Thursday, July 12, 2018

Word Magic or Double Talk (1950)

From the August 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is truth?” asked Jesting Pilate and would not stay for an answer. If the Roman's question referred to truth in an absolute sense he may have thought that there could be no answer. Hence his refusal to tarry suggests that he was not an unwise man.

For centuries philosophers have vainly sought for that “adumbration of a light that never shone on land or sea ”—“Absolute Truth." Towering edifices of involved mental processes have been erected in an attempt to reach to the edge of infinity; but in vain. Truth has always had the character of a recurring decimal which would not cancel out into any philosophic whole without remainder. So philosophers great and small have with airy verbalizations blown up a vast balloon of emptyness and called it—“The Absolute.”

Because a word has been coined it is often assumed that something must exist in the real world to which the word itself refers. The word truth having been contrived people have thought that there must exist some absolute to which the word alludes. If of course one holds that there is no absolute but only particular truths then the verbal difficulties associated with the word truth, vanish.

It is the age long magic of words which has the power of conferring on things that exist, attributes and virtues which in actual fact they do not possess. The relics of the magic of language can be traced in such rituals as the coronation of kings, the christening of babies and the dubbing of knights.

The witch doctor of old well knew the magic of words. The more meaningless they were the more by incantation and ritual could they be invested with awesome significance. Their modern archetypes, the psychologists have also invented a magic vocabulary of their own. Most of what they say is so trite and even trivial that if said in ordinary words would hardly be worth saying. But touch this jargon with the magic name psychology and it becomes the subject matter for a treatise or text book.

Advertisement copy writers also make great use of word magic. They have long realised the selling superiority of tuppence coloured words over those which are merely penny plain. In many cases the name of the advertised product and the alleged magic ingredients of the product itself have become so associated in peoples minds as to make the name of the product and the product itself, indistinguishable.

In the ordinary business of life we communicate with each other by means of words without difficulty. Here the words used correspond with actual events in the world, otherwise the detailed activity of everyday life could not be carried on. There are other words however which are at what is termed a higher level of abstraction than ordinary label words like butter, cheese or beer; such words or strictly speaking concepts as gravitation, inertia, energy, velocity, etc. Because these terms embody a number of highly generalised ideas they are more remotely linked to our everyday experiences. As long as the people who use them are aware of what is involved in the use of such terms, and other people with whom they communicate are similarly aware, then no mystification of meaning takes place.

There are however other concepts of a high order of abstraction like Democracy, Liberty, Freedom, Justice, etc. Unlike the scientific terms, gravitation, inertia, etc., which are generalised statements about properties of matter these concepts take on the character of timeless truths and form the cornerstone of social philosophies. Nevertheless politicians, pundits and propagandists, go on talking and writing about them as if they were as real and circumscribed as a suet pudding or the print on this page. Indeed they give these concepts a concrete order of meaning attached to label words like the aforementioned butter, cheese and beer. It is this indiscriminate use of language which treats ideal abstractions as if they were real things that so effectively hides meaning. Little wonder when fiction and fact, illusion and reality are so inextricably blended by propaganda and word magic that the social pattern for many people becomes confused and blurred.

The term democracy for instance is severely limited in its present social context to mean the right of adults to vote for representative government. Yet such are the idealistic notions which have been built round the term that its meaning has been expanded to include vague misty meanings like “the embodiment of western ideals and spiritual values.” It is also presented as “A way of life” with of course suitable labels like American or British attached to it. It is also “a social principle” which we are supposed to live by and if necessary fight for and on occasions die for. Yet what ever claims are made for democracy by capitalist apologists and that goes for “Freedom,” “Liberty” and “Justice” too, the great and undeniable social fact of today is the capitalist class ownership of the means of living. It is this which gives them power over the non-owners, the working class who are compelled to use these means in order to live and which extends to every phase of their social and private lives.

Another term which has been going the propaganda rounds is “Free Enterprise.” A euphemism of course for a profit producing system. It has been pictorially depicted as a lissome sprite rushing through space trailing clouds. Around the term has been woven other terms such as “individual initiative,” “free labour,” “free choice"; in fact freedom for anybody and everybody. That land of trusts, monopolies and mighty corporations, America with its long history of graft and political pressures is held up as the exemplar of “Free Enterprise.” By the use of such terms it is hoped to build up in people’s minds when they see or read the words free enterprise a favourable reaction to it.

