Saturday, September 1, 2018

Obituary: Sally Morrison (1987)

Obituary from the September 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to report the death, after a long illness, of Comrade Sally Morrison of Boston. USA.

While in good health. Sally was a loyal and valuable worker in the socialist movement, always ready to do the chores behind the scenes. She offered hospitality to visiting comrades, sold literature. distributed leaflets at meetings which she attended in all weathers, and despatched socialist literature from the American Party's headquarters. As in the case of so many comrades, the amount of work she did was not apparent until she could no longer do it.

We offer our sympathy to her husband Harry, another WSP stalwart, who is currently working on a book, due to be published next year, on the works of GB Shaw which will contain quotations from socialist literature and references both to the SPGB and the WSP of America.

Nothing to worry about, claim farmers (1989)

From the September 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

By now most of us have got used to various organisations declaring designated days, weeks or even years that are devoted to highlighting some problem or other. Events such as No-Smoking Day. TUC Health and Safety Week and UN Year of Peace.

However, this year a problem is not being brought to our attention. In fact quite the opposite. This year the National Farmers Union are trying to convince us all that a problem does not exist. This is "British Food and Farming Year" and down here in Wiltshire they are celebrating in style. Every month there are two or three events, not to mention all the coverage in the local media. All this is going to cost the NFU a lot of money but they regard this as required "to fund a major advertising and public relations campaign to ensure that the message reaches the widest possible audience and creates a massive impact". At a time when more people are questioning the effects of capitalism on the food we eat and on the environment we live in, the NFU are hoping to convince us that ". . . a sea of fiddles, hand-outs, corruption, environmental destruction and food poisoning" simply does not exist.

Of course for the NFU some problems are real. Like how to keep the profits coming in at a time when food prices should be tending to fall due to "over-production" This problem is to be countered by paying farmers to take land out of production, by having quotas for the amount of food produced, and by simply destroying food or storing it in huge quantities. According to NFU President, Simon Gourlay: "It infuriates me that there is still talk about excessive profits. In most sectors the return on working capital would give an industrialist nightmares". Meanwhile millions of people starve to death every year or suffer preventable disease as a result of malnutrition.

The wage slaves working on the farms won’t be celebrating, as Ivan Monckton explains in the April edition of The Landworker:
  We have nothing to celebrate. We are still at the bottom of the wages heap, still having to cope with a far lower level of services. still living in many cases in the poorest housing, still suffering from an appalling health and safety record and still treated as mere chattels by those who would have us all believe that the thing closest to their hearts is not their wallets but the preservation of the countryside and its rural communities.
By its very nature capitalism is incapable of solving these problems. The answer is really quite simple. The land should belong to all and food be produced to eat and not for sale with a view to profit. Now that will be something worth celebrating.
Mike Tavener

What’s wrong with the unions? (1990)

From the September 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who said:
  When British industry is successful, we have near full employment, rising wages and salaries, and expanding social service . . . For Britain to provide a rising standard of living for all its people there must be a modern, efficient and competitive manufacturing base. Only manufacturing industry has the potential to keep our trade with the rest of the world in credible balance. Without this essential balance, economic growth will inevitably be slow or stagnant?
Was in Margaret Thatcher or Neil Kinnock in a party political broadcast? The President of the CBI? The Governor of the Bank of England? A Daily Telegraph leader berating a group of “greedy" workers engaged in industrial action? It was, in fact, Ron Todd, General Secretary of the TGWU. and Ken Gill, General Secretary of MSF. writing in a joint pamphlet Making Our Future. Manufacturing in the 1990s.

The Transport and General Workers Union remains Britain's largest union with a membership of over one-and-a-quarter million at the end of 1989. The T & G is made up of 14 trade groups ranging from Docks and Waterways to Textile, Food, Drink and Tobacco to Administrative, Clerical, Technical & Supervisory Staff. The ACTS personal organiser (filofax) contains a simplified guide to the T & G. In it, Ron Todd writes:
  For the TGWU the aim of a just and fair society has not changed in 100 years. What has changed is our understanding of what is fair. Justice today means the right for all who want to be able to sell their services for a good decent wage, in a safe working environment, and for those who cannot work to be treated as human beings.
Them and Us
So there we were. Monday morning, nine ack emma. Sixteen individuals whose last experience of a classroom learning situation was donkey's years ago. Sixteen individuals glance apprehensively at each other with the uncomfortable expression of those caught in the no man's land between workers and management.

Sixteen relatively new shop stewards on their induction course. As the tutor walked slowly into the hall the collective nervousness disappeared to be replaced by a frisson of anticipation. It was difficult to control the desire to leap up and chant in unison “Norman Willis, TUC! Norman Willis, TUC!" The prospect that the next three days would initiate us into the secrets of trade union power that the media is always going on about, and the passing on of the knowledge that would access us into the band of activists able to withdraw the labour of their members at the wave of a rule-book, was a giddy one. The reality, that trade unions are a product of the class struggle which is a component part of capitalism, was a constituent sadly lacking from an induction course that turned out in the end to be an indoctrination course.

