Friday, March 10, 2017

Running Commentary: Mind bending (1981)

The Running Commentary column from the June 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mind bending

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.

Budapest flutter

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.
Gary Jay

A Letter from Weymouth (1961)

Party News from the August 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Comrades,

I am managing to get out quite a bit of propaganda. I emphasised this to the local comrades along with the suggestion that we get together and have a concerted bash at all West Country papers.

My greatest joy was in finding that the local people are not as behind as people in a place like London might think. They are absolutely caught up in the whole tempo of Capitalism. Their moans and groans have exactly the same ring as the workers anywhere.

I am, as you know, here on my own and I am managing perfectly well to carry out as much party activity as could be expected from any one member, no matter how staunch he may be. We have got to start emphasising this to other members strewn all over the place who feel they are living in political isolation. I would like to see a reminder go out to all of them, saying that there isn't anything preventing them from writing in the Socialist Standard, selling the S.S., distributing propaganda leaflets, or seeking openings in the correspondence columns of their local papers.

I can appreciate the fact that Socialists will endeavour to speak to people about our case. This just isn’t sufficient! We must be busy in more ways than one if we expect to impress and forge ahead. When I approach anybody or any organisation I do not feel lonesome; I act and speak just as if we had a branch, nay, just as if the whole machinery of Socialist organisation was down here beside me. After all, what is a 100 or a 1,000 miles these days, I ask you?

I’ve written a couple of letters to both Weymouth's local papers. One is still being considered by the editor of the Dorset Evening Echo, whilst the other has been published by the Southern Times.

The next move, if it comes off, will be meetings on the beach. The corporation will let me know after their committee meeting on July 15th.
Joe McGuinness

The Shankill Campaign (1961)

From the August 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the 13th June, 1961, Belfast Branch nominated Comrade W. Skelton to contest a municipal by-election in the Shankill Ward of Belfast. Shankill is a very safe Unionist (Govt.) Party seat, but we also expected candidates from the Labour Party (which organisation has put in a lot of the usual “ward-healing” work in the area and contested the seat many times) and the Ulster Protestant Action. A Labour nominee did call at the City Hall and collect Polling Registers where he learnt of our definite intention to contest the ward; the fact that on Nomination Day candidates from the Unionist Party and the W.S.P. only were nominated would seem to indicate that our presence dulled the fervour of the Labourites.

Faced with a straight fight with the Unionists we had to make doubly certain that our propaganda in the ward was as far-flung as possible in order to ensure that we did not get the usual Labour and anti-Government vote. In spite of the fact that our opponent (a certain William Christie, owner of a well-known local chain of wallpaper stores) stated that he would hold no public meetings but would conduct a campaign with the assistance of a large team of door-to-door canvassers we decided on a full programme of public meetings.

Christie did indeed use a large number of canvassers and several loud-speaker-bearing vehicles to tour the ward nightly: everywhere the message was the same: “A Communist has dared to stand in this loyal ward of Shankill—give them their answer!” Such a message in such an area created difficulties for the reception of our case but, as well, to anyone knowing Shankill and the “answer" usually forthcoming from there, it seemed a direct appeal to violence. We challenged Christie to repudiate these statements or meet us in debate before the electorate and present his evidence of our “communism” but true to the role of cowardly master of a cowardly campaign lie answered us with silence.

Night after night during the campaign eighty per cent of our membership turned up to support the meetings and, when these concluded, give out election Statements. Nearly ten thousand Statements, plus five thousand leaflets, were given out in this way and in addition to this large posters were pasted on walls in the ward. Mostly 2 or 3 a.m. was “quitting time” and towards the end a few hardy members had a couple of all-night sessions. As in our last campaign, from which we had scarce recovered, the great majority of our comrades worked splendidly.

Polling day was a dull affair for us. We were unwilling and unable to “man the polling booths” and we contented ourselves sitting convenient to a few of the larger ones suitably identified, in the hope that some people would want to discuss with us. Very few people came on foot to vote and though many did vote for us it is unlikely that they would have run the risk of publicly identifying themselves with us—in view of the considerable show of numbers the Unionists had on duty around their expensively hired caravan Tally rooms at the different polling booths. The Socialist voter living in an area like Shankill has to be very discreet indeed! Between eighty and one hundred cars were in service by the Unionists and bands of women workers plied the streets in the ward trying to keep those cars occupied. In spite of this, however, most of the cars sat for very lengthy periods and often when active it was to convey a single voter. Obviously, in their traditional stronghold, the Unionists were having difficulty in achieving what they cynically refer to as “pulling them out.”

