Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Action Replay: Street Football (2013)

The Action Replay column from the September 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The protests in Brazil began at the start of June, with objections to some fairly small increases in public transport fares in São Paulo. By the middle of the month perhaps a quarter of a million people were protesting in towns and cities across the country. The themes of the protests widened to include a clamp-down on government corruption, as the police and military responded with violence and yet more people assembled on the streets – over two million on some accounts.

In contrast to recent events in Turkey, one focus of the protests was specific to Brazil: the building and refurbishing of sports stadiums for football’s Confederations Cup (held this year during the protests) and World Cup (to be held in June and July next year) and the 2016 Olympic Games. The cost of these projects so far has been enormous, way more than what South Africa spent for the 2010 World Cup, even though half the stadiums are still to be finished.

The corruption allegations extend beyond the government to the Brazilian Football Confederation and to FIFA (football’s international governing body, responsible for organising the World Cup). Fans wonder where the money for the stadiums has really gone, and complain about the likely prices for World Cup tickets: these will be cheaper for Brazilians than for international visitors, but still beyond the means of many local supporters. Moreover, while the stadiums have been (partly) built, the government has not been so generous in providing resources for hospitals and schools.

Brazil is part of the BRICS group of nations (with Russia, India, China and South Africa), who are flexing their economic and political muscles as upcoming powers, possessors of raw materials and large potential markets. This has been reflected in the hosting of sports tournaments, such as the South African World Cup and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But, like its BRICS fellows, Brazil’s economy has not been in good shape lately, with growth in GDP over the last three years being slower than forecast and its currency, the real, being generally seen as overvalued. There is massive inequality, and the favelas on the fringes of major cities are some of the worst slums on the planet.

Brazil is often described as the most football-mad country on Earth. So perhaps it’s not surprising that football has played a part in these mass protests and in sparking demands for greater transparency and better access to services.
Paul Bennett

Capitalism or Socialism? (2013)

From the September 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is the economic system which exists today all over the world. In capitalism the production and distribution of goods are owned by a small minority of people – the  capitalist class. The majority of people, the working class must sell their ability to work in return for a wage or salary. The working class are paid to produce goods and services which are then sold for a profit which is taken by the capitalist class. This is exploitation of the working class for their surplus value. The capitalists live off these profits and also reinvest some profits for the further accumulation of wealth.

Socialism is the establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community. Common ownership will mean the end of ownership, it will be shared ownership, the earth’s resources a common treasury for all to take from what they need to live.

Democratic control is essential to the meaning of socialism. Everybody will have the right to participate in decisions on how resources will be used. Socialism has never existed, those countries that claimed to be socialist were in reality state capitalist and still had money, buying, selling, wage slavery, exploitation and production for the market.

Production in socialism would be solely for use not for profit. With the natural and technical resources of the world the common heritage of all, the object of production would be to meet human needs. There would be the end to buying, selling, profit and money. Instead, we would take freely what we had communally produced. It will be “from each according to ability, to each according to needs”. In socialism, everybody would have free access to these goods and services. There will be no system of payment for work, all work would be voluntary and would have a direct usefulness bringing about a new attitude to work. Socialism cannot be based on planning from a single centre, this is opposite to local decision-making and would be unresponsive to changing needs. The operational basis for this system would be calculation directly in resources combined with a responsive system of stock control instead of monetary calculation.

Capitalism will not collapse of its own accord, but will continue from crisis to crisis until the working class consciously organises to establish socialism. Socialism will then be a sharp break with capitalism with no ‘transition period’ or gradual implementation. Social productivity has long since reached a point where free access can be established, the  economic conditions are ripe and ready for the next stage in human social development, this will be end of the pre-history of humanity and the real beginning of human history. Socialism will be a dynamic, changing society and we will have the free development of each person as the condition for the free development of all people.

Propaganda Power . . . in Your Pocket (2013)

From the September 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hooray for People Power! Faced with a petition of some 35,000 signatories, the Bank of England has caved in and will keep a female face on ‘our’ banknotes. Elizabeth Fry, currently on the fiver, will still be replaced by Winston Churchill, however, the new face of the ten pound note is to be Jane Austen. The leader of the campaign, Caroline Criado-Perez, said ‘This is a brilliant day for women’, whilst Zoe Williams in the Guardian celebrated the victory of the ‘determined and lethal . . . new generation of feminists’.

Will this do anything to stem the world tide of rape, torture and oppression of women? Will it do anything to alter the vast blanket of everyday sex objectification, the portrayal of women as mere products for use, which lies heavy upon us all? Will it do anything for the single mothers, who above all others have been targeted by the current round of cuts of this especially vicious regime? Will it heck. Is this the sort of tokenistic gesture which does nothing but tickle the pleasure centres of the privileged female few? You tell me.

The government-owned Bank of England has promoted national figures on paper currency for some forty years. Since that time the following have appeared:

Unlike America, which has long celebrated its national heroes on paper currency, such crass displays of personalised patriotism were a bit of a departure for Britain, which has mostly relied on the monarchy and its trappings as the symbol of national unity. Generally speaking, however, the individuals portrayed were fairly uncontroversial figures of notable personal achievement. As such the clear purpose was to show the state in a positive light as the guardian of the arts and promoter of science by means of association. The inclusion of reformers is particularly noteworthy, reflecting the ‘progressive’ colouring of the post-war settlement.

The current F Series marks an interesting turn. Reformers, scientists and engineers are out. Adam Smith, arch-apostle of capitalism, is in. As is Conservatism, in the form of self-publicist and outstanding military strategist (responsible for such strokes of genius as the Gallipoli Campaign) Winston S Churchill. The founders of the modern Mint, representing the banking interest, occupy pride of place on the £50 (not in general use as any poor sucker who has the misfortune to be lumbered with one soon finds out). As a double sop for culture vultures and the ladies is the mildly critical observer of upper class manners, Jane Austen. The odd (wo)man out, perhaps, but still well within the confines of the privileged elite. So the face of Britain today, as its money reveals, appears to be a nakedly capitalist one with no pretence of utility, boasting of its class domination, proud of its warlike heritage.

In addition to its main function (for the capitalist class as a means of rationing its slaves), money has long been a bearer of messages (see here). The issuing of money being, by and large, a state prerogative, the ideas transmitted are those the state wishes to transmit. The design of money shows the state as it wishes itself to be seen – an embodiment of common values, promoter of gallantry, endeavour, culture and learning – rather than as it really is – the bastion of unmerited privilege for the few, oppressor of the many.

One of the most prevalent state myths is the myth of national unity – that we are ‘all in it together’. As such, in the modern situation, it must be all inclusive. The modern British banknotes have usually included a female figure. Doubtless a gentleman of colour would also be an asset, but unfortunately there are very few suitable candidates, with most historical figures of African or Asian ancestry, such as the Chartist William Cuffay or the brave ultra-Radical William Davidson, being decidedly unrespectable.