Socialism, which means the replacement of the present social order by one based upon free and democratic access to the means of living, has, as a result of Labour Party propaganda, been identified with theories of nationalization and state capitalism. Their political rivals have thus been able to attach to the term socialism unfavourable words like bureaucracy, officialdom, red tape. Communism which is synonymous with socialism has by a deft propaganda stroke been separated from it to mean a more advanced form of Labour Party nationalization theories. It is then described as a more “drastic” form of socialism, a more “ruthless” outcome of socialism, and so on. And because the alleged Communist Party has identified communism with Russian state capitalism its political opponents have further added ugly words like totalitarianism and dictatorship, we can see then by what standard there has occurred the falsification of the word socialism. Propaganda and word magic have combined to convert the coinage of political terms into a debased and worthless currency.

One might of course attempt to keep words more precise by constant references to the dictionary. Words however take on an emotional significance which often has little in common with their dictionary definitions, especially when unchecked by knowledge. The word foreigner to those with parochial minds is not merely or even primarily a person born in another country. It has other associations of a vague and misty character which carry uneasy notions of the unfamiliar and even unknown. Add to that idea some one with dark and sinister motives and you have for many people the kernel of meaning the word conveys.

Its antonym, the word native, means one indigenous to a country. By association it has come to mean for numbers of folk just coloured people. Many white people in their own country seldom think of themselves as natives because the word has come to have a coloured connotation and with it notions of racial inferiority.

Words also come to have political and social associations which have little or nothing to do with their real meanings. The word republican today is the name of a major American political party, many of whose names possibly appear on the “social register.” In the 18th century the term republican was a word of abuse. The overthrow by the French middle class of the old feudal aristocracy had its repercussions in England and elsewhere. Republican came to mean not only those who were against monarchy but those against all established institutions who were regarded as lawless and unprincipled people. To be a republican and an atheist was considered in some circles to have touched bottom in human depravity. The historical conditions which gave force to these words have passed away and with it the stigma attached to them. Even “atheist” has lost much of the traditional hostility which the word once aroused.

Take another word; bolshevik. It means merely one who formed a majority section in the Russian Social Democrat party. The minority were called mensheviks. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 it became greatly in vogue as an abusive political label like Jacobin or republican. It was greatly used by sections of the daily press and certain conservative politicians who made it a verbal daub brush to smear the activity of some of their political opponents in unfavourable colours. The name bolshy often had an effect upon certain members of the privileged class in England such as the term republican had on the 18th century squires. To a wealthy and well nourished stockbroker travelling first class to the city the emotional backlash of the word might have been sufficient to have caused a quivering of his pink and portly flesh. Today the bolsheviks, like their French prototypes, the Jacobins, have gone their way and with them has gone most of the significance which the word once had. The modern counterparts of bolshevik are “communist” or perhaps the somewhat more abusive expression, “red.”

We ought to mention that there are people called semanticists who believe that a major solution to world problems lies in the reform of language. In fact the more voluble of them like Stuart Chase hold for all practical purposes that social problems are at bottom, linguistic problems. It seems to him and others that due to faulty communication ideas are unable to be effectively and rationally expressed. Although vide Stuart Chase there are important differences between countries, words and dialect which accompany these differences far transcend them in actual fact and kindle emotional fires which if language communication was on guard would never be started. It seems then that capitalist powers quarrel, arm and as is often the case, send men to fight, less over the question of raw materials, markets and spheres of influence, than the irrational and emotional use of words. The semanticist remedy is the making of language more precise, more scientific and neutral in the main spheres of social activity. We can only say that in a world of international rivalry, power politics and threatened atomic catastrophe the most neutral language will not make the environment less hostile. Men’s economic interest and their feelings are very much wrapped up in each other. To express such partial interests in impartial language would be to make speech more confused and hidden than it is today. The solution of social problems is not to be found in reconstructing our sentences or in perfecting syntax but in the reconstructing of society on vastly different lines. The semanticists setting out to be a lighthouse of reason in the stormy seas of life merely become themselves, towers of confusion.

Today a vast social mythology exists in capitalism, a mythology greater in scope and extent than the mythologies of ancient Greece and Rome. And if we ask who benefits by the perpetuation of these myths then the answer plainly is the economically privileged capitalist class who alone benefit by the perpetuation of this system. Because those who directly control the means of production indirectly control the sources of information and avenues of communications, the schools, radio and press, a flood of myth making and word magic propaganda is incessantly poured through these channels.

