Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Free Lunch: The Gig Economy (2014)

The Free Lunch cartoon from the August 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Action Replay: Team Spirit (2014)

The Action Replay Column from the August 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Germany vs Ghana at the football World Cup in Brazil. Jérôme Boateng and his half-brother Kevin-Prince Boateng are playing, but on opposite sides (as they did four years earlier in South Africa). Jérôme plays for Germany: his mother is German, his father a Ghanaian immigrant to Germany. Kevin-Prince has the same father but a different mother (also German); he plays for Ghana. Both were born in Berlin. Kevin-Prince played for the German Football Association’s junior teams but a few years ago decided to play for Ghana. Jérôme says he never thought of playing for Ghana, where he’s never been.

The US team in Brazil also has a sizeable German influence, and not just because their coach is Jürgen Klinsmann. Four of the squad have German mothers, with their fathers being American servicemen who lived in Germany. Some have never lived in the US, but chose to play for them since they had little chance of playing at international level for Germany.

One thing all this shows is how relatively open the world is these days, with plenty of people migrating for work and other reasons (including military ones, sadly). Other World Cup squads were also a mix of players of various backgrounds. Thus, Josip Drmić played for Switzerland, where he was born, though his parents are Croatian.

It also raises questions about eligibility for a particular national side which varies between different sports. For football it is a matter of birthplace of the player or their parents or grandparents, having a passport for the country in question, or living there for five years after the age of eighteen. In rugby union, birthplaces matter but passports don’t, and the period of residence must be three years preceding a specific match. Back in 2000, rugby saw a controversy about players who played for Wales, despite being qualified instead for New Zealand: it was dubbed Grannygate.

So nationality is a pretty fluid concept as far as sport is concerned. However, this seems to be ignored by supporters who cheer on ‘their’ teams, irrespective of the actual backgrounds of the players. Capitalism really does undermine the importance of countries and borders, in sport as in so many other areas.
Paul Bennett

Heard the One About the Comedy Vicars? (2014)

The Halo Halo! column from the August 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

You don’t get to be a vicar or a priest by scouring the ‘situations vacant’ column in the paper or by being sent along by the Job Centre for an interview. No, those who enter the church as professional god-botherers get the job by answering a ‘calling’. A ‘calling’, apparently, is a sort of divine personal assurance to those who are sufficiently spiritually advanced that they have been chosen to explain the Almighty’s plans to the rest of us, and how we are to behave in carrying them out.

What happens is that the voices in the heads of the chosen ones (which turn out to be God talking to them) explain that they have the qualities required to become professional, pious, interfering do-gooders and, that rather than working for a living, they could breeze along fairly comfortably by jumping onto the Jesus bandwagon.

It’s pretty much the same with all religions, and, as the voices come from God himself, they can have absolute confidence that God’s concerns and prejudices are exactly the same as their own.

It’s quite surprising then, that in spite of him choosing his agents on Earth so carefully, and the countless hours they then spend talking to each other in prayer and discussing angels and hellfire etc (or whatever it is they talk about) that God and his clergy are unable to make an iota of improvement in our lives. Take the problem of hunger. All we need is another simple miracle like the loaves and fishes one – on a slightly larger scale, admittedly. But do we get one? Do we hell. No, we get nothing but excuses about sin, and the shifting of the blame onto the devil. Why can’t we have a miracle to get rid of the bloody devil? Get the job done properly once and for all? If you were God that’s the first thing you would do isn’t it? You have to wonder, is he really all he’s cracked up to be?

No wonder the churches are empty. Some vicars though do have a plan to improve things. Religion, they have decided, is not funny enough. According to the Guardian (1 July) a London comedian has set up a comedy workshop which the vicars are flocking to in an attempt to liven up their sermons.

They don’t give any examples of what we can expect from the comedy clerics but we could supply a wealth of ‘randy vicar’ and ‘what the actress said to the Bishop’ type gags if they need them, that would get the punters rolling in the aisles. There are also some hilarious ones about how we are all sinners, and about Adam and Eve and the talking serpent too. And if these are not funny enough, they could always borrow a few from Islam. There’s the one about Muhammad performing a miracle by splitting the moon in half , for example, or the one where he flew to heaven on a winged horse. Pure  comedy  gold. It’s the way they tell ’em.

On second thoughts it’s best to leave Islam out of it. Sometimes these stories are not funny but tragic. In another one from the Guardian (26 June) an ex-Muslim in Nigeria has been incarcerated in a mental health institution and forcibly medicated for ‘insanity’ after explaining that he had lost his belief in God.

Someone once said that God obviously had a sense of humour. Well, he’s certainly a bloody joker.

50 Years Ago: The Verdict of History (2014)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Millions of words will be published this month about the world’s first Great War. Few of them will be complimentary.

Over the last fifty years the war has come under a detailed scrutiny. The official propaganda has been exposed as a mass of blatant lies. The leaders, worshipped at the time, have been shown up as incompetents. The motive behind the war has been pronounced as a naked economic struggle. The popular verdict seems to be that the war was a ghastly mistake, which would never have come about if the world had been run by cleverer, more humane leaders.

In the manner of historical fashion, this verdict may one day be modified, and men like the late Earl Haig become restored to favour. The millions of killed and wounded may be ennobled into heroes whose lives were not wasted, but who suffered for a worthy cause. Historians may decide for us that we should be grateful the war was fought.

But whatever historians may decide, whatever historical fashion may decree, facts are facts. And the facts of the First World War have not changed.

In the first place, it is true that the war was a stupid and futile business. War always is. But it was not a mistake.

Whatever incidental errors may contribute to its horror, war in the modern world does not happen by accident. If it did, then the massive armed forces which all countries always maintain are mistakes. Weapons—nuclear and otherwise—are mistakes.

