Sunday, January 7, 2018

Self-Service (1962)

From the January 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

The self-service store, with which most of us are now familiar, has developed of recent years in response to the needs of Capitalism to reduce costs and increase sales. More people can gel into the shop and out again, and at the same time buy more goods with less staff assistance than before. At the same time the high-powered retailing methods of modern Capitalism are used to the full. Everything is laid out to extract the maximum purchases from each buyer who enters the shop, right down to the little “likely to be forgotten extras" that are hung round the all-essential cash register as you pay your way out.

The purgative effect of sweet canned music on the pocket is used to release that loose change. If your memory is not so good, the psychologically timed repetition of a tape-recorded voice will remind you that whatever it is you are in dire need of, may be had at the toss of a coin. And so off.

What has this to do with Socialism? Let us get back to that cash register. Next time you walk into your local self-service store, imagine that Socialism is here. You walk in, take up one of the little wire baskets provided and put into it the things you want. Nothing could be easier or more logical. Now try to walk out. Not so easy. The check-out counter is guarded by the owners’ protection machine—the cash register.

This is where our little game ceases: no us: imagining it is Socialism now. The act of paying for the things you have collected round the store, is the all-important factor that brings us back to reality, and makes the difference between Socialism and Capitalism.

The means for organising “free access” are here. All you've to do is remove that formality at the check-out.
Ian Jones

Branch News (1962)

Party News from the February 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the absence of the full report of the activities of Glasgow Branch, it is good to note that great activity is taking place and the Branch members are co-operating to ensure that the series of meetings are as successful as possible. Their full report is on the way. but has not arrived in time for this month's issue. No doubt there will be more to add by the time we go to press for March.

Wembley Branch members turned out in torrential rain on December 29th to visit the Young Liberals for a discussion on “Immigration". They were most courteously received by these young people, and although talk started off on the official topic, it was not long before it had broadened into a thorough examination of the whole Socialist case. The standard of questions was very high and our comrades were kept busy answering them and points of discussion until the end of the evening. A most gratifying result, and amply repaying the efforts of those who were able to attend. Comrades are hoping for a return visit from the Young Liberals in the near future. By the time you read this, the second of the public meetings will have been held at the Branch rooms, when Comrade Hardy will have told the audience just “Why we Stand Alone". Another, (and possibly more ambitious) meeting is planned to round off the indoor season, probably at the end of March. Details later.

Mitcham Group reports continued activity during the Autumn/Winter indoor season. Regular discussions have been held monthly in their meeting room at the ‘White Hart.' The principal activity of members has been in taking issue with our opponents in the correspondence columns of the local papers. Each letter sent has been published and as a result a number of people have had their attitude corrected by reading the Socialist view. In fact, it is considered by members of the Group, that owing to their efforts in this direction, they are responsible for one Mitcham paper no longer referring to the Labour Party as Socialist.

A programme has been drawn up for the Mitcham Group to discuss both topical politics and political theory. They held a successful meeting in January which dealt with the implications of the European Common Market scheme.
Phyllis Howard

Obituary: Ray Kellar (1962)

Obituary from the March 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ray Kellar, an old member in years and party service, died at the age of eighty on the 27th November 1961. He was an active member from the early twenties and, in spite of several illnesses necessitating hospital treatment, he remained as active as his health permitted until the late forties. After that time his interest in the Party had to remain, of necessity, almost entirely academic. He corresponded as vigorously as he used to speak at Branch meetings and never lost that perennial optimism which is the hallmark of the Socialist.

Members of the Birmingham Branch fortunate enough to meet him during his active period remember with affection his fiery and uncompromising adherence to the hostility clause, his profound hatred of hypocrisy and, in happy contrast, his old world courtesy and his unfailing patience with those of us who, as newcomers, were struggling to master the concept of socialism.
Howard J. Grew

We are all Socialists now (1962)

From the April 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was back in the 1880’s that the Liberal politician and sometime Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir William Harcourt, coined the phrase “ We are all Socialists now." It has proved a shrewd blow in the defence of capitalism.

