Sunday, September 23, 2018

Exhibition Review: Macclesfield Silk Museum (2018)

Exhibition Review from the September 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

 From the sixteenth century Macclesfield had a button industry, which developed into one making silk buttons and later into a full-scale silk industry. This also applied to other nearby towns, such as Congleton, but Macclesfield remained the main centre. Its School of Art, opened in 1851, trained designers, and its former buildings are now the site of the Macclesfield Silk Museum, which has informative displays relating to design and manufacturing processes, examples of products and a gallery with looms and other machinery.

 Silk throwing is the preliminary stage of manufacturing, making single fibres into usable thread for weaving. The various processes of throwing and weaving were originally carried out in workers’ homes but gradually transferred to mills and factories. The mill workers were mainly women, with men mostly performing skilled and supervisory work, but there was also much child labour, with over a quarter of the workforce being children in 1873. Wages were in general lower than those in cotton mills. There were many ups and downs in the silk industry, partly due to overseas competition and the rise of artificial fabrics such as rayon, sometimes offset by bans on imports. Trade flourished during the Napoleonic Wars as competition shrank, but then declined afterwards. In the Second World War, the silk industry emphasised the production of parachutes and escape maps, with much trouble taken to secure supplies of raw silk.

 One consequence of the booms and slumps in the silk industry and resulting periods of unemployment was the emigration of workers. One man from a family of Macclesfield mill owners set up a silk factory in Paterson, New Jersey in 1845. A temporary display at the museum has some information about the silk industry there but says very little about the notorious strike of 1913, which saw 1,850 workers arrested and two people killed (one a striker, shot by a strikebreaker).
Paul Bennett

Party News Briefs (1958)

Party News from the November 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Indoor Propaganda. A number of meetings have been arranged by Branches and the Propaganda Committee during the winter months, details of the November meetings are shown in this issue. The Sunday Films at Head Office are also listed and a number of interesting titles have been chosen.

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The Racial Riots. During the racial riots in West London, Fulham and Chelsea Branch issued a statement to the Press. The Branch said that it was opposed to all racial prejudice, and abhorred the rioting, it stated that the basic cause of prejudice was economic, mentioning the bad housing conditions, unemployment, in Britain and the West Indies, etc. The Branch also exposed the activities of the Mosleyites during the disturbances, and the fact that they have been fanning the flames of race hatred for some years—one of their slogans being “Keep Britain White"; an obvious attempt to split one section of the working-class from another, that only Socialism would finally irradicate all racial prejudice and hatred from the World. The statement concluded: “Workers of ALL lands, Unite for a better World! For a Socialist World!" The letter was printed in full in The Kensington Post; in “A Forum of Local Opinion,The Kensington News and West London Times, together with the typical reformist statements by the Labour Party, the Communist Party, Tenants' Association and the Union Movement. The Westminster and Pimlico News and the West London Press (both owned by the same firm) gave some prominence to the statement printing it together with a statement by a representative of Union Movement, denying our contention that they had stirred up trouble in the area. Mr. Hamm said: "It is too silly for words," but admitted that the Union Movement had held outdoor meetings in the troubled areas. The Fulham Chronicle also published our statement, but in a slightly shortened form. The Fulham and Chelsea Branch Organiser estimates that over 100,000 people will have read our statement in the above mentioned newspapers. At the time of writing. The South London Press, The West London Observer, The Manchester Guardian and The Socialist Leader, have not seen fit to publish our Socialist viewpoint on the rioting.

#    #    #    #

Bloomsbury Branch Discussions. “The Trade Union Movement” is the item for discussion on Thursday, November 6th, at 8.30 p.m., in the Branch Room at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square.
Phyllis Howard

Subject Normal (1958)

From the November 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pan Books have recently republished E. S. Turner’s History of Courting in pocket form at 3s. 6d. Mr. Turner has achieved a considerable reputation for the writing of light, informative books on subjects that lend themselves to a humorous, somewhat ironical approach. This, first published in 1954, is his most recent one; earlier successes were Boys Will be Boys, a study of blood-and-thunder literature, The Shocking History of Advertising and Roads to Ruin.

The book succeeds in what appears to be the chief object in all Mr. Turner’s writing—it is highly entertaining. It contains many very funny quotations, the style is without any of the pomposity associated with many books on history, and the points are made very neatly. Many of Mr. Turner’s own comments are shrewd, and he has made a very good selection of other authors’ comments as well.

There is so much enjoyment to be got from reading this book that any criticism may appear unkind. However, the jokes being told and appreciated, some reflections on the real nature of the subject are not out of place; for though no subject gives rise to so much mirth, perhaps no subject is taken so seriously by so many people. Courting has played an increasingly important part in people’s lives from the 12th century onwards. Any analysis of courting should also be an analysis of the development of society. This is not to suggest that a history of courting should attempt to be a history of social development; but the background should be sketched in and be implicit in what is written.

Mr. Turner does not attempt a comprehensive survey, but this, of course, is not a criticism; what can be said is that the book does not make any important generalizations about the subject. Mr. Turner’s conclusions, where he arrives at any, are somewhat commonplace. There is a continual shifting of the survey in time and place in order to take in those countries and times providing the most entertaining material.

One important point seems to have escaped him completely. The history of courting is not simply the history of techniques whereby men have sought to gain wives and mistresses; it is also the history of woman’s subordination to man. The ideals prevailing in any society, about courting, are those of societies dominated by men. All societies, at least since the rise of civilization, have created certain standards in the methods of obtaining wives, and women are expected to conform to those standards. Further, there have always been different techniques among different sections of society. Courting among the lower classes is always simpler and cheaper than among their superiors. Mr. Turner has made the latter point but does not give it the importance it deserves.

The book does contain a wealth of information; particularly effective are the sections dealing with romantic love in mediaeval Europe. As Mr. Turner has pointed out, the poetry, songs, fantastic dresses and gaudy battles between rival suitors in twelfth-century Europe were attempts by knights and nobles to render life in castle and manor house more interesting. An important factor here perhaps was the tedious length of a northern winter, with poor lighting and meals made dull by lack of fresh food; there was nothing for a man to do on a dull day except make love, sing songs or listen to the ardent troubadours. Although the courting of the 12th century appears to us to be filled with hypocrisy and vain, useless elaboration, human experience in what is a very important activity was permanently enriched.

The rise of modem society led to a further development of the ideals of romantic love. Courting, in mediaeval Europe the pastime of bored nobles seeking interesting experiences in seducing other men’s wives, became under Capitalism the most usual method of obtaining a wife. The idea of marrying for love is the product of a society that proclaims loudly the freedom of the individual. From this individuality there grew also the idea that women were the equals of men. socially and economically, though this freeing of woman from man’s domination is still not complete even in the limited context of Capitalist freedom.

