Friday, July 14, 2017

Obituaries: Charles Curtis and Eric Boden (1975)

Obituaries from the April 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Charles Curtis

The EC were saddened to learn of the death of this old comrade who for the past ten years has given splendid service to the Party, first assisting Comrade McClatchie and then himself carrying out the Head Office Assistant’s job.

He joined on 20th July 1934, after knowing the Party for many years, and was a member first of West London Branch and then of Ealing Branch. He was a mainstay of the Branch’s propaganda work—a regular attender at meetings, selling literature and using personal persuasion to encourage the interest of bystanders. His special contribution lay in his quiet but effective approach. He was a painstaking and methodical worker, as members in London and the provinces will recall.

Though affected by deteriorating health, which necessitated hospital treatment he carried on his work for the Party, ably assisted by his wife, until eventually he could do so no longer. In this way he gave practical demonstration to new young members, about whom he was always concerned.

Eric Boden

We regret to report the death in December last of Eric Boden. He joined the Party in 1912, and was already writing for the Socialist Standard before the first world war.

With some interruptions he continued to write until he dropped out of the Party in 1953, though his interest in Party work remained. At one period he went to East Africa and was conscripted to the army there. Old members will remember the articles he wrote about developments in East Africa, and he contributed many other valuable articles.

He became the branch secretary of our former Sheffield Branch, and at another time was a member of the Watford Branch. He spoke on the Party platform in Sheffield and Doncaster, and occasionally attended Conference as a delegate. His wife also was a Party member. Boden was a persuasive and knowledgeable speaker, and wherever he went he devoted himself to making the Socialist case known.

Religion and Ourselves (1975)

From the May 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Several letters have come in recently about the Socialist Party’s attitude to religion. They might appear to show a revival of religious belief, but we do not think so. The more likely explanation is that we have extended the Correspondence section of the Socialist Standard and religious people, who seem to take as a natural right that they may stuff their views down others’ throats, have applied themselves to it.

It will therefore save much repetition if the Socialist position on this matter is stated here. From its formation the SPGB has opposed all religion, and no-one holding a religious belief is admitted to membership. The reasons for our opposition were explained fully in our pamphlet Socialist and Religion, which first appeared in 1910 and was reprinted continually in the next twenty years.

The opening section of Socialism and Religion was headed "The Need for Frankness’’. In 1910 as now there were several organizations using the word “socialism”, but none was willing to declare itself on this question. Instead, they took refuge in the evasive principle “Religion is a private affair”; in other words, out to catch votes and nothing else, they were not going to risk alienating supporters by insisting on proper understanding.

The Socialist Party’s position is altogether different. Of course we want more members and supporters, but on the essential condition that they understand Socialism and its implications. That is why our attitudes and policies are stated unequivocally all the time. On religion, we say now what was said in 1910: “No man can be consistently both a Socialist and a Christian. It must be either the Socialist or the religious principle that is supreme, for the attempt to couple them equally betrays charlatanism or lack of thought.”

It is noticeable that no letter-writer argues a case for the established Churches. In bygone years it was sometimes put to us that the Catholic Church was benevolent to the workers; we do not recall anyone ever defending the Church of England. Generally our correspondents appear to take for granted what our pamphlet in 1910 had to spell out, that the big religious institutions are in the pockets of the ruling class. What they urge us to accept is that Christian belief in “the brotherhood of man”, etc., is in harmony with Socialism.

Whatever social messages are inferred from religious beliefs, they are first and foremost beliefs — that is, they start by envisaging the supernatural; the divinity of Christ, the soul, the after-life. These are probably the bare minimum, but if they are reduced still further there remains a fundamental element of all religions which makes them the antithesis of Socialism. This is what in philosophy is called idealism: the belief that ideas have an existence independent of natural and social causes.

Socialism is not a philosophical idea, but the expression of the material interest of a class created by historical development. Its foundation therefore is materialism, in opposition to idealism. The materialist standpoint towards man is that given his social existence (a datum everyone is bound to accept) everything results, or will be found to result, from the interplay of social forces. Any alternative explanation must lead to other conclusions than Socialist ones.

The Losing Side
However, we do not find that it is Socialism our correspondents want. Professing to have common ground with us, they approach it in a remarkably one-sided way. It might be possible to have sympathy with one who said: “Christianity and Socialism are both vital. In order to join forces, let us both give up a principle. If you will abandon a Socialist attitude, we will reject a chunk (which you may select) of our belief.” But of course they say nothing of the kind. Their demand is for Socialists to give way to Christian claims. What sort of common ground is that?

It is also asserted, frequently, that the influence and fervour of Christianity can never be extinguished. The writers seem unaware of what is happening, and not at the hands of Socialists. In October last year the newspapers reported a national poll of religious beliefs undertaken for a BBC religious programme. Only 29 per cent. of those asked believed in a personal God, and 40 per cent. of the 16-34 age group rejected the idea of life after death. (Guardian, 14th October 1974.)

When we say that Socialist society will do without religious beliefs, it is greeted with indignation as our proposal to abolish. That is not the case; we simply remark that in a sane, stable world people will not need consolation by illusions. But the abolishing is being done by capitalism, which once needed religion and now no longer has much use for it. Perhaps that is why Christians have taken to petitioning the Socialist Standard; but it is they, not we, who must change.
Robert Barltrop

Socialism—A Sane Society (1975)

From the June 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Long before pollution became a popular cause, and ecology a fashionable term, the Socialist indictment of capitalism included the waste that is inseparable from market production. A minority in society own the means for production, that is the land, raw materials, factories, communications etc. Through this ownership they are able to buy from the majority, the working class, their working ability.

It is members of the working class who run the transport system, who run industry from the gate to the board room, who research, design and make every kind of commodity etc. In other words it is the men and women of the working class who co-operate to perform all of the work necessary to the running of capitalism. But it is not done on their own behalf. All of this work is geared to the profit of the owning class.