Words are then virtually important things because how we understand and use them measures both our knowledge and our ignorance. In the S.P.G.B. the correct use of words and clear definitions are basic; not as an end in itself but as a means towards the furthering of a social goal—Socialism. The meaning we have given to terms such as capitalism, democracy, socialism, etc., have their reference in the actual and verifiable facts of the present social order. Only in this way can concepts and meanings be tested, checked and verified. Because our terms and definitions have been framed in this way they have been proof against the ravages of time and the assault of shifting social and political phases. For that reason the words uttered by us now and in all our yesterdays are a source of enlightenment and understanding for the vast majority.

With other political parties they have become a trackless verbal wasteland lit only by the treacherous glimmer of ideological will o’ the wisps. It becomes then a matter of grave urgency for workers to understand the world they live in. Only then will they cease to be the slaves of words and become masters of them. From word mastery based upon understanding it is but a step to world mastery.
Ted Wilmott

The Passing Show: Letters to the Editor (1965)

The Passing Show Column from the August 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Letters to the Editor 

I once wrote a letter to a sports magazine criticising an article which appeared in the previous issue. To butter up the editor and to try to ensure publication, my opening words were:—“I think your magazine is the best bobsworth on the market" and when I turned expectantly to the correspondence columns the next week, there was my letter—minus everything except the first sentence.

It is what they call editing, in theory to tidy up the prose, but in practice—at least with the raggier papers like The Daily Mirror—to mutilate the letters and publish perhaps a line or two only from those selected for publication, to suit the editorial policy. Just take a glance any time at the "Viewpoint" section in The Mirror and you’ll see what I mean. Some of the letters are so short, it would be difficult to write less and say anything at all and the parts that the editor chooses to allow are often puerile and inconsequential.

But that’s the Mirror. Certainly other papers, such as The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian are not so restrictive and many of the letters you will find in their correspondence columns are several column inches long. Which is as well, for in addition to making the whole thing more interesting, it encourages expressions of opinion from all sorts of people including prominent Labourites and Tories. Here, for instance, in The Telegraph of July 8th, is Conservative A. P. Costain trying to explain away his party’s failure to solve the housing problem in their thirteen years of office. He blames it on to "increased population and higher living standards’’—not really a very novel excuse. And side by side with him are Labourites Frank Allaun and Stanley Orme proclaiming the right to strike but conveniently forgetting how tough their government gets with strikers whenever it gets the chance.

But perhaps the most intriguing contribution comes from a Mr. Raymond V. McNally, who extols the virtues of inequality and pronounces this dreary doctrine with a Bumble-like pomposity. "Of course, absolute equality and prosperity for all are impossible of realisation”, he writes,
   But it is possible, as Britain has demonstrated, to level all classes to the same approximate standard by deliberate redistribution of wealth.
Now I’m glad he said approximate. At least that gives him some sort ot get out, because he gives no data to support his claims and with ten per cent of the population owning ninety per cent of the accumulated wealth after all the years of alleged levelling (official figures, not ours) the process must indeed be very approximate. And like other confessed supporters of capitalism, he holds the United States up as a guide and mentor for us all; even the scandalous waste which has horrified Vance Packard and Thorstein Veblen, he does not think at all amiss, it’s all part of a "dynamic economy” and the general scheme of things, apparently:
   Indeed everything in nature has its aim and purpose, whether it concerns man, plants or the stars; inequality and suffering play an important part in the general evolution.
Under which heading we can of course group such horrors at Vietnam, the Congo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and we can show at the same time, the lengths to which some people go to justify their support of a vicious and inhuman setup. Actually on closer inspection, it’s little more than the old "human nature” argument dressed up in fancy phraseology, and which we encounter at least once in every meeting.

There were probably replies from other readers to this and other letters appearing on that day and we may be sure that the controversy waxed furious—and spurious. For interesting though it may be, it will all have a basic assumption— the acceptance of capitalism. You will not often see a letter from a Socialist because it would not be of sufficient "general interest” and after all, the editor has his circulation figures to keep in mind. Yes, it’s interesting to read the correspondence columns but they will really come alive when the Socialist movement grows and controversy about an entirely new world starts to show itself.

