Wednesday, November 8, 2017

American nightmare (2004)

From the October 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

The much heralded ‘American Dream’, whereby everybody can start off poor, but by hard work and application rise to the top is often summed up in a political way as “Log Cabin to White House”. We are usually offered the example of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president, as an example of this transformation. Lincoln’s career from shopkeeper to surveyor to lawyer to politician is indeed remarkable, but hardly typical of the 19th century in America and certainly nothing like the America of today; where the vast accumulated wealth of the capitalist class is mostly inherited.
Another aspect of this dream that we are supposed to swallow is that the humblest of Americans can topple the government if they so desire. That anyone can run for office and attack the bastions of wealth and privilege is one of the cornerstones of this American delusion. The reality is somewhat different, as recent figures for the financing of the electoral efforts for the November elections of the Democratic and Republican Parties show.
An organisation called the Center for Responsive Politics showed how the recent Federal Election Commission’s laws enacted to stop the lavishing of funds on political parties are being circumvented. Here are some examples how the capitalist class get around such legislation. New campaign funding laws outlawing unregulated contributions to political parties are avoided by individual executives of corporations  donating and for the firms to donate lavishly to fund convention events.
That such gifts are huge is shown by the example quoted in the Observer  (1 August):
 “The biggest corporate donors in this years American presidential election are executives of Goldman Sachs, the investment bank. For the first time, the Wall Street firm has become the US’s top corporate funder, contributing a total of nearly $4 million to both George W. Bush’s and John Kerry’s campaigns . . . Steven Weiss of the Centre for Responsive Politics said: ‘Goldman Sachs is involved in the political process and knows how to play the game. Money plays a huge role in politics. It sends a message that you will get access and influence. If you don’t contribute, you’re on the sidelines`”
An example of how important it is to US corporations to donate large amounts of cash to political parties is given in another article in the same issue of that newspaper:
   “What’s more interesting is the way Microsoft has made the transition from a company which essentially ignored politics to one which has become adept at channelling its money through political conduits to further its corporate interests. In 1995, the budget for Microsoft’s Political Action Committee (PAC) was a paltry $16,000. By 2000 it was $1.6 million. And total donations by Microsoft and its employees to political parties, candidates and PACs in the 2000 election cycle came to more than $6.1m, according to Edward Roeder, a long-time observer of corporate political donations.”
What brought about this change of policy at Microsoft? Microsoft’s ruthless destruction of Netscape in the mid-1990s and its contravention of the US anti-trust laws led to a series of anti-trust prosecutions that threatened their dominant position. The corporation realised it needed friends in the administration and set about reversing its previous politically aloof position.
The reality behind the American Dream is the sordid money-grubbing, back-stabbing rat race of capitalism; where politicians are merely the message boys of the rich and powerful and where the poor and exploited are left behind. The American Dream is a horrendous nightmare.
As socialists we are not pessimistic about the future. We believe that the class that produces all the wealth of the world will wake from this capitalist nightmare and bring about a society based on production solely for use. After all, as old Abe once said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
Richard Donnelly

The Passing Show: Hypocritical New Year! (1966)

The Passing Show Column from the January 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hypocritical New Year!

Humbugtime is over for another twelve months, thank goodness. It ended at around midnight on New Year’s Eve when everyone slapped everyone else on the back, wished him health, wealth and happiness, and then got back to the serious business of cutting the next man’s throat.

But what am I saying! Humbugtime is not over. Only a particularly cynical and obnoxious part of it called Christmas. Now will come the January “bargain” sales when well bred young ladies will scratch each other’s eyes out, and the retailers will release specially made stocks of rubbish under the heading of “genuine reductions”. About the only thing that is genuinely reduced is the quality of the goods.

By the time you read this, you might also have noticed the adverts creeping into the paper about this year's summer holidays. In fact I got a circular through the post at the beginning of December. All of them will promise you the best and cheapest of holidays (another piece of humbug—the two just don’t go together) and running through all of the literature will be the suggestion that the holiday firms are here with the intention of serving you purely for its own sake. But just try defaulting on payments, say, on a “hire purchase” holiday and watch them drop the mask of genial hand-rubbing servility.

So far we have looked at two or three examples of humbug that you will encounter in about the first six months of this or any other year. But there are others and no doubt you can add to the list, and make it as long as your arm. In this year of 1966, for example, you will again be told to work harder and produce more, but not to press for more wages. If only you will do this somehow (no one ever explains just how) your standard of living will rise. This will be the government’s bleat—ably supported by opposition and press alike, and they will pound your ears with this lie until they ring. But what will happen in practice? The trade unions will continue to struggle for better pay and conditions, just as they have always done.

The government will assure you, as ever, that it is working for peace while developing all sorts of deadly weapons and selling them abroad. The armed forces will be used—as they have always been—to bolster British capitalism’s interests and if that means bloodshed, then so be it. Of course, the British government is not alone in that particularly bloody type of humbug. Only a few months ago in this column I gave examples of some particularly peace-loving warmongers, but they were mainly small fry in the capitalist scheme of things. Such as Tito and Nkrumah.

