Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Peter Sutcliffe, mad or bad? (1981)

From the July 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Enough has been written in the press about Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, to last at least until the next mass murderer appears on the scene. He is now locked away, safely out of sight. But there is one absurdity remaining from the case which has not been generally observed. The jury were instructed to decide whether he was guilty of “murder” or “manslaughter” according to whether he was mad, or just plain “evil”.

You might have expected such distinctions to have ended with the drowning of witches. But the religious mania of the legal establishment is alive and kicking. Sutcliffe himself claimed that he was not mad. Some of the innocent flock around him decided that he was, while others preferred to give him the full epitaph of pure, knowing evil, in this case, however, they were somewhat embarrassed by his insistence that “God” had instructed him to kill prostitutes, and had for years protected him from the police.

Sutcliffe, like most of those questioning him, had a strict religious upbringing. Around the time of the trial, the Pope was shot, and “pardoned” his assassin on the grounds that everything was in God’s hands. When he visits Britain next year, he is going to have marksmen from Scotland Yard’s D11 Unit to guard him. He heads the holy institution which has blessed countless battles and sanctified millions of deaths for the sake of one “national interest” or another. The question will arise, when is a God not a God? When a murderer is not in an army.

When a man viciously kills thirteen people, quibbling about ridiculous labels, such as whether he is “mad” or “bad” adds insult to injury. Disturbed mass murderers are produced by present-day society. If we evade the issue by branding them as “evil” and locking them up, the problem remains, as the next generation of troubled and frustrated people are fostered by a sick society which teaches violence.

Some of the notaries in the courtroom were responsible for many more than thirteen deaths, but because their murders were in defence of British property and privilege, they are virtuous and normal. Over the last decade, the world has spent four million million dollars on arms. That figure, which has twelve noughts, has just been published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Britain alone spends £1.4 million per hour on machines of destruction. The Imperial Cancer Research Fund, investigating the possible use of interferon as a cure for cancer, collected just £1 million throughout 1979, and even that had to come from charity. That is the scale of priorities of the profit system which dominates the world today. This is the society which condemns thirteen horrific murders as "evil", but continues to sanctify unlimited violence in the defence of trade and commerce.
Clifford Slapper

Life on Earth (1979)

TV Review from the July 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Life on Earth, the recent BBC television scries, was quite excellent. The story began with intelligent guesses about the formation of the earth many millions of years ago, continued through the probable origins of living matter, the evolution of plant and animal species, to human society today. The presenter, David Attenborough, was thoroughly convincing all the way through, until the very last programme, which was — albeit predictably — something of a let-down. But more of that anon.

One very interesting aspect was apparent right from the start. The series was put out by the BBC, which is the official broadcasting body of this still supposedly Christian country. Yet never once did Attenborough discuss, or even remotely consider, the possibility that some god had anything whatever to do with the unfolding of his fascinating story. It is not all that long since the reign of the original boss of the BBC, Lord Reith, and it is impossible to imagine that puritanical, god-fearing man countenancing it. The story of the world was told in a way that reminds one of the answer which Laplace gave when Napoleon asked him where god figured in his picture of the universe: “I have no need of that hypothesis.'’

Workers’ understanding of their position in society is, at present, excruciatingly backward. Nevertheless, one can see that in the course of barely one generation, the religious outlook in which most people were once steeped has altered beyond recognition. If such a sudden and remarkable change can occur in the thoughts of so many people in a matter which had always been considered of such fundamental importance, perhaps we should not feel too despondent!

Unanswerable Retort
There was another aspect of the series which is worth noting here, as it gives the unanswerable retort to the religious claim that the world was created and ruled by an all-powerful and beneficent deity. Ask a parson to explain the sufferings of humanity and how it is that their loving god allows it to happen (actually makes it happen, of course) and he will reply that god gives people free will and it is people’s own sinful nature that is to blame. (We won’t bother here with wondering why god gave people their sinful nature.) But Life on Earth blows all this nonsense to pieces, because it is made very clear that pain and suffering among living creatures were occurring on a boundless scale many millions of years before human beings emerged on the scene.

One episode showed how insects developed wings, and then how their predators, the spiders, seeing their prey escaping, managed to construct a vast tailoring industry so that the flies were caught in the sticky web and were eaten alive. The pain and suffering involved in this arc all too obvious. Untold billions of flies met their gruesome fate this way without any reference to homo sapiens. (Though 1 did once read an article in a scientific magazine which argued that spiders were humanity’s best friend, as the billions of insects they consumed would otherwise simply eat humans off the earth.) And it is reasonable to assume that the spiders will go on eating the flies even if the time comes when human beings disappear from the earth.

The suffering in the animal world is too immense to contemplate. The spiders themselves are of course victims in their turn. In that magnificent work, Social Life in the Insect World, Henri Fabre describes how a wasp will sting a spider in its nervous centre, thus rendering it paralysed. It then proceeds to lay its eggs on the living spider so that when the grubs in due course hatch out, they have a ready supply of living fresh meat to hand. (If the wasp mercifully just killed the spider, the meat would be rotten by the time it was needed.) How does god account for his actions to the suffering flies, and the suffering spiders? Are all the endless series of animal life all being punished for their original sin? And will god make it up to all the untold billions in some insect heaven one day?