Off the Ball and Chain 

Estartit is on the Costa Brava. It has the Mediterranean sea, lots of sunshine and six miles of glorious sands. It caters overwhelmingly for the English Tourist ("just not Spanish enough for me” said one pretentious female) and they pour into the area throughout the holiday season, swimming, sunbathing and sometimes upsetting their stomachs with too much Spanish food.

Under the influence of the warm climate, it is interesting to watch people’s reactions. There are some who never forget they are British and wear a collar and tie even on the hottest days, and then there are those who try to be madly, gaily, Spanish and wear the largest sombreros they can find. But for most of them, it is a time to relax and forget their wage earner’s status for a week or two. And just for those few days, briefly, their guard is down and they can talk to complete strangers in a happy and friendly manner. It is so enlightening to see it all, but surely some of them must ask themselves the obvious question: "Why can’t we be always like this?”

It’s a fair enough question too, because the comparison with everyday working life is so stark that even the non-Socialist must be painfully aware of it. But although that may be so, he cannot explain it; no doubt he dislikes working for wages but he has no idea what to do about it (except perhaps dream of winning the pools) and it’s certain he does not realise how far reaching are the effects of wage slavery.

For this wage workers’ world is drab and insecure, but more than that, laden with resentment and suspicion, part indeed of a whole world of resentment and suspicion that is capitalism. Even his next door neighbour he is reluctant to really trust, and as for his workmate—a prospective competitor—that’s often worse. Life for most workers is certainly no holiday.

But it would be different in a Socialist world. By that I don’t mean we would spend all our time lying on the sand getting fried like a lump of rock salmon. What I do mean is that given a world of common ownership, work would be everyone’s ambition—a way of self expression that the present system just cannot provide. Freed from the strains of competition and the cash nexus, we could meet people from far and wide on truly equal and friendly terms, because the cause of suspicion and fear would no longer exist. That refreshment and recuperation we seek so desperately today in our yearly break, Cotswolds or Costa Brave, would be there every day of the week in the work we do and the useful, beautiful things we would produce.
Eddie Critchfield

Letters: Sectarian Semantics (1979)

Letters to the Editors from the January 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sectarian Semantics

You defend your party’s policy of allowing only, as you term it, “conscious socialists” into membership. Really, this is not unlike the practices of the religious sect, the Exclusive Brethren. They only allow their members to partake of the rites peculiar to that body.

Your pamphlet, “The Communist Manifesto and the Last Hundred Years” is, one assumes, a faithful exposition of your party’s policy. Anyway, it is complete with the secular nihil obstat of your Head Office address.

Tenet No. 8 says:
The SPGB, therefore, enters the field of political action, determined to wage war against all other political parties.
How differently did Marx and Engels view the way Communists should behave towards their own class members.

In Section II of “The Communist Manifesto” they wrote:
The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties.
    They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.
  They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.
The thoughtful reader, thus, is forced to question the standpoint of tiny, impotent organisations like the SPGB. SWP, IMG, and similar small bodies calling themselves Communist/Socialist. It seems evident that they are mere sectarian organisations and, therefore, anti-Marxist.

If we are to accept what Marx and Engels said in the above passage, we should be a member of the main working-class party of this country, the British Labour Party. Any refusal to do so means sectarians have interests separate and apart from the proletariat as a whole. What is that? Big fish in small streams?
H. C. Mullin 

A Socialist party must admit only conscious Socialists to membership for the simple reason that to do otherwise would attract people of all sorts of political opinions; people interested in anything but Socialism. To do this would destroy our character as a Socialist party. And we don’t have any rites—our sole reason for membership is to propagate the idea of Socialism.

Clause 8 of our Declaration of Principles is, in fact, in line with the passages quoted from the Communist Manifesto (although if it were not, this would not make it wrong; we don’t accept everything which Marx and Engels wrote, which would be pure dogmatism.)

There are no other working class parties in this country if by that term we mean parties which stand for the interests of the working class. A working class party must have as its object the only political object in the workers’ interest — the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by Socialism.

To describe the Labour Party as a “working class party” is to ignore their long record of opposition to working class interests—wage restraint and inflated currency (which, in effect, means a fall in real wages), racist immigration laws, production of nuclear weapons, fighting British capitalism’s wars in Korea, Malaya and the like. The list of Labour’s attacks on the working class is very long.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain and its companion parties abroad stand in direct contrast to this miserable record. We have always kept our object clear. This is not sectarian—it is consistent and principled.