Every kind of product, including food, has sale at a profit as the first motive for its existence. It may be thought that it is because commodities are useful that their sale will realize a profit. The fact is that goods are not produced to fulfil human need, on the contrary needs are stimulated so that the results of enormous productive capacity can be sold. A whole industry is devoted to sales promotion; to persuading consumers — hideous term — that their possessions are outdated, outworn or that two of everything might be better!
A marketing expert counselled the home-furnishing industry: "Make people discover for themselves that there’s fun and pleasure in changing their d├ęcor. Establish a standard based on changeability and not on permanence.” All this helped provide a philosophical base for the throwaway spirit . . .
(p. 164 The Waste Makers, Vance Packard)
Competition between manufacturers of similar items is not necessarily of benefit to their customers for costs must be kept to a minimum.
Manufacturers themselves have improved anti-corrosion techniques considerably in recent years, but a really thorough job would be unacceptably expensive in an industry increasingly dominated by cost accountants.
(Observer Magazine, 6 April 1975)
Not only are goods produced in the knowledge that they are not the best that modern technology is capable of but some commodities are actually designed to have a limited life. “An engineer’s principal purpose as an engineer is to create obsolescence” — board chairman as quoted in The Waste Makers.

Small wonder that even those workers who are supposed to be enjoying the good life have in reality succumbed to the adman’s dream world. Accumulating material possessions to assuage the frustration associated with work in which they can take no pride and the problems of everyday living.

Society does not have to be organized this way. Capitalism is not the natural order of things and it has outlived its usefulness. The quest for profit which provided the impetus to develop large scale, social production, now prevents that production being used to the advantage of society as a whole. A revolutionary change to Socialism will resolve this contradiction.

When an immense majority of working class men and women become aware of their position in capitalism they will join with us in consciously organizing to elect for Socialism. Thus to carry out the legal formality of abolishing private property. Then the means for production will be owned and democratically controlled by the whole, worldwide, community. This vital fact of common ownership and control will mean production at last geared to human needs. The one reason for making any articles and supplying any service will be that they are of use to human beings. Only the best quality need be made and with due regard to the careful use of raw materials.

All of the wasteful elements of capitalist production will disappear. With all that is on and around the earth owned in common by all of its inhabitants there will be no possible use for armed forces and other instruments of war.

Try listing the pursuits which will not be necessary when money no longer has any role to play in production. Included in the list will be duplication of effort when, for instance, airlines compete for passengers over the same route, banking, insurance, nor will we ‘‘carry coals to Newcastle” . . . but you can continue. Some occupations will be adapted to the needs of the new social order. Perhaps marketing research could be redirected to monitoring the actual needs of the community.

Workers co-operate now to run capitalism. How much more will the spirit of co-operation prevail between the free individuals who contribute to the well-being of Socialist society. Each will give to the best of their ability satisfied that the work in hand is socially useful. Each secure in the knowledge that they have free access to the goods and services which they require. Socialism will do more than resolve the problems of poverty, waste etc. It will be a harmonious, caring social system where human beings are at last free to realize their full potential.

We have given only an outline of some aspects of the Socialist future. To fill in the detail we need your help. What are you waiting for?
Pat Deutz

The Communist Course - Humbug! (1975)

From the July 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Much can be learnt about the aim and method of a political party from a study of its history. A look at the history of the SPGB shows complete adherence to a certain object and declaration of principles over the last seventy one years. The Communist Party of Great Britain has shown from its formation in 1920, by those seeing the Russian Revolution as a new means of achieving Socialism, to the present day, a consistent course of stooping to the demands of Kremlin policy and distortion of Marxism to fit their objective of establishing State Capitalism.

Socialism was not, and could not be, established in Russia in 1917. The only course for the Bolshevik leaders to take was that of capitalism administered by the State. The Communist Party has remained consistently loyal to Russian State Capitalism despite the multitudinous crimes which Russia has committed against its own, and the international, working class. Whilst the Socialist Party of Great Britain has always expounded the theory of Marxian economics: a system of society in which wealth is owned democratically by the whole world community; the Communist Party has persisted in presenting Socialism as a form of capitalism.

Of course, the modern CPer will agree that the CP supported the continual turnabouts in Russian foreign policy during the last war. He will agree that CPers were hailing Stalin as the Russian messiah in the not too distant past. He will even confess that the “Leadership” has been known to mislead its followers on more than one occasion. But now, he will argue, everything has been put to rights. No more are the days of Russian gold financing the CPGB. Today the Communist Party stands on its own two feet. It’s a force to be reckoned with. He will tell you about 1968 when the British Communist Party stood up and actually condemned the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. Much of what he says would be true. After all, we can’t blame the CP for the mistakes of its forefathers, even if it has been an entire history of error. But has the Communist Party really decided to change course?

The answer to this question is yes and no. Yes, the Communist Party in recent years has taken on a new image to make itself appear more respectable. But no, it is no nearer Socialism today than it was in 1920.

The CP is by no means secretive about its new image. Indeed in March 1973 a new policy statement entitled Time to Change Course — What Britain's Communists Stand For was written by CP Executive Committee member Jack Woddis and has since become the principle source of CP policy.

The pamphlet opens with a chapter telling us about the main problems facing Britain.
. . .  an economic crisis manifested in balance of payments problems, inflation, unemployment, monetary difficulties, trade decline and a slow growth of our economy, (emphasis added)
These, we are told are the problems facing the working class in this country. If so, what are the problems facing the capitalist class?

The pamphlet then goes on for a number of pages to complain about the symptoms of capitalism. At no time is the nature of capitalist society explained. Maybe the Communist Party doesn’t think that the working class could manage economic theories. Best give them popular causes like old-age pensioners and the price of beef. It is no mere coincidence that the basis of capitalist society is not explained. For if it was understood by the reader he would be able to see, in the next chapter, “What A Socialist Government Would Do”, that the aim of the Communist Party is not to replace the present system with something else, hitherto unsaid, but to reform capitalism in order to make it work. If the Communist Party were to look clearly at capitalism they would see that it can never be reformed in the interest of the working class.

If the Communist Party is as tame as study shows it to be, why is it disapproved? Surely there must be some revolutionary message somewhere in the pamphlet which has earned the CP its bad name. On page 53 the answer is given. So this is what the CP think Socialism is. Wait for it:
   Once private ownership of the economy is ended and private profit abolished, all the values created by people through their labour will be available to be used by them in their own interests. A part will be available in direct cash — in wages, pensions, children’s allowances, student grants and other benefits. A part will come in the form of social services — health education and so on — in cultural and leisure facilities, in various social amenities in town and country, including housing. transport, roads and town planning. Part will go on the further development of industry and agriculture, on research, on building new enterprises and constructing new machines. Finally, there will be the necessary allocation of funds and resources to maintain the new Socialist State, to staff its administration and to provide the necessary forces and equipment to defend the system against its enemies from without and within, (emphasis added )
So that’s what the Communist Party think Socialism is — them giving handouts from the profits of our labour. This is State Capitalism.

And the CP expect us to accept this nonsense! Or do they? Further on in the pamphlet we come to the third and last chapter, “How To Change Course”. Here, we are told that the “carrying through of a revolutionary change” requires, not the understanding of the working class, but
   a strong revolutionary party, a party capable of leading the people to challenge and defeat the capitalist class. (P.136)
The object of the Communist Party, therefore, is to “lead” the working class into a system of State capitalism. This was Lenin’s intention in 1917, it is the CP’s today. It may have changed its image from that of the violent revolution which it proposed in the 1920s to one of reformist promises as it does today. The slogans may be different, but the aim is still the same.
Steve Coleman

Obituary: Freddie Arnold (1975)

Obituary from the August 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to report the death of Freddie Arnold who died in April at the age of 62. His passing will be felt by many of the older members.

Freddie joined the Party in 1933 and soon became a very active and valuable member of the West Ham Branch. Although he had no ambitions for platform speaking, he was a very knowledgeable advocate of socialism, supported many outdoor meetings, and would often be arguing the case long after the official meeting had broken up sometimes until after midnight.

After moving out into Essex he became a member of Central Branch, but invariably looked in at Conference, and made what visits he could to branch meetings in the East End of London. We offer our sincere sympathy to Joyce, his Widow.

The Prentice Affair (1975)

From the September 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Me! I don't even know what a Marxist is,” said Miss Anita Pollack when accused of plotting to oust Reg Prentice from his parliamentary seat at Newham, East London.

She’s not the only one. Karl Marx himself is credibly reported by one biographer as observing, when told of a particularly crass piece of stupidity by one of his French supporters: “If that’s Marxism, then I’m no Marxist.” In all probability, as a serious scientist he wasn’t even interested in "Marxism”, any more than Darwin would have wished to be regarded as a “Darwinist”.

Miss Pollack also said: "I’m no revolutionary — I only belong to the Labour Party.” Fair enough! On the other hand, she is among those in the Newham North East Labour Party who propose to repudiate Prentice for “betraying the Labour Party’s socialist principles”. Unlike the Socialist Party of Great Britain, the Labour Party has never had principles of any sort, let alone Socialist ones. From the day of its inception in 1906 it has never been anything but a motley collection of careerists and job-hunters, desperately intent on saying or doing anything that would get the votes required for a politician’s “skive”. The difference between John Stonehouse and the others is that he didn’t know when to stop.

How Prentice can betray principles which the Labour Party has never had and therefore do not exist, remains to be seen. Certain it is that there are no Socialist principles except Marxian ones. When a Labour Prime Minister like Harold Wilson can babble his fatuous nonsense at the Durham Miners’ Gala — that a man’s wage increase is “another man’s price increase” — we can well believe him when he says he was unable to read more than two pages of Marx’s Capital.

In fact he wouldn’t have to! Just one page of Marx’s Value, Price and Profit suffices to show that the British workers (the highest-paid in Europe at the time, 1860-70) flooded the markets of the world with cheap commodities and undercut the products of all competitors, forcing them to erect tariff barriers to stop British imports. The whole essence of the capitalist economic system is to compensate for wage increases by more sophisticated production — the so- called accumulation of capital.

In view of the general ignorance of Marxism in the Labour Party — and even worse, its rejection in favour of Keynes by those who profess to know — it is surprising that the Newham Labour Party are aware of the existence of “socialist principles” at all. And yet there is one source, and one only, where they could hear of them: The Socialist Party! There is one organization only in this country that sticks rigidly and unalterably to principles — the Socialist Party.

What the Newham Labour Party are really objecting to is Prentice’s advocacy of coalition government, which makes them look idiots before the electorate. But the Labour Party has done that before: in 1931 and 1939. It has always been at the beck and call of the capitalist class, to save things for them. And now the chickens are at last coming home to roost! After six Labour governments the Labour Party’s attempts at reforming the system and curbing the workers’ demands are again coming unstuck. Hence the demands for the “retirement” of Prentice, Silkin and (according to the Mirror and the Sun) a number of others.

Those who have the temerity to say that an elected representative should do what he is told are denounced in those two well-known clear-thinking journals as wicked conspirators, plotters infiltrating local Labour Parties, Marxist factionists seizing control, etc. Prentice himself has given formal notice that he will ignore a majority decision to sack him. How sensitive these politicians are to the electorate! What a lesson to those critics of the Socialist Party who say that votes don’t count, and Parliament is a futile gasworks!

But try as they may, and however well-meaning their intention, the members of the Newham North East Labour Party, even if they sack Prentice, will succeed in nothing. What is wrong is not Prentice, but the rotten, unprincipled Labour Party which spawned him. The only way to Socialism is by the conscious votes of a democratic majority, for candidates nominated by a party based on Socialist principles. In that event working-class voters would really have a case against a defaulter in the House. The object of a Socialist party is the abolition of capitalism and nothing else — making it near-impossible for an elected representative to double-cross.