The emphasis in this type of union course is concentrated on the practical skills required by a shop steward in the day-to-day industrial struggle—handling grievances, the internal organisation of the union, health and safety, and issues involving law. Role-playing exercises in grievance disputes and wage negotiations assume a them-and-us attitude. However, the them and us as presented by the union is not that of the capitalist class and the working class. It is not presented as the economic division between the minority who own and control the factories, the land, transport, communications, banks and shops and the majority working class who are forced to sell their labour power in order to live. It is presented as a division between management and workers.

If you have no alternative but to sell your physical or mental ability to work, your labour power, then whether you be a fitter/welder or finance director of a multi-national company, you are a member of the working class. The working class—us—is engaged in a battle with the capitalist class on two fronts, the economic and the political. The economic power which the ruling class enjoys derives from its grip on political power. The ruthless pursuit of profit, inherent in capitalism, requires that workers should group together in order to protect themselves from the worst excesses of capitalism.

It does not require that workers allow trade unions to be run by those who profess that capitalism can be reformed or restrained in favour of the working class. The trade unionist fixation with the pursuit of “a good decent wage" remains a forlorn objective when there is a world to win. The transition from a society based upon production for profit to a moneyless, wageless. classless, stateless society— socialism—requires concerted political action on the part of the working class.

Working with capitalism
In 1983 the TUC published a pamphlet Hands Up for Democracy, designed to "set the record straight” and "answer some of the grossly misleading anti-union propaganda which has become increasingly common in recent years". It says:
  In the real everyday world we live in, more and more people see a trade union as their best chance of security—an insurance policy, or even a passport to a better way of life. Most people don't have very much power. Big decisions always seem to be taken by someone else. Unions are the way ordinary people try to turn the they into we, to claim for themselves some of the power over the decisions that shape their lives.
The pamphlet goes on to list some of the things trade unions are involved in. These include “working with employers to increase productivity, to sort out problems of work and to make industry more efficient". The aims of trade unionism as seen by the TUC are "to build a better future" and to see “successful industry competing in world markets".

The prevailing ideas in society are those of the ruling class. The continuation of capitalism is dependent upon the support of the working class, those who run capitalism on behalf of capitalists but who derive the least benefit from a society based upon production for profit not use. Trade unions pay no small part in upholding and re-inforcing capitalism's contention that there is no alternative to a society where there are wage-earners, employers and industries competing on world markets.

Many trade union members and officials would, no doubt, be shocked at the suggestion that they are actively supporting capitalism. For do they not profess themselves socialists? In the A-Z of Trade Unionism and Industrial Relations (Sphere. 1986) Jack Jones, a former TGWU General Secretary, wrote:
  The trade union movement, while working within a capitalist economy to do the best for their members, has traditionally espoused policies aiming at the extension of public ownership and control or the replacement of private by public ownership and control, usually described as nationalisation.
Maybe. But what has nationalisation to do with socialism? It is just state capitalism

Despite the cosy relationship with capital—private or state—that trade union bosses try to foster, the ruling class has a greater awareness of the social relationships inherent in capitalism than does the working class. Over the last decade, there has been almost annual legislation designed to weaken the position of trade unions.

Yet the need is not for better-educated trade union members, shorter hours or more wages. The need is for socialism. As Marx told the British trade union leaders of his day in an address to the General Council of the International Working Men's Association in 1865:
  Trades Unions work well as centres of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerrilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organised forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the ultimate abolition of the wages system.
Dave Coggan

This Month's Quotation: G. D. Herron (1941)

The Front Page quote from the December 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “The ignorance of the working-class and the superior intelligence of the privileged class are superstitions—are superstitions fostered by intellectual mercenaries, by universities and churches, and by all the centres of privilege."
(Published in Upton Sinclair's "Cry for Justice,” Page 730)

This Month's Quotation: Benjamin Franklin (1941)

The Front Page quote from the November 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "What vast additions to the conveniences and comforts of life might mankind have acquired, if the money spent in wars had been employed In works of utility.”
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

How long will the slump last? (1991)

From the September 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Despite Chancellor Lamont's predictions, the British economy still shows no sign of recovery from the recession. Indeed, the picture is a gloomy one with world slump conditions becoming apparent as the economic downturn in Britain is mirrored in a number of other leading industrial nations. Among others, the United States, Canada, France and even Japan have all recently seen industrial production fall and unemployment rise.

