Monday, March 18, 2019

Homelessness and Health (2015)

From the March 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Homelessness isn’t just a housing issue. Struggling without a home usually also means struggling with poor health, and being unable to find enough support.
If asked what the three most important aspects of our lives are, most of us would say something like having reasonable health, somewhere comfortable to live and people we’re close to. But what happens if we have none of these? Poor health may rule out employment, which means having to rely on benefit payments, which limits what accommodation is affordable. And our health needs may mean that many types of housing are inaccessible or impractical. If we don’t have friends or family in a position to help, we would expect the health service, councils, and other organisations to provide a safety net. However, the support services industry has failed to provide for the complex needs of people with both health and housing problems. This is despite a definite relationship between homelessness and poor health. Research from St Mungo’s Broadway and Homeless Link found that 73 percent of homeless people have a physical health problem, and 80 percent have mental health issues (p.3). To what extent poor health is a cause or an effect of homelessness is hard to determine; for most homeless people, it’s probably both. What is clearer is that many people struggle to access often insufficient help from services lacking enough staff and resources.

The definition of homelessness includes people in many different situations. The most extreme, and visible, aspect of homelessness is sleeping rough on the streets. A conservative estimate of the number of rough sleepers in England was 2,414 in 2013. Many more people are in various types of temporary housing, including homeless hostels, bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and staying with friends or relatives. Ten years ago, Crisis estimated that there were 380,000 of these ‘hidden homeless’, which is more than the total population of Leicester (p.3).

Despite their varying circumstances, all homeless people will have an unsettled way of life which exacerbates other problems, especially health. The most obvious, and stark, way of summing up the additional health concerns affecting homeless people is by looking at mortality rates. The average age at death of a homeless person is 47 years old, compared to 77 for the wider population. Homeless women, on average, live until they’re only 43, whereas in the wider population, women tend to live longer than men (p.2, Homelessness: A Silent Killer, Crisis, 2011).

One reason why homeless peoples’ wellbeing suffers is because of difficulties with accessing healthcare. Although there are no upfront charges to use NHS services, and prescription fees are waived for people on a low income, the bureaucracy of the NHS makes it hard for homeless people to navigate the system. The usual way to access healthcare is to make an appointment with your GP, who can then make referrals to hospitals or clinics for particular treatment. To register with a GP, you need a stable address, which creates the first barrier for homeless people. Without easy access to a GP, medical conditions could go undiagnosed or untreated. As a result, when a homeless person’s health deteriorates, they are more likely to approach a hospital directly.

Homeless people attend Accident & Emergency, or Casualty, departments six times more often than the general population (p.2, Healthcare for the Homeless, Deloitte Centre For Health Solutions, 2012). The numbers of homeless people attending A&E has been flagged up in the context of unbearable pressures on hospitals. The efficiency of A&E departments is measured against the government target of 95 percent of patients being treated within four hours, lowered from 98 percent in 2010. This winter, the mainstream media reported on how many hospitals have failed to meet this target. At the start of 2015, only 86.7 percent of patients in England were seen within four hours (BBC News, 14/1/15), with worse figures in other parts of the UK. Eight hospitals declared ‘major incidents’ because demand on A&E units had increased to more than could be managed.

The four hour target will be prominent in the minds of all A&E staff, alongside the stress of the excessive workload. The constant pressure to process patients quickly means that underlying health problems could be ignored. And the shortage of hospital beds means that not enough people will be admitted to a ward. Consequently, homeless people, especially rough sleepers, often get discharged from A&E straight back into a situation unlikely to promote their recovery. So, when their health deteriorates again, they will probably return to hospital in the near future. People trapped in this cycle of needing to go back to A&E again and again are called ‘frequent flyers’. One in ten homeless people use A&E at least once a month (p.5, Healthcare for the Homeless, Deloitte Centre For Health Solutions, 2012), with some returning partly because they have nowhere else to go, and a hospital is somewhere warm, dry and reassuring.

Not all homeless people who come in to hospital fit this profile of repeat visitors not registered at a GP, though. Lots of people first become homeless at the same time that they enter hospital, usually as the result of a crisis. If someone has had a stroke or an amputation, then it may not be possible or practical for them to return to their previous home. Or, the trauma of being evicted may have pushed someone to attempt suicide.