In the 20th century the breakdown of the prudish moral standards of the 19th, together with the increasing conviction of the importance of sex, has led to new freedom in courting habits. Alongside this has gone some decline in courting. Courting has frequently been limited by economic factors; people are usually limited to their own class and even their particular group in their choice of mates.

At the present time the nature of our society is tending to disintegrate social life, and thereby people's individual lives as well. Everyone watches his own TV, minds his own business, makes his own way in the world, drives his own car, has—or wants to have—his own little suburban castle. There is little getting-together: the modern slick pub and dance halls seem poor substitutes for the communal gatherings of earlier times. Parties today often degenerate into that most unsocial of activities, watching the television. Entertainment is secondhand, and much of modern courting technique seems secondhand, too. Courting is declining into something altogether more flippant, casual—and unrewarding.

Mr. Turner sheds light on these and many other points. It is a pity that he does not adopt a more serious approach; as it is, this book could perhaps best be described as a humorous anthology of facts, opinions and quotations. It hardly achieves the purpose professed in the introduction; "to trace the progress of courting in the western world from the day of the troubadour to the day of the crooner.” Perhaps, too, a little less quotation and a little more generalization would have made a more interesting book. Not to be ungrateful; Mr. Turner has provided a gold-mine of interesting and amusing stories.
F. R. Ivimey

News From Wales (1958)

From the November 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

The principality once again, after a lapse of years, has been given a Prince of its own, though the traditional investiture is yet to come. This recognition of Wales’ historic status has been welcomed by some, deplored— though in a genteel way—by others, especially the Nationalists. But on the whole the news has been met with an indifference by the majority. The fact is that Wales, despite a certain air of “glamour" that has enveloped it during the past months, is rather depressed.

Unemployment is high especially among the steel and tinplate workers of Glamorgan, due to the recent concentration of the industry into fewer factories where Automation, and other streamlined techniques, have resulted in the need for less personnel. Trade Unions and local Government bodies are now exerting as much pressure as they can to bring the Government along to the idea of building another, and the biggest ever, Strip Steel Mill, on a site in South Wales. No one, it seems, can see that even if they built a dozen mills, the evils of Capitalism would remain.

The situation in the agricultural areas is also far from bright. Attempts are to be made to “revitalise” the country-side and “stop the drift” by afforestation and other schemes.

Perhaps the biggest shock of all has been the recent exposure of the danger of radiation due to “fall-out.” It is said that Wales has the highest rate of “fall-out” in Britain; that the Strontium 90 content in the bones of Welsh children is higher than elsewhere in the British Isles. This, it is claimed, is due to a combination of high rainfall and high ground. Of course, here again no one has said that it is really due to Capitalism, and that it would be far easier to remove Capitalism than to level the mountain ranges or shift the direction of the prevailing winds. Speaking in such vein may seem ridiculously futile, but it is a fact that a serious suggestion has been made that Wales should be covered with LIME in order to offset the radiation effects! We presume this is an attempt by Capitalism to whitewash its activities!

We, for our part, can only continue to point out the remedy, in the meantime hoping that we won’t be recruited into a lime-spreading Brigade or spend the coming winter preparing the bleak Welsh mountains for pine forests.

As if it were not enough that the workers should be haunted by the fore-runners of things to come; as well as the difficulties of the moment, the scene is made ridiculously nauseating by a violent quarrel over religion, reminding one of the Religious Persecutions of the past (though in those times people did not have to contend with the added evils of Capitalism).

Recently, a young Swansea soldier died a hero’s death (according to some) in Morriston Hospital. He had been present at a bomb test on Christmas Island and was sent home with Blood Leukemia, brought about, says the British Legion and others, direct participation in the tests. This has created quite a stir. It seems that in future it will be a waste of time sending boys abroad for a radiation “dose.” It will be delivered in larger and larger doses every morning with the milk on our doorsteps.

The report as a whole makes gloomy reading we admit, but it is really difficult to brighten it up in any way unless we add the following:—

The National Eisteddfod was a thumping success; reams of poetry; days of singing: culture writ large across the face of Wales. The British Commonwealth Games held in Cardiff (now given the dignity of a Capital City) paid off well. Welsh footballers brought fame and glory to “Yr Hen Wlad ” (The Old Country) by virtue of their performance during the World Cup Series. The Welsh Nationalists have turned out another pamphlet and the miners have been offered a couple of bob more (if they agree to work on Saturdays).

We must add that in our estimation the overall picture as reported above is a grim one, especially exasperating to Socialists in Wales who are eager to end it all.

This, then, concludes our report from Wales—Land of Festivals and “ Fall-Out.” We are hoping that more of our fellow workers will decide to “fall in” in the near future—not to spread lime, but to spread Socialism, not to kick footballs, but to kick the system out of existence. We feel that the future will then enable us to create monuments of culture such as will dwarf those grim old sentinels—the Cambrian Hills. Wales, will, for the first time, be in the position to give a real welcome to the world’s visitors—with no charge made!
W. Brain

Mr Angry goes to Town . . . (1995)

Tony Cliff 1917-2000.
From the October 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

The opportunity arose to attend a public meeting by the Socialist Workers Party in Chelmsford. The subject of the meeting was “Who runs Britain, is it a democracy?” The speaker was Tony Cliff, a founder member of the SWP.

Tony Cliffs talk highlighted the inequalities of the capitalist system and its inherent evils in some detail. He pointed out the anger and frustration felt by the working class and that this anger has never been so apparent for many years, most of which have been spent under the strict regime of “Tory” government and policies.

His talk then went on to explain why the SWP must always take sides in any dispute or issue. Even if two Tories were arguing a particular point they would urge members to support the most militant view. They will fight for every conceivable reform, with each victory viewed as a step nearer to socialism.

Contributions were allowed from the floor and following a few questions, comrade Mike Bathurst argued a number of points and myself one point. The points made, were basically outlining the hopelessness of chasing capitalist reforms and supporting labour governments and the need to clearly understand what socialism actually is.

The penny had dropped . . . “Now I understand, —whenever I hear ‘the abolition of the wages system’ it can only be from members of the SPGB, an insignificant group of socialists from way back in 1904.”  From then on there was a torrent of criticism, almost abuse, aimed at the Socialist Party. A lot of support for the “essential” work carried out by the SWP, how they are always “out there” on the forefront of working class conflict “fighting for socialism and revolution”. They are always ready to support the working class in the “struggle” against the capitalists.

Us? . . .  We are the old joke, “Armchair socialists—all talk, no do.”

With a mixture of anger and enthusiasm, Tony Cliff went on to say in his summing up:

“Where were you [The SPGB] when we were fighting the BNP? "

“When were you last on a picket line fighting hand-in-hand with the working class?”

