominent Frenchmen for the same office). The affair was scaled by the Duke himself who, flattered on hearing of his new status, sent out a large signed portrait of himself, which is now jealously guarded and displayed as reverently as priests treasure a saint’s toe-nail. The devotees look forward eagerly to the Duke’s arrival. The “airfield” for his plane has been hacked out of the bush, and the necessary costume, a penis gourd or straw codpiece, has been forwarded to Buckingham Palace.

Second Coming
Many newspaper writers and TV commentators have had a good laugh at the expense of the Cargo Cult, before retiring solemnly to worship at the shrines of their own version of the delusion, that father and mother of cargo cults, Christianity. Frater himself, visiting the island of Paama, had no hesitation in knocking up a sermon for 400 local Presbyterians, “based on a couple of verses from John, chapter 14”. All early Christians believed that Jesus was returning in person to solve all problems, confer immortality and distribute goodies. The belief waned somewhat, but returned with vigour as the year 1000 (the “millenium”) approached, and will no doubt revive more widely as the year 2000 gets nearer (round numbers have a fascination to the irrational). Many Christian sects have never abandoned the belief in the literal bodily Second Coming; and it is standard orthodoxy throughout the church that the world will end on a given date, though we shall apparently then go to join the great man, and the spirits of our ancestors, rather than having them come back to us. Whether a belief is any less illogical when proclaimed in a sumptuous cathedral with glorious spires and towers pointing heavenwards than it is when announced in a leaning bamboo “control tower” pointing more or less in the same direction could no doubt be debated by the assorted faithful.

It may be that many Christians now only half believe in the Christian teachings-bishops are always telling us so. But the philosophy of the Cargo Cult is still flourishing in the Western world, and striking examples of it are depicted daily in our newspapers. The present run-up to the United States Presidential elections is one obvious case. Every four years hopes rise to a peak. Eager eyes search the horizon: rumours of possible saviours come and go: and at last the devotees divide into two armies, each with its own coming Great Man. It has never worked before, they concede ruefully; but this time all will be well! The Great Man will arrive, not in a white bird, but in the White House, and he will solve all problems, confer immortality if not on individuals then at least on the USA and its supremacy, and distribute all manner of good things.
Each claimant to the title will make his promises and swear his oaths to introduce a near-paradise (the New Deal, the New Frontier, the Great Society); and at the end, after the shouting has died away, the capitalist class which really rules America can be sure that the elected incumbent will do his best for capitalism. Whatever the pledges, whatever the promises, the scope for action is strictly limited, and must be so in any country where the vast majority are dedicated to the preservation of the capitalist system.

In 1960 the Americans elected John F. Kennedy President and Lyndon B. Johnson Vice-President; they were going to lead the world forward to better times, a new era was dawning. In fact Kennedy sent advisers and arms supplies to South Vietnam, and Johnson, after Kennedy’s assassination, ordered in hundreds of thousands of combat troops. In 1968 Nixon was elected because he pledged withdrawal from the morass of the Vietnamese war, and yet he kept the troops there. When he did pull them out, it was only after the next election of 1972, when US capitalism had decided that the situation was beyond saving. In 1972, the US people voted in Nixon and Spiro Agnew after a “law and order” campaign, to lead a crusade against immorality and crime and establish a high-principled government. They were, it turned out, both crooks. Agnew had to resign less than a year later, after a federal investigation brought to light his corrupt practices (taking bribes, avoiding income tax, and so on) both as Baltimore chief executive and Maryland Governor and as Vice-President. Within two years Nixon had been forced to resign after it had been revealed how had been part of the Watergate Conspiracy. These two lawbreakers, Nixon and Agnew, had won the greatest ever victory at a Presidential election. Every state in the Union went for them, with the sole exception of Massachusetts. Even F. D. Roosevelt never got such majorities. And they both broke the law they had been elected to preserve and defend.

Jimmy Carter
The reaction against the smart big city operators brought in the “country boy” Jimmy Carter from rural Georgia in 1976. And he has given every appearance of being out of his depth ever since. More than one of his entourage has departed from the White House under a cloud. Some of his supporters soon turned against him. “Party workers who supported Mr Carter in 1976 now speak of him with bitterness. They blame him personally for unemployment and inflation, calling him a hypocrite, a liar, an incompetent" (The Times, 3.6.80). But enough of the Democrats, rallying round “their” country after the Iranian seizure of the American embassy, came to his rescue to ensure him the nomination this time as well. His main Democratic rival was Edward Kennedy, who unfortunately behaved in a dubious way both when taking his college exams and after the accident at Chappaquidick. Some commentators, however, incline to the view that without the Ayatollah Khomeini, Carter would not have withstood Kennedy’s attempt to gain the nomination. In the event Carter will almost certainly fight in November against the Republican champion, Ronald Reagan, a handsome but aged ex-actor who has only a tenuous hold on the simplest rules of arithmetic. He thinks, for example, that when Lyndon Johnson cut individual taxes by 19.4 per cent, and corporate taxes by 7.7 per cent, that it constituted a “27 per cent average across the board”. An average would depend on how much tax was collected from individuals, and how much from corporations, but it would have to be more than 7.7, and less than 19.4. Many other examples of Reagan's elementary errors are given in The Times, 23.5.80. Reagan now makes military-sounding noises, threatening to get Russia in line by using the big stick, but if elected can be relied upon to go along with the desires of the American ruling class (whether that is more bellicose or more pacific from time to time).