In Britain, the CBI has been reporting falling confidence, orders and output. The construction industry is predicting a total loss of up to 250,000 jobs (Times, 5 August), and motor manufacturing—always a good indicator of the overall health of the economy—is in dire straits. Sales have fallen dramatically and there are widespread redundancies in the offing, with the large Ford plant at Halewood already operating a three-day week. Across much of the South the condition of the formerly booming high-tech “sunrise'' industries is more suggestive of a sunset, with thousands of redundancies and increasing numbers of factory closures. The official unemployment statistics, while grossly underestimating the real situation, are indicating that the 3 million figure will be reached before too long, possibly early next year. In the first quarter of 1991, capital investment in the UK was down by 9.8 percent (Sunday Times, 28 July) and there appears to be little sign of real improvement.

Bad though the situation is, it seems that none of the capitalist political parties think they have much by way of a solution. It now seems a very long time since the Labour Party advocated government intervention and large increases in state spending to create full employment, or since Mrs Thatcher promised the British economy a good “shake-out" after which it would be leaner, fitter and more successful for years to come. Indeed, while Keynesianism seems as dead and buried as its founder, the Monetarist doctrine which attempted to supersede it as the cure-all for the nations ills rarely now gets mentioned outside of the more eccentric university economics departments.

During the last slump in the early 1980s things couldn’t have been more different. Monetarism was in the ascendant, with the Prime Minister, Chancellor and their leading economic advisers all followers of this spurious faith, arguing that if increases in the price level could be kept to a minimum, then the market would deliver economic growth and increasing employment without too much assistance from the state.

Labour’s void
At the other end of the capitalist political spectrum, the Labour Party was showing a renewed faith in Keynesian-style expansion, while bitterly opposing the Tory governments attempts to cut government spending in real terms. Labour’s disastrous 1983 General Election manifesto (dubbed by Labour MP Austin Mitchell “the longest suicide note in political history") stated gloriously:
   We will expand the economy by providing a strong and measured increase in spending . . . more spending means that the economy will begin to expand: and growth will provide the new wealth for higher wages and better living standards, the right climate for industry to invest, and more resources for the public services . . . economic expansion will make it possible to end the waste of mass unemployment.
In one sense it was touching that the manifest failure of these policies when implemented in 1974-5 under Wilson and Healey did not deter Labour from promising to have another attempt. But by this time Keynesian nonsense about an increase in state spending boosting the economy and reducing unemployment (when representing in fact merely a re-arrangement of spending power within the economy between the state and private sectors) was unlikely to fool the electorate.

Though there are still some unrepentant Keynesians in the Labour Party (and some in the Tory Party, too) Labour has now moved away from such cumbersome commitments, content in its political void and happy to criticise the supposed failings of others without bothering to offer anything substantially different of its own. The Conservative Party, likewise, had already long abandoned any hope it may once have had of reducing unemployment and stimulating growth through its own efforts at manipulating the capitalist trade cycle. Now they can only hope that better days are around the corner, waiting for the turnaround in the economy like a beached whale waiting for the tide to come back in and rescue it.

No solution
The impotence of the various parties of capitalism when confronted with the system’s unpredictable trade cycle has been clearly exposed by a long scries of past failures. Faced with ever-recurring capitalist crises and slumps, they have tried protectionism and free trade, increased government spending and reduced government spending, fixed exchange rates and floating exchange rates, imperial preference and the Common Market, nationalisation and privatisation—and all to no avail. The underlying problem has remained—because it is built-in to the system.

The unplanned nature of its production means that capitalism will always periodically plunge headlong into slump. Over-investment in key industries inevitably occurs because of the never-ending drive towards capital accumulation, leading to falling rates of profit and overproduction of commodities for the market. As a result, the human miseries of redundancy and unemployment intrude into the lives of those most vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the market economy. They, of course, are the people currently paying a price Chancellor Lamont says "is well worth paying".

But it is not simply that the politicians are deliberately callous when some reformist solution to the problem is there for all to see and for them to take up. In reality there never has been a solution to capitalist slumps and, given the anarchic nature of the capitalist system, it would seem that the best Major and Lamont can presently hope for is that the recession is not exacerbated by the type of financial crash that occurred in 1929. But the recent scries of financial scandals coupled with the fall in the Nikkei Index in Japan from nearly 39,000 points to just over 23,000 in less than two years (knocking more than £1,000 billion off the value of quoted shares) suggest that things are not looking too good on that front either.