For a really nice large chunk of humbug, President Johnson’s words of December 2nd take a bit of beating.

Talking about the Vietnam war to a conference of industrialists and financiers at Washington, he insisted that :
 “This nation is ready to talk, unconditionally, anywhere with peace as our agenda . . .  peace is our commitment. Peace is our goal. Peace will be the only victory we seek. And peace will come.” (Guardian—3.12.65.)
The Vietnam affair is one of the bloodiest “minor” wars which have been fought since Korea. It has been protracted and gruesome, with some really spine-chilling atrocities on both sides. And as everyone has talked more and more about “peace” so the killing has intensified—“escalated” is the word in current vogue, I believe.

But peace, however desirable, is something which must be subordinated to the interests of the various contestants and in leaving that out of his speech, the President was guilty of the biggest humbug of all. No talks will ever be "unconditional”. They will be held sooner or later because neither side can fight for ever, and you may rest assured that both sides will then drive as hard a bargain as they can to try and protect their interests.

Poor Little Rich Men 

One of the many hallmarks of working class existence in the 1930’s was poor nutrition. Marghanita Laski recalls this briefly in an article in the Observer colour supplement of December 5th. when she cites a 1938 study of Birmingham schoolchildren which “classified only 2.5 per cent as excellently nourished.”

There have been some changes since then, of course, but I never thought I’d see the day when it would be suggested that “the wealthy executive lunching on oysters, steak and brandy may not be as well fed as the workman with his humble stew”. Yet this is what Dr. J. G. Davis (past chairman of the Society of Chemical Industries Food Group) has said, and it was reported in The Daily Telegraph of November 18th last. Now I do not want to take the doctor’s words out of their context or misconstrue what he has said. He was, of course, pointing to the possible nutritional deficiencies in a business lunch compared to the workman’s dinner and taking the examples he gave, there is something to be said for his point of view. But does that mean that we should shed any tears for the poor under-nourished capitalist? Far from it.

The fact that a man may have the financial means to buy himself good food—the best from every point of view—but is perhaps foolish enough not to do it, is really beside the point. He is in the position to feed himself well and having ignored the doctor's advice, he can still get the best of medical attention. In other words, the richer he is, the better chance he stands of feeding, clothing and housing himself really well. And as a general rule, this is just what happens of course.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. I haven’t noticed any capitalist making strenuous efforts to give up his riches and savour the qualities of working class food, clothing and shelter. It has been estimated that over one third of the world’s population are starving. I wonder how many of them are rich people.


“If they (the opposition) are not pleased about it, the country outside is, and nobody more than the business community.” (George Brown in a Commons speech 17/11/65, on the improved balance of payments position.)

“The only thing which bars one from going to a public school is lack of money”. (Lord Somers, House of Lords debate 16/11/65.)

“India might have to reconsider its position if China ever accumulated a stockpile of nuclear weapons and perfected a delivery system.” (Mr. Shastri—16/11 /65.)
"All in all, then Mr. Wilson and his Economics Ministers cannot take it for granted that things will move along predictable lines." (Guardian financial editor W. Davies—18/11/65.)

“By raising living standards you create demand for our goods, order books would be filled to overflowing . . .’’ (“War on Want" appeals advert in The Observer—14/11/65.)

“It is greed for financial profit and the enormous pressure of conflicting interests that are mainly responsible for this brutal destruction. (National Trust Secretary J. F. W. Rathbone, on the destruction of the English coastline—1/12/65.)

“A happy Christmas and a prosperous new year from Editor and Staff of your paper. (Pensioners’ Voice for December 1965.)
Eddie Critchfield

House loan to Nigel Lawson (1966)

From the February 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Conservative Party champions the cause of those who support the unequal society. They justify this by asserting that some individuals achieve success because they have an ability greater than others. They hold that this success entitles them to a larger share of the material things of life. I have often wondered if it were not possible to put a figure or ratio to this allegedly justifiable difference in consumption. It now appears from the housing committee of the Conservative Kensington and Chelsea Council that a reasonable ratio is of the order of 50: 1.

In this borough of the Greater London Council, embracing the highly fashionable Hyde Park Gate and the highly condemnable Notting Hill area, Mr. Nigel Lawson is buying a house. He is the new editor of “Spectator,” a former financial journalist and speech writer for Sir Alec Douglas Home. The house in Hyde Park Gate was valued by the Council at £34,000. The value placed on a property by a building society, local council or any other lending today is generally about 85 per cent, of the current market price, which leaves the lender a margin if the mortgagor should default on the repayments, when the property would have to be sold quickly. In order to complete his purchase, Mr. Lawson, or his agents, applied to the Kensington and Chelsea Council for a mortgage of £20,000. And got it.

The Labour Party opposition on the Council objected to the loan. Firstly they claimed the money could have been better advanced on say five £4,000 mortgages. or, alternatively, it could have been loaned to one of the borough’s housing associations, who could have utilised the money to house 50 people.

So there we have it: a loan to Mr. Lawson or a loan to 50 other people via a housing association. To take sides in this squabble is entirely to miss the point, which is that the housing shortage is one aspect of the general problem of poverty.