But with an electorate which is brainwashed into supporting capitalism, in which the great majority are simply voting for the continuance of their own exploitation, such strange “leaders” as these can rise to the top. And it is no part of a socialist’s business to recommend more or less efficient or honest contenders as executives of American capitalism. All we can say is that the workers of the USA, just as much as the people of the New Hebrides, both of whom are now scanning the horizon for the great man who is to come and heal all ills, are going to be as disappointed in the future as they have been in the past.
Alwyn Edgar

How do you rate? (1980)

From the July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

1. A police check on your car reveals that many parts arc defective and dangerous. Do you:
a) Plead pressure of work and tell him to spend more time chasing social security scroungers?
b) Tell him that, if he doesn’t back off you will mention his impertinence to the Chief Constable at the next Hunt Ball?
c) Insist that, in a society which produces its wealth in order to make profit for a minority, most goods are cheap and nasty—some even dangerous?
d) Scream about harrassment by the fuzz?
e) Meekly admit your guilt and plead for forgiveness?

2. You can’t get a blade for your pocket knife because the shop says there’s a shortage. Do you:
a) Say that it’s all the fault of the lousy steel strikers, who should be locked up or deported?
b) Wonder aloud what we would do without the small business man?
c) Engage the shop assistant in a discussion on the real meaning of “shortage”, mentioning the existence of starvation in the midst of plenty, the potential abundance of the world which is frustrated by a system of commodity production?
d) Blame it on Third World exploitation by “Big Business”?
e) Hope they’ll turn them into ploughshares?

3. The banks all announce record profits. Do you:
a) Ring them all up and ask about a loan to tide you over?
b) Smile as you recall how many banks you have shares in?
c) Curse as you use up part of your valuable lunch break in the queue to pick up some silly bits of paper which this social system says you must have before you can get what you need to live?
d) Recommend that the banks be nationalised.
e) Reflect that, as the old testament says that interest is a mortal sin and the new testament says it is OK, the whole thing is very confusing?

4. The prophets of the press predict a nuclear war. Do you:
a) Check your insurance policy?
b) Buy a few thousand shares in nuclear shelters?
c) Campaign even more vigorously for the abolition of the system which makes such wars inevitable, which devotes such an enormous part of its wealth and ability to the production of weapons — all in the interests of a parasitic minority?
d) Set out on ban the bomb demos? 
e) Think that, although he obviously moves in a mysterious way, god is on our side?

How do you rate?
Majority of as: You’re probably a small business man, hanging on by the skin of your teeth against competition from the big combines. Stop pretending that you’re a capitalist and start thinking about a new society.
Majority of bs: You’re a member of the capitalist class, so what are you doing reading this?
All cs: You’ve seen through the sham of capitalism and have realised the need for a social revolution to bring in socialism. If you’re not already a member of the SPGB, apply at once to join.
Majority of ds: Call yourself a socialist?
Majority of es: You obviously believe that you’ll get your reward in heaven, so it doesn’t matter what happens to us here and now. Sucker.
W. G. Grace

People are not treated as human beings (1980)

From the July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The problem of production has been solved long ago; scarcity is no longer a necessity. However, the vast productive forces of the world have yet to be harnessed to the satisfaction of human needs. Instead they are used only where a profit can be made, monopolised and controlled by a minority to the detriment of the vast majority of us. We who make up this majority do all kinds of work—in mines, on ships, in factories, shops, offices and schools—but we have one thing in common: we are every one of us sellers of working power.

This spirit of the market place and the accountant’s office pervades the whole of our social relations. We who operate the productive apparatus are regarded not as human beings but, first of all, as a part of that apparatus. Our basic needs are met only as a means to our productive efficiency and not for their own sake; they are measured as costs. Human beings are not ends in themselves; they are but instruments in the productive machine. Commercial and costing values takes precedence over human values.

The modern productive machine requires a very diverse labour force to keep it going. This force must be housed, trained, transported, maintained and entertained as cheaply as possible, in so far as this is compatible with productive efficiency. In housing this means that we must be as near to where we are needed as possible; we must be concentrated around the centres of employment in cities and towns. Our dwellings must be adequate for their purpose as places where we can recuperate our energies for the next day’s work and rear a new generation of workers to supply future employment needs.