The capitalist system has always been at the mercy of such factors and only a fool could predict that “the resumption of growth should not long be delayed" (Chancellors Budget Speech, 19 March). Though the slump will end sometime—after which the cycle will come round all over again—it will surely have demonstrated once and for all the complete inability of the political parties and governments of capitalism to control their own economic system, and will have exposed the so-called “triumph of capitalism" for the hollow sham that it is.
Dave Perrin

50 Years Ago: Gandhi and the Millionaires (1992)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the time of Gandhi’s arrest several British newspapers made much of the close association between Congress leaders and wealthy Indian capitalists, the Daily Express had the following:—
  Just as ten years ago German industrialists decided to finance Hitler for their own ends, so to-day it is largely great Indian capitalists who stand behind Congress.
  Men like the Birla brothers, great mill owners, and Walchand Hirachand, chairman of the £1,700,000 Scindia Steam Navigation Company, see India freed from British control, as the industrialists' paradise, with high tariff walls.
  Some rich Congressmen would like to do a business deal with Japan, too. It is against such tendencies that two new leaders have now sprung up, who are putting Congress through the greatest crisis of its career.
(Daily Express, August 6th, 1942.)
The Evening Standard (August 4th) said: “There was surely never a quainter contrast in political associates than that between Gandhi and his host for the Bombay meeting of Congress, Ghanshyam Das Birla, the millionaire of big business . . . Now and then their friendship has been criticised by Indian Socialists." This is fair comment. A political movement which claims to represent the interests of Indian workers and peasants has got to explain why it receives financial support from Indian big business, the exploiters of the Indian toilers; but why does this apply only in India; why not nearer home? What about big business influence in British political parties? And why should Indian workers be impressed by advice from millionaire controlled British newspapers, or from politicians who likewise find close associates in the ranks of the captains of industry?
[From “Notes By The Way”, Socialist Standard, September 1942.]

Barbarism stalks Brazilian youth (1993)

Artwork by George Meddemmen.
From the September 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Early on Friday 23 July gunmen opened fire on a group of street children sleeping near Canderlaria Church in the heart of Rio de Janeiro's financial district. The attack left seven dead and many wounded and was the latest stage in what has become known as Brazil’s "war on children". Human rights organizations estimate that there have been an average of two killings a day this year (Independent, 27 July). The latest killings horrified many Brazilians who until recently showed little sympathy for those children forced to beg and steal in order to survive. Few were surprised when a survivor of the attack identified three local policemen as participants in the massacre.

Renewed publicity about the plight of Brazil's street children shows that despite the outrage and concern voiced by many in recent years the problem will not go away until its root causes are understood and then removed. It is working-class poverty caused by the property relationships within capitalism which drives young Brazilian workers onto the streets, and reduces their lives to a desperate scramble for scraps of food and a little cash.

Mass inequality
The problems are particularly acute in Brazil as it is one of the world’s most unequal nations. The urban poverty seen today was created by the rapid industrialization and urbanization of the country during the last forty years. This crash programme of urbanization reached its peak during the twenty-one year military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. The programme turned Brazil into a country of migrants as working-class and peasant families were uprooted in search of wage-labour, land, health or survival. Many were driven from their land by land-grabbers, cattle-ranchers, hydro-electric power projects, drought or environmental devastation. Brazil now has one of the most extreme concentrations of land ownership in the world, and the powerful landowner lobby has always managed to further its interests through the Brasilia government. A group of architects in Sao Paulo produced a report in which they astutely noted that:
   "the military wanted people to move to the cities where they were more easy to control and could provide the cheap labour needed for the Generals' industrialisation programme. The network of cities reflects the military government urban project. Its key concept is national integration to complete the occupation and unification of the country as a capitalist urban-industrial territory." (Sao Paulo: Crisis and Change, 1991).
Most of those who flocked to the cities made their homes in the burgeoning favelas (shanty-towns). They merely swapped rural poverty for its urban equivalent. Thirty years ago Carolina Maria de Jesus wrote a book titled Beyond All Pity (published in the UK by Earthscan, 1990) describing daily life in a favela:
   "More new people arrived in the favela. They are shabby and walk bent over with their eyes to the ground as if doing penance for their misfortune of living in an ugly place. A place where you can’t plant one flower to breathe its perfume . . . the only perfume that comes from the favela is from rotting mud, excrement and whisky".
Today seventy five percent of Brazil’s 150 million population live in cities and there are twenty cities with more than one million inhabitants. It is a commonplace to say these cities sprawl unplanned. The architects from Sao Paulo disagree:
  "Far from representing the absence planning the periphery model (of favelas) corresponds to a strategy of maximum capitalist accumulation. It enables the settlement of large contingents of people in areas that are bare of everything, reducing to a minimum the need for investment in housing and infrastructure either by the public or the private sector."
Poverty has worsened for Brazil’s working class in recent years as a rigid austerity programme imposed by the government, coupled with recession, has lead to drastic cuts in public spending, wage-cuts and redundancies. Things aren’t so bad for the capitalist class as the concentration of wealth has increased. The richest 10 percent own over half the national wealth, whilst the poorest 10 percent own less than one percent. An official survey in 1988 showed that 54 percent of Brazilian children and adolescents live in families earning less than US S35 per month. The lack of work and the social pressures of poverty such as overcrowding, domestic violence etc have forced literally millions of children onto the streets.

