Monday, September 24, 2018

Forgings from the Furnace (1939)

Via the Marxists Internet Archive.
From the September 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
It is interesting to read some of the lesser known writings of Marx, interesting because you often come in contact with material that seems new to you. 
Otto Rühle’s work, “Karl Marx,” contains many quotations from “The Holy Family” and the earlier works of the old revolutionist. 
I selected a few of these that appealed to me; perhaps the readers of the Standard may find it worth their while to peruse them. It would be superfluous to comment. 
We will let the old red speak for himself:
Charles Lestor.

   "We shall not dogmatically anticipate the coming world, but shall begin by discovering the new world through criticism of the old one. . . . We are developing the principles of the new world. We do not say to the world 'cease your struggles, which are foolish, for we will give you the true battle-cry.’ We merely show the world for what it is really fighting, and the world must become self-conscious whether it will or no. Our motto must therefore be: Reform of the consciousness, not by dogmas, but by analyses of the mystical consciousness, of the consciousness which is not fully clarified, whether it be religious or political, ' To make the time fully understand its. struggles and its wishes.'

 “The weapon of criticism cannot replace the criticism of weapons. Physical force must be overthrown by physical force; but theory, too, becomes a physical force as soon as it takes possession of the masses. . . .

  “If the proletariat demands the negation of private property, it is only raising to the level of a principle of society that which society has made a principle of the proletariat.

   “Philosophy cannot be realised without the uprising of the proletariat; and the proletariat cannot rise without the realisation of philosophy.

  “Proletariat and wealth are opposites. As such, they form a whole. We are concerned with the definite position which the two assume in the contrast. It does not suffice to describe them as two aspects of one whole.

  “Private property as private property, as wealth, is compelled to maintain its own existence, and therewith the existence of its opposite, the proletariat. It is the positive side of the contrast, private property satisfied with itself. The proletariat on the other hand, is compelled as proletariat to abolish itself, and therewith to abolish private property, the opposite that has determined its own existence, that has made it into a proletariat. It is the negative side of the contrast, its discontent with itself, private property dissolved and dissolving itself. The possessing class and the class of the proletariat represent an identical human self-alienation. But the former class feels itself comfortable and assured in this self-alienation, recognises this alienation as its own power, and possesses in it the semblance of human existence; the latter feels itself annihilated by this alienation, regards in it its own impotence, and perceives in it the reality of an inhuman existence.

  “Beyond question, private property, in its economic movement, advances towards its own dissolution, but only through the development of an independent and unconscious character, which it undergoes without the exercise of its own will, and impelled by the nature of things; only inasmuch as it generates the proletariat as proletariat, creates poverty that is conscious of its own mental and physical poverty, creates dehumanisation that is conscious of itself and therefore abolishes itself. The proletariat fulfils the judgment which private property has brought upon itself by the creation of the proletariat, just as it fulfils the judgment which wage labour has brought upon itself by creating the wealth of others and its own poverty. When the proletariat is victorious, it has not thereby in any way become the absolute aspect of society, for it is only victorious inasmuch as it abolishes itself and its opposite. Then both the proletariat and its conditioning opposite will disappear. . . .

   “We are not concerned, therefore, with what this or that proletarian, or even the proletariat as a whole may regard as an aim. What we are concerned with is, what the proletariat actually is: and what the proletariat will, in accordance with the nature of its own being, be historically compelled to do. Its goal and its historical action are obvious, are irrevocably indicated, in the vital situation of the proletariat, and also in the whole organisation of contemporary bourgeois society. . . .

   “We may distinguish human beings from animals by consciousness, by religion, by anything you please. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their own means of subsistence, a step which is necessitated by their own bodily organisation. Inasmuch as human beings produce their own means of subsistence, they indirectly produce their own material life.

   “The necessaries of life are, above all, food, drink, shelter, clothing and a few others. Hence the first historical act is the production of the means for the satisfaction of these needs, the production of material life itself, and thus one historical fact is a fundamental determinant of all history.