In education it means we must be taught the rudiments of industrial discipline and its skills. We must learn to respect authority, work hard and keep fit and healthy to this end. A few of us may be selected for further training of a more advanced kind. Still fewer will be trained even more. In the field of health there must be an efficient back-to-work service for patching us up and re-starting our productive efficiency whenever it breaks down. Measures must also be taken to see that our efficiency is harmed as little as possible by an unhealthy environment. Sanitation and sewage must be provided; a few trees planted and green fields set aside as parks. A public transport system must be set up to carry us to our places of work as cheaply and quickly as possible. To help us recreate our working energy, we must be provided with entertainment on a mass scale.

This is life today; people treated not as human beings but as productive instruments. Even those workers who are treated with the care of precision instruments can’t escape this general inhuman existence. This would be objectionable enough were we maintained properly, but we are not. As productive instruments we are not housed and transported efficiently; the schools in which we are supposed to be educated are overcrowded and inadequate; the congestion in the cities affects our health and has by-products of crime and aimless violence. All this adds to our misery. Even so, most of us are still content to demand only a decent slave's existence. The capitalist political parties merely promise to solve these problems in keeping with our status as productive instruments. They think in terms of a more efficiently fed, housed, healthy and educated labour force. Productive methods are always changing and throwing up new problems for them to promise to settle. Thus there is a continuous housing problem, a transport problem, an education problem, an immigration problem and many others.

Degrading system
Socialists reject the present degrading social system lock, stock and barrel; we will have nothing to do with patching it up and making it more efficient. We want men and women to free themselves from this existence and set up a truly human society in which the productive machine will be used to satisfy the many and various needs of people. What we want is a new society in which the commodity and cost status of human beings will be ended.

Our whole miserable and aimless existence can be traced back to the social system under which we live. The basis of this system is the use of the productive machine to create articles for sale on a market with a view to profit; the other side of this coin is the fact that the working ability of those who do the producing is bought, sold and accounted as a cost. This two-sided relationship is the basis of our present social existence. Profit and cost count for everything. Human relations are bound up in the cash nexus. Those who monopolise the productive machine are dependent on the market; the rest of us are dependent on employment. Where there is a market and where there is employment, there people are gathered. The two, to a certain extent, go together since where many producers are gathered, there is a potential market in supplying the inputs necessary for the reproduction of working power. Thus a characteristic of the present system is the ever growing urban area; in 4 per cent of the total area of England and Wales, made up by the six great conurbations centred on London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle, lives 40 per cent of the population. In Scotland nearly half the population lives around Glasgow on the Clydeside. This urban congestion presents the capitalist system with a cost problem, especially in the fields of housing and transport; but the housing and transport situations are only aggravating circumstances of modern existence.

One aspect of urban life on this scale, which has not escaped sociologists, is the absence of any genuine feeling of community or fraternity. People don’t feel a part of each others’ lives. We endure a fragmented and meaningless existence from day to day. We appear as separate, isolated individuals competing against each other. As befits our status as mere productive instruments of varying quality, we are divided and classified by a host of invidious social distinctions based on such criteria as place of work, type of job, accents or make of car. This is a part of the general degradation of the present system, of its enhancement of non-human values. We don’t treat each other as human beings in this status grading. We judge a person not for what they are, but for what they have.

Not only are we treated as productive instruments but we have to bear the added indignity of being treated as a market. We arc continuously subjected to a barrage of insulting and lying advertising, some of it for products of positive harm to the human constitution. This campaign encourages the invidious distinctions we make between ourselves. We are encouraged to ape our supposed betters. The world of advertising is a dream world in which we arc invited to escape from the miserable existence of everyday life by buying our way to security. Escapism too is the keynote in the field of entertainment: violence, “spectacular” films, film stars and pop idols—a lot of glamour and tinsel; bread and circuses. Bingo, horse-racing, the dogs and the pools are all attempts to escape from the rat race which existence for most of us now is.

And rat race is the word as the pace of life is ever quickening. Time is money. Instant this and instant that, see to it that we don’t waste time and energy as we rush about in our endless search for security. Quite what this endless rush and mass-produced cheap food is doing to our constitutions physically and mentally is hard to gauge but it is clear that, even from the point of view of us as animal organisms, our present existence is harmful and unbalanced. There can be no doubt about it: the society we live in is rotten to the core. This misery is not abating; it is getting worse.

Do we have to put up with this? Is such a life the inevitable product of an industrial society? A study of history and of society shows that our present plight is the product of the social system under which we live. A social system which degrades human beings to the status of productive instruments; a system which, by its nature, is only capable of providing a life of emptiness and falsity.

