The Running Commentary column from the June 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard
Mike Molloy, editor of the Daily Mirror, recently lamented when the price of the Sun was reduced, “It’s a shame that newspapers should be marketed like packets of soapflakes and tins of beans ‘with 2p off offers’’. He stumbles on an important point. Today we are producing things as commodities to be sold. So if, for instance, you want some food but you do not have enough money you cannot have food, even though there is plenty available.
Newspapers are commodities like anything else but they have the special quality of being instruments designed to perpetuate and reinforce prejudices which are the life blood of production for profit. Where Molloy lists soapflakes and tins of beans he could also have mentioned human beings, for it is a feature of capitalism that the mental and physical energies of people in the working class are commodities to be purchased for wages or salaries.
Who are the purchasers of people? An example is Rupert Murdoch whose business empire includes ownership of the Sun, News of the World and Times Newspapers. Last year Murdoch’s businesses reported profits of $41 million, a 192 per cent increase on the previous year.
Benefiting so grandly from the huge profits he gains by employing thousands of people directly and indirectly involved in the production of his newspapers, Murdoch tries to ensure that his daily prints leave workers with no doubts as to how they should respond to anyone suggesting an end to the private ownership of social wealth.
In cold blood
According to the school history books Winston Churchill was a great man worthy of admiration. From all sides you will be told he was a fine politician, a great believer in democracy, freedom and a good life for all. Even the Communist Party in Britain urged members of the working class to vote for his politics once he had made a deal in 1945 with that other great champion of freedom, Joseph Stalin.
If you believed this about Churchill you may have changed your mind after the recent edition of the BBC2 programme, Newsnight. According to documents unearthed at the Public Records Office, the great leader is on record as being not overconcerned with human welfare. In July 1944 he sent this minute to the Chiefs of Staff Committee: “I want a cold-blooded calculation made as to how it would pay us to use poison gas. by which I mean principally mustard. It is absurd to consider morality on this topic when everybody used it in the last war without a word of complaint from the moralists or the church . . . It is simply a question of fashion changing as she does between long and short skirts for women”.
Churchill was aware of the agony in which thousands of people perished after aerial bombing and shell firing of mustard gas in the 1914-18 war. The symptoms of poisoning by this gas are horrific: “After a few hours the victim’s eyes begin to smart, sneezing develops followed by nausea, retching and vomiting. Eye trouble increases and inflamation of the skin commences . . . Intense itching sets up which prevents sleep. The rash has now developed into blisters and open festering sores. At the end of twenty-four hours the victim is virtually blinded. Acute bronchitis now sets in with heart strain, death usually occurring on the third or fourth day”. (The Menace of Chemical Warfare to Civilian Populations Arthur J. Gillian, 1932.)
Like politicians of all professed beliefs before and after him, Churchill had no qualms in supervising the slaughter of workers by workers in order to protect the economic interest of the minority who are concerned with expanding or defending markets for the sale of their commodities.
Solidarity in Poland
On the 6 May the Polish Politburo announced that the independent Trade Union, Solidarity, would be able to have its own programmes on state television and radio. The union will run broadcasting studios and will be able to give views on what the official news agency (rather appropriately named PAP) described as “important socio-economic issues”.
This will be an important advantage to the Polish working class in its struggle to improve wages and conditions in the face of desperate attempts by the ruling class in Poland to extract as much wealth as possible from them in order to repay over $23 billion it owes to Western governments.
The broadcasts will be subject to official censorship but pressure from Solidarity will be able to erode this restriction as the union becomes increasingly confident of its potential strength. The union could, in time, campaign for the use of transmitters which would enable the broadcasts to be received by workers in neighbouring state-capitalist countries.
In the short-term the working-class in Poland is negotiating with the state bosses over wages and conditions of work but they have made gains which could be important in the social struggles ahead. At present Solidarity does not have the aim of joining the socialist movement for common ownership, and is influenced by fallacious patriotic and religious ideas. But it is developing a status in opposing the state which could help the organisation of a socialist party.
Meanwhile, in Hungary, an “International Ideology Conference” opened at the beginning of May with a call for attention to “national features” of communist countries. What sort of “national features”? Well, nothing specific was reported to have been discussed. However, there was one national feature of “communist Hungary”, a recent innovation in fact, that you might consider to have been conspicuously overlooked in the discussions. In April this year Hungary opened its first gambling casino. The casino, modestly situated in the Hilton Hotel, Budapest, is only open to foreigners with hard currency and. of course, to the wealthy and privileged members of the Communist Party.
A team at St. Bartholomews Hospital, London, is conducting research into possible cures for heart disease and cancer. The team is also trying to develop means by which infertile women can be enabled to conceive children, and seeking improved treatment for diabetic infants.
For this work, to improve the quality of, and save, lives the researchers need a minimum of £5,000,000. This money is not forthcoming from the government which has more pressing matters to finance, like the £5,600,000 it is spending every four hours on the machinery of war.
Now the researchers have been forced to beg for donations to continue their work. Sophisticated medical experiments are having to be carried out in premises which one doctor described as “something between a hat factory and Frankenstein’s laboratory”. While this is happening, medical experiments are being arranged in Ottawa, in laboratories serviced with all the latest technological equipment. In this project, organised by the Canadian Defence Department, dogs will be given large doses of radiation in an effort to find an antidote to the kind of nausea soldiers might suffer in a nuclear war.
What is social madness for us must make good sense to the minority in whose interest wars are fought and who don’t think twice about paying over a thousand pounds a week in private clinics, like those around Harley Street, to receive superior medical attention when they need it.