Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Party Activities (1930)

Party News from the October 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the summer there has been an encouraging increase in the propaganda activities of the branches. Old stations have been maintained and several new ones opened up for outdoor meetings, with considerable success in some cases.

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The Battersea Branch has been holding good meetings on Clapham Common on Sunday evenings. Owing to the failing light, these meetings are now held at 3.30 in the afternoon. Sales of literature have been, fair, and efforts have been rewarded with a few entrants to the Branch.

The Buckmore Road meetings on Friday evenings were abandoned, as the pitch proved unsuitable. Mossbury Road, the new station, shows signs of being more useful. Interest in the principles of Socialism, as opposed to the quackery and confusion preached by the Labour leaders, is made apparent by the questions and keenness to hear our case.

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The East London Branch continues to hold meetings in Victoria Park. Keen interest has been maintained, despite counter-attractions round the platforms of Hot-Gospellers and other upholders of wage-slavery.

Audiences, large and attentive, gather round us, and questions are put from many who are beginning to appreciate the correctness of our case.

The L.C.C. ban on literature and collections hampers the extension of the Branch’s activities, but does not damp our enthusiasm. The mid-week meeting-place at Stepney Green Gardens is a new station for us. We anticipated great difficulties in the district, but it has, from our propaganda point of view, proved a great success. Audiences have been regular, and the inquiries intelligent. Questions have been mainly on Labour Party policy and upon matters that appear problems to those unacquainted with our case. These, and opposition from Communists advocating violence as a means of emancipation, have been effectively met by facts and Socialist arguments.

The Branch have obtained the use of the Bancroft Road Library Lecture Hall for their coming winter campaign, commencing October 2nd. (See notice in this issue.) Here will be an opportunity for all who take an interest in our propaganda to hear our message undisturbed by the distracting influences of the street corner.

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The Paddington Branch have been very active. Sales of literature and collections have been good, and several new members have been gained.

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The Sunday evening meetings which are to be held throughout the winter began in September and promise to be as successful as those held last year.

Particulars of forthcoming meetings are advertised elsewhere in this issue.

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Meetings are being arranged on Saturday evenings at Head Office, 42, Great Dover Street, for the discussion of questions of interest to members and sympathisers, varied by an occasional social. Admission is free to all our meetings.

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Bancroft Road Library,
Lecture Hall
Thursday Evenings 8 p.m. PROMPT.
Commencing Thursday, October 2nd

Date. Subject. Speaker.
October 2nd           E. Hardy.
   'What the Socialist Party Stands for.'

October 9th            E. Lake.
    'Socialism and the Meantime.'

October 16th            W. McHaffie
     'Socialism and Religion.'

October 23rd             Gilmac.
      'Socialism and Parliamentarianism.'

October 30th             A. Jacobs.
       'The Labour Party and Socialism.'

Admission Free.                                                                                                             All Invited.

Think Globally - Act Globally (2018)

From the March 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Think globally — obviously. Global warming, world poverty, globalization, the threat of world war — their very names show that we are faced with world problems. It ought to be equally obvious that these problems can only be solved on a global basis, by action at world level.

So, who coined the phrase 'act locally'? Whoever imagined that these problems could be solved by a mass of scattered actions at local? But this is what has been put forward by Greens, socially-minded Christians and others as a serious political strategy.

Some of those involved in these puny, isolated local struggles have begun to realise the inadequacy of this approach. They have organised regular demonstrations on the occasion of meetings of international organisations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and the European Union.

But many of them have still not got hold of the right end of the stick, and still see the answer as lying in a retreat behind the protective tariff walls of national states and even smaller units.

If global warming, world poverty and the other problems facing humanity are to be solved, then world structures must be created to deal with them. We must act globally. The resources of the Earth must stop being the property of multinational corporations, national states and rich individuals and become instead the common heritage of all humanity.

Within this framework of a world socialist society without frontiers appropriate institutions can be set up at world, regional and—yes—local levels to tackle the problems that are caused, not by globalization as such, but by the fact that globalization is taking place under a system where the uncontrollable economic imperative is to make profits and accumulate more and more capital, regardless of the effect on people or the environment.

An Intelligent Person's Guide to Voting (1997)

From the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Tories are right. The next Labour government will end in tears, just as every other Labour government has. But so has every Tory government. In fact all governments end in tears for the great majority of the population.