In the unfolding of his story, Attenborough was able to show us pictures of the fossil record — photographs of creatures which died out millions of years ago. (The scientific method of dating the ages of the rocks in which the fossils are found is no longer challenged by anyone but the most crackpot type of religious maniac.) The Darwinian theory of the evolution of the species provides the most convincing explanation for what has happened. However many gaps remain, the alternative theory of the Great Designer in the Sky is unsupported by any sound evidence. And as Engels put it, if god really did create the universe, then it has been left to its own devices. A very odd sort of creator — one who retired from the scene billions of years ago, and whom nobody has ever seen since. And if god ever turns up again, the spiders and the flies will have a lot to tell it, let alone babies born with cancer.

Lovable Gorillas
The last programme dealt with the one animal which, for a combination of reasons that need not concern us here, was able to challenge and control nature instead of being controlled by it. This last programme showed that Attenborough (and the scientists who had helped him devise the scries), having shown such a marvellous understanding of a world long gone and of species that we never knew, was far less sure of his ground in dealing with our own species in our own time. It began with a picture of a crowd watching a wrestling match: the camera dwelt at length on the features of the people there — black, white, men, women. The purpose was to show the amazing range of human facial expressions. But the scientist did not seem to notice that the faces were all extremely nasty. (I was going to say 'bestial’ but that would be an insult to the beasts like the huge and lovable gorillas Attenborough had been disporting himself with the previous week). It never occurred to the presenters to suggest that there was something unpalatable in the fact that all this evolution had at the end produced the human being — who gloated horribly over the viciousness of paid wrestlers.

So is this what we are all about? Fortunately, the programme also showed us a tribe recently discovered in the depths of New Guinea. These were savages in the scientific sense of the term. They appeared to have not even reached the Stone Age. Not only were their faces and their naked bodies the same as ours, they had the attribute of human speech, though the only word that was intelligible to their discoverers was ‘bayami’ which was apparently the name of the tribe. In the ordinary use of the term, the savages were the modern crowd we saw at the beginning of the film, while these smiling, delightfully ‘backward’ members of our own kind were clearly pleasant and friendly and lovable.

And the great lesson of the whole splendid series was the very one that the producers missed: that the human being in its original state is by no means an aggressive brute. We can be as lovable as a Bayami (or indeed, as a gorilla). We can be as horrible as a screaming fan at a wrestling match. We still live in a jungle: it is called the competitive system — capitalism. When the working class decides to cut the jungle down, the harmonious environment which will take its place will allow the innate human qualities of friendliness and cooperation to flourish.
L. E. Weidberg

Questions old, questions new (1978)

From the July 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Any reader who considers the Socialist Standard to be of interest will find it well worthwhile to read the Socialist Party’s new pamphlet Questions of the Day (price 50p, or 65p by post from Head Office). The previous edition of this pamphlet was published in 1969, and a number of chapters have been added to the new edition.

However, it is a measure of the correctness of the Socialist analysis and of the fact that the problems thrown up by capitalist society remain essentially the same, that we have seen no need to revise the greater part of the pamphlet’s content. But this in no way means that it is out of date, any more than our Declaration of Principles is out of date just because it was formulated over seventy years ago. For the simple fact is that the basic features of capitalism have undergone no fundamental change since 1969 or even since 1904. The socialist case on parliament, reformism, trade unions, overpopulation, human nature and so on remains as valid and as cogent as ever.

This is not to say, though, that Socialists are not confronted by new events and new challenges. In particular, the rise of a Women’s Liberation movement over the last decade has necessitated the inclusion of a chapter on Women and Class. This chronicles the involvement of women in production, and the struggle (not supported by the SPGB) to gain the vote on equal terms with men. The modern women’s movement is analysed in a way that should be thought-provoking for its members and sympathizers. It is not in women’s interests to "achieve” equal exploitation with men under capitalism, but to work for a world of freedom and equality for all. In the words of Clause 4 of our Declaration of Principles, “the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.”

Inflation and unemployment also merit an additional chapter. Inflation is explained as being due not to wage increases but to an excess issue of inconvertible paper money. The inability of Keynesian policies to prevent the recent tremendous rise in unemployment is exposed. The anarchy of capitalism means that politicians’ attempts to produce permanent full employment are doomed to failure.

The chapter on the Chinese revolution, together with our pamphlet Russia 1917-1967, shows quite clearly why the state capitalism which exists in China and Eastern Europe is emphatically not Socialism but just an alternative method of organising the wage-labour-capital-prices-profits system. A chapter on the so-called left-wing parties illustrates their commitment to reformism and to anti-Marxist ideas.

All in all, every worker should find something of interest in this handy and comprehensive pamphlet. It is both a useful work of reference and an ideal introduction to the case for Socialism.
Paul Bennett

The Roots of Violence (1977)

Book Review from the July 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Social Context of Violent Behaviour by Emanuel Marx. Routledge & Kegan Paul, £3.50.

“Human Nature" is the oldest and stubbornest cry against Socialism. It is stubborn because the arguer believes he knows things about human beings that make a harmonious society of equals impossible: either too many are perverse, or the whole lot of us have greed and aggression built in. It is not a matter of well-known monsters — Jack the Ripper, the Moors murderers, the Kray brothers can be accepted as exceptional cases — but of familiar conduct like vandalism, bullying and truculence. They ruin good relationships today; the “human nature” argument is that they would ruin Socialism if it were tried.