In fact, all these things are quite logical, once we have accepted the basic condition of the existence of the capitalist social system. We live today in a world in which a minority own the means of producing and distributing wealth. This minority—the capitalist class—are always in competition among themselves for economic advantage.

They compete for markets and for fields of important raw materials and minerals. They anxiously guard the trade routes which connect them with their markets and material resources abroad.. They are always trying, with their economic conferences, their tariff walls, their international trading clubs, to protect what spheres of influence they have and to expand into others.

Here is the root of war.

(from editorial, Socialist Standard, August 1964)

Inside Russia Today (1959)

Book Review from the January 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Inside Russia Today by John Gunther (Hamish Hamilton, 21s.)

The author of this book (published by Hamish Hamilton, 21s.) is too well known to need introduction, and his list of books giving inside information, such as Inside Europe, Inside Asia, Inside U.S.A., have had wide circulation. We in the Socialist Party are, of course, especially interested in Russia because of the many claims that the system of political economy is that of Socialism. We deny it and say that Russia is not Socialist, never was Socialist, will not become a Socialist land until the mass of the people understand and want Socialism. But let us look at Gunther’s book and see what he finds in Russia.

On page 30 Gunther writes: “Several times in this book I shall seemingly contradict on one page what I have said on another. Anyway 'How much Socialism remains, if any?' ” He poses the question, but does not answer it. He tells us on page 25, “ The U.S.S.R. . . .  contains 15 different republics, and is the world’s first Socialist State.” So Gunther thinks, or apparently thought, when he started his book that Russia was Socialist.

Gunther's views on Marx from page 182: “Marx could have had little relish for the stupendous State Capitalistic structure that identifies itself as Marxist under Khrustchev and company. I do not think he would be happy at much that he saw, particularly in the line of Soviet betrayals of his original egalitarian ideals. Marx irremediably changed the face of Russia, but also Russia changed the face of Marx.” How Marx changed the face of Russia Gunther does not say—presumedly he imagines that he has changed Russia from a Capitalist to a Socialist land. By Russia changing Marx, again he does not state how. They—the Russians, have certainly betrayed Marx’s teachings. However, he now maintains that Russia is State Capitalistic with which we could agree; so it is not the world’s first Socialist State!

On page 182 he writes: “By scientific Socialism Marx meant attainable Socialism, as soon as possible.” Where Gunther obtained this idea he does not state— perhaps he got it from the Russians, and this is really offered as a sample of how Russia has changed Marx.

On page 185 he writes: “By crude definition Marxism is a philosophy; Leninism is Marxism applied to government in Russia.” Why he wants a crude definition he does not say, at all events he has the idea that Marxism has been applied to Russia. Khruschev is reported in this book as saying, “ Stalin was a great fighter against Imperialism and a great Marxist.” Whether Gunther agrees with this—there is no hint. As this statement was made a year after Khruschev debunked Stalin it represents a fair sample of K.’s Marxism.

From Inside Russia one gathers that Gunther is not concerned about the question whether Socialism exists in Soviet Russia—that is as far as he personally is involved We in the Socialist Party can hardly be expected to accept that outlook. We are very concerned about it because the Russian system is not Socialism and we oppose it. In all our pamphlets and in every copy of this magazine we define what we mean by Socialism. Nobody need be under any illusion that the classless society envisaged by Marx and our party, has anything in common with Russia.

On page 315 we read, “Socialist realism is not so much a doctrine as a kind of platform, embracing much, and it is not altogether easy to define. In essence it means the service of the community.” The author makes no attempt to equate this with the Soviet Union.

Gunther quotes Lenin on page 385 when he declared that “Soviet Russia equals Socialism plus electrification,” which is about as sensible as stating that Socialism equals Soviet Russia plus electrification.

Towards the end of the book we encounter on page 405 “How Socialist is it? Not very if by ‘Socialism' you mean equality of reward. The chief Socialist characteristics in the Soviet System are ownership by the State of all land and means of production. No accumulation of private wealth through the conventional business processes; no stock markets for private financial manipulation; national planning on the theory that the country belongs to the people.”

All this about State ownership and control of land and finance is the “man in the street’s” idea of Socialism, and would no doubt be shared by the Conservative, Liberal, Labour and Communist Parties. Among the non-Socialist factors he lists the banking system, people earning incomes with a great disparity, and the fact that people can accumulate any amount of money.

No mention has been made of the Russian rouble millionaires in this book, nor is it necessary to go to Russia to learn about them, but only to read Communist Party pamphlets before they get withdrawn for letting the cat out of the bag!

Finally, Gunther states that “This system has most certainly not produced a classless society,” which ought to clinch the matter. So long as classes remain there can be no Socialism—for the classless society is the foundation stone of Socialism which Russia yet has to lay.

The existence of an army, navy and air force, not to mention the armed police force and the special secret police, and a system of spying and intrigue equalled by no other State, finds no mention in this book, although Gunther mentions that there is nothing approaching democracy as we know it in the West, and only the most hazy ideas of how the West lives.

The recent developments in the direction of exporting capital (according to Lenin’s Imperialism, one of the hallmarks of Imperialism), finds no mention in this volume. The great internal National Debt is also not mentioned. However, the existence of classes means that there is a class struggle. The existence of a wage system means that exploitation is present. In addition, there is all the paraphenalia of Imperialism in Russia today based on Lenin’s Imperialism.
Horace Jarvis

Hilaire Belloc (1959)

Quote from the January 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "Men will eat dirt by the bushel rather than lose their jobs. And this is true of large men as of small." — Hilaire Belloc, New Age, 2/5/1908.

SPGB Dartford Branch (1959)

Party News from the January 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard