Wednesday, January 31, 2018

50 Years Ago: Carnegie and—Cant? (1955)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Andrew Carnegie, Croesus and library vendor, has recently delivered himself of several lectures upon the horrors of war—Carnegie, the head of the great American Capitalist Corporation which raised an army in opposition to the steel-workers of Pittsburg struggling to prevent a further hardening of their already hard enough conditions; Carnegie, the head of the mighty firm that conducted a bitter and bloody war to vindicate the right of Capital to wring out of the labour of the workers larger and ever larger profit; Carnegie, the multi-millionaire, every penny of whose stupendous wealth is stained with the blood of his workmen, slaughtered by armed Pinkertons to make Carnegie’s holiday and to help build him a reputation of a great philanthropist—this Carnegie comes to say:— 
   “There still remains the foulest blot that ever disgraced the earth, the killing of civilised men by men like wild beasts as a permissible mode of settling international disputes, although in Rousseau’s words, ‘ War is the foulest fiend ever vomited forth from the mouth of hell'. "
So, "the foulest blot,” when used to settle international disputes . . . and yet when it occurs at Homestead, the hell that sweats for Mr. Carnegie the millions that Mr. Carnegie’s labour never produced, Mr. Carnegie expresses his horror in—loud silence. It is wonderful the great difference a little change in the geographical situation of the seat of war will make.

From the Socialist Standard, December 1905.

Material World: No Promised Land (2018)

The Material World column from the January 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
If there were a nation that one would expect to be sympathetic to asylum seekers it should be Israel – a land that became home to refugees. However, rather than being welcomed tens of thousands of Africans are being detained and deported. It appears to be acceptable to persecute people, just as long it doesn't happen to be you.
However, Knesset member Yael German thinks differently saying 'Our history requires us to give them a place here.'
Israel has reached an international agreement that allows the deportation of around 40,000 (5,000 of them children) African refugees with plans to shut down the Holot detention centre giving asylum seekers a choice of leaving the country or going to prison for an indefinite time.
The United Nations refugee agency said it was seriously concerned about the proposals with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees telling Israel it had 'legal obligations to protect refugees and other persons in need of international protection.' The Refugee Convention came about after the Holocaust to ensure that nothing like it ever happened again.
The Israeli government dehumanises the African migrants as 'infiltrators' and economic migrants. Yet, there are probably more Russian, Ukrainian and Georgian citizens living illegally in Israel, but they are less obvious because they are white and dwell among the Russian-speaking communities.
Israel has just opened an embassy in Rwanda which has agreed to take the migrants from Israel and receive $5,000 for each one. Rwanda's Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo has said Rwanda is willing to accept some 10,000 African asylum seekers.
'We are concerned that if you move forward with these plans the lives of thousands of individuals will be put in jeopardy, and the name of the Jewish State and the Jewish People will be irreparably stained,' said the letter by 25 groups including HIAS, the leading Jewish immigration advocacy group, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, the New Israel Fund and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. 'As a people who were once refugees, and were once strangers in a strange land, we believe we have a special obligation toward refugees, whatever their religion or race...  Please do not deport these individuals who have sought refuge among the Jewish People, but rather let us work together in addressing the burdens and challenges of our moral obligations' said the letter.
'Israel’s failure to follow the Jewish imperative to protect and care for the gerim – the landless sojourners who seek refuge among us – is a far greater threat to the Jewish character of the state than is the community of African migrants and asylum seekers who have escaped forced military service, torture and crimes against humanity in Eritrea and Sudan and sought safe haven in Israel,' Rabbi Michael Lezak, co-chairman of T’ruah, told Newsweek.
The Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee approved a bill for its second and third readings to extend limitations on migrants until the government can deport them including taking into custody migrants who violate the geographic limitations imposed on migrants such as banning them from Tel Aviv, where health and welfare services are available. It also voted down requests that exceptions be considered for women, children and disabled people. The Committee had voted 'against allowing sick children to see doctors,' Amnesty International Israel said.
Chen Bril Egri, its head of Campaigns for Refugees and Asylum Seekers called on the country to allow all the migrants to stay and said the panel’s decision 'expresses shameful cold-heartedness by the descendants of refugees who have forgotten their past, and who show contempt for basic human rights.'
But such humanitarian appeals will be ignored by some Israelis such as Tel Aviv City councillor Shlomo Maslawi who accuses Africans of '. . . turning synagogues into bars and selling drugs . . . ' and who peddles the Netanyahu propaganda that South Tel Aviv’s poverty, prostitution and drugs can be blamed on African asylum seekers, but many residents recognise he is cynically scapegoating a defenceless population for the government’s own negligence and culpability.
Israel could absorb the African migrants, but by permitting them to live in Israel it would potentially mean opening a door for non-Jews more generally to move to Israel. Given the longer term historical background, challenging the 'Law of Return' remains too much of a taboo for the Israeli political parties from Labor to Likud. But as socialists we sympathise with the suffering of our fellow-workers of whichever ethnicity and we ask them all to set aside their nationalism, their religious bigotry, their ethnic hatred and racism and to join together to put an end to the real problem – capitalism and the oppression it causes everywhere.