On the ward
If a homeless person is admitted into hospital, they’re likely to stay there three times longer than the general population (p.2, Healthcare for the Homeless, Deloitte Centre For Health Solutions, 2012). This is partly because homeless people – especially the long-term homeless – often have multiple and complicated health problems, particularly liver damage, asthma, pneumonia, tuberculosis, epilepsy, diabetes, malnourishment, trench foot, wound infection and blood-borne viruses like hepatitis C, especially among intravenous drug users. Drugs and alcohol are often used as a coping strategy by homeless people, and heavy use can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, infections and dependency. This creates a vicious cycle where homelessness both leads to and is prolonged by addiction. 40 percent of homeless heavy alcohol users believe that a lack of stable housing is the main barrier to their recovery. Over a third of homeless people die due to alcohol or drug misuse (p.2, Homelessness: A Silent Killer, Crisis, 2011). The crisis of becoming homeless or struggling with homelessness as a way of life is also often linked with mental health problems. Someone with depression or schizophrenia is less likely to fit in to the expected routines which come with having a job and a ‘normal’ lifestyle. As a result, they are often pushed into homelessness, which will exacerbate their condition.

Another reason why homeless people remain in hospital longer than average is delays in discharging them. The aim is for a patient to leave hospital when they’re judged ‘medically fit’ to do so. They may still need longer to recover, but they can do this in the reassuringly familiar surroundings of their own home. This isn’t going to be possible if the patient is homeless. There have been many instances of homeless people being discharged from hospital in a taxi straight to a council office or a hostel, with no prior notice. This is particularly unsettling for the person, who has left the hospital without knowing whether they will get anywhere to stay, at a time when their health still makes them vulnerable. The practice of wards discharging homeless patients in this way has become less accepted in recent years. However, if a ward doesn’t discharge a patient because they don’t have anywhere suitable to go, then this creates the problem of ‘bed blocking’. When someone who is medically fit to leave hospital remains in a hospital bed, it prevents someone else from having it and creates additional expense.

Discharged where?
If a patient needs to be discharged to a care home, a nurse would refer them to a social worker to make the necessary arrangements. But only people with severely reduced capabilities qualify for this assistance. Presumably, if hospital social services departments and care homes had more staff and resources, they would be able to support more people, and the criteria for accessing them could be relaxed. As the situation is at the moment, many homeless people who would benefit from social services assistance aren’t eligible. Instead, it’s usually left to nurses to try and find accommodation to discharge a homeless person to. They may approach the local council, although the criteria for qualifying for statutory assistance excludes many single people except those judged extremely vulnerable. Even if a disabled homeless person is eligible for assistance under council criteria, then there still might not be anywhere appropriate for them. Temporary accommodation often means a placement in bed and breakfast accommodation, which is notoriously shabby and intimidating, and unsuitable for someone with poor mobility or little resilience. Council staff are aware that they are working within a frugal, inadequate system, and will try to compensate by interpreting their guidelines broadly and with some sympathy. So, temporary accommodation may be arranged in empty flats, care homes or hotels.

If there isn’t an arrangement with the council, or if the homeless patient doesn’t qualify for assistance from them, then the usual option would be direct access hostel accommodation. However, hostels can be almost as intimidating as bed and breakfasts, and are unlikely to be accessible for disabled people. They may have stairs, shared bathrooms and kitchens which could make them unsuitable. If someone can get into a hostel, then they would usually be able to stay there until they can find long-term housing, such as a flat rented from the council or a housing association. This could still take many months, but at least they would have the benefit of staff support.

If a homeless patient is in the country unofficially and has no recourse to public funds, councils and housing providers are very unlikely to help. Not being able to claim benefits or work legally will mean that they can’t afford rented accommodation, including hostels and B&Bs, and will be left destitute.

Generally, the worse someone’s health is, the harder it is for them to get suitable accommodation, especially at short notice. The situation is eased once someone turns 55, as this is the age that sheltered housing usually becomes available. But for younger people, unless they have a profoundly limiting disability which makes them eligible for statutory support, there is very little available. In other words, there is a lack of accommodation for people whose needs are too high for usual homeless provision but too low for social services involvement. The types of people that would be worst affected by this gap in services are those who have had strokes, amputations, suicide attempts, a diagnosis of schizophrenia, or drug and alcohol addiction. Most would also suffer from depression.

The bottom line
Costs accrued by bed blocking and the complex medical issues of homeless people mean that the average cost of a hospital stay for a homeless person is nearly five times higher than that for other people. More precisely, a homeless person will cost the NHS almost £1,900 per hospital stay on average, compared with £391 for the general population (p.6, Healthcare for the Homeless, Deloitte Centre For Health Solutions, 2012). The NHS is always being pushed to reduce its spending to cope with funding cuts. So, it was recognised that investing in more support for homeless patients would reduce costs in the long run. Looked at this way, the homeless are an economic problem, rather than people in need. In 2013, the government announced funding of £10 million to improve support for homeless people being discharged from English hospitals. This involved recruiting specialist staff to arrange discharges into suitable accommodation with ongoing support. This led to reductions in both bed-blocking and frequent flyers. But this wasn’t enough for funding to be extended, and many of these services are no longer running. The solution was only temporary.