The Socialist answer is that “human nature” is a misnomer. What is being described is human behaviour, which (with estimates of particular kinds of it as “good” or reprehensible) continually changes. Man is a social being whose strongest tendency is to co-operation and order, or we should not be here today. Against examples of the “bad” can be set countless opposite ones. Yet everyday anti-social expressions are a fact in present-day society, and their causes are other social facts.

Dr. Marx’s book is an analysis of personal aggression and damage to property in a small Israeli town called “Galilah” from 1964 to 1966. The examples given are of the sort which may get briefly reported in local newspapers in Britain. Domestic beating-up; a man smashing things in a café; threats and assaults. A case-history of each is given. Some, says Marx, are “sound, rational and deliberate action” — violence is the way for the offender to get what he wants or needs, and it follows rules he has learned from his masters. Chapter 2 is about legal and moral attitudes to violence in various societies, and the writer argues that the more a ruling class monopolizes force the more it disapproves of fisticuffs among individual citizens.

There is also what he calls “appealing violence”, where individuals are frustrated into irrational acts towards their families and the public. The old-fashioned name for this is “taking it out on the cat”. Marx sees it as a cry for help. But it is not necessary to follow psychiatric arguments to understand what he is saying: that violent personal behaviour is not “human nature”. It is a reaction forced out by social conditions, and its manner is on the lines of accepted social formulae. In Galilah he attributes all of it to “the near-monopoly of a handful of officials over the material resources available to the inhabitants” — which is close to a description of any class society.

The book ends with a request for more research into violence. On its evidence, a demand to organize for the abolition of the causes is far more to the point.
Robert Barltrop

Con-Census (1976)

From the July 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

While attending the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s annual Conference at the Conway Hall, Holborn, I happened to pass the headquarters of OPCAS. OPCAS, as every informed Civil Service watcher knows, is the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, a government department headed by the Registrar General which collects statistics about the people of this country.

OPCAS had a display in the window about today’s expectation of life, and one of the captions was as follows: “On average everyone can expect a working life of about 50 years [Perish the thought — 50 years on the capitalist treadmill!] — say from age 15 to retirement age. But diseases like cancer, heart disease, and accidents can cause death at younger ages, so that some people do not reach retirement age. The 600,000 deaths in 1973 caused the loss of nearly 150 million potential working years. Of this total, nearly 30 million working years lost were due to deaths from cancer.”

No humanity there towards the 600,000 unfortunates who never made it to the Old Age Pension — just that their deaths caused the loss of 150 million working years. How inconsiderate of them to expire with this kind of debt to their employers still undischarged. Positively un-English: my dear, the place is going to do the dogs!

That window display demonstrated yet again that the working man is a “hand” whose personal existence does not interest the ruling class one atom. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his book Emile, relates the following incident. “‘My lord, I must live,’ once said a wretched author of satire to a minister who had reproached him for following so degrading a profession. ‘I fail to see why,’ replied the Great Man coldly.”

The 600,000 who so cynically escaped their employers’ philanthropy by opting for six feet of earth were noteworthy from the capitalist viewpoint in that they represented so many lost years of exploitation: 600,000 geese that were laying golden eggs in the form of surplus-value. Capitalism mourns the loss of gold. The fact that more than half a million workers have fallen victims years before their time leaves it undisturbed.

Many of those workers were murdered by capitalism. They were killed by a society whose stock-in-trade is want and neglect. Their illnesses were only what appeared on the death certificates. What really killed them was a system that first of all lays the foundations of bad health by the intolerable pressures it inflicts on the working class, and then airily concludes that this had nothing to do with their demise. The operation was successful but the patient died.

Miners and building workers figure prominently in accident and disease statistics. Heart disease is a product of a pressure cooker society where the fight to survive exacts an appalling price in working-class lives. Nobody yet knows what causes cancer, but we’re perfectly justified in leaving it to charity to find out — after all, if 1973 was typical it only kills 120,000 workers a year.

What price indispensability?

Crossman: Diary of a Flop (1975)

From the July 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was Iain MacLeod, the Tory leader whose ambition was as plain and disfiguring as a broken nose, who said that the only life worth living was that of a government minister. It was probably something to do with the ever-attendant television crews, the crowds, the red despatch boxes, the big limousines. Who could resist such excitement? Especially if, like some Labour ministers, your working life had begun hewing coal or standing behind the counter of the local Co-op.

But what happens when the excitement is taken away, when the minister is sacked or his party loses an election? What remains, to console him for absent crowds and the unremarked drive home in his Morris 1100? Well, he can usually find a place on at least one board of directors. If he is a Labour man he may be able to conceal his function as a whip-lash of exploitation behind a title like Industrial Relations Consultant. Or he can write his memoirs, which can be profitable for him and illuminating for the rest of us, who have got little amusement from him while he has been in office.

The Labour government of 1964-70 yielded a crop of memoirs — with more to come, no doubt. Harold Wilson, after losing the 1970 election, applied his famous memory and capacity for hard work to producing a 790-page door-stop of a book about his first government. It took him five months. At the same time, George Brown rushed out his version of those times — thinner and lighter in every sense. But the most notable up to now — because of the controversial embers upon which they have blown — have been the diaries of the late Richard Crossman, who for years attracted both adoration and loathing as one of the most gladiatorial of Labour’s con-men.

The retirement or defeat of a prominent politician can be the time for him to make some embarrassing revelations about the way capitalism is governed — about ruthless ambition among men who preach that the rest of us should be selfless, about blunders by ministers who are assumed to be near-infallible, about the confusion among politicians whose reputations rest upon their being in confident control. There is an official rule aimed at preventing such embarrassment to people who are still alive — so that George Brown, is allowed to tell about Bevin’s accusation that he was ". . . acting as office-boy for that bastard Dalton”, but Crossman is hampered in revealing what a civil servant thought about two of the great men of the time:
   . . .  his characterization of Alf Robens: 70 per cent slyness, alertness and charm and 30 per cent a straight madman — almost as bad as George Brown.
Crossman was keen that his diaries should be published quickly — he thought they would lift the lid on “the secret operations of Government, which are concealed by the thick masses of foliage which we call the myth of democracy.” This was bound to be awkward to those politicians who still have the job of keeping the foliage as luxuriant as possible and it was over this that the battle of the diaries has been fought.

If “fought” is the right word, when the ammunition consists of missives worded as gently as “I should be grateful if you would confirm . . .” Much more combative was George Brown’s riposte in The Sun, when he slung some of the mud back by revealing the motives Crossman admitted to in Cabinet:
   Prime Minister, if you ask me not to compile these diaries I shall just resign.
I am not interested in sitting here as a Minister except in so far as it enables me to write this record.
Crossman, let it be remembered, was in the Cabinet as Minister of Housing, pledged to ease one of the most desperate aspects of working-class poverty.

George Brown never shrank from embarrassing anyone but in his memoirs the effect is often unconscious. Brown bid for his place in history with some of the more extravagant gimmicks of British capitalism in the sixties — among them the Statement of Intent on Incomes and Prices and the National Plan. At the time Brown and his colleagues were telling us they had a consistent policy to keep capitalism well under control. But his memoirs give a different story:
   We (at the Department of Economic Affairs) were trying to persuade people to restrain wage demands and to hold down prices at the very time when the rest of the Government, as a matter of deliberate policy, was forcing up prices. (In My Way.)
Yet no hint of defeat shadows the declining days of George Brown. He consoles himself (The Sun) that Wilson must be regretting now that he did not listen more attentively to his advice.

There is no more reality about Wilson’s memoirs, which offer the history of a human computer alone refusing to be impressed by the election forecasts which could turn out to be wrong; his policies being justified to confound gloomy predictions; his smooth transformation of hostile demonstrators into ecstatic supporters. Wilson’s memoirs prove him right in everything and even when wrong it was somebody else’s fault:
   On Friday 1st. July (1966) George Brown, Jim Callaghan and I met to discuss the economic situation . . . The Chancellor, with all his Treasury and Bank of England briefs before him, drew a picture of blue skies in every direction . . .
   Within a week the Chancellor’s hopes were dashed.
(The Labour Government 1964-70).
The uproar over the Crossman diaries is because they prick the bubble. Wilson may picture himself as a knight in shining armour; Crossman gives a less flattering account of those crisis days of 1966:
   Throughout (the Cabinet) Harold was his dreary, competent self, fiddling with the figures. George Brown was sulking on the other side of the table. The Chancellor was talking big about getting tough with Germany . . . Nothing had been adequately prepared. Nothing had been thought out properly. We were fixing things once again, horribly inefficiently, at the last moment.
But Crossman himself does not emerge as any more successful or attractive than the men he held in apparent contempt. He grumbles at being held prisoner by his civil servants which, if true, was something he knew before he took the job as a minister. At one time he is engaged by a wine list, at another relishes his right, as Lord President, to be the first of all the ministers to get his seal of office from the queen.

There is no suggestion, in the extracts published, that Crossman thought himself in any measure responsible for the fiasco of that government. Nothing disturbs the confidence that if he, with one or two fellow-intellectuals, had been at Number Ten we would have arrived at the Promised Land. Crossman did not seem aware of his true standing in the history of capitalist government — just another in the list of Housing Ministers who left the problem as bad when they went out of office as it was when they came in.

Capitalism schools into its workers that they are led by great, wise men who deserve their respect. Sometimes, as in the Crossman diaries, we see a different picture — of Wilson describing his fellow great men as “dangerous and conspiratorial” (Roy Jenkins) and “inert” (James Callaghan). It is one which workers should remember next time they are asked to vote for these leaders. No election address will describe a party leader as dangerous or inert; it will be up to the workers themselves to remember.

Whichever set of politicians holds office the result is the same. There is confusion because capitalism itself is anarchic. There is panic because capitalism is a society where nothing is secure. There are blunders because capitalism will not be controlled. There are deception and intrigue because capitalism is as competitive as the jungle.

One danger about any so-called startling revelations about capitalist politics is that they can be explained away, to many workers’ satisfaction, by the hope that another type of politician — more honest, more knowledgeable, more humane — would make a better job of running the system. Capitalism itself has done enough to destroy that notion as one leader after another, whatever his personality or talents, has proved impotent in the face of capitalism grinding out its inhumanities.