How comical the hysterical squeals of the gutter press about “minorities controlling the local Labour Parties” — as soon as the ordinary members express themselves! But sacking one scallywag to replace him with another is not enough. The time has come to stop playing silly-boy Labour politics and turn to the serious revolutionary Socialist Party which exists, based on a crystal-clear Declaration of its Principles.

Who Owns the Land Under the Sea? (1975)

From the October 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Carry on conferring" may sound like the latest title in a series of third-rate comedy films but in fact this particular farce is anything but funny, at least not to the participants who have gathered in Geneva in an attempt to arrive at some common ground for the establishment of clearly defined and governable laws on the question: who owns the land under the sea? Capitalism being the epitome of a private property system at its most complex necessitates an equally complex network of laws. Nothing exemplifies this more than the latest follow-on from last year’s session when the legal eagles went Caracas trying to solve their perplexing problem.

The problem is more easily understood when the underlying cause which motivates it is recognized. That cause is profit which in this instance is envisaged from the mining of “nodules” — fist-sized lumps of mineral ore found on the floors of the Pacific and Indian oceans, and the realization of the potential untapped sources of wealth such as manganese, iron, nickel, and cobalt etc, which they contain.

Evan Luard in his book The Control of the Sea-bed tells how in 1959-60, a study by a group of US scientists from the University of California estimated that the total volume of nodules in the entire Pacific ocean, based on the size of concentrations revealed by undersea photography, could be around 1,700 billion tons. A more recent UN study assessed that the nodules may contain 16.4 billion tons of nickel, 8 billion tons of copper, 8.8 billion tons of cobalt. The importance of the resources can be made clear by relative comparison of the same resources found on land. If the calculations of the Californian study quoted were confirmed, nodules in the Pacific ocean would contain about 358 billion tons of manganese, equivalent to reserves for 400,000 years at the 1960 world rate of consumption, compared with known land resources for only 100 years. 43 billion tons of aluminium, equal to reserves for 20,000 years compared to known land reserves for 100 years. Nickel, equivalent to reserves for 150,000 years; copper equal to reserves for 6,000 years; cobalt for 200,000 years. Also, the nodules may contain iron, titanium, magnesium, lead and so on. These are the figures for the Pacific alone. With the content of the nodules in the Indian ocean these figures of course, become even greater. Although the authenticity of these figures has not been verified, the direction in which they point is obvious. Added to this is the discovery that the nodules are forming all the time, and at a rate in the Pacific alone of perhaps 10 million tons a year. This then, is the motivation. The problem arises as the conference tries to introduce legislation which will be acceptable to all the countries represented — a rather fruitless exercise since geographical locations of the individual countries concerned determine the legislation required by them. For example, proposals to widen the outer boundary limits would benefit coastal states (especially the large ones) since the area closest to the coast will in all probability be richer in resources. If the boundary is extended to 2,500 metres in depth as has been suggested or to the 200-mile limit proposed by Latin America, this would mean the appropriation of the most valuable part of the area by coastal governments.

Conversely, countries with small coastlines, the land-locked and the shelf-locked, would have to negotiate for a share of these resources. Again, some countries are favoured with wide and narrow shelves while others have none at all. Then there are the emerging capitalist countries such as those in Africa who see the exploitation of the sea-bed as a serious threat to their economies, since some of them depend heavily on the export of mined metal ores, and obviously metal prices could be drastically reduced.

The exploitation of nodules renders obsolete the need for conventional mining and all it entails such as sinking mineshafts and tunnels. Where the material is already available on the sea-floor it requires simply to be scooped up.

So the talking continues, everyone agreeing that agreement must be reached but all of them unanimous in that they don’t know how. Bearing in mind the insular nature of capitalism with each group of representatives striving to secure the most favourable (profitable) conditions for their masters, it is small wonder that no agreement can be reached since one country’s gain is another’s loss. Therefore, all the useless platitudes being kicked around suggesting that a solution will be found “in the common interest of all concerned” are about as realistic as trying to play musical chairs where no one loses.

By “common interest” what is really meant is capitalist interest. No worker has any real interest at stake in this conference, although our masters would like us to believe otherwise, especially if, as is almost certain, the talking stops. Then warning signals might inform us that some nasty foreigner has got a tight grip on “our” nodules (very painful) and that in the interest of “The Nation” etc. etc.

The ruling groups of the world however, have no illusions about either the economic basis of this tug-o’-war, or the ultimate outcome in the event of a complete breakdown of discussion. It has been frankly stated that the oceans could become an arena of conflict which would make Vietnam seem like a picnic.
A. McNeill

Obituary: Jack Holford (1975)

Obituary from the November 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Jack Holford died at the end of September, after being ill since last Christmas. Knowing he was dying, he wrote the following message:
“Here is my own obituary which, without any further comment I would like printed in the S.S.:— ‘In bidding farewell to all my Socialist Comrades I leave them my best wishes in their progress towards the elimination of this rotten system of Capitalism and the establishment of Socialism.—Comrade Holford, Brighton’.”
We will not let him get away with that. Jack was a fine type of Socialist, resembling in his independence and persistentness some of the early members of the Party. He had been a member for very many years and was one of the founders of the Brighton branch some years ago. When the branch ceased to exist he carried on and did much to keep members scattered along the south coast in contact with one another. He came to London regularly for Party Conferences and Delegate Meetings, where he always spoke with clarity and zest. During his last illness his interest in the Party never decreased. The news of his death has come as a sad blow to all of us, and our sympathy goes to Susan Holford.