“You are all ‘teach, leach, teach ”—I want socialism here and now, not to sit talking about some delightful, society we would like to have many years in the future."

“We tell workers to vote Labour to beat the Tories, they are our enemy. ” 

There were more questions and comments of the same ilk in the rest of the summing up. Unfortunately this signalled the end of the meeting and no more contributions were allowed.

For some while after, and all the next day, I was left with a feeling of frustration and disappoint. All of us in that room were all at least united in the fact that we realise that our present society does not aim to benefit our lives. But Tony Cliff can get as angry as he likes with the Socialist Party, the fact remains that the SWP position is wrong. History has proved it wrong. People cannot be led to socialism.

Without the vision of how a socialist society will rejuvenate all our lives, how do they expect to win the support of the working class. That is why we, as Tony Cliff comments, are all “teach, teach, teach". It is exactly what we do. Education and understanding is the key.

Education, no matter how hard or impossible it may seem has a positive chance.

Forcc by a vanguard leadership is doomed to absolute failure.

Understanding the practicalities of an alternative society is vital. Vital that we not only realise what is wrong with capitalist society, but how it really operates and manipulates our everyday lives.

My feeling of disappointment stems from seeing the anger and passionate enthusiasm displayed by the speaker and members at this meeting. The truth is, I found this anger and passion admirable and it is exactly what we need. What disappoints me is seeing people missing the importance of a basic understanding of the essential elements of socialist society.

It can only be established by a majority of socialists throughout the world. It will be a society based on production for use and not production for profit. It must mean the abolition of money and all markets and with it all, the sickening, competitive relationships that capitalism forces us into.

Attempting to sanitise the capitalist system has never and will never work. As members of the Socialist Party we will continue to learn so that we may teach others to help build a majority of socialists fighting for the establishment of a socialist society and not help fuel the illusion that capitalism can be reformed.
Allan Goldsmith

Wanted: Volunteers for Socialism (1995)

From the October 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
When socialists advocate a society in which everyone will contribute their abilities to the community on a voluntary basis in return for having their needs met, we are often met with the argument 'it's a nice idea, but it would never work', yet millions of people every day give their services free of charge simply because their services are required.
Let’s make one thing clear at the outset. When we say “volunteer for socialism” we don’t mean the army-style procedure of one pace forward or you’ll be told what to do anyway. Nor are we referring to the capitalist trick of getting people to give their services freely so that wages bills can be reduced and more profit made.

Volunteering for socialism means choosing to replace the capitalist system with one based on all of us working directly to meet our own needs and the needs of others and on having free access to what we collectively produce by way of goods and services. In short, from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.

With capitalism there are three ways of getting people to work: they can be paid, they can be forced, or they can be encouraged to volunteer. Payment for labour is the economic basis of the capitalist system: owners of capital having made a profit from the past efforts of workers are able to pay for further work to be done which, on average, will yield further profit.

Forced labour is not a very efficient way of producing wealth, so it has gone out of favour except as punishment. But the third form of work—volunteering, or working for no pay—is highly regarded. We live in a society that decrees most people have to work for money to live, except the few who own enough capital to avoid that necessity. But it is not a society in which no work is done except for money. All employment involves work, but not all work involves employment.

Socialists are often accused of being unrealistic when we advocate a world in which people will work without the motivation of money. Yet even today men and women do work without financial incentive because they see their efforts are needed. There are some seven million unpaid carers in Britain—people (a majority are women) who help physically or mentally disabled relatives, friends and others on a regular basis. Not only do these people not get paid for their efforts, they often deprive themselves of other income-earning activities.

We don’t suggest that everyone is a potential member of a lifeboat crew or a mountain rescue team. But there is no reason to suppose that socialist society will lack such people, because capitalism usually doesn’t lack them today.

We speak of capitalism as the dominant economic and social system, but its dominance is not complete. Capitalist relationships are between suppliers of labour power and holders of capital, and between various other buyers and sellers. Socialist relationships are not just in the imagination of socialists today. In embryonic form they are in the many types of voluntary work that are done today.

Within most households (except those of the rich who have servants) domestic tasks arc performed on a voluntary basis. No charge is made to do the washing-up, the shopping, the decorating or the gardening (the “wages for housework” campaign is not supported by socialists, who see it as an unwarranted extension of capitalism, although this does not mean that we encourage anyone to exploit anyone else, with or without a money' system).

Outside the household men and women volunteer their services in a variety of ways. Hospital visiting, school governing, being on the local council, helping to improve the environment, are just some of the ways in which useful work is regularly done without the intervention of money by some 13 million people in Britain. Of course voluntary work in the capitalist world is not the same as all work will be in a socialist world. For one thing, there won’t be the need for the vast apparatus of collection boxes, adverts, appeals and the bureaucratic administration of the “voluntary sector”. All effort will go directly into meeting needs.

Capitalism distorts, even corrupts, the voluntary impulse which comes naturally to most humans. Charity, the raising and disbursing of money for “good causes”, is big business. As Frank Porchaska shows in his book, The Voluntary Impulse, today’s campaigns use the latest in technology and show business to extract the proverbial widow’s mite. Advertising agencies mastermind the product line of leading charities. The hard sell is delivered by dramatic ads of starving families in Africa or battered babies in Britain. The soft sell remains as intensive as ever, with the use of subtle pressures to promote fund-raising drives.

Charity and volunteering may be seen as mitigating some of the inherent nastiness in the capitalist system. But it remains a culture of winners and losers, based on buyer and seller relationships, with capital always holding the upper hand. Socialism means the ending of such a culture and such relationships. In their place will be an extension of the principle of volunteering which can be seen in the pro-social actions of men and women today.

Some cynic once said that people who volunteer to work when everyone else gets paid must be soft in the head. Today each of us has to try to sell our labour power for the best price we can get. But at the same time there’s nothing to stop us volunteering to join the socialist movement in helping to bring about the kind of world that expressed the best, not the worst, of what humans are capable.
Stan Parker

Prozac Logic (1995)

From the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
There's an old aphorism which says that a pessimist is just a well informed optimist. According to Dr James Goodwin, the so-called "Pied Piper of Prozac", however, a pessimist is a chemically deficient optimist!
Dr Goodwin, a psychologist in Washington state in America, claims that the anti-depressant Prozac has beneficial effects for virtually anyone who takes it, because everyone is a little depressed without realising it. He attributes this melancholy tendency to a chemical imbalance in the brain, a lack of “joy juice” if you will, and argues that everyone should be entitled to have their balance restored.