When questioned about the housing problem, the Socialist Party of Great Britain has often given the quick answer, to better illustrate the question, that the housing problem is only a problem for the working class, and has instanced the voluminous advertisements for houses for sale in the press. It is a shortage of money rather than houses that prevents most people from buying a house in a society that builds houses for sale rather than occupation. Despite all the talk of the affluent society, it remains a fact that a large section of the working class cannot afford the price of accommodation. As with any other necessity under capitalism. housing is available only within the limitations of a profit making system.

Mr. Lawson’s £20,000 mortgage carries interest at 6½ per cent, repayable over twenty years. A Councillor who wrote to the “Guardian” estimated that in order to qualify for the loan, Mr. Lawson must have an income of at least £8,000 per year and that the interest factor in the yearly repayments will be £1,256, upon which there will be relief from income tax and sur-tax of £840. So much for beer guzzling layabouts in council houses being the only recipients of subsidies.

In August 1965, HMSO published the table of personal incomes for 1963, which shows that of the 27 million individuals in receipt of personal income, 20 million were getting less than £1,000 and 25 million were getting less than £1,500 per year. If we average this out, it means that 80 per cent. were receiving an income equal to the amount paid by Mr. Lawson in mortgage interest, whereas his income, if the Councillor’s figures are correct, place him in the top 129,000, or the top 1 per cent. of the income table.

That “some are more equal than others” is true not only in Kensington and Chelsea but throughout the land. But perhaps the last word should go to Mr. Lawson, who wrote his first column as the new editor of “Spectator” on 7th January 1966; after all, he said, the Council will be making a profit from the mortgage they granted him. What more could a Tory ask, or give.
Ray Guy

Bolshevism (2004)

Pamphlet Review from the November 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bolshevism. By Rudolf Sprenger, Redline Publications, 2004.

One of the greatest obstacles to socialism in the twentieth century was Bolshevism. A key text in that ideology was Lenin's 1902 book, What Is To Be Done? There was nothing particularly new in that work, being the general outlook of the Second International, but it did lay out clearly the idea that leadership was needed for a working class which was incapable of emancipating itself. Rudolf Sprenger (real name Helmut Wagner) wrote this eloquent demolition of Leninist élitism in the early 1930s, published in New York in 1939 and favourably reviewed in the Socialist Standard that year. Sprenger argues that the Russian Revolution was a bourgeois rather than a proletarian revolution.

The pamphlet is priced at £2.00 plus 50 pence postage in the UK. Inclusive airmail price to Europe is 5 euros, and to the rest of the world US$7.00. Overseas orders should be paid for with currency notes. Order from: Redline Publications, PO Box 6700, Sawbridgeworth, CM21 0BS, UK.
Lew Higgins

Problem of Noise (1966)

From the March 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

The advance of capitalism has everywhere depended upon industrialisation. An essential of industrialisation is the substitution of the machine for manual labour in the processes of production, and its introduction as the universal motive power for transport. Herein lies the root cause of one of (he evils of modern society: increasing noise. Noise is not only increasing in intensity; it is becoming more widespread. Some of its effects will be discussed in this article, but first we may ask the question: “Is it just a minority of oversensitive people who are troubled by noise; is it really a serious problem?”

Up to quite recently the answer to this question would have been in doubt. But in 1961 a survey was made in London in which a sample of 1,400 people were asked this question: “If you could change just one of the things you don’t like about living around here, which would you choose?” The question was obviously framed to avoid any suggestion of its possible answer, the direct opposite of what lawyers would call a leading question. When the answers were analysed it was found that noise shared second place among the list of things to which these people objected. It even look precedence over slums, dirt and smoke. In the same survey the origin of the noises which disturbed people in their homes were examined. The figures show that 61 per cent of these sources of noise were attributable to the mechanisation of transport, production and services.

The above information is taken from a Government report (Noise, H.M.S.O., 1963), the publication of which is in itself some indication that the problem has now gone beyond the concern of voluntary societies and minority pressure groups.

Why should mechanisation result in noise? The short answer is that machines produce a lot of energy (this is the object of the exercise) and some of it is wasted in the form of sound. Unfortunately, a very small amount of energy will produce a great deal of noise; the efficiency of the machine is hardly affected. While mechanical efficiency remains the criterion, manufacturers have little incentive to reduce noise. If the question had been: “Need machines produce noise?” the answer, as we shall see, would have been very different.

The Effect of Noise on Health
The effect of noise on human beings is both physiological and psychological (if we can accept this arbitrary distinction). Noise can damage the physical mechanism of hearing and it can cause psychological disturbance which, in turn, affects physical well-being.

The direct physical effects of noise have been known for a long time. It is common knowledge that workers in certain industries (such as boiler-rivetters) have become permanently deaf well before the time has come for them to “enjoy their retirement.”

There are many other industries in which high levels of noise involve a risk of permanent impairment of hearing. The official report we have mentioned, after referring to those cases where management has taken steps to reduce the risk of aural damage, concludes by stating: “However, there is little doubt that the noise environment in many other industries is hazardous, but that little is being done at present in these industries to investigate the degree of hazard and to minimise it.” This is a very frank admission, resulting from the fact that only in recent years has it been discovered that the noise levels which cause deafness (over an extended period) are much less than was previously thought.