Since every government in Britain since the first world war has been either a Tory government, a Labour government or a combination of the two, the minimum conclusion that a rational voter would draw is never to vote Labour or Tory again.

“Hear, hear”, the Liberal politician will say, “Vote Liberal”. But this wouldn’t be a rational course of action either. This would be to assume that Tory' and Labour governments fail because of the personal failings of Tory and Labour politicians since the only thing that distinguishes the Liberals from Tories and Labourites is that they are different people. Everything else is the same; their approach to politics (promising to do things for people) and the framework within which they see themselves operating (the profit-motivated, market-governed system) are identical. But there is no reason to think that Liberal politicians are any more, or any less, honest or competent than Tory or Labour politicians.

The fact is that the personality of those who form the government is irrelevant. Even if they were all sincere, incorruptible and efficient, as opposed to, say, power-hungry, money-seeking careerists, it wouldn’t matter. They would still fail. A government of super-competent saints too would end in tears.

The reason is simple. Contrary to the claims of politicians, governments cannot control the levels of production, employment and consumption, These are the result of the blind workings of the profit- driven market system and go up and down according to whether the rate of profit is rising or falling.

Governments can't make the economy work in accordance with their desires but have to adapt their policies to what the economy requires, and the profit system requires that priority lx given to making profits over everything else and in particular over spending to meet the needs of the majority of the population. Which is why all governments end in tears.

In short, the government does not control the economy, the economy controls the government.

Going Fishing
The lesson is clear. What is required is not a change of government but a change of economic system. A change of bums on the ministerial benches in the House of Commons is an utter irrelevancy for almost everybody except the politicians concerned. Insofar as this is what is at stake in elections then the rational course of action for a voter is to abstain.

The thing to do on election day would be to go fishing or to spend your day digging the garden or doing some home repairs. Millions will be doing this and they won’t be wrong. At least they will be behaving in a more intelligent way than the millions who will be trotting along to the polling stations and voting for one or other rival hand of professional politicians.

But it is still a rather negative reaction. Abstaining is, quite literally, doing nothing, which can be seen as accepting that nothing can be done to end the misery people have to suffer whichever party or parties form the government. This in fact is probably what most abstentionists think but this is going too far. Something can be done to escape from the vale of tears the profit system imposes on ordinary people. The profit system can be abolished and replaced by one geared directly to meeting people’s needs instead of to making profits for a privileged few.

But this will only come about if we make it come about. This is why those of us who want this change have organised ourselves into a Socialist Party, not with the purpose of rivalling the other parties in their bid to form the government—a government formed by us would also end in tears—but with the aim of publicising the fact that there is an alternative to the profit system: a socialist system of society based on common ownership, democratic control and production for use not profit.

Such a system can only come about when a majority of people want it and organise themselves to get it. So the sort of politics we are talking about is not that of trusting in professional politicians to do things for you but is a do-it-yourself politics, with people themselves organising at work and where they live to take control of their own lives by working to change the economic basis of society.
Voting has a part to play in bringing about this change. Although governments don't control the economy they do control the forces of political repression, so it would be stupid to leave the machinery of government in the hands of supporters of the privileged few who benefit from the profit system. At some stage those who want socialism will have to mount an electoral challenge to the parties of the profit system and defeat them at the polls.

Voting Usefully
This means that voting isn’t in itself useless. It doesn’t serve much use today when there’s no real choice but it can in the future. When there is a socialist majority it can be used to remove from power those who support class privilege and the profit motive, so opening the way for ordinary people to carry out by their own efforts the socialist transformation of society.

Even today those who realise that what is required is a change of economic system and not a change of government can do something more positive than merely abstaining. They can cast a write-in vote for socialism by writing the word “SOCIALISM" across their ballot paper. That way you reject the view that whoever forms the government makes a difference while at the same time showing that you think that the vote can serve a useful purpose at a later date.
The number of us who want socialism is relatively small at the moment but we are still strong enough to put up socialist candidates in a number of constituencies in the coming election, in five to be precise (London Vauxhall, Glasgow Kelvin, Livingston, Jarrow and Easington).