Guilty By Association

The profound truths of the Socialist Standard are legion, whilst the humour, quite rightly, is rare. It was however with some amusement that I learn from “Question and answer” page 227 Dec '78 that the Railway Clerks Association (RCA) later became the Russian news agency TASS, instead of the Transport Salaried Staffs association, (TSSA) or Tessa.

No wonder Railway men have been called a bunch of Commies.
Yours fraternally
R. A. Hale 
London E.10

AB of Leeds
We are still happy to publish readers’ letters, with our reply—see this issue. Recently, for some reason, fewer people have been writing to us. We don’t publish anonymous letters, though —nor, of course, can we reply to them. If you will let us know your name and address we will reply to your points.
Editorial Committee

Elections and Revolution (1982)

Editorial from the April 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

At local election time voters are asked to pay the price for their political gullibility. “Vote for us" cry the defenders of the profit system: “Send us to the council chamber and we will make the district a pleasant place to live in". Most workers don't bother to vote in local elections. Hand-outs are thrown away by the pestered electorate as casually as the promises within them will be case aside by the winning party. Workers are right to be cynical about the parties of capitalism: what have they ever done for us?

The real issue in this election, as in all others, is not which leader to choose or which policies to enact. The workings of capitalism are not susceptible to the manipulation of local government. Whoever gets in, profits still come before human needs.

The real issue is which social system we want to live under: capitalism or socialism? None of the manifestos will say anything about the system. The politicians will not make speeches saying “Vote for us so that we can run capitalism—we stand firmly for a system of class division and legalised exploitation a vote for us is a vote to continue the same old problems". Well, they wouldn’t say that, would they? But in effect, that is precisely what they mean.

Elections are never about the real issue. Petty, reformist trivialities are presented as if they're what it's all about. Grown up people get excited about rates, rents and rosettes while tinny loudspeaker vans amplify rusty policies from the mouths of shady politicians. Nobody mentions The System—but that is what the whole performance is about.

When socialists arrive on the election scene and talk about the real issue—real socialists, not reformist Labourites—the defenders of capitalism become terribly embarrassed: Labourites go red in the face, Tories go blue in the face and SDPers break their moulds. But there is no escaping it—the real electoral issue is whether we are to live in a competitive, class-divided society or whether we are
commonly to own and democratically control the resources of the world. The choice is yours.

We agree: it is easier said than done. Making a social revolution takes a bit more than “breaking the mould". How, then, are we to enact this great change? The first step is to want it. There can be no socialism unless people want it. Do you want a society where food is produced solely to be eaten, houses solely to live in, clothes solely to wear? Do you want to get rid of the buying and selling system where we can only obtain what we want if there is a profit in it for the capitalists?

The Left often argues among itself but claims a fundamentally different outlook on life and way of running society from the Right. However, if we look at the opposing teams of Left and Right in action, we find that:

  •  Labour and Conservative governments always promise sweeping improvements, but both break their promises and practise virtually identical policies leading to wage “restraint”, job insecurity, unemployment and general dissatisfaction.
  • The Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party and the Workers Revolutionary Party are bitterly hostile to the National Front. Yet, like the extreme Right, they go in for physical violence to muzzle opponents with “unacceptable” views and often support regimes abroad which deny opponents freedom of speech. Both sides have contempt for democracy. Both sides want to set themselves up as leaders.
  • The state capitalism of Russia and China is basically the same as the private capitalism of Chile and South Africa. In all these countries political opposition is regarded as deviance and liable to punishment in prison, psychiatric hospital or concentration camp. In all of them a small elite holds power of life and death over the vast majority.

So we see that in reality the policies of Right and Left are often strikingly similar. The difference is the way these policies are dressed up.

There are quite a few people who prefer the idea of production for need to the idea of production for profit. We want socialism: but wishful thinking will not make a revolution. Capitalism survives because of mass consent. So what would happen if there was mass dissent—if a majority of the working class (which is itself a majority of humanity) withdrew its support from capitalism? The system cannot continue without our acquiescence.

Mass dissent or majority socialist consciousness—call it what you like—does not appear by magic. Most people accept the capitalist system because they are used to it. Workers believe that capitalism has always existed and always will. The job of socialists is to show that capitalism is just a temporary stage in human evolution. There is an alternative.