Survival first priority
It has been estimated that there are approximately seven to eight million street children in Brazil (Brazil: War on Children, 1991) though of these only a minority have no contact with their families. For those abandoned or orphaned, home is often a park bench, a shop doorway, a scrap of wasteland or a damp tunnel. Huddled in groups for safety their first priority is survival — finding food. They scavenge city waste dumps, shine shoes, mind parked cars or sell lottery tickets. Others steal from shops, mug tourists, commit burglaries in desperate efforts to make ends meet. A young boy interviewed by World In Action said "we steal watches, necklaces. We don’t have anything to eat. We don’t have anywhere to sleep — that’s why we steal".

Facing discrimination and outright hostility from much of society many street children turn to drugs in a bid to escape the nightmare that is their life on the streets. A survey of street children in Sao Paulo showed that out of 119 children aged between 6 and 17, 45 percent were classified as "heavy drug users" using up to three different drugs a day. Glue-sniffing is the most popular. A young prostitute in Salvador said, "I sniffed a lot yesterday and then I dreamt of a school where we could learn ballet, the capoeira dance, reading and writing. School is the best thing in the world. I’m always dreaming about it". Sadly she has little chance of such schooling in a country where most of the education budget is directed towards the universities where the students come from high-income families.

Fagin rides again
Many children work in gangs managed by modern-day Fagins who appropriate a share of the childrens’ spoils. Some offer the kids the only support and affection they receive. However, more usual are regular beatings and even murder if the children aren’t "productive" enough. The police too like to take a share in any money gained from muggings and often demand objects such as stolen watches.

Child prostitution is widespread and growing. A Brazilian Congressional Inquiry recently reported that there are about half-a-million child prostitutes in Brazil — more than in any other country except Thailand. According to Dulce Acioli from the Movement for the Promotion of Women, girls as young as seven and eight are working as prostitutes in Belem. Many other girls vanish without trace. Every month about 150 girls are registered as missing with the authorities in Rio Branco alone. It is believed that many of these girls end up working as prostitutes in mining areas (Guardian, 29 June).

The public response to the explosion in the numbers of street children has at times been savage and brutal. As Jan Rocha says in the introduction to Gilberto Dimenstein’s book Brazil: War on Children:
  "Brazilians are warm and hospitable and they love children, but most of them do not see street children as children. What they see in these ragged, dirty kids, drugged or lively, happy or sad, is a threat. A threat to their property, a threat to their lives. That is why a few years ago in the centre of Sao Paulo a lawyer savagely kicked and stamped a thirteen year old boy called Jesus to death when he grabbed a woman's gold necklace, a crowd stood round watching and egging him on. Only two young office girls protested at the brutal act."
The general feeling of economic insecurity among the population creates the perfect environment for the growth of groups claiming to dispense justice. For many years death squads have waged a silent war of extermination on the backstreets against petty criminals. Many death-squads are made up exclusively of police officers, such as the one implicated in the recent Rio de Janeiro atrocity. Others consist of hired gunmen paid for by local businessmen and shopkeepers. Sadistic torture is often a precursor to a bullet in the head. Bodies are often found with genitals severed, eyes poked out, burnt with cigarettes and slashed by knives. Many death-squad members have enjoyed considerable public support. Ivanildo Freitas one of the most famous "justiceiros” (avengers) is believed to have murdered seventy-two people. Following his arrest in 1984 people demonstrated on his behalf in the centre of Sao Paulo. Freitas said from prison: "An exterminator is not a criminal. A criminal rapes, steals, and even kills his own father. I think I am a kind of Representative of the people." Another "justiceiro" known as Esquerdinha even ran as a candidate for the Christian Democrat Party in local council elections saying: "I think it is my duty to help the community by providing greater security to a people who have been trodden on by these criminals" (Brazil: War on Children, 1991).

Thankfully recent events seem to show greater tolerance and more understanding of the plight of the street children. July’s shooting in Rio horrified many Brazilians and hundreds of protesters rallied in support of the murdered seven children (Independent, 28 July).

Psychological scars
This silent war against Brazil’s street children has left its psychological mark on the children too. Many expect to die violent deaths before they reach adulthood. A thirteen-year-old street girl from Recife said: "It is our destiny. Nothing can change this. We are on the street. We arc already dead." One boy, known as Rusty, tragically prophesied his own fate: "My life is like the wind. Nothing can stop it blowing away.” (Brazil: War on Children).

There are few opportunities to escape the poverty, homelessness, violence and drug-abuse of the streets. A few charities run hostels which offer temporary sanctuary to a few children, but they can do nothing to change the economic forces which push young people onto the streets in the first place.