To some extent, a society can be judged on how well it treats its most vulnerable people. The problem of homelessness only arises in a society where adequate housing is only available to those who can afford it and, as we’ve seen, people with poor health face additional barriers. These difficulties reflect wider problems in society:
  1. The bureaucracy of the NHS, councils and support services, which makes it hard for some people to access help in a more planned way. This problem can’t be solved just by ‘cutting red tape’ or simplifying procedures. The NHS, councils and support services all have to operate in the same economic market as any other institution, so they have to be run like any other. This involves bureaucracy to ration and restrict who qualifies to use them.
  2. The lack of resources in hospitals, whether a shortage of beds, nurses, mental health staff, social workers or support workers. Again, this problem can’t be solved within capitalism because the economy can never support enough funding to meet everyone’s needs. Money tends to go where it can be re-invested to create more wealth, and the NHS isn’t an attractive investment for the elite. The economic downturn and climate of government spending cuts only highlight an ongoing problem.
  3. The lack of accommodation which is both suitable for and available to disabled people. This is part of the overall housing shortage. It costs more to build or adapt accommodation for people with poor mobility, and landlords may be reluctant to invest the extra money if they don’t think it will end up profitable. When houses are built to be sold or rented, rather than because people need them, then anyone without enough money will struggle.

All of these problems are built in to the way our society is structured. When society is driven by economic forces, rather than what people want and need, then some people inevitably suffer. Increased funding, new services, or reformed procedures may help a few people in the short-term, but they can’t address the causes of the problem.
Clive Hendry

Letters: Timeless Leninism? (2015)

Letters to the Editors from the March 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Timeless Leninism?

Dear Editors

I think a careful reading of my document and of my biography of Tony Cliff would respond adequately to all your points (‘Where Leadership Leads’, February Socialist Standard). Indeed your author seems to have been rather careless in checking his facts – What is to be Done? was published in 1902 not 1903; much more seriously, your author simply disregards the arguments developed not only by Cliff, but by Hal Draper, Pierre BrouĂ©, Lars T Lih and many others about the place of What Is to be Done? in Lenin’s work, and whether it can be considered as a timeless statement of ‘Leninism’. Likewise the IS did not adopt the slate system until 1975, which rather undermines the claim that it is a central tenet of Leninism.  As for ‘what we’ve been saying for over 100 years’, that may well be true, but with what results? It is easy enough to point to the limited achievements of the Leninist left, but since your own achievements are equally thin on the ground, a more modest tone might be called for.

Ian Birchall

We are aware that there is a school of historical revisionists who try to argue that Lenin was merely a left-wing Social Democrat. This may well be how he appeared when he participated in discussions within the Second International, but inside Russia he never gave up the idea that the revolution there would have to be led by a vanguard party of full-time revolutionaries organised on the lines he had outlined in his 1902 pamphlet and which had shocked other revolutionaries at the time such as Rosa Luxemburg and even Trotsky.

That he still held this view to the end can be seen from his other notorious pamphlet, Left-wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, that came out in 1920. In chapter II, headed ‘One of the Basic Prerequisites for the Success of the Bolsheviks’, he wrote repeatedly about ‘absolute centralisation’ and ‘iron discipline’ and attributed the Bolsheviks’ success to this. He still clearly thought in terms of a centralised and disciplined vanguard party ‘leading and attracting the backward masses.’ The chapter can be read on the internet here.

There is also the fact that, historically, all parties and groups descended from the Bolshevik Party under Lenin, Trotskyist as well as Stalinist, have been organised as vanguard parties along the lines of his 1902 pamphlet. Frankly, we cannot understand how anyone can seriously argue that Lenin did not advocate a centralised and highly disciplined party of full-time revolutionaries.–Editors.


More on Syriza

Dear Editors

I agree with the article written on page 10 of February Socialist Standard about Syriza. But Syriza is not simply a coalition of various left and green, etc. There are also various splits from the socialist party (like the Labour in England) and more important inside Syriza the most solid ideologically group are  the one of the ex-eurocommunist party of Greece that gave also to Syriza the ideological guidelines in a eurocommunist way like the 70s. The thinktank of Syriza is called ‘Nikos Poulantzas’. If somebody is sect-maniac I can send you a list of the groups that consist Syriza!

Anyway I think the next thing to be analyzed is why Syriza collaborated with a populist party to rule the country, but this is strictly a Greek peculiarity…

Theodore Desponis, 

50 Years Ago: Churchill in Perspective (2015)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sufficient time has passed since Churchill’s funeral for popular emotions to wane—but not sufficient yet to make it likely that his words and deeds will be subjected to any analysis for popular consumption. No doubt historians in the future will discover reasons to doubt his greatness, but there is no need to await the passage of time.

In what way can he be considered great? His actions concerning the working class, his military prowess, his flair for foreign affairs?