Once a majority understand and want socialism, what must they do? They must do the opposite of what they do to support capitalism. Instead of electing leaders to run capitalism they must elect socialist delegates who will carry out their political will. Once socialists get into the council chambers and the parliaments of the world they will have one act to perform: the expropriation of the capitalist class and the transfer of the means of wealth production and distribution to the whole community. That is the sole aim of socialists; that is the real electoral issue.

If you vote Labour, Tory, SDP, Liberal or for any of the other pro-capitalist parties in the May elections you are acting as an opponent of socialism. Any political promise or demand less than socialist revolution is worthy of the hostility of the working class. If you are a socialist, write “WORLD SOCIALISM—SPGB” on your ballot paper. At election time, this is the revolutionary socialist message.

Greasy Pole: A Gruesome Business (1997)

The Greasy Pole column from the April 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

If, after all, the Labour Party does not win the election, spin doctors and opinion pollsters all over the country will be found falling on their swords or being dragged into a courtyard to be shot at dawn. It will be a gruesome business. Meanwhile the Tories will not be entirely untroubled. for suicidal thoughts may disturb the celebrations of some of their prominent members. These will be the people who had almost hoped the Tories would lose because this would have boosted their chances of replacing John Major in the leadership contest which had been expected to follow Labour’s victory.

We are discussing here what goes on at the higher and slimier reaches of the greasy pole of political advancement. This is where friends greet each other with a warm, firm grasp of the throat, where a supportive arm round the shoulder usually means a probing knife in the back, where the famous claim that loyalty to the Tories’ [is their] secret weapon is treated with contemptuous derision. This is where in the past more than one hopeful candidate, who seemed to be unstoppable, came to grief. Consider, for example, the moving case of John Moore. Does anyone now remember him? Has anyone ever heard of him?

Moore was the first of Thatcher’s favourite sons—the first to be anointed by her as her chosen successor. He was handsome and a fitness fanatic, bashing away for hours every day on his exercise bike. Just to prove how fit and good looking he was he liked to appear on Tory political broadcasts in his shirt sleeves.

What Moore overlooked was how dangerous it can be to be the heir apparent. To put it mildly his wilier colleagues had little difficulty in putting the skids under so vulnerably blind a man. To begin with Moore lost half his ministerial responsibilities— half his job—in a brutal amputation. Symbolically. his much vaunted fitness failed him and, to Thatcher’s intense irritation, he collapsed at the Cabinet table. Before he was finally despatched he made one last, feeble effort to rally support by publishing a pathetic attempt at proving that poverty was a myth. That only brought down more contempt onto his miserable head. He was probably relieved to escape to the House of Lords.

There are similarities between the case of John Moore and that of another of Thatcher's favourites. Michael Denzil Xavier Portillo was in fact Moore’s PPS in 1986 but this did not prove to be an insurmountable handicap. At his 40th birthday party in 1983 Thatcher had made her feelings clear: “We brought you up, we expect great things of you, you will not disappoint us.”

At school Portillo was a supporter of Harold Wilson’s Labour Party but he changed his politics at Cambridge and soon after leaving university he got a job as adviser to Cecil Parkinson—another of Thatcher's doomed favourites. Portillo got into Parliament when he won the seat held by Anthony Berry, who was killed in the Brighton hotel bomb and from then his rise was steady and predictable, through a succession of junior jobs to the Cabinet. He is now Minister of Defence.

It has not. however been a story without is blemishes. Portillo was foolish enough to champion the widely unpopular poll tax, assuring a Tory conference that it was a vote winner. He had become notorious for an eagerness to pander to the more extreme and stupid xenophobia in the Conservative Party, in silly speeches about students being able to buy qualifications in "any other country", about the SAS standing as a grim warning to the rest of the world: "Don’t mess with Britain". One Tory minister who once had Portillo work for him thought ". . . I’ve never heard him give a party conference speech which dignified the subject"—which was probably an understatement. Finally. Portillo showed what he thought about loyalty in the Tory party during the leadership contest between Major and Redwood. Portillo put it about that he supported Major and so was not in the running-—while he set up his own campaign headquarters.