These socialist candidates are not offered as leaders. They will make no promises to do things for people. They are merely names on the ballot paper to allow those who reject the profit system and want socialism to register the fact. In the extremely unlikely event of them being elected, they would just be the messengers of those who voted for them, delegates mandated to go to the House of Commons to use it as a megaphone to broadcast the case for socialism more widely.

So, if you reject the profit system and want socialism, the best thing to do in the coming election is, depending on where you live, either write “SOCIALISM” across your ballot paper or put an X against the name of the Socialist candidate.

Abstain if you like, but whatever you do don't vote for one of the parties that supports the profit system and wants to form the government, That way, when the next government, whatever it is, ends in tears you can say “Don’t blame me. I didn’t vote for any of them". If you ignore this advice, you will only have yourself to blame for what will inevitably happen 
Adam Buick 

The Last Word: The Undeserving (1997)

Cartoon by Peter Rigg.
The Last Word column from the September 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is a hell on earth reserved for those with no money. These are the “socially excluded”. These dwell in the darkness of inescapable poverty, ever wrestling with the torment of survival in a world dominated by the fast buck. If you have no money to feed to the profit-hunger of the owning élite you must starve or eat rotten food; you must sleep on the pavement or in slums designed to accommodate the economically imprisoned; you must freeze when it gets cold and sweat in the urban heat; you must watch the ceaseless propaganda serenades of the ad-men who are not talking to those without money to buy, but merely teasing your expectations; you must eat the crap which is poisoned by its cheapness; you must learn to go without and watch your children go without—sinners in the land of the Great God Money.

The deprivations of extreme poverty are still here. They are built into the very fabric of the profit system, like a viral fungus which can never be contained. From time to time the smiley reformers will come to peer at poverty—they will set up their Social Exclusion Unit, packed with euphemisms to describe poverty and futile remedies which never worked before because the system spews out such affronts to its callous economic logic. The simple-minded reformers, now Brand New (Extra Sterile) Labour, doped up on Christian platitudes and forgotten memories of every previous attempt to exorcise poverty from the profit system, come to throw their crumbs and offer sympathy.

They do not begin to understand. It is as well they don't. For knowledge would only show them that the stink which offends them is inherent to the system they seek to run. So, they wave their wands of Social Inclusion and sermonise about Social Justice and play games with the welfare rules until they are satisfied that their latest spray will de-odorise the capitalist air and free it from the stench of poverty. How good it makes them seem to those who elected them to rid the world of smelly beggars and single mums.

They do not understand what it is to spend night-after-night adding up figures to see whether you can buy your way through the coming week. Pay the rent—then what about food for the weekend? The ghostly footsteps of the bailiff draw closer each time you shut your eyes. Adapt to each latest deprivation only to be hit by a new one.The humiliating rituals of the welfare maze forever eroding your humanity and ripping away your dignity.

The new propaganda, now being pushed like an opiate for the just-surviving, speaks of “the deserving poor”. Yes, the very deserving ones should be helped. The ninety-seven-year-old, blind, deaf and one-legged wretch who has never taken a drink and now lives in squalor, must be . . . must be Socially Included. So throw a few quid at the geriatric service and, let’s be really socially inclusive here, take the poor old sod on a day trip to Margate care of the tax-payers.

But as for those who chose to dwell in hell—the shouldn’t-have-got-pregnants and the couldn’t-be-bothered-at-schools and the petty fools who thought they could beat the law or find temporary oblivion in a drug- haze—these are the sinners who are beyond redemption. The Socially Excludable. The Victorian profit-louts called them The Undeserving Poor. Let them rot. Did they not read the rules of The System when they entered this world? Did they not believe it when they were told of the eternal agonies of hell?

I have just finished talking with a friend whose disability benefits have been withdrawn. They have decided that, despite all the obvious evidence, he is fit for wage-slavery. He is sick with worry. He does not know which way to turn. He is one of tens of thousands in the same position. Him today, you tomorrow, me the day after? New Britain; Old Poverty.
Steve Coleman

Commonwealth — What's in a Name? (1997)

From the September 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Commonwealth is indeed a strange organisation, consisting of some 30 republics, 5 states with non-British monarchs and 16 nations that continue to recognise Queen Elizabeth as their monarch.

Basically set up as a grouping of countries that were once part of the British Empire, members now include Namibia—formerly a Germany colony, Mozambique—once under Portuguese rule and Cameroon, which had largely been under the control of the French. At the same time, several countries originally controlled by Britain, are not members—i.e. Israel. Jordan. Yemen, Palestine, Rwanda, Egypt, Sudan.