As Crossman died the Vietnam war was bursting out anew, starvation blanketed millions of the world’s people and western capitalism was sliding into a crisis which may yet outdo the crash of the thirties. This is the social system which is justified and perpetuated by Labour and other politicians. It is the society bolstered by the glamorous intellectual Crossman and by the demotic George Brown. It is a restrictive society in which the majority who suffer do so accepting as their lot that they are without privilege or satisfaction. It is all the more important, then, that that majority should not be so overcome by the few brief opportunities to look inside as to misinterpret what they are allowed to see.

So They Say: Yes, Who Does? (1974)

The So They Say Column from the July 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Yes, Who Does?

“Just who does make the decisions on housing — one of the most sensitive political issues in Britain?” asked Matthew Coady in the Sunday People's “Week in Politics” on 9th June.

He recalled the document “Better Homes — the Next Priorities” produced by the Heath government last year. Its “tough stuff” was not included in the Tory Housing Bill eight months later; and the Labour critic of their absence was Anthony Crosland MP. Coady went on:
   Mr. Crosland is now Britain’s housing supremo and has HE seized his chance to right these wrongs which so affronted him ?
   The answer, alas, is NO . . . Although it contains useful and welcome reforms, his new housing bill is not very different from that which the Tories sought to introduce early this year.
“So,” Coady demands, “WHO rules the roost on housing?”

Wrongs They Can't Right

“These wrongs” in the housing situation were emphasized in The Guardian. On 1st June it reported COUNCILS FEAR SLUMS MAY STAY ON:
   Local authorities with some of the worst housing stock in the country, fear that the Housing Action Areas planned by the Government may divert effort from slum clearance and rebuilding programmes which are essential for the future.
Attempts to solve one problem lead to another; but so do attempts to solve the other one. On 5th June the Guardian Planning Correspondent told that the five major city areas outside London — Tyneside, West Yorkshire, S.E. Lancashire, Merseyside and the West Midlands — in the twelve months up to March “demolished or closed 11,276 more slums and adjoining properties than they managed to build new”. She went on:
  This zeal to demolish cannot but have intensified the overall housing problem in each city. It comes on top of rising house prices which have put buying beyond the means of many average families, thus increasing the pressure and size of local waiting lists. Their hopes of council accommodation are in turn reduced by the need to rehouse families from the clearance areas.
And on 11th June it was HOUSE SLUMP GOES ON:
  The house building industry in Britain is sinking to its lowest level for 18 years. A Government survey estimates that only about 155.000 private houses will be started this year. The last time the figure was at this level — 30 per cent down on last year — was in 1958.

Obliged for the Answer

Socialists have always known the reason for the persistence of the housing problem. It is simply that capitalism produces things, including houses, not for people’s needs but only for profit. In case it is thought “experts” would dismiss this as a silly explanation, an “expert” has just said it is so. Writing about the finances of housing in the June issue of Property and Investment Review, Anthony Shiffley says:
   To appreciate the problems we must first clear our minds of certain pre-conceptions. First, and most important, we must rid ourselves of the notion that a house building company is some kind of fairy god-mother dispensing dwellings to meet the needs of the people. It is nothing of the kind. It is a purveyor of land on which in most, but not all cases houses have been built.

A Mote and Beam Story

According to the 8-volume History of the Second World War published by Purnell in 1966, 24,517,000 combatants on both sides were killed, of whom 452,000 came from Britain and the Commonwealth countries. It may be assumed that the number in the navy approached or ran into six figures.

So it was strange to see in the Sunday Mirror on 12th May an item on the shock and concern because a young sailor had died — through falling from a window — after seeing the horrific film “The Exorcist”. A picture showed navy policemen asking questions at a cinema, and a navy spokesman was reported:
   "Although there is no proof that the film had any connection with it, there are suggestions that it might have done.” He added: “The Navy does have responsibility for these young boys.”
Any young man’s death is a sad happening. But there seems to be a rum sense of proportion here.

Communists as Ever

The new regime in Portugal, following the coup on 25th April, announced on 9th June the establishment of diplomatic relations with Russia and Yugoslavia. In addition, according to a Guardian report, the Communist Party in Portugal has come into the open. The CP secretary-general, Dr. Alvaro Cunhal, is Minister without Portfolio in the new Cabinet and a Communist trade-union leader, Acelino Concalces, has become Labour Minister.

The Portuguese working class, specially the Left, no doubt looked forward to something good. Alvaro Cunhal quickly told them otherwise:
   Much to the dismay of Maoists and Trotskyites, who appear to be the party’s most vociferous enemies, he has appealed to workers to be responsible and cooperative in their demands for higher wages, pleading for a unified front between the people and the armed forces’ movement.
(Guardian, 10th June)
What is Portuguese for Plus ça change, plus ça reste la méme chose?

Pass the Pistol

In the 1929  depression tales were told of ruined American businessmen queueing to jump from high buildings. It is now reported from Japan:
   Hirozawa Toshikuni was Japan’s first business suicide of the financial new year . . .  In March three heads of small firms, capitalised at about £13,000, sought relief from bankruptcy in death. In that month, 1,306 firms folded: the largest number since May, 1968 — 500 to 600 bankruptcies is the monthly average.
(Guardian, 5th June)
The report says the suicide rate “is an indicator of the economy"—in particular, of the monetary squeeze which is the government’s attempted remedy for its share of the worldwide economic troubles. Less than two years ago, Japan’s spectacular growth led to its being called “the bullet economy”; the phrase seems to have taken another meaning now.