None of this helped Portillo’s rampant ambitions. He is not now seen as one of the stronger candidates for the leadership if Major falls and has, perhaps, decided that a period of reticence would not come amiss. At all events he is keeping, at this time of stress for his party, his head well below the parapet. This can also be said for another one-time favourite (although this was more with the Tory faithful than with Thatcher or Major). Peter Lilley now seems marooned at Social Security, where he has zealously pursued his campaign against single mothers and where some of his notoriety rests on his designing the Child Support Agency which seems to have done very little to support children but a lot to stimulate their parents’ enmity and even in some cases—paternal suicide.

Lilley is another hit at Tory conferences. In 1992 he launched into a parody of The Mikado:
"I've got a little list
Of benefit offenders who I'll soon be rooting out. . .
and councillors who draw the dole
To run left wing campaigns . . ."
The next year he had them rolling in the aisles with a spoof phrase book for Europeans sponging on Social Security:
"Wo ist das Hotel? Where is the Housing Department?
Où est le bureau de change? Where do I cash my benefit cheque?"
And so on. And this from a politician who not so long ago had a reputation as an “intellectual". He was among the rush to abandon Thatcher when she was under threat in 1990. showing openly what he thought of all that stuff about loyalty and the Tories when he told her bluntly that he would not support her because she was finished. Lilley is another of those who are now strangely hesitant about pushing themselves for the leadership. Do we have to endure yet more of those sickening speeches before he makes up his mind?

In this situation the man who is being strongly tipped as the leading contender begins with the possible handicap that he holds an office which has never led to being a Conservative prime minister. Michael Howard is the most hated Home Secretary for a very long time. Apart form offenders and prisoners—who don't usually expect to like a Home Secretary—Howard has managed to upset his own officials, lawyers, prison governors, prison officers, the judges . . .

Which of these odious men will come out on top? We can be sure the event will be given a significance wildly at odds with reality, with their statements treated as seriously as, for example, Major’s cant about a nation at ease with itself. Nobody climbs the greasy pole by being nice to other people or through an ambition to improve our lives.

A Better World to Die In (1982)

From the February 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

We live in a strange society which honours the dead more than it cares for the living—it builds monuments to mark graves, but does not house all the living; it makes social occasions out of funerals and makes death a source of profit for the undertakers. Under capitalism even death is commercialised.

From the moment we are born we begin the process of dying. It is difficult to speak in physical terms about “natural death”, but certain broad comments can be made. Firstly, human beings, aided by the best available scientific processes and given suitable environmental conditions, should have an average life span of seventy-five years—and could live healthily for several years longer. Secondly, given suitable environmental conditions and medical aid (including drugs), no person need die in pain. Thirdly, preventive medicine and health-preserving exercise can prolong life. In short, modern technology can allow us to live longer, to be fitter and to die painlessly. These are great social achievements but, as is usual under capitalism, humanity is denied the full benefits of them. Having created the means of extending and improving life, capitalism negates such an advance because it destroys life at an intense rate. It is a tragic paradox that the system which has enabled medical science to extend its horizons is one which creates more “artificial” deaths than it saves in avoided natural deaths.

Capitalism kills in many ways:

MALNUTRITION. Lack of decent food (or any food) kills thirty million people each year. On average, one death occurs each second as a result of malnutrition. The cause of this is not an inability of the world to feed everyone in it—in fact, we could feed every living being several times over but the simple fact that starving people cannot afford to buy food. Fifty per cent of deaths from malnutrition are of children under five.

LACK OF CLEAN WATER. Millions die each year because they do not have access to clean water. The reason is simple: it costs too much to irrigate the areas where they live.

LACK OF MEDICAL ATTENTION. In vast areas of the world health services hardly exist. In parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America one doctor has to attend to thousands of patients. The mortality rate in such areas is phenomenally high. Even in Britain, where there is supposed to be a free health service, NHS treatment is second-rate and “on the cheap”, and recent government cuts have seriously affected services. Patients have died in ambulances which have been forced to drive around searching for an open casualty department.

WARS. Even in times of world “peace”, there are always local wars going on somewhere. In Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Biafra, Ireland, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq . . . thousands have lost their lives fighting for their masters’ interests. Modern weapons could kill us all within a matter of weeks.