Socialists welcome the recent protesters of Rio who marched with banners proclaiming "street kids are our kids" and hope that no more will some of capitalism's most desperate victims be scapegoated as the cause of the problems obvious to all. Capitalism will, however, continue to force new generations of children onto the streets until such a time as we take the appropriate political action to abolish it.
Peter Owen

The Death of Stalin (2018)

Film Review from the September 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Death of Stalin, 2017. Director: Armando Iannucci.

Based on the French graphic novel, La Mort de Staline, this is a dark satire which grimly exposes the tortuously tedious and hypocritical nature of Stalin’s regime during ‘The Great Terror.’ Director and co-writer Armando Iannucci builds on his already strong pedigree in this genre, having made the BBC TV political sit-com series, ‘The Thick of It,’ amongst other satirical productions; most recently a successful political series, ‘The Veep’, which aired on US cable network HBO. All of which has led him to be dubbed: ‘the hard man of political satire.’

 Iannucci’s treatment of Stalin and his henchman has echoes of the lampooning of Hitler by Mel Brooks in his 1983 film, ‘To Be or Not to Be’, but Iannucci is more unremittingly hard-hitting than Brooks. As a result a number of former Soviet Union countries have banned the film, including Russia, where the Culture Ministry cited the desecration of such national symbols as the Soviet hymn and the insulting portrayal of Field Marshall Zhukov, hero of the Red Army, as a bumbling idiot.

 The film has an impressive cast to deliver a master class in political satire through a series of show-like set pieces and lively dialogue and superb comic timing; a particularly poignant example of which is the denunciation by Molotov (Michael Palin) of his wife in the name of party dogma. The stage is set when Stalin suffers a brain hemorrhage and collapses in his study where he remains unconscious on the floor whilst The Council of Ministers assemble, already plotting against each other. 

 This dark burlesque of political intrigue and back stabbing between the main contenders for power – Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), Molotov (Michael Palin), Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) and Secret Police Chief Beria (Simon Russell Beale), provide the foreground; whilst the gruesome aspects of mass murder, torture and executions provide the backdrop. A delicate balancing act between comedy and horror.

 As the balance of power see-saws between the protagonists, the gruesome realities of Stalin’s reign are laid bare. The strong performances of the central cast, plus characters such as Field Marshall Zhukov (Jason Isaacs) and Stalin’s alcoholic son, Vasily (Rupert Friend) and daughter Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough) - coupled with Iannucci’s attention to historical detail - makes this an impressive production.

 Khrushchev, as the eventual winner in the power grab, ushers in a less bloodthirsty period in Soviet history, but still far from the hopes and dreams of the heady days of the 1917 Revolution. One glaring reason for the rapid disintegration of these communist ideals into a pernicious version of state capitalism is that you cannot have socialism in one country; a fact soon recognised by the leading Bolsheviks, including Lenin. Perhaps the more compelling lesson is the importance of scrupulously adhering to democracy in the pursuit of socialism, else to risk careering headlong into another version of ‘The Great Terror.’
Tim Hart

Obituary: Jimmy Doherty (1994)

Obituary from the September 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are sorry to learn of the death of our old comrade, Jimmy Doherty. Born in Ireland, Jimmy became a merchant seaman in the last world war and left the navy a political convert — not as a socialist, but as a member of the now defunct Commonwealth Party. Realising the futility of that particular path, Jimmy joined the Socialist Party in 1954, becoming an active member of the old Hackney branch. Jimmy's main area of activity was Islington and it was there that he was active through to the end, distributing literature and supporting meetings.

Jimmy was quite a character. He had a stammer which never stood in the way of his tireless efforts to collar workers and tell them the basics of socialism; indeed, if a non-socialist could not be collared Jimmy would find himself a Party member and make it his business to take him through the ABC of socialist principles. Hard as nails on the importance of principles, Jimmy was no dogmatist, always stressing that socialists would only ever make an impact by relating to the day-to-day events of the capitalist world. Jimmy's own involvements took him into the world of alternative health treatments; woe betide any unsuspecting comrade who complained of so much as a headache or a twinge in a muscle within Jimmy's hearing, for quick as a flash he would be examining them and prescribing herbal concoctions and ancient Chinese remedies which would either kill or cure them. Jimmy was also a relentless book collector (he had worked for a year in the Library of the British Museum as a messenger) and the present writer's book collection owes no small debt to Jimmy's discerning sense of what every socialist ought to know. Next time I look at that old book on women in Irish history or the herbal recipe collection from Tibet I shall remember a friend and comrade whose commitment to fundamental socialist principles should be an example to us all.
Steve Coleman

Inside of class relationships (1995)

Pamphlet Reviews from the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx, Marxists & Racism, Class Plus Caste, The TransAtlantic Slave Trade & the Development of Tropical Africa, The Dawning of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA, The Horse That Bolted by Reg Young (PO Box 6944. London El 9GR. 1995. £2.50 each.)