The most important indirect effect on health is probably the interference with sleep caused by road, rail and air-traffic noise. It is not until people are literally awakened by traffic noise that they begin to associate tiredness, ill-health and irritability with loss of sleep. However, if we can believe the advertisements for powdered milk drinks, depth of sleep is no less important than mere unconsciousness. Depth of sleep is certainly reduced by noises not loud enough to wake us up.

In some localities it is not a question of how soundly one can sleep, but whether one can sleep at all. The conditions near airports have received much publicity in the press and there is no need to enlarge on the matter here. It is perhaps only necessary to mention that most authorities expect conditions to get worse and more widespread.

Noise affects us in many other ways, most of which can reduce physical and mental well-being. Frustration is now generally recognised as having harmful physical side-effects and nothing can be more frustrating than trying to concentrate one’s attention on one thing whilst having it distracted by something else. Office workers, students, teachers and the like are constantly fighting a losing battle against the increasing noise of the urban environment. When they return home they cannot be sure of a respite. The increasing congestion of traffic in towns has brought noise to what were once quiet residential areas. Some people live under air routes or beside railway lines, some near factories which operate night shifts in the race for increased production. Reading, listening to the radio, conversation or just relaxing from the day’s effort may be disturbed by the noise which penetrates the inadequate defences of the average worker's home.

Reform and Legislation
As in the case of most of the ills of modern society, the noise problem has produced its body of reformers. The Noise Abatement Society was founded in 1959 (a similar society was in existence before the war), but it is doubtful whether any of its supporters would claim that the advancing tide of noise had been materially checked by years of propaganda. It is true that the law now provides for legal action against individuals who cause unnecessary noise disturbance, and Local Authorities are empowered to intervene in cases which are referred to them. But this barely touches the fringe of the problem. Legal action is expensive and slow to take effect but, what is more important, most of the noise is outside the scope of any legal action. Because they are statutory undertakings, the operation of railways and aircraft is exempt from the provisions of the Noise Abatement Act and, quite obviously, no legal action can be taken to reduce road traffic noise.

The report Noise made recommendations to the Government in respect of each of eight categories of noise, but not in all cases is further legislation considered practical. Where positive action is recommended, it seems half-hearted. Often only appeals for voluntary action, on the part of those making the noise, is suggested.

The Cost of Noise Reduction
In the case of road traffic noise, the report suggested legislation, binding on manufacturers, to limit the noise produced by cars, lorries and motor-cycles to certain stated maximum levels. The report commented on its own proposal in these words: “These values are significantly higher than those which would be fixed purely on the basis of ‘acceptability’ . . . The choice of limits at any level is, however, a compromise between what is desired by the public and what is technically possible, at a reasonable cost, at any point in time” (our italics). At a point in time when it seems technically possible to get to the moon, whatever the cost, this statement may puzzle the non-socialist reader.

On aircraft noise the report suggested two things: that efforts should be made in the future design and operation of aircraft to reduce the output of noise, and that grants should be available to the occupiers of houses near airports towards the provision of double windows to keep out the noise.

On the first point, the report referred to new types of civil aircraft which are potentially quieter than present ones, but expressed the opinion that “unless the airlines gain some economic advantage from the new types they will not buy them.” It also pointed out the need for international agreement, since English airports are used for foreign operators.

On grants for the insulation of houses, the authors of the report were again concerned with cost and accordingly recommend “that the grant should never be the whole of the cost” and that grants should be “on a scale varying from a high proportion of the total cost where noise exposure is greatest to a small proportion at the boundary of the area within which the grant is payable.” One might imagine from this that the cost involved was potentially astronomical. It is therefore surprising to discover that the expenditure the authors had in mind in the case of London Airport is around two million pounds—about the cost of one air-liner.

Can Capitalism Produce a Solution?
It will be seen from the above, and a more general reading of the report, that the cost involved in reducing noise is an ever-present consideration in the minds of people who undoubtedly think in terms of the perpetuation of capitalism. The preservation of adequate profit margins is an essential to production under capitalism.

Capitalist governments need to provide for the protection of overseas territory, concessions and markets by military preparedness. In the field of aircraft this has resulted in a race to produce faster and faster machines, with a consequent increase in noise. Moreover, in the competition for foreign markets, the civil aircraft industry is involved in the same race.

As in the case of so many problems thrown up by capitalism a solution to the noise problem cannot be found in terms of reform measures. Only when the economic pressures of capitalist competition are removed will the “cost of noise reduction” be no longer a barrier to the attainment of a peaceful environment.
John Moore

Bomb Weary Family Cries Against War (1950)

Book Review from the 21st May, 1950, issue of the Los Angeles Times

My Time, My Life. by George Camden. (Doubleday: $2.75.)

George Camden, we would guess, might never have written a book if there hadn't been a war. The son of a London rag-and-bones man, he worked since he was 14 as a barber's assistant, and later as a tailor. For five years he, his wife and child lived with the bombs in London.