There are of course many who hold views opposed to those of Dr Goodwin, and critics have accused him of serious misconduct, ranging from incompetence to drug-pushing. Psychiatrist Dr Peter Breggin went as far as arguing against the prescribing of anti-depressants on moral grounds; he wants to see suffering remain as an acceptable and necessary fact of life, pointing out that some degree of angst and insecurity is necessary to the human condition, and is very much part of what we are.

But surely there is a much more fundamental point to be recognised when discussing whether, and if so why, people arc unnecessarily negative or unhappy. Dr Goodwin’s theory presupposes that we live in an ideal world where everyone should be happy and contented, and therefore the question is, why aren’t they? This is like asking why there is hunger in a world with the potential for abundance; the simplistic answer is there must be an imbalance between supply and demand, so let’s grow more food. Alas, anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of capitalist economics is aware that food is not produced to be eaten, but instead to be exchanged for money with a view to realising a profit; if you don’t have the lolly, you don’t get the bread. So it is with Dr Goodwin’s “Prozac logic”. Problems in the emotional department? There must be a chemical imbalance, therefore add more “joy juice”. However, as anyone who has worked in the psychiatric field knows, the hunger for happiness often can only be satiated if you can “buy” the joy with satisfaction.

It can be argued that for most of us, life is a tedious existence consisting of days spent doing an often mundane, uninspiring job week in, week out, punctuated by brief spells of recreation, socialising and occasionally a holiday. Even those workers who produce useful or essential goods and services are alienated from any fulfilment because of the negative nature of the employment relationship. Work is generally regarded as a necessary evil into which we are coerced by the need to earn a “living”, and all the concomitant imperatives associated with employment—such as time-keeping, paying taxes, fear of unemployment, etc.—prevent the majority of us from enjoying the positive aspects of work and its relationships. As George Orwell wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier: “A thousand influences constantly press a working man into a passive role. He does not act, he is acted upon.”

It’s been suggested that Dr Goodwin’s method is not unlike treating a disease such as diabetes, i.e. if a person has a chemical deficiency in any other organ it is corrected—so why not in the brain? But there is another anomaly which should also be raised concerning the prevention of ill- health. Despite the many rules, regulations and laws designed to prevent employers from exposing workers to practices or conditions that are potentially injurious to the body, there are no such requirements for protection of the conscious mind. For mental health we must rely largely on our own emotional resources with a dose of entertainment thrown in, usually in the form of sport or television. It’s also significant that taking a holiday has now become an essential part of working life, but “getting away from it all” is not done for its own sake, but as a positive, enjoyable counter-balance to the negative, disparaging drudgery endured for the rest of the year. The need to take a holiday illustrates the negative attitude most of us have towards employment; if our year-round, day-to-day lives were rewarding and consummating, a source of contentment, there would be no need to get away in the first place.

Dr Goodwin is approaching the problem from the wrong angle. He sees apathy and pessimism as a physical ailment to be treated with chemicals, like diabetes. But isn’t it possible to argue with equal conviction that a general tendency towards a negative outlook has more to do with low self-esteem and poverty (whether relative or absolute)? In the modern industrialised world, the socio-economic structure rewards the few high achievers with great economic freedom to which is attached a high degree of respect and influence. Conversely, the average citizen, though perhaps employed performing a very productive task, usually occupies a low social position and lacks any real control over his or her life; thus “basically the problem with poverty is not lack of money, but the inability to enjoy the multiple advantages associated with affluence” (Key to Psychiatry, 1973). As a riposte to the anti-drug lobby, it’s been suggested that there is a difference between Prozac and the so-called recreational drugs in that Prozac does not provide pleasure but restores the capacity for pleasure. However, does any healthy person really lack the capacity for pleasure, or is it that socio-economic circumstances prevent us from experiencing that pleasure?

If Dr Goodwin is correct and people’s negative tendencies can be “neutralised” by application of a chemical compound, it could of course have fundamental implications for the foundations of society. In contrast to the view that suffering should be a necessary fact of life, the establishment could regard a docile, optimistic population at case with itself as much more malleable; in other words the “Brave New' World” scenario. Just imagine the benefits of removing the inconvenience of strikes, crime, environmentalism, pressure groups . . .  a ruler’s dream come true!
Nick Brunskill

Fighting a Losing Battle (1995)

TV Review from the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has been a long, hot summer and the TV companies have been fighting a losing battle with the weather as ratings tumble in inverse proportion to soaring temperatures. Repeats of Fawlty Towers and the Likely Lads had been about the best on offer—twenty-and thirty-year-old evergreen repeats. However, the odd interesting snippet emerges from the programming still, and this was certainly the case with World In Action on 7 August.

World In Action asked whether Britain's love affair with the motor car is now over. Anti-car protesters have taken to the streets, motorway protesters have held up new road-building schemes and the government itself has asked car users to use other forms of transport during the stifling heat in order to minimise pollution. As World In Action pointed out. it is this latter phenomenon which is in many ways the most interesting. It was, after all, Mrs Thatcher who said in 1979 “nothing should be allowed to come in the way of the great car economy”. The problem for the government—and any future government for that matter—is that a number of contingencies have appeared to get in the way of the “great car economy".

World In Action interviewed doctors who testified that asthma among children increases in incidence near main roads, as do cases of chronic bronchitis and emphysema. In some streets, over a third of children need to use inhalers, objects which were rarely seen in schools thirty years ago but which are now standard equipment for tens of thousands of children all over Britain, especially those in the cities.

Slow coaches
As well as pollution there is the rising problem of traffic congestion and its associated difficulties. Forget the adverts for the top-performance speedsters—in London the average car speed is now down to 12 miles per hour and still falling. In comparison to some cities though this is quite good—congestion in Cairo and Mexico City to name but two is much worse, as is the pollution.

Apart from appeals to people’s good natures, the government appears to be powerless. Cars could be banned from some city centres altogether, as has been mooted, but experiments in other countries shows that this only shifts the problem to the suburbs and inner city areas. Some cities have taken the draconian step of banning car drivers from using their cars on certain days, letting drivers A-K out on Tuesdays, Thursdays. Saturdays and alternate Sundays only. Not quite the victory for the great car economy that Thatcher had in mind.

But if the government are stuck for a viable solution, the protesters from Reclaim the Streets and other single-issue groups have no better answer. Their recent attempts at blocking streets and holding up traffic in Camden Town and Islington have certainly highlighted the problem (if it really needs highlighting anyway) but they have not improved matters. In fact, their direct-action street protests only served to make the congestion worse, transferring the problem to adjacent streets.