These self-published pamphlets are based on much worthwhile information and some clear thinking from a Marxian perspective. Unlike so many writers on the politics of racism, ethnicity and identity. Young seeks to discredit the idea that "blackness’’and "whiteness” are concepts which can be grasped outside of concrete class relationships. Racism, he contends, is not principally a matter of simple misunderstanding or human nature, but arises out of the historical circumstances of capitalist class oppression.

Reg Young will be a guest speaker at our Camden branch (see "What's On" for details) and will be discussing the perspectives contained in these pamphlets which are best read in conjunction with our own very informative and well-argued pamphlet on Racism.
Steve Coleman

No happy ending here (1995)

Book Review from the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Little Black Fish by Behrang (published by the Iranian Community Centre, Holloway Road. London. 1995.)

Samad Behrangi, known in his native Iran as Behrang, was a teacher who wrote stories which would make children think beyond the narrow confines of the slave mentality. In 1967, aged only 31, he was drowned (by Savak agents, so we hear), but his stories live on. To be able to show in the simple terms accessible to children the importance of thinking critically and struggling against oppression is surely one of the highest arts. The Little Black Fish is a beautiful tale of a fish’s search for life beyond the brook in which it lives. The other fish say that there can be nothing worth seeing beyond the brook and, anyway, no good can come of exploring the unknown. With mixed sadness and allegorical poignancy this story shows what can happen when resistance overcomes complacency. No happy ending here, but then, why tell lies to children?
Steve Coleman



An unreal world (1996)

Theatre Review from the September 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Tempest by William Shakespeare (Attic Theatre Company)

I love the theatre. The immediacy of it all, its live spontaneity; with actors often within touching distance, sharing the intimacy of feelings and actions with a rapt audience. An inspiring performance of a great play can be an unforgettable experience, living on in the memory and affecting the way we see life, helping us better to understand ourselves and the world of which we are a part.

I feel engaged with life when watching serious drama, even if occasionally—as I shared with readers last month—a performance is so pretentious and perfidious as to make me want to boo. So it was with pleasure that I anticipated seeing an open air production of Shakespeare's The Tempest whilst on holiday in Cornwall.

I’ve been lucky. I've seen a dozen or so performances of The Tempest. It is a favourite play. Like many plays it is hugely revealing of the time in which it was written (1613): with displaced monarchs. the colonisation and exploitation of a mysterious and a supposed alien world, the developing "magic" of science. But more than this it is clear that Shakespeare wrote himself into the central figure of Prospero, intending The Tempest to be his last play, and in the epilogue it is Shakespeare as well as Prospero who takes his leave of the audience in the final couplet:
“As you from crimes would pardoned beLet your indulgence set me free.
The Tempest is a play about power, about the possibility of change for the better, about love and forgiveness. It is full of unforgettable lines, wonderful images, and a prevailing sense of optimism. It is, so it seems to me, a life-enhancing masterpiece.

The little group of actors (from the Attic Theatre Company) presenting their performance had a problem: they were seven in number, whereas Shakespeare names twice that number of characters in the plot. The usual way of dealing with such challenges is for members of the cast to play two or more parts; helping the audience to recognise which part they are playing by adding or subtracting some article of clothing as necessary, and/or by affecting some physical transformation—changing the voice or manner of walking, or whatever.

The seven talented actors who played with such energy and commitment for us had been directed otherwise. They each played many parts. The programme alerted us to what was planned:
  “Though texturally based, the performers are not playing any one part, and indeed are many characters. In this way the performers explore the unity and disparity of the human condition, the conflicts and harmonies within, giving a rich three-dimensional form to the text, the story, the characters and even the scene."
Thus we were introduced to five Prosperos who appeared singly, but once or twice as a five-strong group; two Mirandas and two Calibans; and various numbers of other characters.

Whilst it is one thing to recognise that as human beings we all have common features— emotionally and psychologically as well as two eyes and two ears, etc.—it just isn't true that people are composites in the way that is implied by having five people play Prospero. Whilst Prospero might in some sense be seen as a surrogate for Shakespeare, to suggest in consequence that since Prospero is Shakespeare’s construction all the other characters in The Tempest are “facets of him (Prospero)" and that “It is his tempest and out of him comes everything and everyone," seems perverse. And in any [way] even if all we see is part of Prospero's dream, shouldn’t all seven players appear as Prospero? Why only five? Shakespearean comedies may be surreal but they are not fantasies. Their enduring attraction for people is a consequence of the clear basis in the common currency of human experience.