Existing chameleon-like, the Commonwealth has no real rules, other than new members must agree to abide by democratic and human rights guidelines laid down in the 1991 Harare Declaration.

It was from this organisation that Sierra Leone, having just experienced a military coup, was to find itself joining Nigeria in suspension—Nigeria having been suspended by the 1995 Auckland Summit—until such a time as democracy is restored.

This says much for the Commonwealth, for at least 20 of its members also find themselves at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index, experiencing the poverty and relative social ills that have in the past made unrest, internal conflict and coup all the more likely—ironically, the same countries that British capitalism “milked dry” in the days when huge portions of classroom atlases were coloured pink.

For the average worker in Commonwealth countries, membership has not altered their lifestyle one iota. Socialists correspond with many workers in Commonwealth countries including Jamaica. Pakistan, Botswana, Sierra Leone. Uganda—and are more than familiar with their tales of woe.

The World Socialism Movement has members in 11 Commonwealth countries, all of whom will testify that membership means little more than business as usual. They will tell how being a worker in such countries no more increases their prospects of work than it prevents member countries going to war with one another (i.e. India and Pakistan), and that in such countries the word "democracy” is as hollow and meaningless to the exploited as the word “commonwealth" itself.

The aforementioned members, however, do share a vision of a real "commonwealth”. It means a global system of society where all wealth is held in common and is democratically controlled by all people. It is a society from which borders and frontiers, social classes and leaders, states and governments have disappeared, in which production is geared to meeting needs, not profit, and in which people give of their abilities and have free access to the benefits of civilisation. This is the real "commonwealth" socialists look forward to.
John Bissett

Advertising and Art (1997)

From the September 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard
Is advertising art? Whatever it is, it's the nearest thing under capitalism to creative adornment of public spaces, even if it reflects capitalism's buying and selling ethos.
Advertising "is" pornography. When we say that advertising is pornography we are not in any way making a moral point. We’re making a point about the etymology of the word.

According to the Oxford Concise Dictionary, the word "pornography" derives from the Greek word pornographos, itself deriving from the words porne and grapho, "prostitute” and "write" respectively. Prostituted writing. Or, as it is often colloquially translated (and so generalising it a little more), "whore art". As the word is most commonly used, pornography obviously relates the notion of prostitution to sexuality. But it could also be interpreted as simply denoting the sale or hiring out of a person’s body (including, of course, the brain), by themselves, "willingly" for material reward. Under this definition, any worker could be described as a prostitute and the prostitute becomes just another kind of worker. It is, in fact, only for historical reasons, both ideological and material, that a special, moralistic, case is made of sexuality and therefore that prostitutes receive special (or any) approbation.

Hired writers
Artists are also, of course, workers (at least until, if they’re very lucky, they amass enough wealth so as to be able to work just for their own pleasure), as are "creatives" in advertising firms. This is quite an important point as regards the question of differences and similarities between advertising and art. The artist does not "create" from nothing, and nor does he or she proceed from some "divine" inspiration, as much of the dominant ideology of art would continue to have us believe. The artist is rather a worker producing art out of various raw materials, including previously existing systems of meaning, and in specific historical and social, which is to say material, conditions. It might also be said that artists are experimenters in the general area of culture and concepts, akin to philosophers and scientists. This is not to say that the artist doesn’t have special abilities, honed over a long period, that it would be difficult or impossible for the rest of us to mimic; but then so does a surgeon, an engineer or a skilled plasterer. And, most pertinently in this context, so most certainly does an advertising creative. But what is also important for our context, and for differentiating art from advertising, is the analogy between art and science, the concept of art as an experimental process, that requires the exercise of the imagination to transcend the simple given fact of the pre-existing materials.