In many ways, it has to be said that the anti-car protesters rather miss the point. The problem is not simply with cars themselves (though trust capitalism to have invented and promoted what is a somewhat anti-social form of transport) it is the way transport as a whole is influenced by the market economy. The twin problems are the internal combustion engine—a one-time technological leap but now fast becoming outdated, protected primarily by the oil and motor cartels—and the crazy “taking-coals-to-Newcastle" arrangement which capitalism has always promoted, with its duplication of resources, waste and burdensome on-costs. The market economy is loathe to tackle the first of these issues and incapable of tackling the second as it is integral to the system itself.

Of course, the government has tried hard to make capitalist transport work, mainly through building more and more new roads. But, as even the Department of Transport now realises, there is a limit to new road-building and it rarely if ever seems to eradicate the problem, with cars simply arriving to fill up the new tarmac laid down—viz. the M25 London orbital motorway. Whatever the government does the problem keeps on getting worse.

Let us be under no illusions— capitalism has created a gigantic transportation mess and a sane society is going to have to clear it up. It will not be an easy task, but it will only be through the abolition of the market economy that transport congestion and pollution can be really tackled in a system which puts people and not profits first. There are no lasting solutions within capitalism itself precisely because capitalism is a very large part of the problem—uncontrollable, wasteful and anti-social to its core in transport as in most other things.
Dave Perrin

Greens Should be Socialists (1995)

Pamphlet Review from the September 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

What On Earth Is To Be Done? A Red-Green Dialogue Red-Green Study Group. £3.50.

Socialists certainly do have something to say to Greens: basically, that before production can be carried out in ecologically-acceptable ways capitalism must go. Production for profit and the uncontrollable drive to accumulate more and more capital mean that capitalism is constitutionally incapable of taking ecological considerations properly into account—and that it is futile to try to make it do so.

If we are going to organise production in an ecologically sound way then we must first be in a position to control production, but we can’t control production unless we own and control the means of production. So, a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control is the only framework within which the aims of Greens can be realised. So, Greens should be socialists.

This, however, is not what the “reds" in this pamphlet— mainly former members of the defunct Communist Party, flanked by a couple of ex-Trotskyists and an ex-Maoist— tell their “green" colleagues. Certainly, they do use the word “socialism” but are confused as to what it is. For a start, they refer to the former regimes in Russia and east Europe as “state socialist” rather than state capitalist. But more seriously, they see the market as being compatible with socialism. We advocate, they say:
  “a system in which market exchange is retained, to an extent yet to be determined, but market forces are replaced by negotiation coordination”.
In other words, market exchange (buying and selling) good, market forces (Adam Smith's invisible hand) bad. In the past they would have advocated market forces being tamed by the firm hand of state control; now they envisage them being overcome through the limp wrist of "negotiated coordination" of sales and prices by decentralised communities and enterprises—an unrealistic idea which the Green Party had already come up with without the help of these ex-Leninists.

It's the idea of an idyllic market economy in which people exchange goods for use—what Marx called “petty commodity production"—but, as Marx demonstrated in Capital, petty commodity production led, logically and historically, to capitalist commodity production where the aim of production and exchange is no longer use but becomes to make and realise profits.

Market exchange leads to the domination of production and society by market forces and, if we went back to the simple market system without profit-making envisaged by the Green Party and this Study Group (which of course we can't), the whole process of development towards a capitalist market economy would start all over again. Besides, in view of the failure of the iron fist of the Bolshevik dictatorship in Russia to hold market forces at bay, who can seriously imagine that decentralised communities and worker co-operatives could?

No, the answer is to establish the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources. Then the whole concept of the market, of buying and selling, becomes meaningless. Where productive resources are commonly owned and democratically controlled so will what is produced, and the problem will not be to sell it— how can you sell to people what is already theirs? —but how to arrange for people to have access to it on an equal basis.

In our view, it wouldn't be very long before the principle “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” could apply. That's socialism—real socialism, not the milk-and-water market exchange economy advocated in this pamphlet—and it’s what Greens, if they are to be logical and consistent, should be working for.
Adam Buick

Ich Bin Ein Scheissburger (1995)

The A Word in Your Ear column from the March 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

There was a time when you could write what you liked about hamburgers, but to publish so much as a disloyal phrase against the Royal Family was out of bounds. (John Wilkes was sentenced to prison for it.) These days you can say what you like about the Royals, ranging from TV puppets of a dypso Princess Margaret to assertions that the Queen Mother has at last found her way from pompous arrogance to ill-concealed dotage; the Windsors will turn a blind eye to such home truths on the basis, we must assume, that when your entire function is to be conspicuously useless all publicity is good publicity. Call the Queen a bitch and a parasite and no guardsman will turn up on your doorstep, sword in hand, ready to defend the good name of the Crown. Say bad things about McDonald's hamburgers, on the other hand, and you’ll end up in the Old Bailey.

We’re no fools: this column will burst its edges with praise for the unadulterated culinary plague which has descended upon our class in the name of “fast food” Slithers of meat-like stuff with processed tomatoes, artificially-coloured sauces and enough chemicals to give Saddam Hussein a run for his money in any dirty war: Yum! Yum! Cancel the table at the Ritz — and make mine a double cheese topping with a big bag of chips — now called “fries" in case anyone might have thought they were cooked healthily. To be eaten without so much as a knife and fork (let it never be said that our masters have pretended to accord us dignity) and there you have a fast-food feast for the inferior.

The Big Mac logo is now shown in more places world-wide than any other apart from Coke’s. Eat a Big Mac with a carton of coke (allegedly leading to teeth-rot as well as an assault on your guts) and you will be playing your own horrible part in an Empire of Logos which leaves the swastika a mere bit player in history. (If only Goebbels had considered adding sugar to the sauerkraut and marketing it in stale buns.) When Western “freedom” came to Moscow it flew under the McDonalds flag of convenience.

What the Sun is to literacy Big Macs are to decent food, but that should not disguise the fact that before the Sun there was the Mirror and the Mail, and before anyone ever thought of “eating out in style" (poverty-style, to be precise) there were packaged steak pies without steak in them, skate and chips dripping with grease and, the staple diet of every self-romanticised wage slave, bread 'n’ dripping. In short, for most of recent history the working class has been expected to eat trash.

These days supermarkets contrive to invent more exotic names for their frozen portions of packaged fodder The "Mexican Delite” (spelt to warn that it’s a con) to the frozen chicken korma (mild) and “Italian lasagne” (not to be confused with Latvian lasagne, in case you were looking for that) all taste like one single pre-digested mush. The toad has fallen out of the hole in most supermarket packets, gone to find its market in your new high street Toad-U-Like or Spud-U-Like (yes, they’ve actually persuaded wage slaves to pay a quid for a potato in its jacket). What is this but the sour taste of profit before need? The truth is that the average medieval peasant ate better than the modern wage slave.