Pathfinders: Tempus Non Fugit (2018)

The Pathfinders Column from the January 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialists who are not among today’s socially-connected youth and who do not read The Sun newspaper will probably never have heard of Jack Maynard, the Brighton YouTube vlogger (like blogger, but with video, geddit?) and will certainly not care that he got himself thrown off I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here late last year after just three days on the show. But the reason for his summary expulsion from this must-be-seen-on if not must-see show is revealing.
The YouTube ‘star’, it seemed, had sent a number of racist and homophobic slurs via his Facebook account which The Sun, that bastion of egalitarian and anti-discriminatory social values, felt morally obliged to bring to the nation’s attention. Despite effusive apologies and energetic denials that these off-the-cuff remarks reflected his real views, Mr Maynard found himself an overnight toxic brand, leaving presenters Ant and Dec with no choice but to announce his immediate departure from the celeb-infested jungle. Oh the fickle finger of fate.
But wait. The slurs in question had been posted six years before, when the fifteen-minute celeb was aged just 17. It didn’t matter. The tabloids had by now got the bit between their teeth and gleefully reported that Japing Jack had also sent text messages importuning a 14-year old girl for nude photos. Sexual exploitation being utterly foreign to the tabloids, this caused a sensation. It didn’t matter that the girl herself, while agreeing that Jack had been a ‘dickhead’, also pointed out that “He was 16, I was 14. He didn’t know how old I was, and I didn’t know how old he was at the time. I cannot stress enough that the messages were harmless” (The Sun, 5 December).
You may also recall the suspension last year of Labour’s MP for Sheffield Hallam, Jared O’Mara, following revelations of homophobic, sexist and racist remarks made online more than a decade previously. Leading the moral charge on that occasion was, surprise surprise, The Sun, which called it a disgrace that Labour bosses had known about these comments for a whole month prior to sacking Mr O’Mara. A whole month. Fancy. Meanwhile another source had this to say about Labour’s supposed ethical inertia: “Labour has become cultish, and now values loyalty to the hard left more than suitability and capability" (BBC Online, 26 October).
What is becoming ‘cultish’ is the idea that whatever you have said at any point in your life remains and will forever remain your viewpoint, as if it is indelibly tattooed on your brain. Once, such comments would have been forgotten or at least hard to dig up. Now that one’s entire history is available in real time on social media, it stops being history at all but becomes part of an extended and eternal present. You can say you’ve changed your view. You can say you don’t believe those things anymore. But there is the evidence for all to see. You said them. You are guilty.
All present and incorrect
One of the lesser known cognitive biases and a veritable plague in the world of bad historical fiction is a thing called ‘presentism’, in which people unfairly judge past ideas and events by the currently prevailing ethical assumptions. Presentism, also known as cultural hypocrisy, is at work in much of the media’s deprecation of past sexual mores among certain celebs in the unreconstructed 1970s. It’s not that past behaviours should necessarily be condoned or glossed over, but such revelations need to be leavened with some recognition that those times were different and that the world has moved on. This acknowledgment of time passing is precisely what is missing from the new illusion of the eternal present.
Much of physics, and indeed science in general, is based upon the principle of symmetry, of numbers balancing on both sides of the equation. But there is one crucial asymmetry upon which the physical universe is founded, and that is time. The second law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of entropy, states that the degree of disorder in any closed system must always increase, and never decrease, over time. In other words, time flows in just one direction. Broken cups cannot magically jump back from the floor onto the table edge and reassemble themselves (despite what Stephen Hawking tried to argue in A Brief History of Time). Cold coffee cannot miraculously reheat itself. People cannot ‘un-die’.
This law is the organising principle of matter. It is the thing which oversees the growth of complex systems and their ultimate death and dissipation into chaos. If this law were to be broken, if time were to stand still, not just life but all physical reality would disintegrate. What happens when our modern, virtual world breaks the same law? Does the virtual world also disintegrate? What would this disintegration look like?
It would look like what we’ve got: a world that remembers everything as contemporaneous, the way you watch an old movie whose actors are young while in the real world these same actors are old or dead. It would look like an eternal present where the actor exists side by side with his younger and older selves, extending sideways like an endless series of reflections between two mirrors. It would be a world with an infinity of stories served up in a Cinema of Babel, told for entertainment, without sequence and without consequence. It would be a world where nothing changes and where changes mean nothing. All contradictions exist side by side, without contradicting each other. All ideas are equally valid, all theoretic dials set to zero, all roads circular and all philosophy reinvented as postmodernism. It would be a world of trivia, of the existential absurd, of Bake-Off programmes and the unbearable lightness of being.
It is a world of pseudo-immortals who have forgotten how to forget. One thing we’ve already forgotten is that this eternal present is only about 20 years old. When Princess Diana died in 1997 the world-wide web was still being born. People still wrote letters and sent postcards from holiday and wrote cheques in supermarkets and got lost or stuck in traffic with no way to phone home. Nothing was instant except coffee and mashed potato. Social media meant reading the newspaper in the pub.
For revolutionaries, the eternal present is a place where change can’t occur because people can’t be allowed to change their minds. But we know this isn’t true, and that socialists have come from all walks of life and all political backgrounds, including the Tory Party and even the far right. This is what revolution is. People change. If we remember everything else, let’s not forget that.
Paddy Shannon