It was he who called out the troops during the Dock Strike in 1911. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the government which put on the statute book the 1927 Trades Disputes Act, prohibiting strikes by one group of workers in sympathy with another, curtailing the right of picketing, and preventing the Civil Service unions affiliating to the T.U.C. (…)

In death, as in life, he served our rulers well. The pomp and ceremony of his funeral was a circus for the diversion of the working class. The entire pulpit—religious, political, press and radio—have been loud in his praise. Here was a man, they said, for workers to look up to, to recognise as a leader, and in so doing to pay homage to future leaders and to the principle of leadership.

Here perhaps we may rephrase Bevan’s comment, and apply it to all leaders—The failure of their actions is concealed by the majesty of their promises.

Where did Churchill lead the workers? Where will any leaders take them? Workers have only to reflect on their experiences—not for Churchill and his class, but for those they dominate, it is a life of blood, sweat, toil and tears.

And it will remain so, until the same workers who are now deluded into an hysterical hero worship of men like Churchill, learn that their interests lie in dispensing with leaders and setting up a social system in which all men stand equally.

(from article by K.K., Socialist Standard, March 1965)

Mixed Media: The Pajama Game (2015)

The Mixed Media Column from the April 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Pajama Game, a Broadway musical comedy was produced last year at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London’s West End directed by Richard Eyre. The musical originally opened in 1954 and is based on the 1953 novel 7½ Cents by Richard Bissell, who had worked as a manager in the family’s pajama factory in Dubuque, Ohio.

The musical is set at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory in 1950s Mid-West America where the majority of the workers are women. In this period 35 percent of the American workforce belonged to a Union, and 29 percent of the workforce were women while in 1952 unemployment stood at only 3 percent (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics).

It is a story of Capital and Labor where the workers in the pajama factory demand a 7½ cents an hour pay-rise. Bissell described the shop floor: ‘the sewing machines are working out themes by Stravinsky: it’s warm and lively: the blonde table tops gleam; the needles are punching their way to glory, 4,500 stitches a minute. Telephones are ringing, the elevator gate is banging.’ (7½ Cents) In The Pajama Game the new factory Superintendent Sid Sorokin falls in love with his adversary, Union representative ‘Babe’ Williams (Joanna Riding). Babe is a proto-feminist heroine declaring ‘If I needed a man to look after me, I’d kill myself.’

Capital is represented by such numbers as Racing with the Clock where we see factory work and the insistence on ‘Time is Money’, and Think of the Time I Save by Hines, the Time and Motion manager. The 1950s saw Time and Motion studies introduced to industry based on a business efficiency technique combining the Time Study work of Frederick Winslow Taylor with the Motion Study work of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. Taylor and his colleagues placed emphasis on the content of a fair day’s work, and sought to maximize productivity irrespective of the physiological cost to the worker. The capitalist boss Hasler speaks of ‘profit levels are perniciously low’, and refuses the workers’ demands saying ‘7½ cents will price us out of the market.’

The pajama workers are organised in the Amalgamated Shirt and Pajama Workers of America, and the antagonism between the workers and the bosses is evident in Babe’s words to Sid: ‘your the Superintendent and I’m the Grievance Committee’, and ‘Don’t listen to this man. He’s management.’ The Union say that ‘7½ cents an hour pay-rise is standard in the industry’ and that ‘business is doing well’ so the workers engage in a slow down, and ‘new ways of jamming things up’, it is 7½ cents or a strike. Then it is discovered that 7½ cents had been added to the operating costs six months previously, and Hasler had pocketed the difference.

The pajama workers win their 7½ cents per hour increase in wages and the climax of the musical is the number Seven and a half Cents: ‘Seven and a half cents doesn’t buy a hell of a lot, Seven and a half cents doesn’t mean a thing! But give it to me every hour, forty hours every week, and that’s enough for me to be living like a king! That’s enough for me to get an automatic washing machine, a year’s supply of gasoline, carpeting for the living room, a vacuum instead of a blasted broom, not to mention a forty inch television set! I’ll have myself a buying spree.’

In the 1950s the working class are bought off in capitalism with consumerism. John Bugas, Ford Motor Company boss coined the term ‘consumerism’ as a substitute for ‘capitalism’ to better describe the American economy in a 1955 speech: ‘The term ‘consumerism’ would pin the tag where it actually belongs – on Mr. Consumer, the real boss and beneficiary of the American system. It would pull the rug right out from under our unfriendly critics who have blasted away so long and loud at capitalism. Somehow, I just can’t picture them shouting: ‘Down with the consumers!’

Consumerism in capitalism was critiqued early on when economist Victor Lebow wrote in 1955 ‘Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction and our ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate’ (Journal of Retailing), and in Vance Packard’s 1960 book The Waste Makers, ‘consumerism’ is changed from a positive word about consumer practices to a negative word meaning excessive materialism and waste.