It is the very basis of society-the private property set-up which is responsible for the degrading life and atmosphere of today. No piecemeal tinkering will solve this problem; what is required is a social revolution—a change in the basis of society which will allow the productive machine to be used to satisfy our many needs. This is not a utopian dream. The productive resources of the world are quite sufficient to allow men and women to free themselves from their present degradation. We can construct a world society which will be a community in the real sense of the term, in which we can treat others as fellow human beings; in which we can assert the balance between human beings and society and society and nature; in which we can live a truly human life.
Adam Buick

Battered wives and battered babies (1980)

From the July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Family Rescue (formerly Women’s Aid), the independent refuge charity for battered wives, is approached by about 700 women every month in Britain. In the North Wales county of Clywd massive steelworks redundancies have recently coincided with an increase in the incidence of reported cases of wife-beating to 18 per cent of married women. But the extent of domestic violence will never be possible to estimate with any accuracy, since many cases must go unreported. In 1979, though, the NSPCC was involved in 38,078 cases of suspected child-abuse, and statutory enactments relating to the crime of infanticide have by no means become redundant; about two babies are beaten to death every day of the year in this country.

Erin Pizzey, who founded Chiswick Women’s Aid in 1971, is the author of a Penguin special, Scream Quietly Or The Neighbours Will Hear (1974). The book includes details of many of the women who sought refuge in Women’s Aid centres. While emotional shock tactics will not in themselves solve anything, there is good reason for reading the book. The horrific details of individual cases make clear that this is one of the most physically damaging and mentally debilitating social problems produced and fostered by capitalism.

The fact that wife-beating and other domestic violence are often caused by the economic conditions forced upon the working class of the world is made clear by the latest annual report of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children:
“The threat of an economic recession; high unemployment; fears of redundancy; rising prices; diminished support from public funds—all these factors add to family tensions and to the risks to children becoming scapegoats.”
Needless to say, wives can equally well serve as scapegoats. Capitalism is a system in which the vast majority are forced to sell their labour power to enterprises or states, for wages or salaries because that is the only way they can live. The NSPCC report concedes the extent to which this is the cause of social problems; even in the Year of the Child (one of capitalism’s more nauseating black jokes), there were “. . . thousands of cases where children have been reported as being left alone . . . All too often neglect comes because parents have to go to work from sheer necessity” and a recent report by the Study Commission on the Family notes that
“To achieve the same relative living standards which might have been afforded in the 1950s through the efforts of one breadwinner, families of the 1970s increasingly required the employment of two wage-earners.”
Living in cramped homes on low rate food and in sub-standard conditions, the working-class husband and wife face each other and a series of financial problems, ranging from mortgage payments to finding the money for some shoes for the children. When to this is added the strain of capitalist monogamy itself, with its ideal of domestic bliss and harmony to live up to, its hypocritical morality and its barely concealed legalised prostitution, the tension can sometimes reach breaking-point: a baby crying, or a jealous suspicion.

A system of society where the means of life are monopolised by a minority class depends upon the passive or active assent of the majority to this massive theft. It also needs force, both to ensure that no individual steps out of line and, on a much larger scale, when two nations send their working classes to murder each other in an attempt to settle some capitalist dispute over markets or raw materials. So violence is bred by a society which depends upon humiliating, intimidating force as an integral part of its constitution. In war, violence is hailed as the greatest of virtues, provided that it is used against “the enemy”, and this ideology is difficult to erase when the war ends.

Moreover, the social impotence of any member of the working class in relation to the productive machinery he or she helps to operate is very likely to produce a bitter frustration, which can only be relieved by the worker trying to disprove his impotence. The attempt to achieve such control or power may take the form of a clumsy and violent attack made on wife or children. Mere employees, who possess nothing but their own ability to work, form the vast majority in capitalist society and yet have no power or control over production, which is run solely for the profit of the capitalist class. This manifest impotency in society can lead to some workers bullying others. This is the cause of sexually inspired violence between man and wife.

All of these reasons for wife-beating stem from the same root cause: the pressures imposed upon the working class in a capitalist system of society. The Times Higher Education Supplement (4.4.80) reviewing Violence Against Wives: A Case Against The Patriarchy by Rebecca and Russell Dobash, explains that the most frequent source of confrontation, according to the Dobashs’ extensive research, is
“Sexual jealousy (almost always unfounded), followed by disagreements over money, and the husband's expectations regarding the woman’s house-making . . . the majority of attacks take place when the husband is sober, contrary to the popular idea of the drunken husband.”
To comprehend this problem of “sexual jealousy”, account must be taken of the historical development of the monogamous marriage in capitalism.

Since the first appropriation of surplus wealth as property occurred at a time when there was a clear division of labour between hunting meat on the part of the man and gathering vegetable foods and managing the home on the part of the woman, and since this first property fell in the domain of the former, it was men who became the first property owners. Consequently patrilineal descent was required to replace the “Mother-right” which had previously prevailed. “The division of labour within the family had regulated the division of property between the man and the woman.” (Engels, The Origin Of The Family.) If a woman bore a child not fathered by her husband, she would be bestowing his property upon the progeny of another. He, conversely, could bestow his property where he chose. Monogamous marriage arose from the need for men to direct their property to heirs whom they knew they had fathered. It soon becomes clear, though, that it is only the propertied, capitalist class for whom marriage is still based on considerations of inheritance.