By means of a counter to the state’s propaganda, individuals and groups have struck back by vandalising money. Defacing banknotes is illegal (traditionally French notes bore hair-raising threats of punishment for ‘contrefacteur’) and, more importantly, they can be refused as payment if vandalised. Despite this, the Iranian Green Movement has a substantial campaign writing anti-regime slogans on notes. In Canada anti-NDP slogans have been inscribed on banknotes. Many other examples are suspected fakes or have been produced as ‘art’. Politically motivated defacement is largely confined to coins. A recent example shows the Spanish King Juan Carlos, whose remoteness from the harsh realities of modern life on the peninsula has generated considerable hatred, rendered as the buffoon Homer Simpson.

In Northern Ireland in the 1970s rival claimants to state power struck their initials on coinage. It is a pity in a sense that the IRA, which defaced UK coins, and the Loyalists, defacing coins of the ROI, could not just have confined their activities to a coin war. The Second World War also had a coinage counterpart with the Free French countermarking Vichy coins with the cross of Lorraine and the Azad Hind counter-stamped British India coins (see here).

Before the First World War the Suffragettes also carried out a coin campaign, stamping pennies with the slogan ‘Votes for Women’. They may have been inspired by the keepsakes brought back by soldiers who served in the Boer War, a decade or so earlier. British soldiers engraved a top hat and meerschaum pipe on coins depicting ‘Oom Pol’ Kruger to illustrate their contempt for the leader and icon of the ZAR.

Although American Abolitionists associated with the Free Soil movement are known to have inscribed coins, the origins of the practice seem to lie with the Radical Thomas Spence (1750-1813). Spence famously issued politically motivated tokens. He and his followers also vandalised coins for propaganda purposes. Spence is particularly interesting as he was arguably the first in the modern era to recognise the need for the radical reorganisation of the economic structure of society, not merely political reform or regime change. Although we may criticise the overly formulaic approach, Spence, his plan and methods of propaganda are worthy of a place in the socialist pantheon.

New booklet (2013)

Book Review from the September 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Alternative to Capitalism. By Adam Buick and John Crump. Theory and Practice. £5.

A 100-page booklet reproducing two chapters from the authors’ State Capitalism: The Wages System under New Management (1986) and the late John Crump’s introduction to Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1987). It describes and explains capitalism and its alternative, a world-wide non-market society of no-ownership, democratic control, production directly for use, calculation in kind and free access, refuting the ‘economic calculation argument’. Also describes the various currents which have kept alive the concept of such a society as the alternative to capitalism, both private and state.

Copies can be ordered for £6 (including post and packing) from the Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN. Make cheques payable to ‘The Socialist Party of Great Britain’.

50 Years Ago: Mail Train Robbery (2013)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The two-and-a-half million pound mail train robbery was audacious and glamorous enough to have come from the pen of the most imaginative crime fiction writer.

In that, it was typical of a recent strengthening trend in crime. The big, well planned robbery is becoming increasingly profitable for the crooks and so more and more of a headache for the police.

This is hardly surprising. The existence of private property elevates money into the key to a secure life. The moneyed man is always the privileged man and he does his best to make sure that he keeps both the money and the privileges.

There are plenty of such privileged— and honoured—men whose wealth has been amassed from the exploitation of the other class in society. Or perhaps they inherited it from their ancestors’ historical equivalent of the Cheddington hold-up.

This sort of wealth is respectable—it has come from what has been well called legal robbery, which conforms to capitalism’s needs and so its moralities.

Robbery, forgery, embezzlement, and so on, do not conform and the men who try to get rich by practising them are anything but honoured.

Be that as it may, crime is inevitable as long as capitalism lasts; offences against property make up the overwhelming majority of crimes today. Capitalism without crime, in fact, is simply impossible.

Ironically, it is capitalism itself which asks for some of its crime. Do not the armed forces, so essential to capitalism, encourage just the sort of knowledge and the mental attitudes which are useful in a desperate, quick-fire robbery?

The driver of the Cheddington train said that one of the gang advised him to keep quiet because there were some ‘right bastards’ there. Well, it is the ‘right bastard’ who makes an excellent Commando or bomber pilot.

All of this is not to justify nor to condone the criminal. Indeed, any one who tried to take away from the Cheddington gang any of the money they have stolen would soon find that, in their own unmistakeable way, they are as firm in their support of property rights as any bank boardroom.

Capitalism is an unpleasant social system and crime is only one of its many excrescences.

(From ‘The News in Review’, Socialist Standard, September 1963)

the low road by Marge Piercy (1991)

From the Winter 1991 issue of the World Socialist Review
What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can’t walk, can't remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you. 
But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army. 
Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen makes a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country. 
It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.
—Marge Piercy

(Reprinted with permission of the author)

The Housing Question, Again (1967)

Book Review from the August 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Housing, like everything else under capitalism, is a commodity. To get the shelter they must have to live, human beings are forced to pay for it. Naturally, the standard of housing they get depends on what they can pay—and what most can pay is, thanks to the wages system, restricted by the price they get from selling their mental and physical energies to an employer. So that under capitalism the housing standards of most people are restricted to what they need to keep themselves in working order. Or, rather, this is the ideal. In fact, it is never achieved and many workers have to live in conditions which even capitalism admits no human being should have to suffer. Professor Donnison, who was a member of the Milner Housing Committee, argues, in a recent Pelican book The Government of Housing, that such kinks in the housing market can be ironed out.

After examining the needs of households and how they vary through a person’s life (unmarried, married with children, after the children grow up, old age), he says that it should be possible to work out a housing policy which gives everybody the type of housing they “need”.

Building houses is a business and those with money invested in it expect to get the normal rate of profit. So it is no use working put a policy unless you can ensure that the houses can be sold. The housing problem, as Donnison sees it, is how to redistribute demand (“effective” demand, of course) for housing to those who need it so that the housing market can be sustained:
  The difficulties of the richer countries arise not from an absolute shortage of personal income required to meet housing costs, but from an unequal distribution of incomes amongst households, and from a relationship between incomes and housing needs which is ill-matched, both in terms of income groups and in terms of the lifetime of individual households.
Donnison’s solution is to pay housing allowances “to enable poorer households to compete more effectively in the housing market”.

This is a classic case of a “redistribution of misery” a la Beveridge Report. The total (effective) demand of the working class for housing is not to be increased but is to be redistributed more efficiently so that people can buy what they need. Socialists have always denied that this was the problem. As far as the working class are concerned the problem is that they can’t afford the housing that human beings could—and therefore should—have. And we're not talking about minimum utility buildings for workers, but about houses for human beings. This problem will last as long as housing is a commodity and as long as people's “effective” demand is restricted by the wages system; that is; until capitalism is replaced by the common ownership and democratic control of the means of social life. Socialist society, where housing, like everything else, would be produced for use and where buying and selling would have gone, would only be faced with a technical and administrative problem here and not with a financial one. We wouldn't want to underestimate the work of planning involved but some of the research techniques (population forecasting, land use surveys, town planning) favoured by Prof. Donnison could easily be adapted for use in the non-commercial society that Socialism would be.