Marxism and the Media (1975)

From the December 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Between the wars and later the word Socialist was used to describe all manner of things which had nothing to do with Socialist or Socialism. Such were the pathetic utterances on the subject by Snowdon and Ramsay MacDonald in the first Labour government of 1924 that King George V felt bound to admit that “he too was a bit of a Socialist”. We have had “socialist” millionaires and dukes from the Daily Express; “socialist” Lords and Ladies; “socialist” policies of nationalization and taxation. The TUC was at one time referred to as a “socialist” institution. Also, Russian and Chinese capitalism has been described as socialist, as were Adolf Hitler and Oswald Mosley. The parties which were largely responsible for this distortion of the word socialist were the Communist and Labour parties, aided and abetted by the press barons.

However, as time has gone by it is clear for all to see that the appellation of socialist really meant someone who disagreed with the Tory and Liberal parties, and when we got down to cases we found the Labour and Communist parties were just some other kind of Conservatives who had been misunderstood as to their original intentions. To accuse the Communist and Labour parties of being revolutionary, because that is what Socialism means, is virtually asking for a writ to be served for slander. Somehow or other we in the SPGB got the impression that those who misused the word were not as ignorant as they pretended. First among the phoney ignoramuses we place the BBC. This institution has been very careful not to confuse the respectable “socialist” — they know Stork from butter and can tell the difference; so much so that consistently over the years they have discriminated against the SPGB by never allowing it to to answer the gross misrepresentations of its case, nor to allow it to give talks on the subject of Socialism.

Today we have a new phenomenon. As practically everybody outside of the Carlton Club is a “socialist” of some sort or other (the late Mr. James Robertson Justice referred to himself as a “mild socialist”), the word has lost its impact, so the press have invented a new word which is calculated to put the fear of God into their easy-going readers — the word Marxist.

Where there’s a strike there’s a “Marxist”; where there’s a terrorist there’s a “Marxist”; where there’s sabotage and subversion there’s a "Marxist”. “Marxist” kidnappers, bank robbers, in fact everything socially undesirable is represented as “Marxist”. The fear of the Devil is replaced by the fear of Marxism. Luckily, we have some balancing factors in the shape of “Marxist” generals, “Marxist” admirals, “Marxist” bishops and politicians, and no doubt as time goes by we shall have “Marxist” funeral undertakers and “Marxist” mid-wives. But the saving grace, the spice of respectability, will be finally bestowed should Birmingham City Education Authority start teaching “Marxism” in their schools, as they have threatened.

We shudder with apprehension as to what atrocities will be perpetrated on the poor captive school-kids under the guise of learning “Marxism”. The only redeeming factor is that the press will have to find another name to denigrate the dissidents, as everyone will now become a “Marxist”.

Cartoon by Robert Barltrop.
We in the SPGB have been in politics for a very long time and we have more than a nodding acquaintance with the theories of Karl Marx, but we must confess our ignorance when we say that the Marxism referred to by the press and the BBC is unknown to us. What’s more, there must be a secret store of Marxist information to which we have no access, for try as we may we can never square the press’s description of Marxism, nor of the motley bunch who masquerade under its name, with the Marxism that we have known and advocated for over seventy years.

Marx discovered the reason why social systems change and what were the factors that would cause capitalist society to change. He also made a detailed analysis of the nature of capitalism and showed that anarchy in production would produce crises, war, unemployment and social problems. According to Marx and Engels capitalism sows the seeds of its own destruction by bringing into being a wage-working class without property in the means of production. That the intolerable conditions of capitalism weighing on those workers would cause them to consider their future role in society. The true Marxist associates with other Marxists to propagate and persuade workers in the majority all over the world to abolish capitalism and the wages system as a matter of urgency, and to establish a democratically-run moneyless system based on common ownership. The whole essence of Marxism is that the working class must be conscious of its historical role, act purposefully, and not trust in leaders. Their organization should be concerned with getting control of political power constitutionally without violence, state-smashing, insurrection and other minority action.

This is what constitutes a Marxist. How many of the “press Marxists” hold and work for these ends? Not one. Most of them are intense nationalists, frustrated politicians, or just plain thick-headed Communists or narrow-minded trade unionists who have never had a Marxist thought in their heads. As regards some of the self-styled Marxist organisations like IMG and IS, the least said the better. We can only agree with the old proverb that “Empty vessels make the most sound”.
Jim D'Arcy

"The Red Badge of Courage" (1917)

From the September 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Quite recently one of the regiments of Siberian Rifles, which had fought to splendidly at the beginning of the revolution, abandoned the Riga front, and nothing else but the order to exterminate the whole regiment availed to make it return to its positions. - (General Korniloff, Russian Commander-in-Chief, at the Moscow Conference.)
A side-light, this, on the way “heroes" are made. Had these men stood out against the order of “Comrade" Kerensky’s colleague in butchery and been exterminated, the world’s skunk Press would have been howling “cowards! traitors!” over their reeking corpses. Hut they chose the un-heroic part, and so will yet become "heroes” and “high-souled patriots,” “going into battle with joy,” and “making the great sacrifice” for Holy Russia. So it is in all countries. Apart from individuals, the highest courage is to be found farthest back from the trenches. It reaches a high level at “Staff Headquarters," where ornamental soldiers of blood “win their spurs" without losing their lives, and it reaches sublimity as far back as Fleet Street and the Cabinet chamber. But the nearer the front it is the more it has to be manufactured by making the soldier more afraid of his own tyrants than of the “enemy.” 
A. E. Jacomb

Domestic Servitude or Socialism? (1912)

From the February 1912 issue of the Socialist Standard

The signs of social change can be easily noticed and interpreted because of their present prominence. One of the most distinct is the parasitism that makes its presence fell everywhere to-day. The amount of wealth wrung out of the wage-slaves has increased so greatly and so rapidly that it has enabled the plutocracy to run their many residences with a magnificence and display greater than ever before. What was considered lavish and luxurious a generation ago is put in the shade by the prevailing ostentation and splendour. The rich vie with one another in their extravagance.

A remarkable feature of modern society is the small number of the population who actually engage in wealth production. The percentage of the population who are really producing is declining daily, and the Reports of the Government Census of Production have proved it.