CANCER. Dr. R. J. C. Harris, a leading cancer research scientist, has written that “ . . . between 80 to 90 per cent of cancers in man are caused by agents in his environment”. Many of these agents could be identified and removed, but it is not socially practicable to do so under capitalism. Harris points out how certain occupations expose workers to a very high risk of contracting cancer:
  In one coal-tar dye plant 25 per cent of a labour force of 366 men, exposed to these chemicals between 1912 and 1962; contracted bladder cancer. (Cancer, Penguin, chapter 4.)
Harris also points out that asbestos textile workers and iron-ore miners face a high risk of contracting cancer, as do people who are persuaded by tobacco manufacturers to smoke cigarettes. In Britain and many other industrialised countries one death in five is caused by cancer, yet government expenditure on cancer research each year is substantially less than government expenditure on armaments each day.

POLLUTION. Urban environments are made unclean and unsafe by industrially produced chemical pollutants which are cheaper to release into the atmosphere than to avoid or destroy. City-dwellers inhale regular doses of filthy air which cause sickness and contribute to many early deaths.

ACCIDENTS. Many of the accidents which injure and kill people in the course of employment are predictable and avoidable; but employers calculate that it is cheaper to make occasional compensation payments than to make working conditions safe. Many domestic accidents occur because it is cheaper for workers to run unsafe homes than safe ones.

STRESS. The strain of the competitive rat-race frequently leads to stomach ulcers, brain haemorrhages and heart attacks. People under stress are less resistant to minor ailments which can become potential killers. In periods of capitalist depression the suicide rate rises rapidly.

HYPOTHERMIA. Each winter many people die of the cold because they cannot afford to put on a heater. Hypothermia especially affects pensioners and the families of the unemployed. The recent spell of freezing weather led to many unnecessary deaths. It is not the case that society has a lack of energy to keep people warm, but that workers who need heat cannot afford to buy it. The Electricity Board has announced that it is cutting back on production in 1982 because it has “overproduced” in the past and there is insufficient “market demand”.

These artificial killers account for many millions of deaths each year. Even if workers think that they are immune from all of them at the moment, the insecurity of working class life makes them prime targets in the future. For those who survive capitalism's ways of killing people, old age can be a depressing and impoverished period of life. In a society which is primarily interested in workers as exploitable commodities, once a worker has passed retirement age they are often seen as a social inconvenience old workers are “problems”. Unless elderly workers are fit enough to look after themselves (which is made difficult by having to live on a pittance of a pension) they run the risk of being stuck in homes to be patronised by vicars and volunteers or to spend their final years in a geriatric ward where the old are almost punished for not being profitable any more. In the early days of capitalism old workers were dumped in the workhouse and husbands and wives were split up, never to meet again. Many old workers look back on their lives with a sense of resentment: they gave so much; they have been rewarded with so little. Capitalism is a system which condemns many of its old to die in bitter indignity. They crave respect, but who can blame their children for not respecting parents who have passed on to them such a sick and rotten world?

Proof of death entitles the relatives of the deceased to a £30 death grant. The average cost of a burial is between six and eight times greater than the government grant. In many cases the death of an aged parent is the first time for months or years that the children of the deceased will have visited them. Deaths bring out the friends and relatives to claim their share of the deceased’s wealth. All too often the pomp of the funeral contrasts sharply with the dullness of the deceased's final days, spent in loneliness. Religious hypocrites make foolish noises about going to a better place—for many workers any place has to be better. When ever they bury a capitalist who has died after years of social parasitism, the vicar usually forgets to mention the one about it being harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. (If this is true, the Pope and the Queen Mother had better take up a course in limbo-dancing.)

Under this wasteful, destructive profit system working class lives are frustrated. From birth to the grave wage slaves have to put up with conditions which scientific advances have made unnecessary. We could live and die in peace, but the majority of the working class consents to a system which dehumanises social relationships.

There is a better way to live. In a socialist society human beings will be free to live healthy lives in a healthy social environment. We will all have free access to what we need, so no one will die for lack of basic requirements to sustain life. Old people in a socialist world community will give according to their abilities and take according to their needs, as will all people, including the physically and mentally disabled. In a creative, satisfying society men and women will have no need to fear old age as an indignity, but will be respected for what they have contributed to society. In a democratic society the young will not regard the old as an inconvenience, for they will understand that they too will one day be old—and the old will have no reason to be intolerant of changes carried out by the young. Socialism will not be a Utopian society where all will live for eternity in total bliss; but the wasted lives and needless deaths which are a hallmark of capitalism will cease to be. Socialism offers a happier way of living—and a happier way of dying. 
Steve Coleman