For socialists, modern capitalism manufactures false desires with advertising, the glorification of accumulated capital, and the abstraction and reification of experiences of authentic life into commodities and passivity which become the concrete manufacture of alienation.
Steve Clayton

Iconoclasm (2015)

From the April 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Humanity has always been in danger of being seduced by the creations of its imagination. The gods and monsters that have haunted us still wield enormous power over many. The symbols and images that represent these creations are considered sacred and ‘iconic’ by millions throughout the world. In a sadly familiar ontology the symbols become the very incarnation of what they represent. Representations of gods, saints and prophets, in the original iconic meaning, share some of the power that is presumed to be owned by what is represented. A nation’s flag is thought, by many, to be a symbol of who and what they are. It is this political identification rather than being derived from any supernatural or innate cultural superiority, that is at the heart of iconographic power. An individual’s desire to identify with his family, clan, tribe or nation is an essentially social instinct which, due to any given cultural context, is directed at those whom they love and respect; or more problematically, those whom they fear. Authoritarian cultures thrive on the need of the isolated and alienated individual to identify with the powerful – even if, or possibly because, this power derives from the exploitation and subjugation of that individual.

When a group identifies with a symbol of political power, which in capitalism invariably implies a militaristic power, it is the climax of sometimes decades or even centuries of propaganda and can generate immense irrational emotional destructive energy. Historically it has been partly the manipulation of this negative energy that has made wars possible. It is, then, vitally important to challenge these pervasive icons and the irrational political narratives that they represent. But when indulging in such iconoclasm are we in danger of alienating those with whom we seek to communicate? And, in the light of recent murderous violence, are we willing to put ourselves in danger by doing so?

Although somewhat devalued by journalistic overkill it is still possible to identify something ‘iconic’ in the results of nearly every human endeavour. In the arts, architecture, technology, science etc there arises a consensus that recognises a cultural/historic significance to something, or indeed, someone who or which is created as a result. Sometimes these are intentional (propaganda) or unintentional (cult status) but all, at least for a time, capture the zeitgeist of a cultural moment. It doesn’t have to be of a contemporary nature as, for example, artists from the past can be ‘rediscovered’.

The political significance is always present but varies in its importance. The twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York were once icons of the US dominance of the global economic system but are now, as a result of the success of that iconic status, monuments to the terrifyingly potential murderous focus they presented to America’s enemies. ‘A building is a symbol, as is the act of destroying it. Symbols are given power by people. Alone, a symbol is meaningless, but with enough people, blowing up a building can change the world’. Some may recognise that quote from the film ‘V for Vendetta’. In that narrative the Houses of Parliament were destroyed without the killing of anyone within, which renders the act one of pure iconoclasm in contrast to 9/11 where those who died (the victims not the perpetrators) were transformed into martyrs. It may well have ’changed the world’ but not, most would argue, for the better. The original ’gunpowder plot’ which ’V’ seeks to recreate was, of course, just as murderous in its intent as was 9/11. But does iconoclasm have to be violent and destructive? Can the political deconstruction of an icon be ideologically constructive? In its reformulation perhaps the underlying meaning and source of its power can be revealed, thus exposing the irrational nature of political symbolism?

It is sometimes said that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and an icon is testament to the power of the image. Undoubtedly any deconstruction of such images will anger and alienate some people but others might well be inspired by the unflinching moral and political analysis that can motivate such iconoclasm. Socialists seek to do just this, we do not destroy images but we hope to render them impotent through their subversion. We will never flinch from exposing wickedness, especially when it’s draped in a flag or motivated by religious symbols of intolerance. But what of socialist iconography?

Hammers and sickles
The Socialist Party has never been attached to symbolism; the stars and hammers and sickles of the Leftist totalitarian states have increased our distaste for such icons of ideological/nationalistic power. We do perhaps have a slightly romantic regard for the red flag and its historical association with the Paris Commune and the blood  shed in the class struggle by the workers during and since that time. If anyone was to subject it to contempt and iconoclasm a socialist’s response would typically be analytical in terms of the ideas represented by this essay rather than by any emotional distress; something that continues to perplex and frustrate our opponents. We continue to use the ’iconic’ images of Karl Marx in our publicity but this is mainly because those images gained their fame from their usage by his opponents (the left & right) independently of our use of them; it is his ideas, not his image that inspires us.

Someone once asked me, only half jokingly and because of my militant atheism, if I would be ready to swear an oath on a copy of Das Kapital instead of the bible. The idea struck me as amusing, as I’m sure it would have done to its writer, because at the very heart of that work is the essential need to subject everything you think you know and believe to a constant process of critique – a rather different approach than the one recommended by the contents of the Bible!