Each week in the Sunday Times the odious Michael Winner ululates in the name of criticism against selected five-star restaurants where the food was not just as it should be for the rich and privileged. Winner whines when his lobster doesn’t screech loud enough as it hits the boiling water and is merciless on any waiter who can’t get him just the right wine at just the right temperature from just the right part of France. As an advanced guard into the eating establishments of the snobs and parasites, Winner is your man. His critical hammer is not applied to the likes of Burger King whoppers, Chicken McNuggets and Kentucky Fried Cholesterol. Presumably Winner is aware that any old garbage is good enough for the Losers of the wealth-producing class.

It is costing McDonald’s £5,000 a day to mount their current libel case — the longest in British history — against the two victims who dared to publish a leaflet saying that their food was lousy, probably causes cancer and is produced by workers under super-exploited conditions. Anyone with a spare afternoon in central London should go along and laugh at the Big Mac’s briefs embarrassing themselves in public. (For example, they spent tens of thousands of dollars flying over from America expert witnesses to prove that McDonald's contain nutrients — only for them to admit under cross-examination that all food contains nutrients.)

Working on the old dictum that you are what you eat, might we conclude that the class who order quails eggs regard the class who can afford Big Macs as being a load of . . . old scheiss, if you’ll pardon my German “I am a hamburger" declared JFK in a moment of identity crisis. “Let them eat crap”, says Ronald McDonald, "and a free photo of Princess Di in the raw for every teenager ordering large fries.”
Steve Coleman

Change the Record (1995)

TV Review from the March 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Political programmes on TV are generally as brainless as the major political parties themselves. However, it must be an unenviable task to create a watchable and interesting TV experience with such a paucity of raw material. There are only so many times you can run items about Tony Blair and the Labour modernisation or the Euro-rift within the Conservative Party.

Despite this, TV producers seem to have been queuing up recently to make the politicians look interesting. One such attempt, House to House, Channel Four’s weekday lunchtime effort, is set in a large restaurant in London's Millbank to give it that extra air of seriousness (luncheon is, after all, where all the great political fixes are concocted and where gossip is fermented). The producers of this programme have got it sussed — it is always going to be much easier to entice MPs to the familiar surroundings of an eating-house round the corner from Westminster than it is to a sweaty studio on the other side of London.

As its title suggest, House to House concentrates on Parliamentary affairs and the legislative programme, and does so solidly and without imagination. It is serious stuff, though still slightly more exhilarating than watching Alan Titchmarsh on Pebble Mill at the same time on BBC I.

Rather more interesting, at least at first sight, is BBC2’s The Midnight Hour, an end-of-day political bun-fight which often gives the impression of being a rather ill-tempered editorial conference on one of the broadsheets. This is partly because its hosts tend to be rather bad-tempered journalists and press people (notably Bernard Ingham and Andrew Neil) and partly because the guests are required to take their jackets off before being seated at the debating table. Roy Hattersley has commented after his first appearance that this boded ill from the start, and has since claimed that The Midnight Hour is the worst political TV programme he's ever had the misfortune to appear on. He is probably being rather harsh. Regular viewers of this programme — if it has any — will have noticed a splendid back-projection of a marine fish tank in one corner of the room. The fish tank might not be quite as colourful as Bernard Ingham's braces, but one suspects that the fish perform a rather more useful function at this time of the day than the braces' owner has at any stage in his particular career.

A load of ecus
One of the longest-running political programmes is BBCI’s Sunday On the Record, now hosted by John Humphreys. Its former host, Jonathan Dimbleby, hot-foot from his successful toadying to Prince Charles, has swopped sides to take over from Brian Walden for ITV. On 29 January On the Record decided to hit back at Dimbleby with an action-packed, hyper-charged edition on the European Single Currency. Well, at least they made a better fist of it than they normally do.

The theme was that it was 1996 and some of the European Union states had decided to go ahead with a single currency. Britain was to have a referendum, with two opposing cross-party campaigns vying for the attention and support of the populace. In the Yes camp were those two intellectual giants of the TV age, Roy Hattersley (again) and Edwina Currie. Opposing them were the Tory Euro- sceptic Iain Duncan-Smith — a protege of the Chingford skinhead Norman Tebbitt — and veteran Labour Keynesian Peter Shore. Their objective, pursued via Party political-style broadcasts made with the help of advertising agencies and then via some cross-questioning of the teams, was to convince an evenly-split audience of the efficacy of their case. Not surprisingly, the No campaign won handsomely. This was not principally because of the latent nationalistic tendencies of the audience, though this may have played a small part, but because of the total and transparent economic illiteracy of Hattersley and Currie.

The entire exercise demonstrated something socialists have known for years — it is far easier to knock down proposals for running capitalism than build up new ones. Without doubt, the Euro-sceptics were able to effectively demolish the argument that a single European currency — if it is possible — would be an economic panacea. The Yes camp responded with an appeal to transcend narrow nationalism, their most positive argument of all, but with an electorate that largely votes with its wallet in mind, this cut little ice next to woeful tales of the ERM disaster, impossible convergence criteria and the enormously wasteful Common Agricultural Policy. It was simply a case of one group of reformists being outmanoeuvred by another set, largely because the proposals of the Euro-sceptics themselves were not under any real scrutiny.

So On the Record has done something useful at last, short of having socialists on. The latest reformist panacea for capitalism, when put to the test, was found wanting. Hattersley. Currie and their ilk were debunked.

Of more than passing interest was that the programme also showed up the deep division between the capitalist class and its representatives on such a central political issue. All the major newspapers produced a dummy-run edition for the programme with their views on a single currency, and they were divided too. The Sun and the Times were against, the Daily Mirror and the Independent for. The Guardian, under its forward-looking new editorial team, couldn’t make its mind up. So the capitalist class and its leading thinkers continue to dither when faced with the non-alternatives, and well they might.

Having convinced an audience that genuine political and economic unity is a pipe-dream so long as we are stuck with the anarchic and class-riven capitalist economy, perhaps On the Record can go one step further next time and demonstrate the absurdities propounded by the Euro-sceptic supporters of capitalism too. The nonsense emanating from both sides will then have cancelled itself out. preparing the way for socialists to put the genuine alternative. Now that really would be worth watching, and might even stir the fish on BBC2.
Dave Perrin

Editors' note: The fish, as well as the viewers, remained unstirred by The Midnight Hour and it has since been axed.

Dispensing with politicians (1995)

Pamphlet Review from the March 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ulster's Protestant Working Class: A community exploration (Island Pamphlets No. 9,
 Island Publications. 132 Serpentine Road.
Newtonabbey, Co. Antrim 
BT36 7JQ. £1.50.)