If Socialism meant solving capitalism's administrative and taxation problems, Harcourt’s Finance Act stepping up death duties and his plan to unify the government of London, qualified him to call himself a Socialist. But as Socialism did not and does not mean anything of this kind the phrase is untrue, absurd and misleading—particularly misleading because it prevents clear thinking about Socialism.

It had a surprising success, being instantly blessed by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. Like many habits and fancies of his, it became the fashion. It helped the Tories and Liberals to give a new slant to their propaganda and deceived many simple-minded “Labour’’ reformists into thinking that the capitalists were being won over to Socialism.

While the phrase is no longer used, the idea behind it has spread all over the globe and all countries now have their politicians trying to protect capitalism while calling it Socialism. Apart from the U.S.A., where some politicians still defend capitalism under its own name, it has become almost the universal rule for capitalist parties and leaders to clothe themselves in Socialist-sounding slogans. Marx wrote that one country should learn from another, but instead of the workers of the newly formed countries learning from the older ones how to guard against the deceits of capitalist propaganda it has been the leaders of the new countries learning the trick of capitalist propaganda to mislead their own followers. In gratitude they ought to put up statues to Harcourt who first thought of it.

So as capitalism digs itself in in the old countries; or struggles for world supremacy in the case of State capitalist Russia and China; or progresses towards industrialisation in Africa, India, and Asia; more and more it is done under the leadership of men falsely claiming that they are building Socialism.

Of course, it has its variations of detail and emphasis. The new President of Syria declared that the new Syrian way of life was to be “conservative Socialism." He had just thrown out the troops of another “Socialist," Colonel Nasser. Nasser doesn't have to descend to vulgar disputation about the merits and demerits of Syrian “conservative Socialism” because his own variety of capitalism called Socialism traces back to Mohammed. “The State established by Islam and founded by Mohammed was the first Socialist State. Mohammed was the first to apply the policy of nationalisation in those days.” Daily Worker. 24/7/61.)

Nkrumah of Ghana is another “Socialist ” who clings like a leech to capitalism. He promised “new, challenging, bold and dynamic” measures to build “complete Socialism” and rather outshines Nasser and the Prophet because he has got himself known as the “Messiah” already. Of course, the “complete Socialism” is only eyewash for the voters, and according to a report in the Observer (2/7/61) the so-called “Socialism” towards which Nkrumah is moving was “defined by one of his most brilliant lieutenants as ‘Roosevelt’s New Deal'." What a laugh Roosevelt would have had at the thought that his masterly strokes to keep American capitalism functioning tolerably were really designed to do the opposite and destroy it!

One of the absurdities of those who seek to represent capitalism as Socialism is to say that nationalisation—which is State Capitalism—is not capitalist but Socialist. So every politician who ever sponsored governmental interference in business or nationalised an industry to help capitalism generally, from Disraeli to Attlee and Bismarck to Kemal Ataturk, thereby becomes a “Socialist.”

If this were really so, the brotherhood of capitalist "socialists" can get ready to welcome a new member, because it is reported that Franco's government is going to nationalise the Bank of Spain.
Edgar Hardcastle

What Makes a Thug? (1962)

From the May 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

They are still worrying over the young, violent criminal. It is easy to sneer at them, in their conferences bending anxious eyes over statistics. But a young thug is, apart from anything else, a socially ugly person so perhaps it is as well that there is somebody to worry over him and to try to find out why he moves around in his own little nightmare of violence. But the worriers—and this is no sneer never come up with the answer. They hammer away at parents, at schools, newspapers, television. They experiment in methods of treatment and punishment. Yet after this the young thug is still with us, coshing and slashing, and sometimes killing.