And we recognise the complexity of ourselves and others well enough. Decent actors— and certainly the actors on view from the Attic Theatre Company fall easily into this category—are able to transmit the multi-dimensional complexities of the people they are playing. We don't need two or more physical representations on stage to make the point. And crucially people are not interchangeable in the way that is suggested in this production, and to imply otherwise is just plain wrong. It is not only a matter of individuality but also, and much more telling, of social status and class. Imagine one of London’s homeless men or women turning up at the Bank of England and informing the surprised commissionaire on duty that they were standing in for the Governor for the day. Just imagine.

Shakespeare clearly knew more about the realities of living in a class-divided world that the worthy director of this production. Shakespeare would never have made the mistake of assuming that two drunken sailors could stand in lieu of the Duke of Milan. He had a surer purchase on the realities of economic and social life. His play may be set on a remote island, but that island is rccognisably part of the real world of the seventeenth century. In contrast the world presented by this production is a world without social and economic reference points, an unreal world, a wild fantasia, a world finally stripped of meaning. Whereas Shakespeare’s text carries significant messages for humanity, this production has none.

I felt sorry for the audience at the end of the performance. Being familiar with the play I could largely follow what was going on in this schizoid production. But I felt angry. How could someone so transform one of the world’s great plays as to make it largely inaccessible to an audience? If, as an acting exercise, members of the cast wanted to investigate what it felt like to play a variety of roles, that is one thing. But why inflict the exercise on an audience as a counterfeit of a great play? And how dangerously naive to suggest that people are interchangeable. Not in a class-divided world they aren’t, and for the director to imagine otherwise suggests that it is he and not Prospero who is dreaming.
Michael Gill

Capitalism doesn't care (2018)

Editorial from the September 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Northamptonshire County Council, in a bid to stave off bankruptcy, has recently announced massive cuts to jobs and services in order to avoid a budget shortfall of £70 million. Children's services, road maintenance and other services will be cut back. The workers who provide and maintain these services will be sent on their way to the job centre. Needs go unmet while resources and workers remain idle.

The main spotlight has been on the Council's management. Alarmed by an overspend of £21 million in 2017-18 , the government had sent in commissioners to run the authority. Criticism was made of, "weak budgetary control" and failing to heed earlier advice to cut spending. Ironically, the council's outsourcing policy was identified as a cause of its financial problems. Outsourcing services to private companies is promoted as a more efficient and cost effective way to provide local services. However, private consultants do not enter into these contracts for the welfare of the community but to make money, and many are very efficient at squeezing the maximum amount of profit.

What is embarrassing for the government and the Tory press is that Northamptonshire is a Tory council, as we are led to believe that only 'loony left' Labour councils overspend and mismanage their finances.

Northamptonshire is not the only council to be in crisis. East Sussex County Council has also announced drastic cuts to its services and it is feared that many other councils are on the brink of bankruptcy.

Others, particularly on the Left, have identified the cuts in government funding of local authorities as the culprit. Their solution is to kick out the Tory government and elect a Labour government committed to ending austerity.

All this ignores the greater context of capitalism, the lifeblood of which is the making of profits. Everything flows from this and central and local government spending cannot be allowed to impinge on it. If the economy is booming, profits are rising and tax revenue is buoyant then the state may be able to throw some extra cash towards social and welfare services. However, when there is an economic downturn and profits fall, as we experienced in 2008/09, then governments, whatever their hue, Labour or Tory, must reduce their spending in order to restore the rate of profit. Therefore social and welfare services are cut, without any regard for the workers who depend on them. This has been the rationale of the government's current austerity policies.

Outsourcing, PFI and other wheezes that councils get up to are attempts to keep costs down. The concept of outsourcing was developed in response to the economic crises of the 1970s and 1980s.

Therefore, changing the government will not cut it. We need to organise and replace the capitalist system with one that is based on production for human need, not profits, which we call socialism.

This Month's Quotation: Lewis Henry Morgan (1941)

The Front Page quote from the October 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
   “The Human Race is gradually learning the simple lesson, that the People as a whole are wiser for the Public Good and the Public Prosperity, than any privileged class of men, however refined and cultivated, have ever been, or by any possibility, can ever become."
Lewis H. Morgan ("Ancient Society")

This Month's Quotation: J. F. Bray (1941)

The Front Page quote from the September 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “Look back from our days to the days of our forefathers, and ask if any of the many powerful endeavours to prevent changes ever succeeded ”
J. F. Bray (“Labour’s Wrongs and Labour’s Remedies" p. 12)

This Month's Quotation: William Morris (1941)

The Front Page quote from the August 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “Nothing should be made by man's labour which is not worth making; or which must be made by labour degrading to the makers"
William Morris ("Art and Socialism” 1884 p. 36)