Nothing to do with Class

In an interview published in The Observer on 9th June, Prince Charles explained (i) that he was not at all confined to “a narrow circle” of friends; (ii) that he was "perfectly free” to marry outside royalty and aristocracy — “It’s nothing to do with class, it’s to do with compatibility”; (iii) that he had no preconceived ideas of special education for his future children, and (iv) that the Services had done for him “what they had done for thousands of other young men from every walk of life”.

Interviewed later at her parents’ home in Wolverhampton, Miss Ruby Glumm told of the Prince’s circle of friends. “He comes up the Bingo with my mum and Florry and me, and he’s ever so familiar with all the girls from the brawn factory where I work.” She confirmed the rumours of romance and the Prince’s freedom to marry as he liked, and said she would be calling on the vicar tomorrow on her way home from the pre-natal clinic. As for education, she referred to his remarks about the Services and said jovially: “I bet Crippen Street Secondary Modern can do for royal kids all it’s done for thousands round here.”
Robert Barltrop

The Problem of Production & Distribution (1973)

From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

More than a century ago Karl Marx made two seemingly contradictory statements:
  It is not a fact that too many necessities of life are produced in proportion to the existing population. The reverse is true. Not enough is produced to satisfy the wants of the great mass decently and humanely . . . It is not a fact that too much wealth is produced. But it is true that there is periodical overproduction of wealth in its capitalistic and self-contradictory form.
(Capital, Vol. Ill, pp. 302-3)
The statements are not contradictory, and both of them are still true.

In the world as a whole and in the separate parts of it there are always masses of people not receiving enough “to satisfy wants . . . decently and humanely”. United Nations sources estimate that in “the developing nations” there are more than 1,000 million people on a desperately low standard of life, of “bare subsistence and sometimes starvation”, and in the industrialized countries, including the United Kingdom, there are large numbers of people on low wages, unemployment pay, pensions or social security payments insufficient to meet the cost of a decent, humane standard of living.

Moreover, as a continuing process, the production of the articles required by these hundreds of millions — food, clothing, shelter and so on — is not sufficient to meet their needs quite apart from the fact that they have not the money to buy what they lack. This is true in spite of the appearance from time to time and sometimes for longish periods of big stocks of goods held off the market; these stocks, to the extent that they are really surplus and not merely necessary reserves, would not be sufficient to supply the continuing massive deficiency.

How to Achieve Double
The periodic overproduction that Marx referred to, one of the inevitable contradictions of capitalism, was that in the normal — recurring — cycle of expansion, boom, crisis and stagnation there arises the phase of products being surplus to market needs because they cannot be sold at a profit. But by far the greatest defect inherent in capitalism is not that surpluses accumulate from time to time but that production itself is held back or halted without any regard to the fact that the unsatisfied needs of the human race are as great as ever. Much of the accumulation of stocks held off the market by companies (often encouraged by government policies) is due to the fall in demand in a depression caused by unemployment: the unsold stocks increase at the same time that the workers’ purchasing power is reduced.

The insufficiency of the wealth produced and the permanent deprivation of masses of the population is not due to inherent technical limitations on mankind’s powers of production. If it were not for the limitations imposed by capitalism the amount of wealth produced would always be greater, indeed very much greater, than it actually is; both a century ago when Marx wrote and at the present time.

Government spokesmen and economists are telling us that total production this year will be 6 per cent, greater than it was last year but that this unusually large growth cannot continue, even if all the output can find buyers, because factory capacity is being stretched to its limit and there is a growing scarcity of skilled workers for certain processes. But this scarcity of plant and of men to operate it is the result of the way capitalism works. Over the whole of the past six years there have been on average 750,000 men and women unemployed. If they had been allowed to work and to be trained there could now have been a much larger productive capacity already in existence.

This is, however, only a small part of the increase of the production of useful articles that could take place if capitalism was replaced by Socialism. Socialism would make it possible to increase the production of useful articles in two main ways; by utilizing the large numbers of able-bodied people not working at all, and by transferring to useful production all those workers now engaged on operations necessary only to capitalism — war and armament production, the armed services, financial, insurance and similar occupations. Overall it would be possible by these means to increase useful production to something like double the present level simply by revolutionizing the basis of the social system.

Mistaken Policy
When the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed near the beginning of the century to achieve this social revolution it was opposed by various reformist organizations which offered as an alternative the gradualist doctrine of relying on legislation and trade-union action to make continuing progress towards the abolition of poverty and inequality. As regards the concentration of ownership of accumulated wealth in the hands of the small capitalist minority, all their efforts have achieved practically nothing. They cannot claim that any of the social problems they promised to deal with — housing, unemployment, low wages — has in fact been remedied. At most it can be said that some of the worst aspects of poverty have been lessened.