It seems possible to argue that advertising, in the context of contemporary capitalism, actually is art, and a very popular art at that. Our cities might well "look pretty dead" if all adverts were to be suddenly removed. Many adverts are clever, amusing, even at times beautiful. The Marlboro adverts of a couple of years ago, for example, featuring black and white photographs of American landscapes and cityscapes, splashed with a touch of red to signify the brand (when allied to the health warning across the base of the image, utilised to signify the product), were considered by many to have a certain beauty that we might call "artistic”. Adverts also quite often make use of the most sophisticated techniques of modernist art, both in still images and in television or cinema advertising; this is, of course, quite interesting in itself given the popular comprehension, and even hostility, that they are often subject to when they are labelled "art”. This is connected to a certain ideological élitism, and an ideological reverence, that continues to surround artistic appreciation, tending to incite an anti-art backlash from those who are, culturally or educationally, largely excluded (supposedly) from such appreciation.

There are, in fact, those working in advertising, such as Tony Kaye, who produced the surrealist television adverts for Pirelli tyres, who have explicitly claimed artistic status for their work. There are also people working in fields that are recognised as “authentic" art who have previously worked in advertising. Salman Rushdie, for example, worked as writer for an advertising agency and came up with the cream cake slogan "naughty but nice", while Alan Parker, who has directed films such as The Commitments and Mississippi Burning, recently said in an interview with Jeremy Isaacs that he always considered advertising to be a "new art form" when he worked in the industry. Even when advertising was less sophisticated than at present there were well known instances of “cross-over" between art and advertising, such as W.H. Auden’s writing and reciting the text for the Post Office’s Night Mail advert in the 1930s, or further back, the art-nouveau posters of the late nineteenth century, the most celebrated of which were Toulose-Lautrec’s posters for Parisian nightclubs such as the Moulin Rouge. On the other hand art, in its turn, often makes use of materials and forms more usually associated with advertising, the Pop Art produced by Andy Warhol and others being the most obvious example.

So it seems advertising may have a certain aesthetic interest or artistic value; what then, if any, are the differences between art and advertising?

Caught up in the market
Both advertising and art are caught up in capitalist markets to some extent. This is an obvious fact given the fact that we are all necessarily caught up in the capitalist system whether we like it or not. But given this, and for all that the boundaries between art and advertising are blurred or semi-erased, there are at least two important differences.

Firstly, advertising is always and necessarily produced for the sake of the market, while art is, at least on occasion if not for the most part (the extent is debatable), produced before the explicit intervention of the market.

Secondly, advertising sets in place an ossification of concepts, promoting clichés of thought, perception and even aesthetics that are essentially ideologically (and so politically) conservative. It is even used, in fact, to implicitly encourage and promote commodity fetishism.

We are now approaching the sense in which advertising can be said to be pornography; the second difference outlined above is in a sense a consequence of the first. Where art is produced and then (the artist hopes) sold, advertising is sold and then produced, an important point since it means that the advert must conform to capitalist requirements in itself. Art, on the other hand, is not necessarily affected by such requirements, even though the individual artist may be tempted for the sake of relative financial security to tailor his or her work to them. If they do so, though, the work produced may often be the poorer for it, as the many examples of great art that has been unappreciated by the markets of its time (such as the work of Van Gogh or Stravinsky) would seem to indicate. What would have been the results if they had simply churned out what the markets were demanding?

Turning briefly to the cultural and aesthetic policies of Stalinism, we can see that the so-called "Socialist Realism” (which was neither socialist or particularly realistic, in that such works primarily presented fantasies of the Stalinist “utopia”) produced according to state diktat largely amounted to simple advertising for the state (the same applies to Fascist art) and its ideologies. We can see in this context how Leninist state capitalism is precisely that, with the state not only acting as the principal market (though a market nonetheless) for art but also dictating, on pain of the destruction of work and texts or even the imposition of judicial penalties on artists, exactly what that art must be, in both form and content.

In a truly socialist world, the freedom of the artist would be promoted rather than diminished by the abolition of both the market and the state. Not only would those who would in any case work in the areas of art find their freedom increased, but the absolute redundancy of the entire advertising industry would release the enormous wealth of talent currently tied up there. As for whether or not advertising "adds to the action" in our cities, there seems little doubt that it does—but in a socialist society advertising could be replaced by art of the highest standards, with local people deciding democratically which art is placed in which public spaces. On the other hand, galleries could continue to provide space for those works that might be unappreciated by the majority in their own time but which are of possible long-term historical, aesthetic and cultural worth. As in perhaps every other area of human existence, the end of the reign of capital and the capitalists would see the beginning of the reign of freedom and the consequent burgeoning of invention, imagination and creativity.
Jonathan Clay