50 Years Ago: Capitalism and Psychology (1978)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the capitalist class was young and still engaged in the struggle to overthrow their feudal oppressors the physical sciences met their requirements. The development of the processes of production in order to meet the growing demands of the world market, coupled with the improvement in weapons of warfare, were their chief immediate needs.

Now, having definitely established themselves as the rulers in society, they must turn their attention to the task of preserving their system and increasing the benefits they derive from it. In this pursuit they find a constant menace in the unrest of their slaves. They can employ force when dealing with particular sections, but in order to control the working class as a whole they must use cunning. They must employ knowledge of the minds of those whom they would control. Hence psychology comes to the rescue of priest and politician, journalist and factory manager.

Oh! Psychology! What wonders are committed with thine aid! Vegetarians and beefeaters, atheists and Christians, discovered an instinctive harmony with one another when the interests of capital are threatened.

From an article “The Psychology of Capital” by Eric Boden, Socialist Standard, January 1928.

50 Years Ago: Industrial Peace (1978)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once again we are being regaled in the Press and from the platform with unctuous rubbish concerning the desirability of “peace” in industry. The overwhelming fascination which the topic appears to possess for capitalist representatives and labour leaders alike only speaks for their mental bankruptcy and the fatal readiness of the workers to be deceived by promises.

The subject of the industrial conflict is the exact amount of blood, nerve and sinew that shall be sucked dry of energy in order that a small class of idlers may feast and frolic. The cause of the conflict is the fact that the idlers own the means by which alone the blood, nerve and sinews of the workers can be re-energised. Every increase in the blood, nerve and sinew, every corresponding increase in its output, only heaps higher the wealth that the idlers waste.

Never has any capitalist, never has any labour leader, produced a shred of evidence to conflict with this simple, obvious fact. Similarly, not one of them dare deal with the only remedy. If the workers are to enjoy the fruits of their labours, they must own and control the means by which they produce them. The land, factories, railways etc. must be made the common property of all to meet the needs of all. That is what we mean by socialism.
From an article by Eric Boden, Socialist Standard Feb 1928.

The Questions They Ask . . . (1978)

From the February 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Speaker: Your party has an Executive Committee—right? And yet you say you are opposed to following leaders! Aren’t the EC the leaders of your party then?

Answer: No! The EC of the Socialist Party are not leaders. They could not lead the members if they wanted to (which they don’t) because Socialists do not need somebody to tell them what they should do.

Implicit in membership of the SPGB is an understanding of Socialist principles. In fact, membership is conditional upon this. Therefore the members have the knowledge which enables them to make their own minds up for themselves. It is a fact that the rules of the party are so framed as to guarantee that the members control the EC. First, the EC is elected annually by individual ballot. Each candidate is nominated by a Branch of the party.

Then, the EC is bound by rule to carry out the decisions of Annual Conference. In addition, any six Branches can demand a party poll on any question they deem to be of sufficient importance. Or, if they prefer, they can demand the calling of a general members’ meeting. And perhaps most important of all, every meeting of every committee of the party is open to all members—and indeed to all members of the public. Our door is always open for those who wish to know what’s going on. This, is the guarantee that no group or caucus can seize control of the party.

Contrast this with the intrigues, backstairs frame-ups and underhand double-dealing which are the stock-in-trade of all the other parties. The sort of carve-ups revealed in the Crossman Diaries, the manoeuvring for jobs in the Labour and Communist Parties, for example. All this can only flourish with an ignorant membership. The membership of the SPGB is small—because so far there are not many socialists.