While "My Time, My Life" may not be strictly autobiographical, it surely is drawn from bitter personal experience.

Bill Smith, Pat, his wife, and Curly Goldstein, his friend, were too busy earning a living and keeping off the dole to worry about a war they had no part in making. War came anyhow. Curly enlisted, Bill was in an essential industry and faced the war in London with his family in the midst of a holocaust.

So, we have another war novel by another new author. And we can't treat this one casually. We can't treat any of them casually, no matter how badly they write—and George Camden does not write badly at all.

They all have one thing in common—an anguished sincerity, a great inner need to cry out against war. George Camden writes simply, entertainingly and sincerely. He deserves to be read.
Helen O. Schrader

Blogger's Note:
'George Camden' was the pen-name of Sid Rubin, a very active speaker and writer for the SPGB in the thirties and forties. The Socialist Standard review of his novel can be found at the following link.

The Passing Show: Just to Remind You (1966)

The Passing Show Column from the April 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just to remind You

I know it's not quite the done thing to say "We told you so", but it’s true nevertheless. We did tell you so—in the November 1964 issue of this journal. Hard on the heels of the Labour Party’s victory, here is what we said in our editorial of that month:—
Under the new Labour Government, then, it will be very much business as usual for the ruling class-and for the man in the street as well. Workers will still have to struggle to make both ends meet amidst the increasing strains of a competitive world . . .  and when they come out on strike, they will be opposed just as much by Wilson as they have been by Home.
I don’t think I can fault that paragraph, except perhaps to say that it was a little too kind to the Labour government. Indeed you have had to struggle; indeed the strains have increased; but when it came to the question of strikes your Labour friends bashed you a darned sight harder that Home or MacMillan managed to do. In fact, it could be argued, that the Tories tended to avoid head-on clashes with the unions and sometimes backed down in the face of wage demands. It was they who set up the Guillebaud Committee on the railmen’s pay, but it was the Labour government (through its incomes board with a £15,000 p.a. chairman) who threw out Guillebaud.

The ‘‘early warning” Bill, published just before the election this year, makes advance notification of wage claims compulsory. Could any employer ask for more? If the bill goes through, he will be in a grand position to prepare for strikes and gird his loins for battle. And the bitter irony of it all for some of the more militant trade unionists is that the Minister responsible for the proposals— George Brown—used to be an active official in the Transport and General Workers’ Union.

Some Labourites, like Mr. Warbey, onetime Member for Ashfield, have become sadly disillusioned, sometimes after many years in the Labour cause. Isn't it a pity that they did not heed our "early warning system”. They could have saved themselves a lot of trouble over the years. Yes, we have had an “early warning system’’ since the day of our birth in 1904. It is our sound analysis of social conditions which has enabled us to say to reformist organisations like the Labour Party, well in advance, "You will fail”. Over forty years later the Attlee government, with a thumping majority, did just that. Its successors will do the same.

A Man's best friend?

Who first said that about dogs? My schoolteacher from junior days used to repeat it often enough, but pearls of wisdom fell rarely from her mouth and I doubt if she knew the origin. Well whoever said it, its current validity has to be measured in the context of modern conditions, and when this is done, perhaps there is room for doubt.

A comrade has sent me a cutting from The Guardian editorial of February 4th, which seems to illustrate the point. It tells us that the government pays £1,070 a year to maintain each of the 1,857 Alsatians used for guarding military establishments. Quite a sum, you might think—certainly more than many workers manage to earn in a comparable period, but no government will stop to look at it from that point of view, of course. To them it is a vital job that military airfields, H-Bomb factories, and other objectionable installations are carefully guarded night and day, so any method will be pressed into service.

Notwithstanding the figures given above, an Alsatian would be cheaper to keep than its equivalent in manpower and has the additional advantages of fleet-footedness and a good high jump. It can be trained to bring down an "intruder” with a leap, and hold him down until the guards arrive. An ideal guardian of private property, and used widely for this purpose in the modern world. Alsatians are employed a great deal, but there are other breeds—big, beautiful courageous beasts—trained to fight at the word of command.

The civil police also use them and coincidentally enough an article on this appeared in my local paper on March 4th. It was rather a pathetic effort to eulogise one particular police dog and tell how it was helped its handler to make more than a hundred arrests in about four years. “Here”, bleats the corn writer, of a type so often encountered in local newspapers, “is a man hurrying along with a large bag . . .  are two lads wheeling a motor cycle along the road . . .  a shop with light showing under the door . . . ” He tries to show what a grand job is done by the bobby and dog in “the fight against crime”.

And many workers, too, keep dogs in the fond (but oft mistaken) belief that they will make good “watchdogs”; ignoring for the moment the fact that what most workers possess isn’t worth watch ing anyway, this is quite different from the highly trained beasts padding around Air Force camps or along town streets in dead of night in the charge of a police handler. And when all is said and done perhaps we shouldn’t be very surprised at the sort of use to which these animals are put. Horses have been used to move cavalry, mules to pull field guns; so why not dogs now to catch yobs and tear the pants off C.N.D.ers? It is just part of general misuse and perversion which capitalism fosters.