As individuals express their lives, so they are. Thus, what they are coincides with what they produce: and not only with what they produce, but with how they produce. Consequently, what individuals are, depends upon the material conditions of production.

   “Social classification and the State are continually proceeding out of the life process of determinate individuals, not, however, of these individuals as they may appear to themselves or others, but as they really are; that is to say, as they work, as they are engaged in material production, as they are active under determinate material limitations, presuppositions and conditions which are independent of their will.

 “Morality, religion, metaphysics, and ideology in general, with their appropriate forms of consciousness, thus forfeit the semblance of independence.

  “They have no history, no evolution of their own. Human beings developing material production and material intercourse, and thus altering the real world that environs them, alter therewith their own thought and the products of their thought. Consciousness does not determine life, but life determines consciousness

    “Once reality has been demonstrated, philosophy as an independent discipline loses its existence.

     Not criticism, but revolution, is the motive force of history."

   “For us, Communism is not a condition of affairs which 'ought’ to be established, not an ‘ideal’ toward which reality has to direct itself. When we speak of Communism we mean the actual movement which makes an end of the present state of affairs. The determinants of this movement arise out of the extant presupposition . . . 

   “Economic conditions begin by transforming the masses of the population into (manual wage) workers. The regime of Capital has created for this mass a common situation, joint interests. Thus this mass is already a class confronting capital, though not yet aware of its own position as a class. . . . The interests it defends become class interests. Now, a struggle of class against class is a political struggle.

   “The existence of an oppressed class is the vital condition of every society based upon class oppositions. Consequently, the liberation of the oppressed class necessarily involves the creation of a new society. If the oppressed class is to be able to liberate itself, it must have reached a stage at which the already acquired form of production and the extant social institutions can no longer continue to exist side by side. Of all the instruments of production, the greatest productive force is the revolutionary class itself.

   "The organisation of the revolutionary elements as a class presupposes the existence of all the forces of production which can develop within the womb of the old society . . . "

   “Capital is not only what Adam Smith calls it, the command over labour. Fundamentally, it is the command of unpaid labour. All surplus value, whatever the form into which it may subsequently become crystallized—as profit, land-rent, interest, etc.—is substantially the materialisation of unpaid labour time. The secret of the self-expansion of capital finds its explanation in this, that capital has at its disposal a definite quantity of other people's unpaid labour."
Karl Marx

While Rome Burns (1939)

From the September 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

From the Evening Standard (August 21st, 1939), in the midst of the international crisis:
 "There was a formidable disregard of crisis scares at Le Touquet over the week-end.
 "The English ruling classes had assembled in hundreds, even thousands, to risk their wealth throughout the night in the Turkish bath atmosphere of the Casino . . . Nobody lost much more than a cool £5,000."

Communists want Conscription (1939)

From the September 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following is an extract from a letter written by Mr. H. F. Gee, District Organiser of the Harrow Young Communist League, published in the Harrow Observer & Gazette (July 7th, 1939): —
  “Our policy, then, is perfectly clear. We stand for a peace front of the democracies against Fascism, the removal of the National Government and the establishment of a Government of the people, which will carry out the obligations of the pact to the letter. Furthermore, given such a real stand against Fascist aggression, we would not only accept universal military service for all, but would mobilise the whole of the youth for the defence of democracy."

Back to front (1979)

From the June 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tactics and strategy remain two of the most overused words in the vocabulary of the left wing, making anything excusable, everything permissible. But despite their seemingly magical qualities, they are essentially simple words: tactics means skillful manoeuvring in the face of the enemy; strategy, the art of deciding which tactic is the correct one for the task in hand.

Left wing use of these words does not relate to warfare but to a specific kind of combat — class struggle. Tactics and strategy are the means by which the immediate, or day-to-day, struggles of the working class (over wages, housing, employment and so on) can be transformed into a revolutionary struggle to overthrow capitalism.

The words also carry with them the direct implication of the existence of leaders and led. The generalship, or strategy, is conducted by the leaders, or to use the jargon, the vanguard. This vanguard decides which tactics are to be used and, hopefully, responded to by the working class. In left wing ideology workers, independently, can only develop a trade union consciousness.

The claim to be a vanguard, or a member of it, of necessity involves the ability to decide on the right tactics and overall strategy. For what is the use in having a vanguard if it does not possess superior political judgement to that of the broad mass of the people? It follows, then, that the vanguard can only be justified on the grounds that it can, and does, devise the correct tactics for socialist advance.

But the attachment to this Leninist-inspired doctrine produces contradictions apparent from the outset. In times of economic crisis the left knowingly formulate a series of tactical demands which capitalism will not, or cannot, meet. For example, five days work or five days pay ; they mobilise as many workers as they can round these utopian objectives. By striking for unrealistic demands workers will, it is hoped, learn the folly of purely industrial action. In the political arena the same absurd policy prevails: workers are called upon to vote for a Labour government which the left knows will betray their aspirations.

Two Examples
But in practice this policy of making extravagant demands has proved unworkable; objectives have had to be realisable in order to gain working class support, expectations, once aroused, had to be satisfied. These failures in elementary theoretical considerations were more than matched by similar lapses in political practice. Of the numerous examples which might be cited (the role of the Labour Party, Grunwick, Chile, Vietnam) let us confine our attention to two examples, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the current Right to Work Campaign.

In the 1950s Cold War politics had made the threat of a nuclear holocaust a distinct possibility. Many people became, not unreasonably, concerned and afraid. Out of this widespread fear emerged CND, the pre-eminent left wing organisation of the time. Under its umbrella, mass protests took place in Britain. The object of the exercise was to seek support in a non-sectarian manner from all well-intentioned people (in much the same way as the Anti-Nazi League does today) to rid the world of the nuclear menace. Its other purpose, although normally unstated, was to recharge the flagging fortunes of the left in Britain.

For a time CND was spectacularly successful; the Aldermaston march almost became a British institution; its slogan. Ban the Bomb, became a shibboleth known to each one of us; maximum publicity was gained through sit-down protests and recruitment of some major public figures, such as Bertrand Russell. In fact, so powerful did the movement become that it nearly split the Labour Party over whether Britain should go it alone and renounce the use of nuclear warfare.

The influence, however, was short-lived. Membership declined as nuclear stockpiles grew. Many countries who, at the formation of CND, did not possess the technology to produce nuclear weapons, gradually were able to do so; for example, Brazil, China, India, South Africa. In terms of destructive power, since ‘Little Boy’ fell on Hiroshima, present stockpiles are sufficient to annihilate the total world population 690 times over All the work was for nothing.

The failure of CND was not just its inability to realise that capitalism whether operated by Labour or Tory, was stubbornly resistant to change in this crucial area of arms production; the fault went much deeper than that.

The fifties were the era when we ‘never had it so good’, or at least so we were told. The working class were seduced, according to the story, by easy living, fat wage packets and the consumer society. But the answer lay more in the failings of the vanguard than in the satiated workers. CND was broad-based containing liberals, Christians, pacifists, trotskyists and others from beatniks to pop stars. Like all popular fronts it was held together by one aim — banning the bomb. Once this was seen to be unrealistic, the movement collapsed.

However, no such explanation could be given for the failure of the Right to Work Campaign to make an impact in the current conditions of economic crisis. Unemployment at present is hovering around the one-and-a-half million mark, according to government sources. The Right to Work Campaign's lack of success is just one more example of miscalculation by the vanguard (of the Socialist Workers Party).

As for the origins of the movement, the SWP can claim no credit. The campaign is modelled on a similar movement of the 1920s and 30s organised by the Communist Party, the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement. The claim for the right to employment at a time of crisis in the economy and in the teeth of capitalist opposition would, it was hoped, demonstrate to the workers that capitalism was incapable of guaranteeing men and women a decent standard of life. Realising this, the workers would seek an alternative political solution to capitalism, socialism. The NUWM was extremely successful in mobilising hundreds of thousands of workers against unemployment.

However, the conditions were more fortuitous than now. In those days unemployment benefit was low and certain groups of workers were excluded altogether; there was also a rigid system of means tests, no health service and. finally, the memory of the broken promises of the 1914-18 war was still fresh in people’s minds. The NUWM was therefore an organ of hope to a dispirited and embittered section of the working class. But although the unemployed marched the streets, lobbied MPs, wrote indignant letters to the newspapers and attended countless meetings, nothing was achieved. Few of them found work and of those that did, most soon forgot about the need to change society.

Lofty Pedestal
The lesson was clear; hungry people could be mobilised to alleviate their hunger, but to change society socialist understanding is needed. But, learning nothing from history, the sins of the fathers were visited upon their sons. The SWP, operating in the changed conditions of welfare capitalism where the harsher edge of poverty had been offset to an extent through social security benefits, redundancy payments and the health service, attempted to enact the same policies at the CP. Like its predecessor, it failed disastrously. But whilst the NUWM could claim to have enlisted the support of thousands, the SWP has achieved nothing of significance outside of a few token marches and lobbying of the Labour Party Conference and the TUC.

From these brief histories of the CND and the Right to Work Campaign it is apparent that the vanguard's claim to tactical superiority over the workers is spurious. They have demonstrably failed on the most simple matters of judgement and analysis. These simple errors are compounded by faulty theory, which involves uncritical acceptance of Leninist theory.

Moreover, it is futile for the vanguard to endlessly find scapegoats for faulty theoretical formulations in the skullduggery of politicians, the wrong leaders, or the ruthlessness of the capitalist class. Time, then, that the vanguard came down from its lofty pedestal and admitted that workers can aspire to something more than a trade union consciousness, that it does not hold the holy writ in its hands, and came to terms with the real problem of building a mass socialist consciousness.
Bill Knox

From the horse’s mouth (1979)

A Short Story from the December 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

I often wonder why those two-legged creatures slavishly toil their lives away in factories, mines, shops, offices, and fields in order to make their masters rich. What reward do they get? The poor wretches at British Leyland have now voted about throwing 25,000 of their fellows on the scrapheap; while British Leyland are to donate to Captain Mark Philips and Princess Anne £18.000 a year, the loan of £5.000, the free use of a Land-Rover and horsebox, as a sponsorship of their equestrian hobby.

Of course, as Major General Jack Reynolds of the British Equestrian Federation points out: “The sponsorship is done in such a way that the person himself doesn’t financially benefit by one penny. The money goes to the horses.” He thought that £3,000 a year was “about right” for the cost of maintaining a horse, which shows how partial these capitalists are to us of the equine species compared to their workers. Many humans labour hard and long all week to receive a take-home pay of less than £3,000 a year to keep not only themselves but also their families. And a worker put out to grass after a lifetime of faithful toil receives only £23.30 a week to keep body and soul together. Indeed, it is incredible how many of this ingenious, inventive, adaptable, hard-working class live, breed and die under conditions no self respecting horse would tolerate without kicking hard and often.

We horses do not wear ourselves out with work. We have valets and grooms to rub us down, brush and comb us, exercise us, clear up our excrement and place fresh bedding in our warm, dry stables. A veterinary surgeon is on hand for our slightest wheeze or limp. When we parade in public we require ten or twenty thousand men and women to stack themselves up on uncomfortable seats and admire our feats of running and jumping. The most illustrious who wish to mount us must first fawn and fondle or else we buck and rear. If one of us carries a royal rump and there is a call of nature—then nature calls! It is said a forebear of mine at Ascot—and my pedigree is more certain than many an heir to a capitalist fortune or the scion of a noble family—launched a kick at a crowned monarch because he did not like the looks of her head. Her royal majesty, who adores horses, murmured an apology and withdrew.