In an age when the realities of class politics are too often being cast aside for the so-called "politics of identity" (women’s politics, gay pride, community campaigns, black power, regionalism and the rest) it is satisfying to see that a discussion has been generated amongst some ’’protestant” workers in Belfast’s Greater Shankill area which recognises that, whatever they are, they are workers first.

The pamphlet reflects an ongoing discussion and not a clear-cut case, but we can detect within that discussion statements from which socialists can take heart:
 "Republicans have long promoted the notion that the Protestant community was much better off than the Catholic community. This 'half-myth' retained its potency because Protestants even believed it themselves. The reality was that whatever privileges the Protestant working class was 'granted' were merely 'crumbs from the table' - it simply suited certain people to tell us that these 'crumbs’ had to be held on to at all cost."
  "All a Unionist candidate had to do was appear at a street-corner, wave the Union Jack, shout ‘This we will maintain', and he was as good as elected. Those days have to be brought to an end. It’s time we called our politicians to account for failing to address our real needs."
It’s time that Northern Irish wage slaves dispensed with politicians, be they Unionist nationalists or Republican nationalists, and recognised that only the abolition of wage slavery, which is the real source of cramped and miserable lives, will remove the situation where workers can be persuaded to fight and kill one another over crumbs.
Steve Coleman

 Ownership — the Party hasn’t begun (1995)

From the March 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under the heading "The Party's Over" the Spectator (14 January) published a leading article on the Labour Party and its Clause Four. The article contains a generous number of unwarranted statements and false assumptions, but is mainly of interest because of the rhetorical questions it puts:

  • "Without it [Clause Four], what, distinctively, does the Labour Party have to stand for?”
  • “What does that modest aspiration [running capitalism more efficiently and less stupidly] have to do with anything recognisable as a socialist party?"
  • "Mr Blair's problem is that if Labour is not struggling to achieve the collectivist paradise of which its founders dreamt, what is there to unite the party, other than the mere desire for political power?"

The leader writer’s fundamental error (and we credit him with error rather than knowing distortion) is that common ownership means collectivisation or nationalisation. He asserts that experiments in common ownership have failed everywhere they have been tried, bringing destruction and impoverishment. The "experiments" he lists are Stalin’s collectivisation of agriculture, the nationalisation of the British car industry, and for good measure he throws in the names of Mao Tse-Tung, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Leonid Brezhnev and Tony Benn.

None of these “experiments" or "experimenters" has anything to do with common ownership. They were, or represent, ways in which capitalism — the system of wage-labour and capital, the working class and the owning or privileged class — can be reformed, allegedly in the interest of the majority. The “experiments" have failed to achieve that limited objective. But they have not failed to achieve common ownership because they have not had that aim.

The writer does show some signs of understanding what common ownership is: "everything is shared and individuals’ activities are organised by, and for the benefit of, the community". This is not how we would prefer to put it, because it implies that the community is somehow apart from the individuals who make it up, but it’s clearly not collectivisation or nationalisation. And the writer also recognises the existence of the class struggle and how it might be ended: "The only way to overcome the fundamental conflict between the two classes was for the workers to take possession of the economy, and run it for themselves."

It is not a question of the common ownership party being over - it hasn’t begun. It can begin, just as soon as there are enough socialist partygoers. To clarify the answers to the Spectator's questions:
  • With or without Clause Four, the Labour Party stands only as the B team to run capitalism.
  • This has, of course, nothing to do with what the Socialist Party stands for, which is genuine common ownership.
  • Because Labour is not struggling to achieve common ownership (socialism), there is nothing to unite it other than the mere desire for political power.
Stan Parker

The Full Fruits of their Industry (1995)

From the March 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Labour Party leadership has embarked on a course which it hopes will end in the abandonment of its Clause Four. Those in the Labour Party who see themselves as socialists are up in arms with the familiar chant of "betrayal", but, what exactly is being betrayed?
Tony Blair’s campaign to get rid of Clause Four has had one unfortunate effect from his point of view: to initiate a discussion on what exactly it means, indeed on what Socialism is. The full version of the Clause has appeared a number of times on the front pages of the broadsheets. It reads:
 “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that maybe possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production. distribution and exchange and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”
As we have pointed out, if it wasn’t for the reference to the common ownership of the “means of exchange”, ie of banks and insurance companies (which, ironically, wasn’t in the original 1918 version), this would be a passable, if somewhat wordy definition of Socialism. Socialism does mean “the common ownership of the means of production” and it does mean “the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service” But the reference to the means of exchange shows that the intention was not to commit the Labour Party to Socialism but only to establishing State Capitalism, or the nationalisation of capitalist industry which would continue to be run on capitalist lines only by a state-appointed board rather than by private capitalist firms.

Labour Theory of Value
In an article in the Independent (1 December) Andrew Marr submitted the Clause to a line-by-line analysis. Commenting on the opening passage about securing for the workers “the full fruits of their industry”, he wrote:
  “Full fruits implies hostility to all profits, indeed to joint-stock companies as such; it relies on Marx‘s discredited labour theory of value. ”
“Full fruits” does indeed imply hostility to all profits, seen as a deduction from what labour produces. But this view goes back well beyond Marx to . . . Adam Smith, who wrote that “labour is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities” (Wealth of Nations, Book I, chapter V). Smith also wrote:
  “As soon as stock has accumulated in the hands of particular persons, some of them will naturally employ it in selling to work industrious people, whom they will supply with materials and subsistence, in order to make a profit by the sale of their work, or by what their labour adds to the value of the materials . . .  The value which the workmen add to the materials, therefore, resolves itself in this case into two parts, of which one pay's their wages, the other the profits of their employer upon the whole stock of materials and wages which he advanced” (Book I, chapter VI).
This is clear enough: in transforming raw materials into some commodity that can be sold, labour adds value to them; this value is the source of both the wages they are paid and the profits of their employer. Profits, in other words, are produced by labour. So said Adam Smith, the apostle of free-market capitalism, though this is so embarrassing to the fanatics of the Adam Smith Institute that they never mention it.

So the labour theory of value has a pedigree which ought to be unimpeachable for defenders of capitalism. It has to be said, however, that Adam Smith and his successors, precisely because they were supporters of capitalism, got themselves into all sorts of contradictions. They wanted to justify the capitalist profit system as the best possible, indeed as the only natural economic system, yet the labour theory of value which they accepted out of intellectual honesty implied that profits were a deduction from what labour produced and that capitalism was therefore based on the robbery of the producers.

There were only two ways out of this contradiction. One was to abandon the labour theory of value. The other was to accept that the capitalist system was based on the exploitation of labour and should therefore be abolished.