The R.S.P.C.A. will not concern itself overmuch, either. After all, why should it? The dogs are cared for well enough. It’s the human beings who suffer cruelty.

Housing for the People

The People is a Sunday paper struggling hard to attain the dizzy heights of champion dirt digger, a position currently held by the News of the World or the Sunday Mirror. But with a difference, the N.O.W. just fills its columns unashamedly with juicy reports of sex crime murders, court cases etc and lets your imagination do the rest. The People, on the other hand goes crusading in the national interest, and thereby concentrates its dirt digging in one direction at a time.

At the time of writing The People's voice is thundering against decadence and immorality, but a week or two before that it went raking round council estates (what a lousy job for someone) to disclose rich people living in subsidised houses. In the issue for February 13, for example, John Justice tells of a £100 a week film art director, a factory boss worth £30,000 and a £5,000 a year building constructor, all committing this grave offence.

Why do obviously well-off people occupy council dwellings? Perhaps they are eccentric—as only the rich can afford to be. Maybe there are other reasons but it would be futile to speculate about what they are. But there is another side to this question which perhaps has slipped your notice and which you should think about before you applaud The People its public spirited action. There is a back-handed slap across the face for you behind all its moral indignation. Just look at these random quotes:
Council property is for people who need it . . . “Our sons say we should not live here. One of them has a £10,000 house”. Your sons are right, Mr. Rose. And Dartford Council should help them to change your mind . . .  The sooner his council house is available for someone who really needs it the better . . . .
In other words, council dwellings are for those who cannot afford anything better. Cheap (and shoddy) houses for the workers—holes for proles. That is the real import of John Justice’s words, whether or not he realised it. In his frantic concern for this financial “apartheid”, he has given us a fitting demonstration of the smarting indignity of working class existence.


“The widespread use of an effective influenza vaccine would save the National Health Service a net £8 millions a year”. (Booklet by the Office of Health expenditure, 21.2.66).

"I am sure there will be objections from someone whatever we do. But as long as we get paid we will trade with anyone". (Sir Donald Stokes on Cuba's order for Leyland Coaches, 23.2.66).

“This is not an election about ‘more socialism’, whatever that may mean’’. (Guardian editorial, 1.3.66).

“Prices were marked up several shillings as an immediate response to the Labour Party's manifesto with its undertaking to renationalise steel on the basis of last year’s White Paper”. (Guardian Market report 9.3.66).
Eddie Critchfield

Greasy Pole: Adonis As It Is? (2017)

The Greasy Pole Column from the November 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Andreas Adonis.  
Since May 2005 Life Peer Lord Andrew Adonis. With a record which justifies him, according to which discipline he is involved in, being identified as a politician, an academic, a journalist and author of a number of well-received, solidly quoted books. At present he is in the Chair of something called The National Infrastructure Commission – the meaning of which will be varied according to who is discussing it. In this it may be instructive to bear in mind that he was the first holder of such a post, appointed by two Tory Chancellors in George Osborne and Philip Hammond. Osborne was in no two minds about this: 'I am delighted to tell you that the former Labour cabinet minister and transport secretary Andrew Adonis has agreed to be the commission’s first chair. He’ll now sit as a cross-bench peer and help us create Britain’s plan for the future. . . . ' This was in spite of the fact that the Adonis roots were originally unpromising. His father came to England from Cyprus, to work in London as a waiter. His mother left the family when Andrew was three years old and did not return, from which it followed that he was placed in the care of a local authority. In this his talents came early into bloom so that he went to Oxford University where he sucked up a First Class degree in Modern History and proceeded to a Doctorate with a thesis on 19th century British aristocracy. At Nuffield College he was appointed a Fellow in History and Politics.

These qualifications should have opened a real prospect of a political career for Adonis but it was hampered by his capricious choice of which party to favour with his loyalty. In the flow of the time he joined the ‘Gang of Four’ and their desperate ambition to flush away the Labour Party, to the extent that he was elected as an SDP councillor for Oxford City. Four years later Adonis was persuaded that he would be better as a councillor under another banner and he chose to do this as a Liberal Democratic City Councillor for another ward in Oxford. But the frustrations ingrained in that party’s ambition to squeeze its way into some prospects of power led to him changing to the Labour Party, newly hopeful under Blair, Gordon Brown and the rest. He was selected as the Labour candidate for a local council election but he refused this in favour of less controversial prospects.

In 1997 he accepted a job in Tony Blair’s Policy Unit with its brief to fashion Labour’s stand on constitutional and educational matters. This put him in charge of the policy, not universally popular, of replacing comprehensive schools which were deemed to be failing with others which would be known by the classier title of academies, to be independently managed. In May 2005 his position was solidified by him being transformed into a Life Peer, which enabled his appointment to supply some energy in the drive to get the policy for academies under way. When he left Education in 2008 there were almost 150 academies in existence with some 300 more in the offing. The whole policy was against the wishes of a significant wedge of trade unionists in teaching and of Labour Party members. But it found favour on the other side, including the Tory Education spokesman Michael Gove who identified himself; ‘We are on the same page as Andrew Adonis’.