One suggestion sometimes made as to why some men beat their wives is that it is a psychological complaint which is taught from father to son through the generations of a family. It may be true that some working-class families have experienced a good deal more domestic violence than others, but to try to explain it away as a sort of congenital, inherited disease is to ignore the objective, external conditions which actually provoke the problem. No such problem occurs in a vacuum; it is a social phenomenon, produced by the way in which society is organised.

Sometimes it is suggested that the wives actually experience masochistic pleasure from being beaten, and therefore intentionally provoke it. The fact that many of them remain with or return to their husbands is adduced as evidence for this. It is probable that some women have learnt to like such treatment, seeing it as a sex substitute, but there are more substantial reasons for their apparent inertia:
“I have left my husband in desperation five times, but have had to return for my children's sake, as he didn’t take care of them in my absence.” (Pizzey, p. 21.)
“I don't love him any more but it seems that society is forcing me to stay with him” (p. 35).
“I can’t leave the children and it is a job to get a room with children.” (P.48.)
“I really would like a separation, but how do you find a place to live with four children?” (p. 86).
“One has to be a mother, father, breadwinner and housekeeper alongside the continual terror, in my case, of being discovered by my husband and assaulted yet again." (p. 88).
The problem of wife-beating is by no means a new one; it has been prevalent in most previous forms of property society. Until about 150 years ago it was recognised in British law that a man had the right to chastise and confine his wife. He can still rape her without breaking the law. As early as 1395, Margaret Neffeld charged her husband with knifing her and breaking her bones. He claimed before an ecclesiastical court that he had acted solely for the purpose of “reducing her from errors". Judicial separation was refused by the court. It was not until the Matrimonial Causes Act 1878 that magistrate’s courts had the power to grant a separation order with maintenance to a wife whose husband had been convicted of aggravated assault upon her.
“The Dobashs discovered that wife battering, far from being the action of a pathological individual (a theory dear to many), is a mode of behaviour revered, respected and encouraged for centuries. Throughout Western history, there has been legal, political, economic and ideological support for a husband’s authority over his wife, and this includes his using physical force against her.” (The Times H.E.S. 4.4.80.)
The problem threatens co-habitees as much as wives, and from a legal point of view the former can be in an even worse position, Emotional assault, too, can be very disturbing, even if its effects are less tangible. In some countries, wife-beating is still legal, and in Great Britain it is difficult for the woman to obtain “satisfaction” in a judicial process. In any case, whatever laws are made in an attempt to cope with such a problem, both the aggressor and his bruised wife will remain wretched victims of a social system which makes beasts of them.

The motive behind the attitude of social workers is to support and sustain the family ideal. The police are loath to take any action in what they refer to as “domestic matters”. The Family Service Unit, a body established to deal with the “problem family”, said in a 1973 journal: “It is important to differentiate between sporadic ‘battering’, which can be regarded as part of a normal marriage, particularly in certain cultural groups, and more persistent beating”.

So much for relying on charity to mop up after capitalism. Some of the battered women are given ECT—shock treatment or even leucotomies in mental hospitals to “ease the pain”, leaving them with a dull indifference to all that goes on around them. The offending items are cut off from the gaze of society, the deranged mind deflated to indifference. Social workers categorise cases with a cool, clinical calm.

However much Erin Pizzey's suggested reform measures may be well-intentioned, and however much individual battered women appreciate the refuge temporarily offered to them by Family Rescue, the fact is that however many refuge houses are built for its casualties, capitalism will produce enough damaged and degraded people to fill all of them over and over. The only meaningful step to take, is for the men and women of the working class to unite and face up to the way in which they do not come together in affection but are thrown together under intolerable conditions in order to stoke up profits for a leisured minority class into which they were not born.
Clifford Slapper

Mental ill-health and suicide (1980)

From the July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

One in six women and one in nine men must expect at some time during their lives to be patients in a psychiatric ward. Between 1972 and 1982 more than one million people in Britain will have sought psychiatric help, and many more in need of it will have suffered alone.

Of every £100 spent on the National Health Service, only £14 is allocated to mental health and mental handicap, even though over 40 per cent of all hospital beds are occupied by the mentally sick. In 1972, £65 a week was spent on people in hospital with “physical” disorders and less than £22 on mental patients; the proportions have not changed significantly since then. It is admitted that, with very few exceptions, mental hospitals are old, grim and, often in spite of tremendous efforts by medical and nursing staff, a totally unsuitable environment for the mentally sick. Psychiatric out-patients have doubled in the last ten years and attendance at psychiatric day hospitals has almost trebled in the same period. Nevertheless there is still an astounding ignorance and consequent (usually unadmitted) fear on the whole subject, and the use of phrases like “looney bin” and “lunatic asylum” is still common. Those with a known history of mental illness are approached with trepidation. In the United States a study by G. M. Crocetti (Contemporary Attitudes towards Mental Illness, 1974) showed that 71-93 per cent of those surveyed were prepared to work with colleagues who had been mentally ill; 79 per cent were willing to share accommodation; 64 per cent thought they could “fall in love” with someone with such a history, but only 30 per cent were prepared to accept such a person as a close relative. Although exact figures are not available, there are strong indications that refusal to accept people with a history of mental illness is often the cause of relapse or even suicide by men and women who cannot find a place in society after discharge from treatment.