Last month, we remember, there was something of an uproar about the television portrayal of Bill Sikes murdering Nancy in the serialised Oliver Twist. Even the Postmaster General criticised the episode in the strongest language. There is some evidence that young people like to try and imitate death scenes which they have seen on T.V. Many adults were uneasy that some youngsters might try to do a Bill Sikes on their girl friends. Perhaps this was being rather unfair to the poor old BBC. At least, the Bill Sikes episode showed passionate murder as it is a messy and obscene business, with human beings behaving like dull beasts. That might put potential thugs off. But it is a different matter with the westerns and some of the crime serials. These make violence seem so much sweeter, less damaging, less violent, in fact. At least, when Bill Sikes throttled Nancy she went out spluttering and struggling. The cowboy or detective hero, on the other hand, can take a thunderbolt on his head, shake himself, blink and smile and recover in time for the next episode.

If this teaches anything, it is that violence is sent to test our manliness. Any influence which television might have upon the criminal figure should surely be credited (if that is the word) to the cops and robbers type of programme.

Yet even when we have said that, we are still a long way from the bottom of the matter. Some months ago a reader of The Guardian wrote to that newspaper criticising the BBC's choice of plays as laying too great an emphasis upon sex, gangsterism and crimes of violence. This letter brought forth a sharp reply from a Reverend Jones, who wrote from The Vicarage at Appleby. There was, said Mr. Jones, another sort of programme in which these things were given prominence: “I refer to the general news." The reverend thought that the broadcasting companies should do their best to play down these aspects or to broadcast them only when adults were likely to be tuned in.

The interesting thing about this letter is that its writer realised that the real world is in parts just as violent and intimidating as any script writer's nightmare scenario. It is not surprising that Mr. Jones missed the point that in real world capitalism violence is unavoidable. To say the least of it, anyone who sets out to teach a child that violence is socially useless has an uphill battle ahead. There is a constant pressure upon all of us to believe that the violence used by capitalism's heroes is glorious and commendable. A battle of Britain fighter pilot can be as violent as he likes. So can a Lovat Commando or a detective roping in a bunch of bank robbers.

Capitalism, in fact, is a violent society, in which war is as much a part of our life as milk is of cheese. And what does war mean? Admiral Jackie Fisher, who it better known as an austere, belligerent sailor, once spoke his mind on the matter. “It's perfect rot," he said, “to talk about Civilised Warfare. You might as well talk about Heavenly Hell! " (Fisher also said, at another time, " . . .  we can only have community of interests in the masses of people always being on the side of peace, because it is the masses who are massacred, not the kings and generals and politicians." which was a strange comment from a man whose job was to send some of the masses to be massacred).

We all grow up now under a cloud of socially organised violence. Our newspapers scream black headlines about fall out and missiles and anti-missiles and anti-anti-missiles. Nobody can feel secure when the world itself staggers from one crisis to another, always with the horrible feeling that the next might be the one to push the fingers down upon the buttons marked FIRE. This is a potent cause for despair and cynicism. Here is one of the roots of criminal violence. Do the worriers, then, speak out on this at their conferences? They are stuck with capitalism, and their hopeless efforts to reform it. They do not, therefore, speak out.

We should not forget that the ground in which capitalism's criminals take root is always well tilled and fertile. Why do people turn to crime? Most of us get our living by going out to work for a wage, which is often a precarious business. Even in boom time we need never be far off a recession which means short time or redundancy. Going out to work can be a boring business. Men can stand all day on the same spot, going through the same simple action time and again. Or they may sit at a desk shuffling the same dull paperwork, with their only prospect of excitement the chance of finding a miscast invoice. Young girls type endless letters and forms or fill up endless boxes of sweets. Yes, going to work for a living is often a precarious, boring, unpleasant business.

Small wonder that so many dream of the big pools win to take them away from it all. And no wonder either that a few decide that the chances against climbing out of the rut by keeping within capitalism’s laws are stacked high enough to justify them trying some other way. Such people are criminal material. Indeed, some criminals have coldly worked it out that they would spend a large part of their life in gaol, rather than give it all up to the nine to five-thirty routine with only a shiny trouser seat to show for it. The criminal, like any law abiding worker, dreams of the easy touch, the job that clicks. Usually it doesn't come off; that is why so many ol them lose their gamble and end up as shambling old lags.