Ending exploitation
Supporters of capitalism chose the first course, so that by the middle of the last century the labour theory of value had become “discredited” in respectable circles. Supporters of the workers — while Marx was still in short trousers — chose the second course. But they didn't quite get it right. They argued that the alternative to capitalism was a system that would ensure that every individual worker got the “full product of their labour”; this was to be done by pricing goods according to the amount of labour-time required to produce them and giving the workers who produced them a quantity of labour notes that would enable them to acquire the full labour-time equivalent of what they had produced. Under this scheme there would be no profit; all that was produced would go, in one form or another, to the producers.

What Marr in his profound ignorance of Marx’s views is unaware of is that Marx is on record as attacking the idea that each worker could be ensured the “undiminished proceeds” of their labour. A whole section of his Critique of the Gotha Programme adopted by the German Social Democrats in 1875 was devoted to exposing the absurdity of the idea that each individual worker could be given the “full product” of his or her contribution to the co-operative labour of the whole labour force (even supposing this could be measured).

In a socialist society deductions from this would have to be made for such things as the resources to be devoted to the replacement and expansion of the means of production, the general administration of society and the maintenance of those unable to work because of youth, old age, sickness or disability.

The only context, in fact, in which the phrases “full fruits" or “full product” or "undiminished proceeds” make sense is that of the whole community enjoying the full fruits of the collective co-operative labour of its working members; which in practice means allowing every member of the community an equal right to satisfy their own personally-decided needs. And, to be fair to Clause Four, this is quite compatible with the phrase “full fruits of their labour and the most equitable distribution thereof’.

Blair of course is not in favour of the workers by hand and brain getting the full fruits of their industry, whether individually or collectively. He is all for profits as a deduction from what labour produces going to shareholders and other parasites. May we, then, suggest the following amendment to Clause Four to accommodate him:
 "To secure for the workers by hand or by brain only enough of the fruits of their industry to maintain their working skills in a fit state to continue producing profits for their employers . . . ”
Blair, however, has come up with his own new version, including an alternative theory as to how wealth is produced. His discussion document Labour’s Objects claims that “a competitive market economy, with a strong industrial and wealth-generating base is in the public interest”.

No Socialist could make such a statement but quite how the market can “generate wealth" is not explained. As far as we know, there is only one way in which wealth can be generated and that is by human beings applying their mental and physical energies to materials that originally came from nature.

Wealth is not created by market forces; at most it is only distributed by them — unequally and to the benefit of those who own the means of production If Marr — or Blair — think that this view of the origin of wealth is “discredited" let them explain precisely how. Let them offer a satisfactory alternative explanation. In the meantime the labour theory of value, and its corollary that profits result from exploitation, stands unrefuted.
Adam Buick

"Dear Sir —" (1951)

From the May 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are all familiar with the "write-to-the-news-paper-about-it” fiends. Any particular bee that is buzzing around their bonnets at the time is given a whirl, either in the daily paper or the local rag, more often than not bringing forth a counter blast of opposing opinions couched in varying degrees of heat from others of the same species. The most common type dashes off in high dudgeon a sulphurous epistle registering deep disapproval of the government's foreign policy or blisters the paper with an attack on the local street fighting or the unreliability of the 9 a.m. train. There is also the "is-this-a-record” type, lying in wait, ears pinned back and pen poised for the first notes of the cuckoo, or to record the remarkable age at which Grandmother finally handed in her dinner pail. For 24 weeks up to and including the 5th April the B.B.C. opened up a new and exciting "happy hunting ground” for these scribes in their programme “Dear Sir," broadcast every Thursday at 8 p.m. for 30 minutes. It comprised a very mixed bag of letters written to the B.B.C. by the public on an infinite variety of subjects, edited and introduced, by Leslie Baily. The letters came over the air with what was apparently considered suitable voices and inflections. Some letters from children were piped up as such. The women's voices were vibrant and trembling with emotion or indignation. The men, bullying or frightfully refined according to the subject matter of the letter. (Obviously fugitives from a repertory company.) Taken all in all it was an innocuous collection of letters and it is a matter for conjecture as to what precisely was the "open sesame” to the air. The letters were hand picked, as in the short time at their disposal only a very small percentage could be broadcast. Many letters were representative of dozens on the same theme. One correspondent wrote to say "Au revoir” to the series and mentioned plaintively that his 15 previous letters had not received publicity. The subjects ranged through self government for colonies, the recent Tory tactics in the house, water divining, the proposed alteration in Divorce laws, the Census, lack of women geniuses and should the Welsh language be taught in schools? Someone posed the question, "why is it that Welsh people can always sing”? A rather rude reply denied that they sang but said, "they just lament in unison,” which brought forth highly indignant letters in the come-back of the following week. A few letters turned the searchlight of publicity on some present day evils, the frightful conditions for the slaughtering of animals, some facts regarding T.B. and the starvation wage of £3 8s. weekly for waitresses who stated they could not exist without “tips.” A controversy raged for several weeks regarding the Christian attitude to war and rearmament, and it was interesting to note that only a small minority came out on the side of pacifism. The majority wallowed in a spate of words and while re-assuring us that "God is love,” were not against rearmament. Some of the letters called for "laws of war” or counselled restraint and discrimination in waging war. One Christian correspondent wrote to say that according to the New Testament the state has God's permission to make war. (Church and state have always foraged amicably together as purple patches in past history testify.) An ex-service man thought housing shortage caused labour troubles and someone else said that the worker who had a large family should have increased wages instead of family allowances.

Another brain wave suggested enclosing rabbits in wired-off tracts of land like the monks of olden days, and leave nature to remedy that blot on the escutcheon of the Labour government, the meat shortage. Another suggestion was to utilise the interior heat of the earth for mechanical purposes, and a plea was put in that crooners, male and female, should celebrate the festival of Britain by using their own language instead of that ghastly "Americanese.”

The foregoing very sketchy review does not cover the whole range of letters but listening to this programme week by week the writer was struck by the infinite number and variety of subjects with which a large section of the public concern themselves. The thought occurs, is it possible for all these widely differing people to ever think alike on one subject and act in harmony to establish socialism? Add to this the language difficulties and prejudices fostered between workers in different lands and the odds against a genuine world socialist understanding seem almost too formidable to contemplate. Last, but not least, is the absolute dependence of the workers for their picture of world affairs on the press and radio tainted with incessant and almost unconscious propaganda.

The scales are heavily weighted but the workers of the world share the common denominator of a desire to live in peace and security. This happens to be a desire to which the acquisitive nature of capitalism renders it powerless to accede. International rivalries, rearmament, the threat of war, bring in their wake steadily deteriorating conditions for the workers which should hasten their enlightenment. Here then we have the ingredients for a snowball growth of genuine socialist ideas. When the majority of the workers revise that there is no other alternative and vote for socialism, it will be “curtains” for Capitalism and no regrets.
F. M. Robins