The book is written for the “experts”, those concerned with working and carrying out housing programmes, but that’s no reason why the rest of us should not have a look at it, especially as there are some shrewd comments on past reforms in this field. Donnison is one of the few to see that the 1965 Rent Act (hailed as the repeal of the Tory Rent Act of 1957) “is in the longer run a measure for the raising rather than the lowering of rents”. In popular usage the word “slum” is used loosely, but for slum clearance a precise legal definition must be reached. One result is that ‘uncertainty about the present criteria discourages local authorities from condemning houses whose unfitness may be humanly speaking obvious, but legally speaking questionable”. In Britain the danger to health, as from damp or lack of air or water, has been the criterion for classifying buildings as slums. A slum, in law, is an insanitary house. Local authorities have a certain amount of choice as to how many houses they declare unfit (“Many authorities are reluctant to look beyond the number of slums they are administratively and financially capable of dealing with during the next few years”). So, clearly, the number of slums so-designated is no guide to the real number of unfit houses. But more, some houses are bad from other than health reasons, as from overcrowding or mismanagement. A recent Act does allow councils to deal with such cases but still, as Donnison says:
  If the replacement programme is to be greatly enlarged, an increasing number of authorities will find that they have cleared all the houses that could properly be described as 'unfit' yet they will not have eliminated bad housing conditions.
An interesting confirmation of the Socialist argument that one reform leads to another problem is over rent control and the rates. Rent control was supposed to make the poor better off (in fact, at best, it just stops them becoming worse off). However, instead of paying high rents many had to pay high rates:
  In this country rent controls have permitted the rates levied on poorer households to increase to levels that would otherwise have been politically intolerable. Thus a large share of the revenue of which landlords were deprived as a result of rent control coupled with inflation was not retained by tenants but diverted to local authorities.
The recent rate relief reform was brought in to solve this problem, created in part by the rent control reform. Who knows what new problems this new reform may cause?

Donnison is good on immigration, often canvassed as a cause of bad housing. In practice there is no difference between internal and international migration but in Britain there has been a net outflow of migrants since the war:
  For a dozen years after the war there was a small net outflow of migrants from the United Kingdom; but between 1958 and 1960 this changed to a moderate inflow that rose steeply during the two years before the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was brought into force—an increase that may have been largely brought about by the impending Act itself. But by 1964 the net movements of migrants was again an outward one. Further restrictions imposed since then and the recent increase in emigration from Britain will ensure that this loss continues.
Socialists have always said that migrants are further victims of capitalism’s bad housing not its cause. Donnison, writing of London’s housing, confirms this:
  Restriction of immigration from overseas will not have a major effect; the immigrants’ plight is the outcome not the cause of London’s housing difficulties, and if the inflow of immigrants is stopped their places will be taken by people from other parts of the country—or a number of essential jobs will remain unfilled.
There is no doubt that the Tory and Labour governments introduced immigration control not for economic but for political reasons as a sop to colour prejudice. So much for Labour’s professed stand for the brotherhood of man.
Adam Buick

More Trouble about the Means Test (1967)

From the August 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

A “Means Test” is defined by Chambers dictionary as test of private resources determining or limiting claim to a pension or allowance.

Such tests are centuries old. Ever since the time, four or five centuries ago, when governments and local authorities began to take over from religious bodies and private charity the obligation of supporting the destitute, there have always been tests of “Means” or “Needs*'.

It is a perennial problem of capitalism and no matter how many times the relief system has been reformed and given new names no solution has been found.

Even if we leave out of account the fact that workers generally do not consider their wages sufficient to meet their own ideas of reasonable needs, and consider only the question of a bare subsistence, capitalism cannot guarantee that workers will always have it provided. Capitalism cannot guarantee continuous employment and cannot even guarantee that wages will always be sufficient to provide bate subsistence.

So unless the authorities were prepared to let the destitute starve (and put up with consequent unemployed riots and encouragement to theft) they hail to pay out state and local government funds. But they could not let the applicants name their own figure for the money they wanted, nor could they fix their own figure and let everyone have it who applied.

If they had done this it would have acted as an inducement to workers in low paid jobs simply to give them up.

The authorities tried everything from the “whipping of beggars” in Tudor and Elizabethan times, to making them go into the hated workhouses, or work colonies, breaking up families, offering assistance in the form of food, making the unemployed prove they were genuinely seeking work, and applying means tests which subjected the applicants to official enquiry to demonstrate that they really were near destitution.

Then came schemes of compulsory contributions to provide for the payment of specified benefits in sickness, unemployment and old age but although this altered the form of the problem it did not abolish it, did not free the applicant from satisfying conditions laid down in the regulations and did not abolish destitution—there are still about two million people who in the course of a year get public assistance (recently re-named Social Security supplementary benefits).

In an article in the Guardian (2.6.67) Mr. Peter Jenkins states that “seventeen forms of benefit are subject to Means Tests of one form or another.”

No Means Test is popular but the most detested forms of test are those which go beyond the applicant and take into recount the means of other members of the household family.

It was a household means test which was one of the explosive political issues of the nineteen thirties. The National Government which came into office in August 1931 decided to apply to unemployment pay a determination of needs regulation. It was not a new test because it had long existed for applicants for public assistance: what was new was to apply it to the unemployed who had exhausted their right to benefit. The continued payment of benefit was made dependent on the household income and the applicants' savings, ownership of a house or other property.

When the National Government introduced the necessary legislation the section of the Labour Party in opposition condemned it, but as those members of the Labour Party who were in the National Government pointed out, this measure had been approved by a majority of the Cabinet of the Labour Government while it was still in office as part of their extensive economy plans. (Details were published in the Socialist Standard October 1931).

That particular means test as applied to unemployment pay was abolished when Ernest Bevin was Minister of Labour in the war-time National Government in April 1941, but a similar though not so searching test was and still is applied to applicants for Supplementary Pensions. The applicant has to provide information about his own and his wife’s income from all sources, “including such items as pensions from former employers, regular payments from friends and relatives, and the assumed income from capital”, though twenty shillings a week of this “other income” is disregarded in determining the right to and amount of benefit.

Other forms of means test relate to the present government’s schemes for rent rebates and rate rebates. Mr. Richard Crossman in July 1966, at that time Housing Minister, urged local Authorities to put up rent of council houses to a “more realistic” level and to meet the situation of low-income tenants by giving them rebates, subject of course, to evidence of need. He was opposed by objectors who maintained that the authorities “have no right to interfere with individual liberty by prying into tenant’s means to assess a fair rent.” (Daily Mail 9.7.66).

In a typical rent relief scheme, that used by the Greater London Council while the Labour Party still controlled it, the applicant had to give full information about the income of himself and wife from all sources and also the name and age and family relationship of all persons living in the house. But instead of asking for information about the income of those persons the Council added to the estimated total income determining the right to relief an amount of fourteen shillings a week for each person aged 21 or over and seven shillings a week for each person aged 18-20.

Peter Jenkins in the article already referred to, now tells us that long argument had been going on inside the Cabinet about applying a new means test in connection with a proposed increase of family allowances which would raise the allowance for the third and subsequent children by ten shillings a week—he claims that the Ministers were almost equally divided, with only a majority of one against it. “With the Cabinet so astonishingly narrowly divided it is certain that the issue will come up again.”