Mental illness can take the form of neurosis, psychosis, hysteria, or (most common) different types of depression. Its principal cause is STRESS, which in some degree is necessary to lead a meaningful life; in modern capitalism, however, it quite often leads to acute anxiety and mental illness ending, too often, in attempted or successful suicide. David Ennals in his book Out of Mind lists twelve causes of stress in modem life:
" . . . overcrowding, pressure of traffic, noise, struggle against poverty, unemployment, homelessness, loneliness, rejection, inability to keep up with the increasing speed and competitiveness of modern life, the survival of the fittest and the most ruthless, the rush for money and power, the anonymity of life in large cities.”
It would be difficult to better describe the problems besetting workers under capitalism, and he concludes: “Statistics about gross national product, productivity and material wealth have little to do with human happiness”.

A working class condition
Not surprisingly, poor environment greatly affects mental health. A recent study of British Service families in Germany in high rise flats showed that there was a greater incidence of mental illness the higher up they lived. A study in Bristol came up with the same results: one mother in three was attending her doctor or taking a prescription for a neurotic condition. However, almost identical figures came up in a study of working class terrace housing and work done by the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association shows clearly the greater vulnerability to mental illness in lower income groups.

Mental illness causes more lost working days than accidents, industrial disease, colds or industrial disputes, yet the Committee on Safety and Health at Work (July 1972) completely ignored it. An examination of a sample of 2,000 men showed that 17 per cent had stress symptoms, Of these by far the highest percentage (65 per cent) was stress due to work.
Bernard Ineichen in Mental Illness (1974) quotes a leading investigator into connections between mental health and working class conditions:
“The unsatisfactory mental health of working people consists in no small measure of their dwarfed desires and deadened initiative, reduction of their goals, and restriction of their efforts to the point where life is relatively empty and only half meaningful . . . reduction of striving is at one and the same time an aspect of poor mental health and a safeguard against even worse mental health.”
For many, repetitive, soul-destroying jobs are the only ones available, or are taken because of comparatively high wages. On the other hand, managerial jobs are demanding, mean long hours, fear of failure, nervous exhaustion and overwork. Again, unemployment and lack of money leads to loss of self-esteem in a system where people are usually judged by what they have rather than what they are.

The very high rates of suicide in the 1930s (115 per 100,000 of male population) were directly related to social, economic and industrial difficulties. There was an expected drop during the war, a return to higher figures immediately afterwards (95 per 100,000) and a considerable drop by 1972 (76 per 100,000). The figures for women varied less dramatically (from a peak of 50 per 100,000 in 1955, repeated in 1965, to about 40 per 100,000 in 1970—earlier figures are not available). Thus it can be seen that although the proportion of women who suffer from mental illness is one and a half times higher than men, the percentage who commit suicide is just over half. It is also surprising that the overall rate has so dramatically decreased in recent years even though economic and social conditions in many ways resemble those of the ’30s when the rate was highest.

These figures are not parallelled in any other country. In Japan there has been a drop from the previous very high rate, which social scientists attribute, at least in part, to the replacement of feudal duties (including Hari-Kiri if you let your lord down) by Western style capitalism. In Israel the rate fluctuates according to the state of hostilities, and the drop in Australia appears related to the statutory limitations on the prescription of barbiturates introduced in the 1960s. The introduction of “blister” packs—where each tablet must be individually handled—is a considerable deterrent to the impulsive over-doser. As about half of all suicides or attempted suicides are by self-poisoning this measure, even within the economics of capitalism, seems essential. Another impediment to suicide has been the introduction of natural gas which could still kill by asphyxiation or explosion, but very seldom does. (A sidelight on the American Constitution and the “right to carry arms”, as vehemently defended by the powerful gun lobby, is that in California over a third of all suicides are by firearms—a method which does not allow the ‘second chance' permitted by overdosing.)

The two social factors most clearly associated with the high suicide rate in the 1930s were social isolation and geographical mobility. The most typical suicides were middle-aged or elderly men living alone in bed-sitters, separated by many miles from their nearest relatives. This should be remembered by those who today speak blithely of “the mobility of labour” and the need for workers (other workers, never they themselves of course) to “go where the work is”. Suicide rates decrease at times of war, as does mental illness generally. During the 1969/70 riots in Belfast, suicides were halved. In spite of the danger, “being in it together” appears to give a sense of purpose loneliness and feeling apart and isolated have the opposite effect.