Vice Chancellors
But the exact ‘page’ occupied by Adonis and Gove together was never confidently identified. From being an ardent advocate of academies as the major enforcer of what is termed ‘education’, and of the financial requirements which it operated Adonis began abruptly to display an awareness of some accompanying inconvenient problems. This was the devastating publicity given to the increased payouts to retiring university vice-chancellors. For example, it has been estimated that Chris Higgins at Durham got a total of £90,000 a year pension with a lump sum of £270,000 with a similar amount for Anthony Chapman at Cardiff Met. Particularly notable and embarrassing was the case of Glynis Breakwell of Bath with a total of £406,000. Adonis has expended a lot of energy in trying to evade the fact that he bears a great deal of the responsibility for that very situation. Speaking from those red leather benches in the House of Lords he denounced the Vice Chancellors’ ‘opportunism and greed’ and asked ‘How did we get from the idea of a reasonable contribution to the cost of university tuition – the principle of the Blair reform, for which I was largely responsible, to today’s Frankenstein monster of £50,000 plus debts for graduates on modest salaries?’ He also suggested that the fees for which he admits to being responsible should be abolished – all of which went a long way to justify the assessment of him from Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell that he is ‘a chameleon’.

Blair vs Brown
How this was to fit into the political scene was revealed with the approach of the 2010 general election, influenced before the polling stations had even opened by the uncertainty of Tony Blair’s intentions about holding on as Prime Minister against the maniacal bludgeoning ambitions of Gordon Brown. Blair was convinced that he still had a chance provided the voters were able to forget a few minor diversions such as the war in Iraq and other blood-soaked tragedies in the Middle East. However it seemed that it would need a special talent to encourage him to accept this record of those times. In his account of them (A Journey) he justifies his delaying tactics against the pressures to resolve the matter. And in this he received some essential support from someone he describes as ‘typically brilliant’; which of course has to be Lord Adonis. Blair records a letter from Adonis which said ‘in my view it is strongly in the public interest that you continue in office until conference 2007, and possibly beyond into 2008… Your political authority appears to me more than sufficient for this…’ Except that in the event the pressures of mutual admiration between Blair and Adonis could not prevent Brown making it to Number Ten.

As a politician Adonis is unusual for his style in being so ready to change his line to take advantage of the persistent need to mislead what he has interpreted as any pressures from the voters. But any real progress for a humane society will need significantly more than that.

All You Need Is Money (2004)

From the December 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Guardianistas and the Daily hate-Mail readers have been treated to a form of united front against the Blair government. Not over the continuation of homelessness, poverty, unemployment or the instability of the world; but over the Earth-shattering plans of the British government to permit larger casinos to be built as a part of their new Gambling Bill. The forces of British Puritanism, left and right, have shaken out their musty banners and unfurled them in righteous anger. The Mail even evoked the ghost of Old Labour in the same way as an aghast Lutheran would grasp a crucifix to ward off Dracula.

Their concerns are not all pious moralism about improvidence, nor solely anti-Americanist fears of Vegas firms muscling in on the British gambling scene. The redoubtable Polly Toynbee noted the possibility that the current 350,000 gambling addicts in the UK might rise to some 700,000; and that American research suggests that 6 percent of people living near casinos become addicts (Guardian, 20 October). Since many of the new casinos proposed would be part of regeneration schemes for run-down parts of the country this is likely to be rather counter-productive.

The government themselves are on the back foot over this. The Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, maintains fiercely that the bill will increase regulation of gambling – removing slot machines from small cafes and the like, creating an offence of encouraging children to gamble, etc. Ministers maintain that new regulations are needed to take account of new forms of betting, as via the internet, that weren't covered by the previous legislation from the 1960s, and that jobs will be created.

Sheen of gold
A clear indication of their thinking can be seen from the debate in Parliament, after which Jowell commented, regarding calls for tight regulation, that: “It's perfectly possible also that investors will find our regulatory regime just too tough because our over-riding concern will be protection of the public and protection of the vulnerable and children” (BBC interview). Quite how this can be squared with the possibility of more casinos being opened, more gambling happening and more profits being made is difficult to see, conceding as it does the profit motive behind the gambling industry.

The attraction for Ministers is that casinos, and their associated leisure facilities, attract money. They do not make money, since they cannot make it out of thin air, but it increases a form of circulation of money, drawing it into the areas where the casinos will be and, of course, when money circulates there is more opportunity for the Treasury to grab a slice. It would thus allow for new developments (more building of casinos and leisure parks), and more jobs – staff to work in the casinos and associated facilities. Tony Blair defended the Bill in the Commons on the grounds of new jobs – the traditional bribe politicians offer the working class to buy their support. It would provide the veneer of economic activity to run – down areas, without adding to the sum of wealth in the world.

That is, in short, that the Labour government has been taken in by the sheen of gold. Blinded by the bright lights of casinos and money both. Indeed, this is the very trick that the gambling industry lives by – the promise of infinite wealth. Money has no use in itself, save to buy other goods. The more money you have, the more it appears you can do with it.