With unconscious irony he tells that the advocates of the new Means Test “were able to argue that each according to his needs is equally a principle of socialism” — as if that socialist principle can have any possible connection with a device of capitalism to screw down the pittance provided for its victims.
Edgar Hardcastle

Party News (1967)

Party News from the August 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Please Note
Mid Herts Branch will not meet during August First meeting in September will be on Monday September 4 at 8 p.m. at the Bedwell Community Centre.

Camden (Bloomsbury) Branch will not meet during August. Meetings re-commence at Conway Hall on Thursday September 7 at 6 p.m.

Southend Branch will deliver the Socialist Standard to your home. Write to H. G. Cottis, 19 Kingswood Chase, Leigh-on-Sea. Essex.

Camden (Hampstead Group) 
We have pleasure in announcing the formation of the Camden (Hampstead Group) of the SPGB. The Group will hold its first meeting on Monday 4th September, 8.30 p.m. at The Enterprise, Chalk Farm Road. N.W.l (opposite Chalk Farm Underground Stn.). It is intended to meet alternate Mondays after this date. A series of lectures, discussions etc. is being arranged and details will appear in the August S.S. In the meantime, if you are interested in the activities of the Group and wish to go on our mailing list, contact Secretary: Tel. 01-485 3182. The Group will also be pleased to consider speakers from other organisations to address them.

50 Years Ago: German Atrocities (1967)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The last raid on London gave opportunity for an almost unprecedented flood of feeling, mostly cant. It is not the agony of the parents who lost little ones, the wives who have lost husbands, the husbands whose mates have been cruelly butchered, the mutilated remains moaning in the hospitals that finds expression in the horrified Press. No. They are horrified to order, and with a set purpose, and that purpose is not to deter the Germans from making such raids, but simply to inflame popular feeling against 'the enemy'.

Having embarked on war; having consented to this most serious business in life, having adventured thousands and perhaps millions of human lives in the trial by brute strength, it is folly to talk of putting any limit on the appeal to brute strength.

Much has been made of the fact that women and children have been numbered among the victims of the German air raids. But it is no worse to kill a man, notwithstanding all the sloppy nonsense that has been written on the subject. As a matter of fact the mental torture of a man dying in consciousness is probably far greater than that of a child similarly placed, while as for women, the fact that they find themselves brought within the range of actual hostilities may help them to realise their responsibility for the war—and it is not a little.

A harsh judgement this may seem to be, but then every phase of war must be judged by harsh standards, and the only ones who have any grounds for complaint are those who are opposed to the conflict, or at all events are not consenting parties to it.
From the Socialist Standard August 1917.

Voice From the Back: Even The Smiles Are Fakes (2013)

The Voice From the Back column from the October 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Even The Smiles Are Fakes
Not only do the capitalist class demand that workers produce surplus value for them they want them to smile while they do it. ‘Smiling all the time can be hard work, which is why airline crew and shop workers are turning to the latest plastic surgery fad, the ‘perma-smile’. South Korean surgeons are removing nerves and muscle at the corners of the mouth to mimic the ancient expression of welcome’ (Sunday Times, 1 September). Guest speakers from South Korea will inform the American Association of Plastic Surgeons how it is done this month. One female who works in a jewellery shop in California has already had the $3,500 operation. A phoney smile for a phoney society.

A Lifetime Of Exploitation
Britain’s pensions crisis was laid bare as official figures showed almost a million over-65s are working or looking for a job. They include 158,000 people over the age of 75. According to the most recent census, the number of residents of England and Wales aged 65 and over rose by nearly a million to 9.2 million between 2001 and 2011. One in 10 of those was employed or job-hunting. The number of those aged between 65 and 74 who were still economically active rose by 413,000 from 8.7 per cent to 16 per cent. ‘Michelle Mitchell, of Age UK, said: ‘People are living longer and are generally in better health, so many are likely to want to carry on working. However, rock-bottom annuity rates combined with low interest rates on savings mean others have no choice but to carry on working because they cannot afford to retire’’ (Daily Express, 7 September). Even after working for almost fifty years many workers still cannot afford to retire.

Politics And Health
Overwhelmed accident and emergency departments have suffered the worst summer in a decade, new figures show. They reveal almost a million patients are waiting more than four hours for treatment, nearly treble from four years ago. ‘Over the same period, key A&E departments missed Government targets for about 80 per cent of the time. …..Since last September, Jeremy Hunt’s first year as Health Secretary has seen 980,068 patients waiting longer than four hours to be seen in A&E units. Between 2009 and 2010 the figure was 353,617’ (Sun, 8 September). The figures also reveal 172,266 A&E patients were kept on trolleys last year for between four and 12 hours, 47 per cent higher than the previous year, and 219 patients waited more than 12 hours on a trolley, more than double the previous figure. We wonder how our caring MPs would relish 12 hours on a trolley awaiting treatment.

Not So Cool
When workers use new up-to-date technology they imagine they are being ultra cool and extremely modern, but they are inadvertently supporting work practices that would put Victorian sweatshops to shame. The new cheaper iPhone that Apple will unveil to a global audience is being produced under illegal and abusive conditions in Chinese factories owned by one of America’s largest manufacturing businesses, investigators have claimed. ‘Workers are asked to stand for 12-hour shifts with just two 30-minute breaks, six days a week, the non-profit organisation China Labor Watch has claimed. Staff are allegedly working without adequate protective equipment, at risk from chemicals, noise and lasers, for an average of 69 hours a week’ (Guardian, 5 September).

A Strange Kind Of Communism
Wang Jianlin is a property magnate who can count the world’s largest cinema chain amongst his business interests, in addition to dozens of shopping centres and five-star hotels. ‘ Now Wang Jianlin can add another accolade befitting his billionaire status — he has been named China’s richest man by Forbes. The 58-year-old Sichuan native, whose Dalian Wanda Group conglomerate this summer acquired a 92 per cent stake in the luxury British yacht manufacturer Sunseeker, whose boats have appeared in a number of James Bond films, is worth £8.9bn, the influential publication said’ (Independent, 10 September). How can the Chinese government claim to be a communist country when they have a member of the capitalist class ‘worth’ £8.9 billion?

In an item in Voice from the Back last month we quoted the Times as writing that Britain’s most expensive parking place had gone on sale for ‘£3,000,000’. This was a misprint for ‘£300,000’.

Mind the Gap (2013)

From the October 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
A recent ILO publications looks at wage trends globally.
It is important to note several things about the ongoing crisis of capitalism we are experiencing. Firstly, that a crisis is a normal part of the ordinary functioning of capitalism. It isn’t down to accident, or policy failures, but is almost a necessary part of the trial and error method of investment. The goldfish-like memory of politicians forgets that for every period of growth, there is a slow-down and a crisis to which we all have to react in panic. They proclaim a new age of prosperity with every year of economic growth and try to take the credit for it, and then blame someone else whenever crisis resumes.

Secondly, crises are not natural phenomena, but are a form of class struggle, as the owners of property try and protect themselves from losing their investments, and re-impose scarcity on the markets where they have over-invested (thus destroying their profitability). The inevitable result of any crisis is a rise of unemployment, and an attack on the wages and living standards of the working class as an attempt to restore profitability for the owners. Here Marx’s observations are pertinent. Average socially-necessary labour-time determines the exchange value of the produce of capital thus the profits of that capital depend on the difference between the exchange value of the workers’ skills and the amount of labour time they add to the product. There is a direct correlation between lowering wages and improved profitability of capital (in general).

Thirdly, aside from the specific crisis for the capitalists that we hear about at the top of the news headlines, there is the ongoing crisis of the workers, of the millions trapped in a life-time of poverty and servitude. Millions more will spend a life on low wages that will never substantially rise. They have to struggle daily for food and a place to live, with no security, let alone dignity.

Double dip in wages
Some of these themes are made clear by the Global Wage Report 20121/13 report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) (–en/index.htm):
  ‘In developed economies, the crisis led to a ‘double dip’ in wages: real average wages fell in 2008 and again in 2011, and the current outlook suggests that in many of these countries wages are growing marginally, if at all, in 2012’  (p.5).
Of course, such trends are never even, and even within the ‘developed economies’ some people will have seen their wages rise at a rate faster than the trend. This is even truer on a worldwide scale:
  ‘Real average wage growth has remained far below pre-crisis levels globally, going into the red in developed economies, although it has remained significant in emerging economies. Monthly average wages adjusted for inflation – known as real average wages – grew globally by 1.2 percent in 2011, down from 2.1 percent in 2010 and 3 percent in 2007. Because of its size and strong economic performance, China weighs heavily in this global calculation. Omitting China, global real average wages grew at only 0.2 percent in 2011, down from 1.3 percent in 2010 and 2.3 percent in 2007’ (p. 13).
Longer term trends
Interestingly, one of the areas of wage growth, Latin America, has been where the massive protests of Brazil have recently been witnessed, with the workers demanding a share in the proceeds of growth. Indeed, Latin America is undergoing a period of social democratic governments building welfare states, and perhaps it is unlikely that this doesn’t correlate with the overall economic growth.

Of course, wages do grow, over time, but not necessarily in a continuous and linear fashion, as the report notes:
  ‘Taking a longer view, the report estimates that real monthly average wages almost doubled in Asia between 2000 and 2011, and increased by 18 percent in Africa, 15 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 5 percent in developed economies. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia wages nearly tripled, but from a very low base following the economic collapse of the 1990s’ (p. 5).
That period, though, is the period of growth between crises, but it remains somewhat heartening that conditions for workers are improving in some of the most destitute parts of the world.

Declining share
According to figures collated by the House of Commons library, ‘average hourly wages have fallen 5.5 percent since mid-2010, adjusted for inflation’ ( in the UK, which compares with a 0.7 percent across the European Union as a whole. In Germany, by way of contrast, wages rose by 2.7 percent.

The problem is that even a growing real wage might not match the increases in wealth produced by labour:
  ‘Between 1999 and 2011 average labour productivity in developed economies increased more than twice as much as average wages […] In the United States, real hourly labour productivity in the non-farm business sector increased by about 85 percent since 1980, while real hourly compensation increased by only around 35 percent. In Germany, labour productivity surged by almost a quarter over the past two decades while real monthly wages remained flat’ (p. 14).
This is the rawest form of class struggle, and the hardest part to grasp, since it is somewhat like the end of the old British TV quiz show Bullseye, with Jim Bowen saying ‘let’s take a look at what you could have won’. The wealth created by increased growth has increased faster than the real take-home pay of the workers, but the workers have never had the wealth they’ve lost, and although it affects their lives in so many ways, they don’t feel the loss as directly as they would, say, an increase in taxes. Likewise, some of that erosion will have been through inflation, so the difference between nominal wages and real wages becomes complex to calculate at a personal level.

Setting worker against worker
An illustration of the centrality of this process is the furore over pensions. It’s true that the ‘dependency ratio’ (the number of pensioners compared to those in work) is due to rise from about 350 per thousand to about 450 by 2050. So our political masters tell us that we must all accept smaller pensions (that is, lower deferred wages), yet the rate of increase in the dependency ratio is less than the trend rate in the growth of productivity, fewer workers will be needed to do the same amount of work. The question is, therefore, who benefits from that growth?

As the ILO notes:
  ‘In terms of functional income distribution, which concerns how national income has been distributed between labour and capital, there is a long run trend towards a falling share of wages and a rising share of profits in many countries. The personal distribution of wages has also become more unequal, with a growing gap between the top 10 percent and the bottom 10 percent of wage earners. These internal imbalances’ have tended to create or exacerbate external imbalances, even before the Great Recession, with countries trying to compensate the adverse effects of lower wage shares on consumption demands through easy credit or export surpluses.’ (p. 15).
Such variation harms the capacity to unite the working class, as the few on high wages struggle to defend their relative advantage, and the owners try to stir up tension between countries as part of their currency and export competition.

The report notes the underlying cause of the declining labour share:
 ‘The drop in the labour share is due to technological progress, trade globalization, the expansion of financial markets, and decreasing union density, which have eroded the bargaining power of labour. Financial globalization, in particular, may have played a bigger role than previously thought’ (p. 14).
Globalization and expansion of financial markets are another way of saying that more people have been drawn into the global labour market (in part thanks to and also causing the wage growth in developing countries). The ILO, obviously, only recommends reforms to capitalism, calling for a rebalancing of investment, ignoring the pure class war being waged by the capitalists themselves. The long term balance is on the side of the owning class, and even when their crisis ends, ours will continue, until we organise to abolish its cause: the wages system itself.
Pik Smeet

Letters: Ice Age Art (2013)

Letters to the Editors from the October 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ice Age Art

Dear Editors

Thank you very much for forwarding the copy of the review (Mixed Media, September). It is great to read a piece in which the Marxist arguments are remembered and there are certainly excellent discussions to be had on these themes. More information on the topics mentioned can be found in the book that accompanied the exhibition. In both I tried to get away from the notion that these societies were ‘primitive’ or ‘savage’ as this is the language of the nineteenth century used to place modern western Europeans at the top of the evolutionary tree. The language of Marx and Engels that pursues evolution from savagery to barbarism and then civilization also need to be brought up to date with modern knowledge. It also sought to avoid the concept of Rousseau’s noble savage that is also inherent in the Marxist approach.

Ice Age art shows the developing skills in language and communication that enable modern humans to form larger, successful communities with many forms of organisation. Hunter gatherer communities have to be collaborative to survive and as I say in the book, these people probably did have gender specific activities but without concepts of male/female superiority or measures of value for activities. Men and women served one world through different tasks. The breakdown of this comes with agriculture and the measured values for activities. The concept of Mutterrecht as fully expressed by Jung’s disciple Erich Neumann also needs to be used with care.