Shame on you biped workers for meekly producing wealth and luxury for the capitalists when you could take control of the means of living and work instead for yourselves and each other! Surely this would be preferable to an existence where you are valued as less than a horse?
. . .  as told to Alice Kerr

Obituary: Harry Clements (1979)

Obituary from the December 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Members will be saddened to hear of the death, in late September, of Harry Clements at the age of 76.

Harry joined the SPGB in 1947 and was a member of the old Fulham Branch, later transforming to West London (formerly Ealing) Branch. He had a friendly, out-going personality which he used to advantage to put over his deeply held socialist views. His work as a plumber enabled him to meet a cross-section of the working class and he took every opportunity which this gave him to get his ideas across; he was also a keen member of the Fulham Bowling Club and there were many animated discussions in the club-room started by Harry’s outspoken comments on capitalist society and the socialist alternative.

Our sympathy is extended to his wife Lill (as she was affectionately known to Harry’s friends) who joined him in the social functions of the Branch.

Running Commentary: Capitalism Condemned (1979)

The Running Commentary Column from the December 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism Condemned 

The objections to capitalist politicians is not that they are dishonest (though they usually are) nor that they are incompetent (though this is the norm) nor that they are a particularly nasty sub-species (though on the whole they are). The objection is simply that they claim to be able to run capitalism in the interests, of the majority, but they can’t, haven’t, don't and won’t.

Evidence floods in of the palpable fact that this society works in the interests of a small minority and that problems of the majority are, by and large, left intact.


The Supplementary Benefits Commission defines poverty as a standard of living so low that it cuts people off from normal community life; people are not warm enough, not fed enough and do not have sufficient clothing to appear in the street without embarrassment. It must be remembered that poverty is not an absolute concept but a level relative to what can be expected at any particular time. But even by capitalism's standards (which are low enough) poverty still stalks the working class in the form of depressed living conditions.

The Supplementary Benefits Commission’s report for 1978 issued in October stated that the amount paid in supplementary benefits was insufficient to keep the people who depend on it out of the Commission’s definitions of poverty. As to how many people in this country are in this position one can turn to the report of the Low Pay Unit, also issued in October. This claimed that one family in eight were living below the bare official minimum. These people will not have gained anything from the so called tax cuts introduced by the soak-the-poor Tory budget. The Low Pay Unit expects that one effect of the budget will be to plunge a further 10,000 families below the official poverty line.

The former director of the Low Pay Unit, Frank Field, (now a Labour MP) estimated that if a realistic level for the poverty line is taken, 14 million people in this country are living in poverty (Guardian 1/10/79). What Field does not explain is what he is doing as a Labour MP if he condemns the system the Labour Party has run and is so keen to perpetuate. But Frank’s unfrankness here is only the norm for an MP.

But perhaps the most interesting survey of poverty to emerge in October (for some reason a good month for reports) was Peter Townsend’s massive book Poverty in the United Kingdom. This provides a wealth of statistical evidence about poverty under British capitalism. In effect, it refutes the claims of politicians that they have solved the poverty problem. The Observer commented that this book, together with the Supplementary Benefit Commission’s report, ". . .  remind us that Britain, 35 years after the end of the war, retains a shameful sub-culture of poverty, striking almost arbitrarily at the old . . .  large families, widows, the disabled, one-parent families and others.” (28/10/79.) Such facile comment is remarkable. When the Observer refers to the old, the large families and widows, it should have made it clear that it was referring to one class only. Old, widowed, disabled, large familied capitalists do not come within the scope of the poverty problem. Perhaps the word “others” is supposed to mean about ninety per cent of the population?

The Joys of Work

Meanwhile most workers still have to work. The conditions in which they do so vary from the despair of the mind-bending repetitive manual and clerical jobs to the outright appalling — those that are likely directly to cause an early death. Take some of the recent grisly revelations on asbestosis. A government advisory committee on asbestos also reported in October. It appears that as early as 1906 the government knew that asbestos was a killer. The link between asbestos and lung cancer was discovered in 1930. The link with other forms of cancer was made clear in 1964. No government cared much about it. Now after three years the government committee has recommended new standards which will be an improvement; if they are adopted, instead of one worker in ten in the industry contracting (and painfully dying from) asbestosis, only one worker in twenty will do so. What progress. And there is a good old-fashioned conspiracy by the rich and powerful asbestos industry to keep back the truth about the dangers of asbestosis. Meantime asbestos continues to be used and people who work with it (in particular the laggers-people who lag pipes) die young, in agony.

The Guardian (24/10/79) reports on one man who, never having been warned of the dangers, worked as a lagger from 1946 to 1958. At the age of 41 he was told he had the disease. At the age of 44 he was almost paralysed. Now he lives as a cripple: in constant pain, he is unable even to climb the stairs to his bed.

There is no cure, only the inevitable agonising death. And just to add insult to the injury, the invalidity pension for that man, his wife and four children is £54.70 a week. Not only does capitalism maim you, it then lets you continue what’s left of your existence in wretchedness.

Year of the Child

As the Year of the Child comes to an end, we may well ask is there a better future for children? On the whole things look worse than ever. Amnesty International’s Prisoner of Conscience Report, also issued in October, reminds us that children throughout the world are being tortured and murdered. Ethiopia—5000 young people slaughtered in 1977/78; Central African Empire—100 children battered to death under the megalomaniac Bokassa; Chile—children tortured in front of parents to extract confessions and information from them; Russia—children wrenched from their parents who have committed “crimes” such as distributing private essays. The International Labour Office published a report (Observer 4/10/79) showing that more than 52 million children in the world under the age of 15 worked for a living—although child labour is prohibited by law. Most of these figures are made up from children in countries where poverty is rife and either children work to the detriment of their physical and mental well being or face starvation. The report, which contains horrifying case-studies from Mexico, Peru, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Thailand, Italy, Argentina and Greece, draws the hard conclusion that “child labour cannot be prohibited by law”.

The Amnesty and ILO reports only skim the surface. And as these lines are written children are dying like flies of starvation in Kampuchea. Reports on numbers vary, but even the most conservative estimate is chilling. In the meantime, British, American, Russian, Kampuchean and other politicians argue about the “best” way to send in the food—an argument which is heavily concerned with their respective standing as powers in world capitalism.
Ronnie Warrington

The Madhouse (1995)

A Short Story from the July 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
Everyone (or nearly everyone) agreed that Mr Thomas was getting a well-deserved holiday — but how on earth would they all cope without him . . . . ?
Josie told me the news when she came upstairs to help me with the beds. Mr Thomas, the owner, was going to the Bahamas for a month's holiday and the staff were in a ferment over it. How would they manage without him? Whom would they turn to in a crisis? We worked quickly while we talked, dragging the sheets off the beds, replacing them with clean ones, washing up the tea trays, scouring the baths, making sure the pubic hairs escaped down the plug holes, vacuuming the carpels, cleaning the mirrors. Josie was a trifle breathless because she had been serving breakfasts in the dining hall since seven.

I dared to suggest that the staff would run the hotel in exactly the same way as they did when Mr Thomas was here, but Josie saw this as a criticism of Mr T. Her mum had told her that she should be grateful to him for giving her the opportunity to work, that he had brought jobs to the tiny market town of Stoppham and that it was kind of him to do this

Josie asked me if I remembered the time that Cook was off with her leg. Chef, under pressure with all the extra work, had thrown a joint of meat at one of the waiters (followed by the carving knife) and Karen, the washer-upper, had offered to rescue it from the grimy floor and give it a rinse, but Chef, still in a rage, had declared that he didn't give a toss and insisted on serving it up to the customers with bits of hair and fluff clinging to it, so the waiters didn't get any tips that day. And there was that Sunday morning (a time when Mr T. was absent) when a guest had asked Flora, a chambermaid, to take a photograph of him with his camera. The problem was that he had just that minute emerged from the bath and had a towel around his waist, and how was Flora to know that he would let the towel drop as soon as she aimed the shot. Result: A tearful young woman sobbing that she sometimes wondered if it was all worth it for under two quid an hour.

I remarked to Josie that we could all do with a month off instead of having to take a week here and a week there, never feeling any benefit from a few days away from The Madhouse. Josie was silent for a few moments as she scrubbed the loo seat with the washing-up cloth. “Well, I think Mr T. needs a complete rest. I mean, he does have the responsibility of everything!” She dumped the dishcloth back into the basin with the cups and saucers and squirted in about half-a-gallon of washing-up liquid. “He’s good really. D’you remember that time I smashed a television screen? He didn’t dock it out of my wages or anything.” I reminded her that he had actually said that he would and she had worried about it for weeks and, in any case, if he had docked the amount she wouldn't have had any wages for months. Rather like the time I went into work with the 'flu and he looked at me kindly and said “Heather, I don’t like to see you looking so ill’’, so I took the rest of the day off and he didn't pay me for it.

Josie was eternally sympathetic over Mr T's finances. She said we shouldn’t get paid if we weren't there to do the work. “There’s no sentiment in business, is there?” I suggested that without us he wouldn't have a business. Josie’s eyes widened. “He doesn't need us, he could get plenty of other people to do the work. It’s a good thing there are people like him prepared to take risks with their money, making work for the likes of us ”

“Let’s have a tea break,” I said We each sat down on a comfortable plush chair and swung our feet onto the bed, a fag in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. It was a hot day and we were both sweating profusely, perspiration trickling from our armpits, leaving soggy patches on our ugly, nylon overalls. I said suddenly, “What about if the wages system was abolished and everyone agreed to co- operate, working for perhaps a couple of hours a day, everybody doing what they're capable of.” Josie was aghast. “Me work for nothing. No bloody fear.” I had to say it: “You already do . . . for next to nothing!”

In the days that followed the workload at The Madhouse increased and tempers got shorter. The Trainee Manager began to see his boss's absence as a good opportunity to relax a little, so he infuriated the staff by strolling around in his best suit with his hands in his pockets. Chef gnashed his teeth and muttered curses under his breath as he chopped the steaks. Yvette, the kitchen maid, had a heavy cold and was severely admonished for sneezing on the sandwiches she was preparing, while Karen, the washer-upper, cast off her rubber gloves and gave in her notice. But Cook was heard to say “Good luck to Mr T.—if anyone deserves a holiday, he does.”

I heard all this from Josie when she came up to help me with the bedrooms. “I’m glad to get out of it,” she told me, and just think while all this is going on old Thomas is lying on a tropical beach sunning himself.” My comment was that she'd obviously changed her tune. Josie pouted, “Well, I’ve been thinking about that week I took in Yarmouth when it rained every day.”

Changed her mind
But gradually the tensions eased. Oh, the workload was just as heavy but the staff became used to Mr T. being away. I heard that some people even cherished thoughts of him never coming back. And I came into Reception one morning and heard voices raised in song coming from the kitchen. 1 thought, they wouldn't have done that if Mr T. had been there. Karen had changed her mind about leaving because Chef had been instrumental in getting the washing-up machine repaired. (Mr T. had been dragging his feet over that for some time ) Yvette had been told to go home and nurse her bad cold but returned to work the next day looking quite cheerful and the Trainee Manager was persuaded to pay her for the day she was absent.

"The thing is," Josie told me as we checked through the laundry list, "the work goes much more smoothly in the kitchen when there isn't anyone there to spy on us. and old Thomas is always popping up and interfering with everything. He gets on Cook's nerves, she’s been here for thirty years and yet he still tries to tell her what to do.” "And," she added, “I know they all sound as if they hate each other but you know some of them have worked together for years and they’ve got a sort of understanding, if you see what I mean. " I did.