Property rights stand between the criminal and his objective. To get what he wants he is prepared not only to break capitalism's laws. To clinch a Job he will beat up a watchman or cosh a messenger or even kill a cashier. Then if they catch him there is the macabre process of trial and sentence and execution. There is no lack of newspapers, fighting for sales, to give us all the juicy details. And what effect is this supposed to have upon potentially violent criminals? Victor Terry shot down the bank guard at Worthing on the very day that a friend of his was executed for murder. A member of the last Royal Commission on Capital Punishment put it on record that he was finally convinced of the need to abolish hanging when he read the letters, which regularly arrive at the Home Office. applying for the job of public hangman.

We can see that the matter of violence in society is more complex than simply trying to assess the effects upon a young child of watching Bill Sikes do Nancy in. Like so many of the other unpleasant aspects of capitalist society, it is all something of a shambles. But it is a shambles which can be sorted out. The first need is to have a world so organised that human welfare is at the top of the list of social priorities instead of being, as it is now, somewhere near the bottom A world like that would get rid of most violence by simply not having wars and poverty and criminal farms like the slums of the big cities.

When we have done that we can get down to finding out why some (if any) people may be violent. We can look at it for what it is — or should be — a human problem. That will be better than beating or hanging or punishing. It will be better than fussing the kids away from the television set. It will even be better than worrying over statistics in muddled, if well meaning, conferences.

If Words Could Build Houses (1962)

Editorial from the June 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last month saw yet another debate in Parliament on the housing problem—the fourth in three months. If words could build houses we would now all be living in splendour.

Labourites, Tories, Liberals—all went over the same well-worked ground. There were the usual graphic descriptions of the state of housing at the present time; the usual statistics about the number of slums and of people on waiting lists; the usual recriminations between the Labourites and Tories over what they had and had not done; the usual high-sounding promises of what was intended for the future.

In ten, twenty, fifty years time—as long as capitalism lasts—they will be telling the same tale and making the same promises, just as they have been doing for the past hundred years and more.

“There are about five million houses in the country at present which are over sixty years old,” said one Labour M.P. “ There are the same number without a bath,” said another, telling us as well that I.T.V.’s Coronation Street was named, not after George V's coronation, but Queen Victoria’s way back in 1837, and that in Salford they had just got round to pulling down Waterloo Place, built in 1815 to commemorate Wellington’s victory over Napoleon.

In the realm of statistics, we were told that in Oldham one house in four was unfit to live in; that in Liverpool there are 88,000 houses beyond any prospect of repair; that in Birmingham 50,000 families are on the waiting list for houses for which the average waiting time is eight years; that in the country as a whole there are more than a million houses reckoned to be unfit for habitation and that this may well be an under-estimate. Figures galore for those who like them.

Then the recriminations. The Labourites went through their well-thumbed list of Tory deficiencies, countered for the Tories by Dr. Hill with the usual devastating account of the housing record of the Labour Party when they were in office. The Labour speakers had been reproaching the Tories for building only 300,000 houses a year, he said, but they had conveniently forgotten that when they were in power they had only once built more than 200,000 in a year. During the same period, he reminded them, the Labour Government built schools at only half the present rate, constructed hardly any roads, provided no hospitals, and made no effort at all to tackle the slums. He went on to quote several of their past statements which must have made those Labourites present squirm in their seats. “We shall build four or five million houses and knock down any amount of slums and rebuild our country in a very quick time”; “We will get the houses as we got the guns, by planning and control ”; “ Labour will organise a new approach to housing and organise the industry as a national service ” were some of his choicer examples.

After the old Labour promises, came new Tory ones. “This is a social disease which we have to cure and which we intend to cure “ The Government intend to see that every family has its home, and a decent home, that is the pledge.” If words could build houses, indeed!

Way back in 1872, Frederick Engels wrote three articles, later made into a little book called The Housing Question. An extract from it appears on our front page this month. In his book, Engels was concerned to show that the reformists of his day could never, and would never, solve the housing problem.

Would he find anything fundamentally changed if he was to come back today?