The elaborate ornaments in the exhibition also express ideas about personal and social identities, wealth and status that may have been politically, socially or spiritually hierarchical but as always it is difficult to be conclusive about the implications from the archaeological record.

There is as ever much to debate.

Jill Cook, 
Curator Ice Age Art: arrival of the modern mind, British Museum

Kenya school scam

Dear Editors,

I worked as a school manager at Bridge International Academies from  2010 to mid this year. The company’s business is educating the less fortunate in society at an affordable cost. Most of the company’s schools are constructed using iron sheets. And they are located in the slums.

Workers (teachers, school managers) in these schools are poorly paid, work for long hours and are not represented in any trade union. The proprietor of these schools is a top American capitalist. Profit is his main theme, though from time to time high quality education is dangled to parents and in prospectuses to attract them to the schools.

Workers are paid per the pupils who pay that month. Those who pay later on don’t count for this and the money remains the profit of the company (worker’s sweat). Any worker who makes an attempt to complain or show displeasure is shown the door.

Morale has been low and prospects of employees scaling the corporate ladder are slim as there is no upward mobility in the firm. The company pays US nationals handsomely while Kenyans are left to feed on crumbs.

Out of the 210 schools, 75 percent are profitable but this profit doesn’t get to those who make this a reality (teachers and school managers).

If that’s the way capitalism operates, then damn the system. It’s ugly and repugnant. Companies ought to realise that without their workers the wheels of their operations would grind to a halt.

Patrick W. Ndege, 
Nairobi, Kenya.

Funny Money?

Dear Editors

Kaz’s interesting article ‘Propaganda Power… in your pocket’ in September’s Socialist Standard sparked a mischievous thought: How ironic it would be to find bank notes defaced with the briefest of messages: ‘Abolish money – see SPGB’.  I’m not suggesting a thing, mind.

Andy Cox (by email)

Maybe that’s why they’re thinking of changing  to plastic notes? – Editors.

Left In The Dark (2013)

The Proper Gander column from the October 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Would a few days without electricity turn you into a hysterical, paranoid, petrol-siphoning looter? Perhaps, if Blackout (Channel 4) is as realistic as it hopes to be. This one-off docudrama imagines what would happen if the National Grid was shut down for a week by a terrorist ‘cyber attack’. Footage from real riots and protests is mixed with actors improvising what their characters film on mobile phones. This gives the programme a scary amount of verisimilitude, if you ignore how implausibly long-lasting the batteries in their phones must be. Through the blurry, wobbly camerawork we follow a couple of lairy lads on a looting spree and a woman with her comatose boyfriend in a hospital with its backup power dwindling. There are a few examples of individuals helping strangers, but the show focuses more on how relationships would be strained further. For instance, the character who starts out smug about having his own generator cracks under the pressure of keeping it from would-be thieves while struggling to provide for his family.

The shakily-filmed action is broken up with sombre captions giving some less-than-reassuring statistics. Emergency lighting in most public buildings usually lasts no more than three hours, apparently, while if you’re relying on a life support machine, then you’d have around five days before its back-up batteries are prioritised elsewhere. Like its grim forerunners about pandemics and nuclear war, Blackout points out that society’s current infrastructure would collapse within days of a serious catastrophe. However, the loss of electric power isn’t shown to lead to a loss of state power. Defending itself through the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, the state would bring in temporary courts, armed forces on the streets and ‘Emergency Relief Centres’, which in the drama turn out to be empty. A lack of decent contingency planning is to be expected in our society, focused on protecting the interests of the few and making the cheapest cutbacks for the rest of us. So, if the programme is right about this, would its predictions about chaos on the streets also be proved right? Such a bleak view ignores how groups of people have worked together to get through worse disasters in real life. The show would have been more interesting if it had explored how we could co-operate, but in that respect it leaves us in the dark.
Mike Foster

Confessions of a Fetishist (2013)

From the October 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Given the context of this essay only a minority of readers will have any misconceptions about the content. It was Karl Marx that first defined what we now know of as ‘Commodity Fetishism’. He meant by this the inherent power that a commodity has over its producer in contrast to any rational relationship between mankind and the products of its labour. This occurs because of the alienated nature of production within capitalism where profit is the goal rather than human need. If a profit is not created then production is considered ‘useless’ and thus the labour involved is likewise considered a waste. The commodity has become the master of labour and production itself. Entering the market of exchange for profit the product is divorced from the labour and the people that created it. It becomes ‘fetishised’ in that it appears independent of the producers and confronts them only as an object of consumerism. The need that this commodity serves can be entirely dependent on the need for social status i.e. jewellery, expensive clothing, electronic gizmos and, the one that this essay will focus on – cars.

The automobile has become a ‘paradigm’ of fetishised commodities. In terms of ‘status symbols’ it would be hard to find a better example; from Minis to Rolls Royces they all represent a statement about the owner. Or, more precisely, a statement that the owner wants to socially broadcast. My friends rarely fail to notice any perceived inconsistency between my lifestyle and my ‘principles’ as a socialist. My love of racing cars is one example. For many seasons I was to be found trackside enjoying my favourite sport – Drag Racing. My love of ‘hot rods’, ‘muscle cars’ and dragsters goes back to the summer of 1973 when, as a teenager, I got my first whiff of nitro methane. Since then I have been addicted to power, speed and, let’s be frank, the glamorous aesthetic of racing cars. What follows will not be a defence, but rather an attempted explanation of a sometimes uncomfortable love affair. It will also explain my hatred of Ferraris.

In contrast to the European tradition in motor racing the American experience was generated by working class, or as they say in the US ‘blue collar’ culture. After the end of World War 2 the returning GIs had to fill the vacuum of a return to civilian life with some form of excitement. Many chose, especially on the west coast, motor racing. Given the relatively cheap price of gasoline and production cars they began to modify the chassis and tune the engines to acquire more speed. Races were held on Bonneville salt flats to test these ‘hot rods’. Clubs were formed and illegal street races (drag races) began to take place all over America. Because of the danger to all involved a group called the National Hot Rod Association started to try and organise these races at unused Air Force bases where the runways were perfect for quarter mile side by side racing.

This hot rodding counter culture was soon noticed by the Detroit car manufactures and in an attempt to cash in on this new youth market they started making ‘muscle cars’. Dodge Barracudas, Ford Mustangs and Chevrolet Camaros were seen on the drag strips every weekend competing for the dollars in the pockets of these new performance consumers. Massive v8 engines were crammed into street legal coupes and saloons and you could drive one of these monsters straight out of the showroom onto the race track with 11 second 100+ mph quarter mile performances. The kids went crazy! Of course it couldn’t last and by the time I was beginning to enjoy the English version of hot-rodding (mid 70s) the hey-day was coming to an end courtesy of rising oil prices.

Drag racing was held in contempt by the ‘motor racing’ establishment in this country. Hill climbers, sports car racers, rally car drivers and, of course, the holy of holies, Formula One looked down from a great height on the lowly working class hotrodders. But this suited my personality perfectly and only served to reinforce my love of the culture. The fact that a mildly tuned Chevy v8 in a mildly modified Chevelle would out-accelerate any Ferrari or even an F1 car gave me immense satisfaction even before I understood it as part of the cultural ‘class war’ in this country.