Attempted suicide should more properly be referred to as self-injury; probably only a minority of people who injure themselves deliberately intend to die. Self-injury has increased dramatically in post-war years, and particularly since 1960. About 19 of every 20 hospital admissions for self-injury today are due to drug overdoses; many of these are not intended as the final act, but are a cry for help. Suicidal attempts in the early 1960s were 30/40,000 a year, which increased to over 50,000 in the early 1970s. However actual deaths fell from 5,000 to 4,000, decreasing not only in actual numbers, but the “success” rate dropped from 17 per cent to 8 per cent.

Depressive illness accounts for at least two-thirds of all suicides. Emile Durkheim in his study of suicide at the end of the nineteenth century contrasted the life of French villagers in their close-knit communities with those who strayed into the industrial cities. The former inter-dependent community experienced a comforting sense of solidarity whereas the latter, surrounded by strangers, though free of the constraints and rules of their previous rural life, became isolated, alienated and depressed.

Suicide rate
The fall in the suicide rate in recent years has coincided with the growth of the Samaritans—an organisation of men and women who talk to people in deep personal distress. Between 1964 and 1974 their “clients” rose from 12,000 to 156,000 and the numbers are steadily rising.

Many suicidal people are at the end of their tether because they feel isolated, either physically or because they cannot communicate with those close to them. It is the alienation which is part of present day life which makes the “befriending” of the Samaritans so successful; talking to someone who “has no axe to grind” helps to dispel the isolation and despair felt by the man or woman contemplating suicide and makes them feel able to carry on living. Samaritans do not give advice or try to convert their “clients”, either religiously or politically.

There are counselling services in other countries, but they are usually run by paid “professionals” or are religion dominated. Counselling services offered in Sweden and Norway are firmly based in the Lutheran Church, whereas Stuttgart is not the only town in Germany where rival Protestant and Catholic telephone emergency services exist (referral across town if the potential suicide rings the wrong number?).

Until the end of the nineteenth century, our forebears put up with conditions, hardships and humiliation which we would consider unbearable; they did so because they saw no alternative. Today, surrounded by advertising, films and television programmes constantly reminding us how much better off others are, people feel cheated if their own standards do not reach such levels. Doctors, no less than dockers, have to accept that if they do not constantly strive to improve their working conditions, they will “fall behind”. Not only deprivation, but inability to “keep up with the Joneses” leads to neurosis and depression. To counteract this, drug companies have devoted their energies in the last twenty years to perfecting tranquillisers and anti-depressants. The trouble, of course, is that these ameliorate effects but do nothing to remove the cause. In London alone there are at least 11 voluntary organisations in addition to the Samaritans who try to help those in danger of “going under”.

Dr. Richard Fox, Consultant Psychiatrist at Severalls Hospital Stevenage, concluded his paper to the Royal Society of Health Conference in September 1974 by stating:
“Durkheim said in 1897 that the suicide rate of any society was an index of that society’s structure and the general quality of life in all its facets. The stability of suicide figures whatever methods are available supports that hypothesis. To prevent suicide, it follows you have somehow to try to change society and to change the quality of life.”
While Durkheim did not accept Marx’s social theory, he came closer to the solution than most doctors, psychiatrists and other well-meaning people who try to help those who despair to the point where they no longer wish to go on living.
Eva Goodman

Drugs are no substitute for action (1980)

From the July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Problems”, together with the belief (carefully fostered by the hucksters, humbugs and dupes of the mass media and politics) that they exist in isolation, are hallmarks of capitalist society. Such is the case with the so-called drugs problem. Unrelated to anything except itself, it has apparently sprung from nowhere in particular. It is a social aberration; a product of “the times”; a passing fad, perhaps; or merely one of the more risky forms of self-indulgence.

What is never explained to us—least of all by such agencies as the BBC, with its “phone-ins” and its “audience-participation” jamborees—is that the “drugs problem”, along with all the other “problems” afflicting mankind, can be directly attributed to a universal condition: the existence of world-wide capitalism. In fact, drugs and drug trafficking can be no more dissociated from the capitalist system than leprous sores can be dissociated from leprosy. For, first and foremost, drugs are commodities; produced for sale with a view to profit-just like food and clothing; weapons of war; houses and hospitals; schools, newspapers and furniture. As with these latter, vast fortunes are realised from the drugs trade.

Capitalists are parasites and, true to form they have battened on the more vulnerable sections of the working class the young and curious among whom there has existed in recent years, a measurable increase in collective spending power, however temporary. (In this exploitative exercise the drug manufacturers and traffickers are joined by the sharks of the rag-trade and the pop-music “scene”; motor cycle salesmen; glossy-magazine publishers', tobacco and drinks manufacturers; and rubbishy gew-gaw sellers of all descriptions.) Junkies and pot-smokers are not alone as victims of capitalist exploitation: the harassed and overwrought suburban housewife has to find cash to pay for her chemicals, likewise.