With polling over we went to the City Hall for the count. Each candidate had a ticket to attend and a further seven tickets was available to each for the purpose of providing scrutineers. As our candidate was working that evening (at this stage the “count” does not justify loss of earnings—even if the work to that end does!) we had only seven present. The Unionists, on the other hand, must have had several hundred present—by virtue, apparently, of being “visitors” of other Aldermen and councillors, and these conformed with the usual standards of a Unionist mob—mean and vicious, very stupid, and very, very noisy.

When the Returning Officer announced the result, Christie 3,800, Skelton 454 (“the Socialist candidate forfeits his deposit”) Christie arose to the howling of the mob but contented himself with thanking the R.O. and staff and claiming that the result “speaks for itself.” The mob then began to shout “Where’s Skelton?” and it was pretty obvious that they were not bent on sympathy. This cry changed to “God save the Queen,” sung lustily, and at this we began the business of leaving with all the speedy dignity we could in the circumstances command.

Looking back at the result we are encouraged. Unlike Duncairn each voter had only one vote; the Catholics in the ward did not vote at all, the few “commies” in the area would be naturally hostile and Labourites deliberately abstained or. in some instances, adopted our method of marking their ballot paper (thus: N.l. Labour).

Certainly it is pleasing to think that our existence as a Party caused the Unionists to bring out their Party machine and spend anything from £700 to £800 (in a local government election) to keep Socialism out of a ward they could truly claim to “own.” As a result of our campaign we have become very widely known as a political party and this must augur well for the future—even if it creates precedents which necessitate the establishment of an election fund and the promise of much hard work to come!
Richard Montague.
General Secretary.

News From Wales (1961)

From the August 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

The principality continues to provide events and talking points for that section of its people (alas, still the great majority) who see no further than the day to day controversies of those personalities and organisations whose business is to carry out the function of maintaining capitalism. The unimportance and—in some cases—the absurdities associated with the comings and goings of the various individuals who make up our Council Chambers can only be appreciated by the Socialists among us who are still much too few to have an effective voice in affairs.

Pride of place must be accorded to the local elections. The usual candidates representing the usual parties, with one or two exceptions, took the field. Labour managed to attract a good deal of support especially in industrial areas though, in rural areas mainly, the Independent and Welsh Nationalists got a fair number of votes. In the Llanelly area the Welsh Nationalist candidate made great play in his election address on the question of local rates and “abuse” of public funds. The Swansea branch SPGB made a fairly detailed statement on the question of the effect of bigger or smaller rates and tax demands and challenged the participating candidates to show how the raising or lowering of rates and taxes, etc., in any way affected the working class. The challenge was met with a blank silence.

Another point of discussion has been well aired recently, namely, the question of Sunday Opening. Despite the virulent attacks of various religious organizations, the position appears to be well on its way to a final solution—the possibilities being that in the none too distant future one will be able to have a pint of one's favourite on a Sunday. Socialists again see this question in its true perspective and only point out that the “new freedom” when it comes may be such that pub managers and servers, etc., may have to forego a day off. Naturally such workers may be prepared, like so many more, to sacrifice more and more leisure for more and more money in order to catch up with more and more living costs.

The Report of the Committee on the Re-distribution of Boundaries, etc., has created quite a stir. Roughly, the Welsh Counties are to be amalgamated to form five large counties which will presumably cut down costs in administration, Glamorgan being the exception. This again is an example of fiddling with trivialities.

What has concerned many of the steel and tin-plate workers of the Swansea and Llanelly areas recently was the “Lock-Out" that took place at two of the Steel Co.’s of Wales strip mills. Briefly, sales in tinplate have been falling off, with increases in stocks as a result. This forced the Company to reduce the working hours with a resultant loss in wages for the workers. . The workers' reply to this has been to operate a “go slow” policy which resulted in the Company closing the factory gates. Now, however, the workers, through their Unions, have informed the Company that “We are prepared to work immediately they call us in.” It should be perfectly plain to the workers now that not being owners of the means of production, they have no right to work or be on the premises unless they are wanted. The law, of course, would, if necessary, have fully supported the Company.

We were also to have been treated to a visit from “God Incorporated,” the Billy Graham menagerie. Billy, it seems, was taken ill, but the meeting took place despite this and attracted over 30,000 delirious hymn-singing workers. Some scenes bordered on fanaticism. It may be significant to note, lest one becomes too despairing over the scene of 30,000 workers chanting for “pie in the sky” while the Steel Company locks them out, that a report in the Western Mail points out that more and more churches in South Wales are closing down and that there is a shortage of young blood entering the Ministry.

Perhaps we shall be in a position to report in a short while on the German Panzer troops in Pembrokeshire. In the meantime, the invasion has not yet been fully arranged. When it has been then the Welsh contingent of the Polaris army at Holy Loch and elsewhere can “fight” nearer home. As for Socialists in Wales, we try to reach the brains of our fellow workers with all the means at our disposal.
W. Brain