So I ‘identified’ with the hotrod culture of late 60s to late 70s America. To me any one who could virtually build his own performance car from the chassis up was superior to a rich man who would simply buy his Maserati or Aston Martin from the dealer without any involvement in its production. This was how I rationalised my love of American muscle cars but, of course, there is more to it than that. I like to think that on some level it was a reaction by American youth against consumerism. They took Detroit’s alienated products and humanised them – made them ‘real’ as products of the labour of their class and then of themselves as non-alienated individuals. The car lost its power as a fetishised commodity and became what it really is – a product of social and individual labour.

Unfortunately, or some would say, inevitably corporate America soon subsumed the culture and turned it in to a meaningless symbol of ‘Americana’. TV shows like ‘American Hotrod’ and ‘Wrecks to Riches’ are examples of the corruption of hotrod culture where a rich ‘customer’ walks into the workshop and orders a hotrod like it’s a steak or a Ferrari. The subsequent struggle of the production staff to meet ‘deadlines’ is an archetype of alienated labour creating a fetishised commodity which is the very antithesis of hotrod culture.

Occasionally I still attend drag races but although the performances are truly staggering (4 second quarter miles with 330mph top-end speeds) all the fastest cars have corporate sponsors and I miss the ’Golden Age’ when a guy could turn up with a dragster built in his shed and still have a chance to win. Recently a reaction against the ’big show’, as corporate drag races are now called,  has spawned something called ‘Nostalgia Racing’ where engines and bodies/chassis are restricted to 1970s technology making it possible for a low budget racer to be competitive. I enjoy these races but, as the name implies, there’s something reactionary and non-progressive about it all. It seems to be part of the retro culture of post-modernism where sport takes its place alongside music and the other arts as part of the bankrupt capitalist culture of the 21st century. When humanity finally gets around to progressing once more (after the revolution) I wonder if they’ll let me fire up my Chevy occasionally at weekends?

Mixed Media: L. S. Lowry (2013)

The Mixed Media Column from the October 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Lowry exhibition currently at Tate Britain in London includes all the popular ‘matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs’ paintings paid tribute to in the 1978 song by Brian and Michael. Lowry portrayed working class life in Pendlebury, Salford and Manchester from the economic depression of the 1930s to welfare state Britain of the 1950s or as John Berger wrote in New Society in 1966: ‘this is what has happened to the ‘workshop of the world’, the production crisis, the obsolete industrial plants’.

The ‘matchstalk’ paintings such as Coming Home from the Mill, People Going to Work, Returning from Work, Coming from the Mill and Outside the Mill are repetitive and convey the world of factory whistles, wage slavery and payday for the Manchester working class only a few generations after Engels wrote his investigative book.

Lowry’s more interesting work includes the 1926 A Northern Hospital which is fundamentally a workhouse (‘a Bastille of the proletariat’) which contrasts with the NHS in Ancoats Hospital Outpatients Hall from 1952. For all his ‘solid Lancashire conservatism’ Lowry quietly welcomed the post-1945 new world of the NHS and welfare state.

Lowry’s industrial landscapes and The Pond commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain are impressive panoramic views of industrial Manchester. The Pond with its smoking chimneys, terraced houses and the Stockport Viaduct was used as a Christmas card by prime minister Harold Wilson in 1964.

Lowry’s 1937 The Lake is all fetid spillage in an industrial scene and demonstrates clearly his opposition to sentiment in art and his statement that he ‘was affected and inspired by the beauty of the industrial scene’.

Going to the Match, 1953.
Going to the Match from 1953, one of his football paintings which the Professional Footballers Association bought for £1.9 million in 1999 depicts Burnden Park, home of Bolton Wanderers Football Club, which was the scene of a disaster in 1946 when 33 football fans were crushed to death. Football was central to masculine working class culture at this time and Burnden Park was later used prominently in the 1955 Arthur Askey film The Love Match.

The Funeral from 1928 and the cemetery in Necropolis of 1947 are a reminder of the centrality of death in life but also the financial cost. Today there is a rise in ‘public health funerals’ which is another name for ‘paupers funerals’ and the working class have to resort to pay-day lenders and credit cards to pay for funerals.

Although conservative in many respects, Lowry was an enemy of privilege and turned down all ‘gongs’ and a knighthood.
Steve Clayton

Happy Bands of Pilgrims? (2013)

The Halo Halo! column from the October 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Members of the Latin Mass Society are probably not best known for being the life and soul of the party. Their aims, as their name suggests, are for more use of Latin in the Catholic Church and, er, more Gregorian chanting. And, if their recent report on the popularity of the Church is anything to go by, they are not wildly optimistic about that either.

The number of baptisms in the Church today is less than half of those in 1964, they say. Catholic marriages, less than a quarter of those in 1968, and ordinations of new priests are now only a tenth of the 1965 figure.

Well, there you go. Sitting in a box with a priest who wants you to confess all your guilty little secrets, while the figure of a dead man impaled on a wooden cross glares mournfully down at you perhaps doesn’t appeal to everyone.

The Bishop of Shrewsbury is no more optimistic. Addressing 1,000 young Catholics at a recent five-day prayer festival in Norfolk (the Catholic equivalent of sitting in the mud at Glastonbury) he gloomily advised them that 4,000 churches may close by 2020, and Christians in Britain could soon become a minority.

On top of all this, in August, the Christian Post website announced that a study of pastors found that the clergy are at a far greater risk of depression and anxiety than those in other occupations.

What they need, obviously, is a bit of razzmatazz – a few hearty verses of ‘Jesus wants me for a sunbeam’ maybe.

Meanwhile the happy-clappy, faith-healing, demon expelling, singing, dancing, tambourine bashing Pentecostals seem to be spreading like the plague. According to a report by the National Secular Society, there has been a 50 percent increase in the numbers attending Pentecostal churches in London since 2005.And it’s not only taking off in the UK.

In Nigeria some of the wealthier pastors rival the super-rich US televangelists. A recent ‘Christianity Today’ article entitled ‘Private Jets for Jesus’, gives details of four Nigerian Preachers each with their own private jets. One of them, ‘Bishop’ David Oyedepo, reportedly, owns three Gulfstreams and a Learjet worth almost 100 million US dollars.

So what is it that gets the punters flocking in and handing over their money? One ex-Pentecostal describes their attractions on his website. David Icke (yes, the man who alerted us to shape-shifting lizards) says he attended a Pentecostal Church from the age of 17 to 19.

‘The services were very emotionally manipulative’ he says. ‘They would lift us up and down with 10 minutes of loud, rousing music and everybody jumping up and down, punching the air and shouting, then 10 minutes of sad, reflective music with everyone crying, lying down on their faces weeping, lifting their hands and swaying slowly. And through all this, people rolling around, laughing hysterically, groaning, ‘speaking in tongues’ and shaking’. … ‘They were hugely concerned with making you believe you were gonna get rich and get better careers, very materialistic’.