As Marx noted in Capital :
[M]oney has no bounds to its efficacy, i.e., it is the universal representative of material wealth, because it is directly convertible into any other commodity. But, at the same time, every actual sum of money is limited in amount, and, therefore, as a means of purchasing, has only a limited efficacy This antagonism between the quantitative limits of money and its qualitative boundlessness, continually acts as a spur [to acquire more] (Volume 1, Chapter 3, Section 3).
Of course, gambling concerns want to make it appear easy to get hold of vast sums of money – the archetypal get-rich-quick scam. Who can blame those hundreds of thousands of people who gamble, from taking up this modern secularisation of Pascal's wager – choosing between the certainty of a life of scrimping by in poverty, versus the finite chance of (effectively) infinite riches?

Hence why casino operators want to install slot-machines with unlimited pay-outs. They want to offer the promise of a shot at the big time, and thousands upon thousands will pour their coins into such machines, because, one day, their turn will come and they'll strike it rich.

Spendthrift lords
When capitalism was still young it set its face against such temptations. In his section on money Marx discusses how the urge to hoard produced an urge for thrift, spending as little as possible whilst selling as much as possible, living to acquire more money, rather than living to live.

The expanding capitalist class faced an obstacle in the increasingly redundant aristocracy. One of the features of the great lords was living off income from estates, simply having money fall into their laps from no effort (and a class structure that actively meant they couldn't go into business). They had nothing much else to do with their disposable income other than to consume and display their status – hence the ostentatious clothes of aristocrats in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. What they also did was gamble, tremendously, precisely because they had the means to do so, and because they were rapidly becoming economically redundant and had no useful outlet for such money.

It was this relationship that forged the stern-faced Puritanism that still informs the debate, the reflex reaction against the old class enemy – the feudal class. It is, of course, a feeling that comes despite the reality of modern day capitalism, and how much it has come to depend on gambling.

Some government supporters have accused the bill's opponents of being elitist kill-joys, for wanting to keep casinos as a preserve of the very rich, a luxury item. In reality, the vast majority are excluded from the main strands of gambling that go on, the gambling that is now at the heart of capitalism.

Financiers on the Stock Exchange regularly gamble on the price of stocks. For example, they will agree to buy stocks, bonds, etc. on a given date at a given price, in the hope/expectation that on that day the price agreed will be below the general market price, so they can immediately sell off for a vast profit. Millions of pounds are ‘won’ that way in rewards and bonuses, but no real wealth is produced. Increasingly, this is normal behaviour for financial companies, and on this sort of practise hang the pensions and benefits of millions of workers whose funds are in the gamblers' hands.

The likes of Nick Leeson, who borrowed and invested, inveigled and manipulated until (back in 1995) he bankrupted Barings bank – one of the oldest banking firms in the world – are the ones behind this system of gambling. Far from being a system of communicating vital market information, as some ideologues of capitalism maintain, it is a giant poker table where stock brokers bluff and counter bluff their way to fortune.

Gambling, though, is even a respectable business all of itself – the insurance industry. Every time someone buys insurance, what they are actually doing is placing a bet that their house will burn down, or their car explode, or that they die horribly of a heart attack soon, etc., and the insurance agency is betting against, and setting the odds. Of course, just as you never see a poor bookie, so too will you find insurance agents have ways of making sure they're not over exposed by their own gambling. When the going gets tough, insurance companies increase the premiums – that is, they shorten the odds they'll give.

Corporate gamblers
This industry too lives by the illusions of money – that property has an immortal soul in the form of monetary value, which can be protected. The reality is that losses due to natural risk and hazard can only be replaced out of current production anyway – all insurance firms exist to do is to keep the property system immune to such shocks.

Much like the misery and pain that gambling problems cause on an individual or family level, so too do these corporate gamblers on a national and world level. Their mistakes and misfortunes ripple in seismic shocks throughout the whole of society. We are all of us asked to carry the costs for the risks the gambling addicted capitalists find themselves wanting to take. Gain is privatised, risks are socialised.

This has political ramifications as well, because the tantalising prospect of a way out, of a chance to get up the ladder, that things will change, means a great many people accept the status quo, and don't begin to see that they are the ones who will actively make the change, rather than it falling into their laps. This goes not just for the less well-off but also for politicians looking for painless quick fixes to the more intractable problems of our society.

The idea that money is a cure-all, that if we can roll some dice and enough of it will land to change the landscape of our lives is inherently disempowering. It is a part of commodity fetishism, the handing of the control of our lives to the mysterious power of marketable things, rather than seeking to master our own goods. Socialism is about seeing beyond the money trick to look at and administer the real wealth, so that we may take charge of our own environment, rather than wait for a changed figure in an accounting column to fall our way.

Of course, risk will always be with us, and we need to find ways of dealing with it: what we don't need is people trying to take a profit from the risk, or trying to avoid helping people when the going gets rough. We don't need to balance imaginary account books, only the productive capacity to deal with people's needs as and when they arrive.

Without money, the false dreams of gamblers become impossible. So if the Guardian and Mail readers are interested in opposing gambling, they should look not to casinos, but to the economic system that profits so much from it.
Pik Smeet