The use of improved machinery and more scientific and economical methods has made it possible to produce wealth in superabundance, and with fewer * hands” than were formerly required. The International Cotton King have again and again ordered “short time” for their employees because they found that with modern highly developed machinery a few hours a day per operative was sufficient.

The operatives have been told often that the prospect for the future is that the cotton trade, instead of absorbing the increasing population, will have to discard a large number. Thus they have been brought to see hunger and want forced upon them on account of the very improvements their class have made and their skill has put in motion. And the same is true of other industries.

Hence we see that even to the women the industrial departments are being closed — to say nothing of men. Those shut out have therefore to become the personal servants of and attendants upon the parasite class that has profited by all the progress we see around us. The workers have had to see their daughters and sisters, and even their mothers, condemned to lifelong drudgery and useless, monotonous toil, pandering to the idle whims of a corrupt class.

It may be truly said that the domestics suffer from all the evils of serfdom without having any of its advantages. They suffer the complete personal subjection of serfdom without having the security of the serf. They have to face unemployment and insecurity of livelihood just as do the rest of the working class.

Endless work and lack of leisure soon tell upon their victims. From bright, happy girls they grow into dull, jaded, miserable women, haunted by all the fears that a wage slave alone can know. Their employers exact slavish obedience, and while they enjoy all the pleasures that centuries of social effort have made possible, the poor “slaveys” must toil till they are ready to drop with fatigue. While the employers idle and useless social pests live upon the best food and have the greatest variety of viands, their servants have to exist upon the meet plain and scanty fare. “The leavings are good enough for them! ”

Not only do the domestics have to work for these drones, but, even worse, they have to live with them too. Only those who have come into close contact with them can know what this means. They are under surveillance the whole twenty four hours round, the constant victims of the changing moods, the irritability and ennui of their employers.

The domestics see their mistresses taking part in the twentieth century “intellectual ’ movement of bourgeois women, voicing hypocritical cries of “Woman’s Freedom," and the like. This movement, so dear to the Fabian and other fatuous dilletanti, has nothing to offer the servant. While the employing section delight in picturing the achievements of the New Woman, the domestics feel economic pressure increasing and becoming more unbearable day by day. The employers demand more qualifications, and inquire more closely into the “character” of servants than formerly. They must be nimble, alert, experienced, docile, healthy, and above all, willing to accept wages which are little more than “ pocket money.”

Though their mistresses talk about “the awakening of woman,” they impose the observance of all the old hated forms upon their unfortunate slaves. The idiotic — "cap” that badge of servitude - has still to be worn, and it is as sure a sign of their slavery as was the neck ring of the helots of Carthage. It shows their chattel character just as the stamp upon the seaman's wrist shows him to be a creature of cursed capital

Forced into constant touch with their employers and always under the strictest restraint, it has naturally resulted that domestics generally lack even the slightest consciousness of their interests as members of a class with interests quite opposed to the capitalists.

Though many are turning away from the path of domestic servitude they do not fare better. A large number of the girls are becoming typists, yet the stampede from ”service” to shorthand-typewriting has only served to reduce the latter occupation to the level of the former. As the "Daily Chronicle” recently pointed out the typists are sufficiently numerous to meet all demands, and the numbers floating in now will so increase the supply that wages will fall lower than ever.

The mistresses continually prate about the difficulty of getting servants. What they mean is servants sufficiently devoid of feeling to stay in one place long. Servants continually change their places in the hope that the change will bring relief. The servitude is so onerous that a long spell in one situation ruins them completely. The slightest disobedience or fancied fault provides the mistress with an excuse for dismissing the servant, and often spiteful mistresses make it difficult for domestics to get other situations by giving "bad” characters.

The threat of a "bad” character is often sufficient to reduce the servant to humility and surrender. It is not surprising that of those who chance the consequences and seek other places some have drifted lo that horror of horrors, “the street.” And often the “bad” character has been the immediate cause.

Look at the position of those sentenced to domestic servitude for the term of their natural lives. What chance is there of their development in the unchanging round of enervating toil, the long hours of comparative isolation? These explain the cramped intellect and the morbid sentimentality that typify the domestic. The short spells of release from work is time snatched from sleep’s allotted span. Hence they patronise the sensational, flashy novel—the “literature” of the 20th century civilisation. This insipid, sloppy rubbish is the mental food of the modern Cinderella. Is it a matter for amazement that domestics are, more than any other section of the working class perhaps, the sheep-like followers of their employers’ dictates in all matters that should arouse their sturdy independence and self-reliance? Their menial position saps their independence and courage, so that combination among them has been taboo. But a recent sign of the times has been the formation of a trade union in their ranks. True, it hasn’t gained many converts, but still, it moves.

While as Socialists we welcome every sign of revolt against oppression on the part of the workers, we hold that revolt is useless and dangerous unless based upon a knowledge of the cause of their condition and its remedy.

The Domestic Workers’ Union has been busy acquainting mistresses of their desire to really get them better servants and to make the relations between mistress and maid harmonious!” Their objects include as a first proposal, “To raise the status of Domestic Work to the level of other industries”! What a blind, ignorant suggestion! Other industries involve misery and hardship for their workers, though they assume slightly different forms. It seems to fulfil the Anti-Socialist cry of “Reducing all to one dead level."

The other “objects” are equally foolish and futile. The servants have to understand that useful though a real union may be to them from day to day in helping them to fix their terms with their employers, these very terms are but a fixing of their slavery. Strong and sound though the union might ever even become, while this system of capitalist class monopoly of wealth continues, it can merely make rules to guide them in selling their energy and standardising their poverty. It cannot end their terrible servitude. To that they must combine with the rest of their class whatever their rank, office or station, into a political party with Socialism as its object.

In the co-operative commonwealth that Socialism will herald in, servitude domestic, civil, or penal will disappear. Then only will the women of the race have a chance to live a full life, unhampered by the cares and anxieties that now distract them.