These are apparently the mysterious ways in which the Lord now moves. No more Latin, and definitely no Gregorian chanting. Unfortunately, says Icke, ‘The experience has left me very confused’.

The Times though (22 August), was concerned by a different aspect. ‘Too much religion can harm a society’s economy by undermining the drive for financial success’ it reported. ‘Religiosity may curb ever-needed economic growth but may also thwart individuals and cultures from making risky financial decisions’. But, it added, ‘Poor people can be happy with their lack of material wealth if they have religion’.

You have been warned.

Islamist brothers (2013)

Pamphlet Review from the October 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Siding with the Oppressor: The Pro-Islamist Left. By John Miller. One Law for All, 2013. £4.

This is a well-documented pamphlet describing the hobnobbing of the Labourite politicians George Galloway and Ken Livingstone and of the SWP (via its front organisation ‘Unite Against Fascism’, Stop the War Coalition and, till 2007, Respect) with Islamic fundamentalists connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. It is a shameful story.

Galloway and Livingstone were in search of votes while the SWP was pursuing the tactic of a ‘people’s front’ against Western intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, and (via Israel) Palestine, and now Syria. This last must be causing problems today as previous praise for the Assad and Iranian regimes will no longer be welcomed by the Sunni Muslim fundamentalists they courted, now that Hezbollah are fighting the Sunni jihadists.

Galloway, Livingstone and the SWP bear a heavy responsibility for having encouraged immigrant ‘communalist politics’ in Britain, so also encouraging the opposing ‘White communalists’ of the BNP and EDL. In doing so, they have dragged the name of socialism through the mud and, as the pamphlet points out, betrayed not only secularist principles (One Law for All campaigns against the application of Sharia and Jewish religious law in Britain) but also those Muslims and ex-Muslims resisting the reactionary views of the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian Ayatollahs. From a socialist point of view, it’s a negation of class politics and a confirmation of their anti-working class stance and activity.
Adam Buick

Greasy Pole: Obsessed With Disorder (2013)

The Greasy Pole column from the October 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his keen sense of anticipation for my interesting speech . . . I know that for the hon. Gentleman’s party it is always somebody else’s fault . . . the hon. Gentleman is confused . . . the hon. Gentleman knows that I respect him . . . my hon. Friend is absolutely right . . . (Jim Murphy, Labour MP for East Renfrewshire, House of Commons 16 February 2011).
As the 2015 election draws nearer, we shall find ourselves under ever fiercer pressure to express our relieved gratitude for the courage and sanity of all the decisions taken by our Members of Parliament. As an early example of this, in summer last June there was a debate in the Commons about mental ill-health and the fact that sufferers of it are restricted in the opportunities open to them in employment and other fields. A surprisingly large clutch of MPs told of their experience of the illness in its various forms. Among them were Labour’s former Defence Minister, the renowned bruiser Kevan Jones and the Conservative ex-general practitioner Sarah Wollaston. In particular, one who seems likely to make it his recurring theme was Charles Walker, MP for the Green Belt (although Sainsbury and Marks and Spencer occupied) Borough of Broxbourne in Hertfordshire. Walker’s condition is not of a kind to make him uncontrollably violent or perilously demented; it is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which holds him in a grip of needing to carry out everyday actions-washing his hands, turning lights off – in sets of four. Symptoms can be effectively numberless – and debilitating: Walker relates ‘I say “My grandmother’s hat is green” four times, and then just to be sure I say it another four times, and then in my head I think, better say it 16 times, just in case’. Other sufferers may be compelled to open a door repeatedly to see if there is anyone outside, or to sit with their legs crossed in a particular, even if uncomfortable, way.

Walker was first aware of having the disease when he was 13 years old. It was worse at university, again when he worked at ‘marketing’ and then when he became an MP – after failing in the 2001 election against the immovable Steve Pound in Ealing North. He is inclined to ‘catastrophise’ – always prepare for the worst. (Although we might ask whether this may be connected with the requirements of ‘marketing’ and all that it implies in the need for unremitting drive to promote the processing of some commodities in the face of competition). And there was the House of Commons, inhabited with those inflated personalities who defend their self-constructed reputation for decisive and effective action against all questioners and faint-hearts, even although they fail to control this essentially anarchic social system. Informed by an interviewer that he is ‘incredibly honest for a politician’, Walker responds: ‘Well I can barely lie’ – which if it were true would in fact isolate him to a degree undreamed of by any victim of OCD.

Some of the speakers in the mental health debate described their symptoms in frighteningly colourful terms but Walker was not among them, preferring to flavour his account with a lighter touch, telling of his family likening him to an extra in Riverdance as he bounces in and out of the room. And he used some relaxed language: ‘Look, it’s not a problem, it really is not: let’s get over it guys and move on’. And then winding up: ‘Hon. Gentlemen, Hon. Ladies and friends, rock and roll, as they say’. But he is capable of a different type of colourful contribution. On 9 November 2005, when he was a new Member, the Blair government were defeated by 322 to 291 votes on their proposal to extend to 90 days the period of detention of terrorist suspects without trial. Walker got himself into the news by shouting ‘Police state’ at Blair, who left the chamber shaking his head in anger and later bitterly denounced his opponents. Walker is not always disrespectful to his leaders. On Margaret Thatcher he ‘… admired her from afar… a great woman, a great Prime Minister and she had love of this country emblazoned on her heart’. But he is not so bedazzled by the present leadership for on the matter of their opposition to the proposed rise in MPs pay he raged that Cameron and Clegg are ‘crass’ and ‘trying to make capital off their MPs’. Even further – and perhaps dangerously, he thinks that ‘there are many, many better people in parliament as humble backbenchers than those at the head of our parties ‘. He does not fit in completely with the Daily Mail stereotype of the predictable right-wing MP from a South England shire for while he thinks that immigration has been too free and rates himself as a Eurosceptic he supports same-sex marriage.

Mental illness does not take root and proliferate in isolation. There are many examples of it being a defence against the stress of survival in poverty – which validates those psychiatrists who might regard it as comparatively healthy, preferable to surrendering to those pressures. In another field there is a thicket of evidence about the psychiatric damage to soldiers who have survived one type of combat – Iraq, Afghanistan – only to find themselves laid low when they are invalided out and have to face the devastating disciplines of employment and shortage of money. On this basis it might be argued that politicians can endure the frustrations of struggling to reshape the savagery of capitalism only by diagnosing themselves as mental invalids. The history of politics is littered with examples of policies which governments have persisted with when, judged even by their own appalling standards, they were driving themselves into exposed failure. For example Iraq and Afghanistan were preceded by bloody episodes such as the Suez invasion in 1956, Kenya, Palestine… It is the same story in domestic politics, when ministers and their ‘experts’ apply their power over us by insisting on measures which were clearly doomed to failure – the Poll Tax, the Child Support Agency, Norman Lamont’s ERM. Charles Walker may speak about his OCD, apparently unconscious of the fact that trying to govern – to control – capitalism must demand a disorder which is obsessional and compulsive because this is intrinsic to a government’s priority to disguise the awful reality of their sick impotence.