It would be misleading, however, to ascribe the increase in the incidence of drug-taking medically prescribed or otherwise—solely to an increase in, and subsequent exploitation of, social spending power. To do so would be to ignore the role alcohol and tobacco (both of which are drugs) have played and are playing in our society. For centuries these commodities have been resorted to by millions of people who, by any standards, were poor. And they were, and are, resorted to for much the same reason that makes other drugs of one sort and another so popular among some sections of the working class today; the pressures of day-to-day living in impoverished and intellectually bankrupt circumstances. Competition at school or work; low wages; unemployment; domestic strain resulting from inadequate or non-existent housing; the sheer philistinism of the urban and suburban environment which millions of us are obliged to call “home”: all these factors and many more can lead to the doctor’s waiting room; the night chemist; the psychiatric hospital; or the street corner pusher.

And what about the doctors? Can they be blamed for their resort to the prescription of sedatives or stimulants when confronted with supplicants—and the word is used advisedly—who may be beside themselves with worry and frustration? (The irony here is that the incidence of nervous tension and breakdown among doctors is higher than among many other groups of workers.) The doctors might argue (and who would quarrel with them?) that at least their ministrations afford some control of a situation which, if left untended, could easily see their patients thrown to the wolves.

Doctor prescriptions
One can only conclude, then, that many doctors who use drugs as bolt-holes when grappling with the mental anguish of capitalism's casualties do so because they recognise their own inadequacy when confronted with the conditions which lead to the need for them. Unfortunately, not all doctors can be trusted to behave themselves — however ineffectually — as is evidenced by that proportion of their number who succumb to the corrupt blandishments of the drug-salesmen in return for material rewards of one kind or another.

Not that “business ethics” is anything other than a transparently dishonest euphemism for what is, in reality, merely the grease which lubricates the machinery of institutionalised theft. Sometimes our masters mislay the grease-gun: the following is taken from an article entitled “The Third World’s Deadly Pharmaceutical Trade”, printed in New Statesman (31.8.79):
“In Bangladesh a British doctor overheard a salesman from a US multinational recommending to a local practitioner that he prescribe the diuretic drug frusemide to reduce swellings in a child which had been caused by kwashiorkor, a deficiency disease. When the doctor intervened to protest that the drug would be more likely to kill than cure, the good merchant replied that the child would die anyway”.
If many people take to chemical palliatives in order to alleviate worry and despair others do so in a spirit of rebellious non-conformity, or to bring some colour into their otherwise drab and mediocre lives. With the aid of a “joint”, and to the accompaniment of the latest instantly forgettable outpourings of this or that unremarkable pop-group, these workers seek the world of S. T. Coleridge’s Kubla Khan or some other equally unattainable nirvana. The trouble with ersatz “heavens”, however, is that one is obliged to re-enter the real world sooner or later, and to re-discover the unpalatable truths from which one has tried to escape. We discover that nothing has changed: the “gardens bright with sinuous rills”, in which sits and warbles the “damsel with a dulcimer”, have rudely translated themselves into some litter-bestrewn vacant lot, the only home of vagrants and drug addicts.

But, more importantly, drugs share responsibility for a form of exploitation which not only provides capitalists and would-be capitalists, along with other crooks and pushers, with enormous and increasing profits. They deprive workers even of that little independence of thought and action which may remain after the education system; press, radio and television; politicians; trade union leaders, and the like have finished with them. Workers who, in whatever free time they are permitted, are languishing in a chemically-induced torpor, are in no condition to stand up to their oppressors and fight back. If there is one human quality which gains nothing from association with drugs it is the ability to think clearly and accurately.

So the capitalists have it both ways: the system of which they are the sole beneficiaries, and which plunges the working class into a lifetime of work and worry produces, at enormous profit, the means by which those same workers may be seduced into impotent anaesthesia.

As for the state—capitalism’s National Executive Committee—they are in business to assist capitalists in their exploitative pursuits, not to hinder them. Drugs law is calculated to regulate profiteering from the drugs trade in the interests of “respectable” capitalism, not to “safeguard the Nation’s health”. If the cultivation and marketing of, say, hemp is ever legalised, it will come about because the colossal profits to be made out of these practices are at present finding their way into the “wrong” pockets; something all “good” capitalists abhor. (And it must be remembered that the capitalists—characteristically—are showing precious little concern at the mayhem caused by cigarette smoking and alcoholism.)

Drug “abuse”, then, is symptomatic of a universal malaise: capitalism. When socialists speak of abuse we are thinking not so much of illicit drug peddling; nor are we primarily concerned with the self-administration of drugs. Our target is the true obscenity the profit system itself, with its inbuilt drive to accumulate capital no matter what human misery and distress is engendered on the way. We as workers owe it to ourselves and our descendants to resist the blandishments of our capitalist masters. We must learn to fling their rotten wares back into their faces and, with clear heads and firm convictions, begin the task of working ourselves out of our present fix.
Richard Cooper