Mr T came back from the Bahamas looking very sun-tanned. He went into the kitchen and beamed at the members of staff. I think he was somewhat surprised because the greeting he got wasn't quite what he expected. It’s true everybody said "Good morning” and, as usual, Chef consulted with him over the day’s menu, but on the whole people had rather forgotten him. Though to be honest I was disappointed to hear Cook say, "Well, I must say, Mr T. looks a treat, the rest has done him good.”
Heather Ball

University Challenge (1995)

Party News from the July 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Are you a student or employee at a college or University? Would you like to assist the spread of socialist ideas within your College or University? If so, you may be interested to know that the Socialist Party has embarked upon a nationwide campaign, leading up to and during the 1995/1996 academic session, to make its viewpoint more widely known within the student community to 1) attract more students into the Socialist Party and in the longer term 2) set up a national network of Socialist Student Societies.

The campaign will involve compiling a database of contacts (who will be put in touch with each other) in higher education establishments, writing to student societies and offering to provide them with Socialist Party speakers for meetings and debates, making our presence felt at Freshers’ Fairs and, finally, organising a one — or possibly two — day Winter School in London (involving workshops, meetings, debates & video-shows) in early December.

If you would like to get involved, please write as soon as possible to:

“University Challenge" 
c/o The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, 
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Kissing, Embracing and Caressing (1995)

Theatre Review from the November 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Spring Awakening  by Frank Wedekind, The Pit Theatre,  Barbican Centre
, London.

Watching Spring Awakening and listening to the comments of people sitting near me, I was struck once again by the way in which audiences in the late twentieth century can recognise the absurd beliefs which previous generations held dear whilst being unaware of the ideological prejudices which colour their own views of the world.

Spring Awakening is described by its author, the German dramatist Frank Wedekind, as "a children’s tragedy". The play is about adolescence and the repression of sexual feelings. But it is also about power. Wedekind, who lived at the turn of the century, was much concerned with such matters. His most famous play, Lulu, follows the story of a latter-day courtesan whose liaisons with powerful members of the bourgeoisie end tragically when she is murdered, nominally by Jack the Ripper.

In Spring Awakening Wedekind captures the steamy uncertainties of a group of young people whose natural curiosity about their emerging sexuality is powerfully repressed by the worst excesses of Lutheranism. The school which they attend requires the translation of arguably obtuse Greek and Latin texts and the memorisation of antique verse, but it fails to acknowledge their human physiology. A mother continues to tell her daughter, an emerging woman, that the stork delivers children, the results are dramatically predictable: The daughter dies in childbirth; a young man commits suicide.

Given the ideological beliefs which held sway in the early years of the century it is hardly surprising that contemporary performances of the play were surrounded by controversy. It was banned in Prussia in 1908, and a single performance on Broadway in 1917 was almost prevented by the New York City Commissioner. The play was first performed in Britain as recently as 1963, and only then after the Lord Chamberlain had insisted that:
 "there is no kissing, embracing or caressing between the two boys in the vineyard scene, the words penis and vagina are omitted, and an alternative is found to the masturbation game in the reformatory".
The play is astonishingly well performed by a splendid cast, many of whom are still at school or at drama school. It makes for an enlightening if sad evening, but one from which the audience seemed to take comfort. As someone remarked near me. “Thank goodness our kids don't suffer these hangs-ups."

True, but the opinions I heard seemed far too smugly sanguine. Most people may have removed one set of scales from the eyes, but they are still victims of myopia, and they have countless other blind spots. Whilst sexual repression is no longer over, children are still victims of arrangements in schools which both repress and suppress. What they learn and how they learn is controlled by others without any reference to their real needs. They are directed and manipulated and, like objects in an industrial process, commonly referred to as "the products of the education system". Their humanity must take second place to the needs of capitalism.

Socialism is characterised by economic emancipation, with people determining—in full consciousness of the consequences of their choice—their own needs, and freely satisfying these. In like manner a socialist society will be concerned with educational emancipation or, to paraphrase Sheila Grundy, "with people finding their own voice”.

Socialists watching this fine production of Spring Awakening will probably delight in the experience and in the evidence of prejudices abandoned. But unlike other members of the audience they will recognise that the battle to emancipate the population from ideological conditioning and false consciousness has barely begun.
Michael Gill