There is plenty of work awaiting you, toiling sisters all. There are your fellow slaves to be aroused, and educated in the principles of Socialism, and organised for the fight for the emancipation of our class.

Depend upon it. unless we enrol the women while they are young, and before they have completely fallen a prey to their employers’ wiles, we but make our task harder in the future.
Adolph Kohn

Address By A Comrade From Vienna (1951)

From the November 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Comrades,

I had considered it as a bit of luck for me that your Delegate meeting coincided with a visit to my sons in England, following on a business trip to Paris. It would give me a chance and the pleasure of meeting so many comrades assembled and speaking to them. Unfortunately, the strain of a long journey and attention to business forced me on the Sunday to take a rest and to renounce my original intention of attending the delegate meeting. In so far as I could anyway not have come before you as a delegate appointed by Austrian comrades organized in a socialist party, no harm has been done. Only the small number of comrades and friends, some of whom are personally known to those of you who visited me in Vienna, have asked me to bring their fraternal greetings and good wishes to all members of your party. I am sorry that we have not yet managed to combine our forces to some organisation but we shall continue to work towards that end. The example you are setting to workers everywhere is a great inspiration. There is your amazing war-record established under most appalling trials, your magnificent election efforts, etc., as evidence of what enthusiasm and devotion to the great cause of the working class can accomplish. It makes one truly ashamed and should spur any worker to whom knowledge of your work is brought home.

My own merit—if that can be called a merit—is that I am both in regard to association with the S.P.G.B. and age, one of the old comrades, having joined the party about 40 years ago. It was my privilege to have known personally some of the founders of the party, such lamented comrades as Jack Fitzgerald, Alex Anderson, Jacomb, F. C. Watts and Jacobs, Kohn, and numerous others—men for whom I have always had the highest admiration, to whom the international working class should be grateful and of whom they can be proud. Another of my own "merits” is that I seem to have been among the few first exponents —a poor exponent though—of the policy and declaration of principles of the S.P.G.B. in the German language on the Continent. I am sorry to say that my example does not so far seem to have been followed to any marked degree. Do not think that I am enjoying this honour and solitary position. I would much rather know crowds of comrades with greater abilities and potentialities coming forward everywhere and vying with me and others in spreading the real, revolutionary socialist message not only in the German speaking parts, but in all the continents. I would much rather be outdone and submerged in a flood of socialist propagandists.

As regards conditions in Austria, socialists do not need a lot of telling. They know that where money and capital rules, with its degrading wage-slavery, there our class suffers poverty, privation and insecurity with all the unhappiness and frustrations due to these things. Notwithstanding all the millions of dollars pumped into the country's industries by the Marshall-plan, there are a hundred-thousand unemployed and fears of more to come. So used are the capitalist statesmen to high figures of unemployment that a hundred thousand is considered negligible, it is even called “full employment” which, they say, “must be maintained.” Meanwhile prices keep rising, the four “Allied” Powers are still in occupation, jealously watching each other and giving no sign of quitting. It is of course part and parcel of the world-wide commercial rivalry between these Powers, notably between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. Thus demarcation-lines, censorship, requisitions, victimisation and all the rest of the chicanery and threats continue unabated.

After 60 years of social reform activity fraudulently presented under the name of socialism or communism, the Austrian workers are today in a worse plight than ever before. This is not surprising because what, after all, do all these so-called reforms purport and amount to? Are they to make the worker’s life easier and more comfortable? Do they make for the enjoyment of life? The answer is No. All the legislators are concerned with is to stem the utter deterioration due to the exploitation of the workers, and to see to it that the burden of want, which is the bludgeon indispensable to drive the working class to work under the horrible conditions imposed by capitalist exploitation does not become heavier than the workers are expected to bear. Freedom from want and insecurity can only be ensured by the ending of exploitation and the total abolition of the capitalist system—which has been the consistent policy of the S.P.G.B. from its inception. To support any other policy, is to play into the hands of the workers’ enemies,

I wish I could bring our friends and others here to see you at work. 1 am sure it would be a great inspiration and fire them on to greater activity. During my brief visit I have of course also viewed your new premises and I congratulate you on having successfully mastered what must have been a difficult problem for workers not having the financial resources of the anti-socialist organisations, like the labour and “communist” parties, at their disposal. It would give me the greatest pleasure to be able to make some financial contribution towards your fine efforts, but unfortunately I can only express to you my best wishes for the continued prosperity of your labours. In taking leave, I renew my pledge to continue spreading the revolutionary message to the best of my ability and ask you to accept this fraternal salute from,
Rudolf Frank

Car Boot Capers (2010)

From the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Shopping, it’s said, is the new religion, the new opiate of the people.

Once upon a time, as a youngster, Sundays – pre-television and transportless – used to stretch in front of one like the dry and arid sands of the Sahara Desert; never ending and devoid of activity. The oasis in the day, for me, was the evening time when the crackly sound of Radio Luxemburg playing the pop music hits of the day came over the transistor radio. My mom’s Sunday roast was always appreciated though even if I didn’t know then the hard work that went into it in a very non-labour-saving kitchen. For a very brief spell I was packed off to the local Sunday school but I’m happy to say that the boredom of that experience outweighed even that of the traditional ‘day of rest’ with restricted pub opening hours. Consequently I did not succumb to the mind-numbing brainwashing of religion.

Recently I watched a Nick Hornby film, Fever Pitch, and was struck by the piece where Ruth Gemmell berates Colin Firth for his obsession with measuring out his life according to the length of the football season. We all measure out our lives in ‘coffee spoons’ in one way or the other whether by the natural seasons, sporting ones, or in artificial capitalistic ‘financial years’ or ‘results quarters’. For the majority of us this measure is that of waiting for the next weekly wage packet or monthly salary cheque. The long-ago Sundays to which I refer were days to be endured rather than enjoyed. In those days a tramp around a muddy field was just that. Fresh air and exercise but without the added excitement of boxes of vinyl singles and long playing records to leaf through, and beef burger stalls filling the air with the smell of fried onions.