Anyone who doubts the continued irrational power of iconography only has to witness the candidates in the upcoming election draping themselves in the Union flag. This is the symbol of capitalist power and political ignorance in the UK; anyone kissing its hem to gain votes is either a hypocrite or a fool. Some years ago I was asked, in my capacity as a graphic designer, to design a symbol for the Socialist Party. Having produced many logos in the past I was surprised how difficult I found this commission. I realise now, in the light of this analysis, why I found it so difficult – in some ways socialism needs no symbols, just as it needs no leaders. Consciousness of the world as it really is makes transparent the once opaqueness of capitalist ideology and its symbols.

Socialism does not depend on marketing or advertising, because, like the revolution itself, it depends on the individuals’ struggle with their own cultural and political conditioning – we can only provide a catalyst for the human need for involvement in the community. We may use the globe as a universal symbol to distance ourselves from the prosaic and insular icons of our opponents, but only as a signpost for the individual to aid their personal struggle and then the inevitable involvement in the class struggle itself. Would we like to destroy the buildings of ’the mother of parliaments’ as in the climax of the film mentioned above? Perhaps we could preserve it as the museum it really is, where the mannequins (MPs) are replaced by waxworks. These will then serve much more purpose as icons of the past. A past, of course, where they were slavish puppets of their capitalist masters.

Why Just Fight Austerity? (2015)

From the April 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Consider the following:
  • The world has a million or so multimillionaires, with disposable wealth of over $7 million each
  • About 100,000 people have assets of over $50 million
  • A fifth of the UK population say they can barely get by financially
  • One family in three in Britain has a member who suffers from depression or chronic anxiety disorder
  • Life expectancy in Britain can vary by as much as twelve years depending on where you live
  • There is no difficulty in producing enough food for everyone on the planet, and bad harvests are not the reason people go hungry
The above points are taken from the writings of Danny Dorling, Professor of Geography at Oxford University. So he clearly sees that there is much wrong with the current social system in terms of inequality of wealth and health and the pressure it places on so many people. In a recent letter to the local press, however, he has recommended merely voting for the National Health Action Party, as a way of expressing support for the NHS.

Why just fight against the attacks of austerity and cutbacks which are continual and relentless given the present way of organising society? Instead let’s fight for a totally new system, one where the resources of the planet belong to everyone rather than to a tiny class of super-rich (the one percent as they’re often called nowadays). Where production takes place to meet human need rather than the profits of the few. Where effort is put into producing food, housing, clothing and the other things and services we need, rather than wasted on advertising, armed forces and the paraphernalia of the money system, such as credit cards, banks and insurance. Where people are free of the oppression and exploitation caused by class and state.

Don’t be satisfied with reforms. If you think the arguments above show that the present system, capitalism, does not serve the interests of the vast majority, consider supporting the Socialist Party and the World Socialist Movement in our fight to replace capitalism with a global socialist society. Danny Dorling should be a socialist – and so should you.

Our local candidates will be Mike Foster in Oxford West & Abingdon and Kevin Parkin in Oxford East

(General election leaflet issued in Oxford)

Running Commentary: This Is Your Choice (1979)

The Running Commentary column from the June 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

This is your choice

The politicians’ zeal to win power can persuade them into making some curious promises but none were more so than the Tories’ pledge that when they were in office we would be able to spend our money as we wished.

This must have misled millions of people who are struggling to pay their mortgage, or who live in slum tenements or on council estates, into believing that they would be free to spend their money on buying a stately home in the country.

Or perhaps millions of comprehensive school children were distracted from their lessons, wondering whether Tory freedom meant that their parents would choose to pay for them to go to Eton or Roedean. How many battered Escorts and Marinas would disappear from the kerbside, as workers chose to spend their money on a few Rolls Royces and Bentleys?

The mind boggles.

What Thatcher and her gang were really talking about was not more than a minor juggling with the details of the tax system—a cut in income tax, perhaps with an increase in Value Added Tax. To the Conservative Party, this sort of fiddling represented a new age of freedom and prosperity. To the Labour Party it represented a crushing intensifying of working class poverty.

At the most, the Tory proposals amounted to a slight rearrangement of poverty. And that is partly what both Labour and Tory parties are in business for. Running the affairs of British capitalism means administering the exploitation of the workers in such a way as to convince them that poverty is abundance, degradation is freedom.

At successive elections, millions of working people choose to ignore the real power in their hands—the power to change society basically—and instead make a meaningless selection between Labour Party poverty and Conservative Party poverty. The support for the alternative society is pitifully weak.

The election was a triumph for Thatcher, for one group of political con-men over the other. But for anyone who cares about human interests it was yet another disaster.

Danger — Law and Order

Boosted by regular injections of hysteria from Judges too senile and policemen too virile, the Law and Order lobby has been gathering strength for some time now.

Criminal statistics have been greeted in such a way as to suggest that we are about to be drowned under a massive crime wave. A few historically grisly cases have been seized upon and magnified to the point at which Britain seems to be a land populated exclusively by muggers and murderers.

Both major parties felt the pressure of this, to the extent of responding in their manifestoes. The Tories were harder and more specific in their policies and Thatcher’s victory seemed to get a cautious welcome from the Police Federation.

Whenever they have discussed the problem of crime, the Tories have managed to sound as if their policies had some element of originality. In fact there is nothing original about promising policemen more pay—and it does not follow that this would automatically lead to a more successful hunt after criminals.

Another Tory proposal—for harsher Detention Centres where young offenders would get a short, sharp shock—is also well worn and discredited. Such Centres were introduced under the Criminal Justice Act 1948 one of the achievements of the post-war Labour government. In practice the Centres were not used as the law had intended; courts sentenced youngsters to go there who had already had the sort of life experience such as to inure them against all possible further shocks. With time, the regime at the Centres has mellowed so that there is now little difference between them and a tougher-than-average children’s home.

The fact that the people they say are their enemies have already introduced them, and that they have been shown to fail, does not of course stop the Tories proposing Detention Centres as a method of combatting crime. Such is the futility of capitalism’s reformists.

The debate (if it can be so dignified) on Law and Order is susceptible to bigotry and impulsiveness and has a disturbing underlying note of violence and repression. Because it can result in the police having more power it can have serious implications for political freedom and for the chances of an innocent person proving their case.

A political party which trawls for votes in that sort of dirty water can be taking some heavy risks—with their own freedom as well as with that of others.

Business as usual

One thing the Labour Party has always been very sensitive about is its standing with the Business Community. Whenever a Labour government has been elected there has never been any lack of ministers anxious to reassure the Stock Exchange, the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors and anyone else in earshot that they offered absolutely no threat to the profitability of industry.

Indeed there have been Labour ministers—and industrialists—who actually claimed that their government was better for industry than the Tories. Harold Wilson’s infamous resignation honours list proved that Labour was in harness with at least some sections of the business world.

Then again, what was Denis Healey doing all those years, when he was fighting low paid workers over pay claims? Was he undermining the basis of capitalist society? Posing a threat from which the City would never recover? Did stockbrokers tremble, at the very mention of the Five Per Cent Pay Norm for dustmen and hospital ancillaries?

In fact, any capitalist who knows what they’re about should be eternally grateful to the Labour Party, not just for administering capitalism on their behalf but for telling the workers that they were running socialism.

No Labour minister has ever stopped to explain how we could have socialism with a Stock Exchange, a royal family, riches and poverty, slums and palaces . . . Any review of the last five miserable years under Labour shows up that they were no more than an alternative way of running capitalism.

Of course they had their differences with the Conservatives. At times, when they are out of power, one or other of the big parties may be sufficiently susceptible to the approaches of some pressure group to formulate a policy which favours that group—and then present that policy to the voters as being in their interests.

But that is about as far as their differences go. When they are in power they prove that they have no basic divergences. And the reason for that is simple. It is what the working class want.

Whether Labour or Tory wins, is something for the capitalist class to celebrate. As long as the working class continue to vote as their masters wish, each election result will be given the champagne reception in Threadneedle Street.

Pie in the sky (1979)

From the June 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Faith is the supernatural gift of God, which enables you to believe without doubting whatever the Church has decreed.” This is the answer to the first question in the Catholic catechism. Adam’s sin was that he ate the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. He “became like God” and therefore didn’t need him any more.

Since the beginning of history man has invented supernatural beings to explain things he did not understand. This was logical when knowledge did not extend beyond the immediate concern with keeping alive. Today’s religion is a survival from the time when we still had tails. So although the various gods of fire, water and so on ‘made sense’ to primitive people who could not understand or control their environment, the person who today contends that storms happen because the thunder god is angry would be assigned a place on the ladder of commonsense somewhere below the flat earthers. Feeling themselves at the mercy of the elements, primitive peoples, not knowing how they could help themselves, called upon superior beings to come to their aid. This aspect of primitive religion has survived to the present day. Together with a refusal to accept that human life is as finite as of all other forms of life, it is the basis of most religions today. A better life hereafter is promised to the oppressed and the sick of mind and body under capitalism, as it has been throughout the ages. The exploited have ever been encouraged to follow a leader—temporal as well as spiritual—to the nirvana of a better life. The servant should follow the master, the plebian his lord, the ordinary person the politician, the laity the priests and officials of their religion, who would lead them according to the wishes of the ‘highest commander’—the god or gods of their particular brand of superstition.

There are many religions, but the basic story is the same: the gift of life, the sacrifice of a saviour, the ‘superior being’, the life hereafter. The message is the same, placatory obedience, suffering, penance and self-sacrifice on earth for the sake of rewards hereafter. The priest or mediator interprets the message and dispenses rewards and punishments in the name of his particular deity. Each religion, in its own way, requires to dominate its followers.