They set themselves to bring about within the capitalist system the twofold objective of increasing the total production of wealth and of securing a less unequal distribution of it, and these two objectives are still at the forefront of their programmes. Distribution of income is somewhat less unequal than it was, though how much is due to the circumstances of British capitalism and how much to the specific efforts of the reformist organizations is a matter for conjecture.

But as regards total production of wealth, all there is to show is an annual increase averaging little more than 1 per cent, a year. In real terms, i.e. discounting the mere increase of prices, the total production of wealth in relation to a much larger population is now only about double what it was at the beginning of the century — an increase no larger than could have been achieved then by going over to a Socialist system of society. They have wasted seventy years.
Edgar Hardcastle

Wot no leader (1972)

From the July 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists are wearily familiar with the bewildered reaction of people on first learning that our party has no leader. No leader!

Shock, incredulity, horror and finally amusement are among their emotions as they struggle to come to grips with this white blackbird, this finless fish or headless horse.

For never in his wildest nightmares did John Bull conceive of a society that was leaderless. Not even Walter Mitty— striding intrepidly, the only white man ever in that place, through the dense Brazilian jungle or across the burning sands of Arabian Deserts, when he found his way barred by hordes of dusky warriors—not even Walter Mitty could think of any formula more magically talismanic than “Take me to your leader!”

And one feels reasonably certain that if American or Russian spacemen landed on a planet where there was organic life and met a group of animate beings, they too would confidently demand, “Take us to your leader."

But to Socialists leaders are a useless anachronism, about as relevant to society’s present needs as the prophets of the Jews or early Christians, the witch-doctors of Africa or the oracles of Greece and Rome.

From a purely practical point of view, the Socialist sees many arguments against leadership. It is undemocratic in principle; it is unhelpful in the task of arousing class consciousness and a sense of the dignity and strength of the working class; it therefore tends to demoralise the “rank and file” and leads to a spirit of competition rather than co-operation; it can also be a direct cause of factionalism, intrigues and splits caused by personal ambition and group rivalry developing into hostility . . . All these points can easily be illustrated by examples from British history within one’s own lifetime.

Another way in which the leadership cult can be detrimental to a political party is due to the leader’s “charismatic” personality being identified with his party’s policy. Thus the public, learning of the "deplorable” private life of the Irish leader, Parnell, threw the baby out with the bathwater—rejecting the policy along with the personality.

Even if the leader leads a blameless life, has courage and intelligence, is unbribeable and unbreakable, his opponent has only to put him in jail or an early grave, for his party to suffer a crippling blow. Thus, to take a recent example, when the charismatic East Pakistan leader, Mujibur Rahman, was interned in March, his party (Awami League) reacted for a long time like the legendary headless hen: it ran in circles and went through the motions but was in fact dead from the neck up.

What is worse than a bad leader is surely a good leader. We need neither.

What we do want is the support of intelligent men and women the world over, committed to destroying the rotten fabric of capitalist society, not patching the old threadbare curtain of fraud and exploitation any more but tearing it from the window to let the clear light of a new day shine through, exposing in stark reality the squalor and misery, famines and wars, bigotry and xenophobia, and other prize exhibits of this twentieth century Chamber of Horrors.

Let us see the leaders too as mere painted waxworks and tailors’ dummies, propped up to simulate life before the TV cameras: a pantheon of heroes for spellbound children to gawp at. But, to quote an earlier writer, now we arc grown-up and have put away childish things. So we can and must decide our political destiny for ourselves, taking full responsibility on our own shoulders and not leaving the burden of decision to selected individuals. For the "leader" is no better than his flock and may well be a good deal worse. As Oscar Wilde observed, "The Americans are certainly great hero-worshippers, and they always take their heroes from the criminal classes".

Leadership, hero-worship and élitism are contrary to the democracy of the Socialist movement, incompatible with the egalitarian nature of a Socialist society and are utterly inimical to the mass movement of class-conscious workers to abolish the old privilege-ridden society.
Charmian Skelton

The McMasters (1971)

Film Review from the July 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

The McMasters (Directed by Alf Kjellin.)

Benjie, a negro, returns after four years civil-warring on the side of the North to the ranch of his adopted father, McMaster in the deep south.

McMaster (Burl Ives) is the only one to offer a welcome, since Benjie’s blue uniform is resented in the Bible-thumping, Reconstruction — pulverised, poverty stricken, secessionist, racist cattle community.

Benjie gets half the ranch from McMaster, who realises he is past managing it alone. The ranch hands leave in disgust. Benjie saves some half-starved Indians from a lynching for cattle-rustling, and offers them work which they accept. Benjie’s generosity to his employees is partly fired by his realisation that he himself is, to the hostile community, scum like the Indians: "Everyone knows them niggers aint people— they aint got souls”, is how the town storekeeper justifies riding with the local Ku Klux Klan, and brainwashes his young son, who already longs to watch his first lynching.

Benjie gets an Indian squaw as "a gift"(!) from the tribe of grateful wage-slaves. Finally Benjie’s incongruous landowner status, his bloody defence of his cattle from salt-poisoning Klansmen, his marriage in the white man’s church to his squaw, his new found self-respect and refusal to be intimidated into selling-out drive the local Klan, led by Gilby, (Jack Palance) the confederate war-hero embittered by the loss of his arm, to attempt to lynch him. The first attempt ‘only’ gets Benjie’s wife, Robin, raped and two Klansmen killed before they are driven off the ranch.