For some the season that provides most joy is ‘on hold’ pending dry weather and the certainty of not getting one’s car bogged down in the ‘parking area’. Wikipedia tells us, cautiously, that the world's first 'Boot Fair' or 'Boot Sale' was held in Kent in 1980. ‘The title or name 'Boot Fair' was coined by the originator and organiser, Barry Peverett, in order to create the curiosity that ultimately ensured that car boot sale events became a run-away popular success and a burgeoning nationwide weekend activity.’

Shopping, it’s said, is the new religion, the new opiate of the people. One of the arenas where this is demonstrated is the Car Boot. Bargains galore! A visit to a Car Boot evokes many sensations. I’m not sure if one of these is the adult equivalent of a child visiting a toy store or sweet shop. A cornucopia of commodities, a positive plethora of unused, unwanted possessions, a galaxy of gew-gaws awaits the early bird and the searcher of useless plastic objects! Car boots offer an opportunity to acquire some practical commodity, or simply something ‘because it was cheap’. Fifty pence? I’ll give you twenty five. Ok, thirty, sold. You can get unwanted children’s toys, outgrown clothes, VHS cassettes – superseded by a newer technology, DVD copies – cheaper than the original!, You can get electrical goods that scream at you caveat emptor!

Buyer beware! You can get books that should have been remaindered the day they were published. You can get knick-knacks, the garish, the gaudy, the tasteless and much more at the car boot.

Not everyone might be so flamboyant as the couple profiled in the Daily Mail who sold ‘a silver-plated tray, a pair of candlesticks and some designer shirts’ from the back of a Bentley and made £260 which they planned to use for ‘lunch at Le Gavroche,’ but the motivation is the same. (Link). Why would you rise at half five in the morning to load your vehicle with all the prerequisites necessary to stand in a field for seven hours and display your wares for the approbation of the passing crowd? Simple. To convert those items into cash.

Each of those items whether useful, worn out, kitschy, or merely decorative shares a common constituent. Each was made to be sold, most so that the ‘surplus value’, i.e. profit, in it could be realised. Each item wasn’t made to be aesthetically pleasing, long lasting, efficient, or made to contribute to the benefit of society or to the happiness of the individual. Apart from the trinkets produced for tourists the rest was originally made solely to produce profit for the benefit of a minority.

You will often find a stall displaying the sign, ‘free’. I once heard someone asking at such a stall, ‘how much are these then?’ The concept of giving away things that you no longer want to people who can make use of them is an admirable one. There are sites on the internet dedicated to acting as a ‘middleman’ to facilitate such actions. But not everybody is convinced of the argument for a society based upon free access: ‘At least one of your founding bloggers saw the bumper sticker below plastered on someone’s car today. ‘Healthcare for people – not for profit.’ Would anyone blame a doctor for taking a baseball bat to the car this was affixed to? We can’t help but wonder what other professions the morons who believe this slogan think should have all incentive removed. Homes for people not for profit; food for people not for profit; education for people not for profit. This list could go on forever” (Dead Link). Actually, yes it could.

Those Sundays of long ago might appear, to me, with the passing of time, to represent a more innocent, less exploitative time. If that were so then I would be talking nonsense. The social system then, as now, compelled those who owned nothing but their ability to work to seek out someone prepared to pay for those abilities in the knowledge that such as one-sided contract could be of benefit to one party only. One cannot turn the clock back. We can, though, turn the clock forward. Is a car boot all you really aspire to?
Dave Coggan

Film Review: The Master (2013)

Film Review from the January 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Master (Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.)

Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, winner of the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, and Joaquin Phoenix as the damaged WW2 veteran Freddie Quell.

This film is about the trauma and loss caused by war but also about hope and renewal. The opening part of the film is influenced by the 1946 US government documentary Let There Be Light directed by John Huston which was filmed at Edgewood State Hospital on Long Island, and chronicled shell-shocked soldiers entry into a psychiatric hospital, and their treatment. These war casualties suffered from debilitating emotional trauma and depression brought on by their experiences in the war.

The use of the popular wartime song Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me) is reminiscent of its emotionally powerful use in the 1976 film Tracks by Henry Jaglom which starred Dennis Hopper as a traumatised Vietnam War veteran. During WW2 and after song lyrics spoke of 'seeing you in my dreams, finding you in another day'. The scars of war and the heartbreaking returns to Civvy Street prompted people's interest in other lives, memories, ghosts, science fiction stories, other worlds, and time travel.

The periods after war are fertile times for religion, spirituality, and metaphysical ideas as balm for scarred people, in fact they are ‘the opium of the people’. After WW1, spiritualism and theosophy were very popular, and after WW2 there was the 'beat generation' interest in eastern religions, and the publication in 1950 of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health by L. Ron Hubbard.

Hoffman's character Dodd is the charismatic leader of an organisation that seems to offer light and a beacon of hope to those damaged and lost in the world such as Quell. The Master is described as ‘riffing lightly off the life of L. Ron Hubbard.’ Director Paul Thomas Anderson says the film ‘takes its lead from the beautiful ideas expressed in Hubbard's book. The idea of recalling past lives is so hopeful, so optimistic, and it is something I would love to go along with’. Anderson adds that war and death make ‘people want to talk about past lives, about where we go after we die, time travel is possible, those are great ideas’.

Hubbard's book Dianetics was criticised in the New York Herald by Erich Fromm who saw that Hubbard's mechanistic view of the mind had no need for human values or conscience, and in the New York Times, Rollo May identified the fallacy of trying to understand human nature by invariant mathematical models taken from mechanics. Fromm later identified the mental health consequences of the contradictions in capitalism between 'having' and 'being', and the need for a sane socialist society in his book The Sane Society.

The Master was shot on now rarely used 65/70mm film stock and is a cinematic treat. It is reminiscent of the stately grandeur and beauty of films like 2001 and Barry Lyndon by Stanley Kubrick.
Steve Clayton