Christian and Jewish religions are not alone in putting women in an inferior position and excluding them from all but menial responsibilities. Their pre-ordained place in life is as homemakers and child-bearers. In the Christian church the Virgin Mary is only another in the long line of fertility goddesses. The male ideal of womanhood — as mate, comforter and homemaker in return for protection and provision — is still prevalent in society.

In the Christian churches the deviations are many and varied, but there is irrefutable evidence that not only Western civilisation has been imbued and brainwashed into the moralities of the Christian tradition.

The Gospels
Opinions vary widely as to when the gospels were written, but it is now generally thought that the four used today first appeared between 65 and 100AD. From these, the New Testament evolved between 150 and 350AD. Many other gospels were written by the early Christians, and Luke, one of the 'official' quartet, said that his gospel was only the latest of many.

Several of the gospel stories are lifted directly from the Old Testament. For example, the story of the feeding of the five thousand is first told in the Book of Kings about the prophet Elisha. The birthplace of Jesus, the virgin birth, the visit of the three kings, the flight into Egypt; sometimes even the wording is almost identical.
  “The boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favour with the Lord and with men” (1 Samuel 2:26) becomes “and Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
The story of the nativity — “The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib”, the stilling of the storm, walking on water, the bodily ascension into heaven (Elijah ascended into heaven in a chariot of fire) — in fact nearly all the ‘supernatural’ aspects of the gospels are paralleled in the Old Testament. Galileans were considered credulous and superstitious and it is interesting to note that nearly all the miracles are supposed to have happened there.

There are serious discrepancies between the gospels. There is a world of difference, for example between “blessed are the poor” (Luke) and ‘blessed are the poor in spirit ’ (Matthew). Mark speaks of the Son of God — a title applied to Israelite kings in the Old Testament. “You are my son, today I have begotten you” (Psalm 2:7) or “The King is God’s first born (Psalm 89:27). John says “The Son of God” — implying a ‘divine being’.

The earliest gospel (Mark, 65AD) was written thirty-two years after the commonly accepted date of Jesus’ death in 33AD. (There is disagreement between the gospels even on this. John implies that he lived nearly fifty years, Luke says a little over thirty.) It has recently been argued that many of the gospel stories are not reported fact but owe much to the Jewish technique of embellishment. The Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer do not go back to Jesus himself but are creations of the early church. It is almost impossible to say how much of the gospels is fact and how much modification, interpretation and embellishment in the twenty to sixty years between the events and their writing down This explains the differences between and downright contradictions in the four gospels.

Whereas Islam and Buddhism grew directly out of their founder’s message, the Christian religion altered in some cases almost beyond recognition what was taught by and happened to the historical Jesus. An interesting point here is that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God on earth. and the Church has turned this upside down and has always taught: 'Be good and suffer here in order to come to the Kingdom of God in heavenafter death'. The itinerant preacher is portrayed in Christian art as a Roman emperor type of god in heaven, even the halo around his head is that of an emperor.

Who was Jesus?
The early church had two images of Jesus: the radiant, noble, idealised one in his transfigured state, and frail and ugly in his human state. Eventually only the former was recognised, and Christian art and images for hundreds of years have portrayed only this aspect. Yet historical writings are quite clear. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215AD) says his face was ugly. The pagan Celsus (c.178) asked, “How can the Son of God have been such an ugly little man?’’. The Latin Father Tertullian (c. 160-220) likened him to a ‘puerulus’ — a wretched little boy. Robert Eisler put together the various descriptions by Josephus: “three ambits tall, crooked or stooping, long-faced, long-nosed with continuous eyebrows, scanty hair, dark-skinned, looking older than his years”. No connection with the aesthetically beautiful, pale-skinned, luxuriously curly-haired Jesus portrayed in Christian churches and religious art for hundreds of years.

In history Jesus was a man who lived and died about two thousand years ago, a practising Jew of Jewish parents. He was one of several children of Joseph and Mary. James, his elder brother, is mentioned in Paul’s message to the Galatians, and there were also Joseph, Judah and Simon, as well as at least two sisters. His family were respectable, and not as poor as the Christian religion would have us believe. They worried about the effect of his activities and tried to stop him, he disowned them (Mark 3:21, 31-35). He was executed on an unknown site by the roadside north or west of Jerusalem. According to Mark (the earliest gospel) no disciples were present and his reputed last words are therefore hearsay and their accuracy as reported in later gospels must be in doubt.

The way we see the world arises out of the structure of our society. Seen in retrospect, the myths and miracles of religion are as understandable in the societies in which they arose as primitive beliefs in gods of fire, water and fertility. In the light of modern knowledge there is no excuse for the continued blind belief in and reliance on a supreme being who determines the course of events.
Eva Goodman