The cattle season over, Benjie realises that with the Indians who have returned to their village, he and McMaster will be unable to protect the ranch or his wife in the event of further brawls. He sends Robin back to her tribe for safety, and tries to enlist the aid of the Indians but the tribal elders make it clear that Benjie is in their eyes the same as the whites, who, as property owners will spill blood for it, and they want no part in a property war . . . "The land belongs to no-one—you like us Benjie, you homeless”.

The inevitable showdown with the Klan follows—a burning cross is the signal for a bloodthirsty finale in which McMaster is shot dead, the ranch buildings are razed and Benjie himself is only saved from a coldblooded burning by the inexplicable intervention of the younger Indian braves—his former employees—led by the articulate primitive communist ideologist, brother of Benjie’s wife. Gilby is killed, the Klan are temporarily routed, but after Benjie recovers from his wounds at the Indian village, to the complete bewilderment of Robin’s brother he once again staggers back to rebuild his smallholding, to face the Klan and probable death with Robin.

Robin’s brother's cries ring out as the film closes: "You’re crazy Benjie, you got no home, you like us, you got no home”. . . but Benjie, pathetically mesmerised by his title deeds, already has his values fixed—property before his own, his friends, his wife, his Indian brothers’ lives.

All in all, a film expressing all the contradictions of the class and caste-ridden society of post civil war America. The Indian elders alone attract sympathy, with their humanism and refusal to sacrifice themselves for property. But they, one senses, are doomed to an ever-more precarious nomadic existence and probable extinction from starvation (despite their rustling activities) or from epidemic.

The film will appeal to all those who flock to watch ketchup being spilled in great quantities, who are titillated and thrilled by the depiction of inexorable violence. The stark scenes in it are overtly commercial. No relief from the all-pervading atmosphere of brutalising and dehumanising 1865 Bible Belt Society is offered, indeed the producer seems to want us to project the despair into the present day. Certainly no relief is realistically possible in the historical context of absolute scarcity and the dominance of property, status and compensatory racialist ideas do not lend themselves to any. But a hundred years later scarcity is a myth; competition and the hostility, mutual suspicion, atomization and savagery it engenders are archaic and unnecessary; the Benjies of the world need no longer cling to tangibles at such a cost; the day of the Indian is near again, at a much higher and more secure level of technology and culture.
C. H.

50 Years Ago: On Socialism in Russia (1970)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

When we are told that socialism has been obtained in Russia without the long, hard and tedious work of educating the mass of the workers in Socialism, we not only deny it, but refer our critics to Lenin’s own confessions. His statements prove that even though a vigorous and small minority may be able to seize power for a time, they can only hold it by modifying their plans to suit the ignorant majority.

The folly of adopting Bolshevik methods here is admitted by Lenin in his pamphlet ‘The Chief Task of Our Times’ (Page 10) ‘A backward country can revolt quickly, because its opponent is rotten to the core, its middle class is not organised; but in order to continue the revolution a backward country will require immediately more circumspection, prudence and endurance. In Western Europe it will be quite different: there it will be much more difficult to begin “but it will be much easier to go on. This cannot be otherwise because there the proletariat is better organised and more closely united".

We have often stated that because of a large anti-socialist peasantry and vast untrained population, Russia was a long way from Socialism. Lenin has now to admit this by saying: -
  "Reality says that State Capitalism would be a step forward for us: if we were able to bring about State Capitalism in a short time it would be a victory for us”.
(From an article "A Socialist View of Bolshevist Policy” by Adolf Kohn in the Socialist Standard, July 1920.)

Darkness at Noon (1969)

Pamphlet Review from the July 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Communist Party of Great Britain, like Tennyson’s immortal brook, seems to go on and on forever. Brooks, however, can normally be relied upon to follow a predetermined course with some consistency; this is outside the capabilities of the Communist Party. This can be assumed from the latest edition of The British Road to Socialism, a remarkable document in which the CP sets out to woo the workers with the glorious principles of Reform. Not that this is a new technique; the Communist Party has never advocated anything other than a few petty alterations to the existing social system, capitalism.

This pamphlet, however, does include one or two new features, or, more precisely, new details of old ideas.

It is not necessary here to record an endless list of “policies” along these lines; anyone willing to pay the Communist Party piper for the modest sum of two and sixpence can call any tune he could possibly wish for, ranging from the Balance of Payment Blues to the Social Security Symphony, and even the Technology Tango. No longer need any worker feel left out of the CP’s plans—every prejudice is catered for. Should you disagree with any of the “policies”, don’t despair; Communist Party promises change regularly.

Out of so much trash only one fact emerges which is relevant to Socialists and the interests of the workers, namely, that the "Communists” are no more concerned with Communism or Socialism than are the Labourites or Tories. They still see Communism and Socialism as being different systems, a throw-back to the days when the CP in Britain acted exclusively as a foreign agent to the Russian ruling class, and was obliged to echo well-known libertarians like Stalin, who excused the brutalities of the day with the “means to an end” argument. Page seventeen contains the disquieting intelligence that Russia is still a “Socialist State”; this means, probably, that the type of life “enjoyed” by workers there is an insight into lives of workers in Britain should the CP ever come to power.
David Ramsay Steele