Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Things that go bump in the night (2013)

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

During quiet periods when politicians are not accepting bribes, fiddling their expenses and resigning to spend more time with their families, newspapers have the ‘silly season’ in which they fill columns with eyewitness accounts of puma-like beasts stalking the countryside, alien abductions and nuns finding the face of Mother Teresa in aubergines.

But for the Halo-Halo column, because it is dedicated to bringing you the best and latest absurdities from the god squad, life is one long silly season. And when, from time to time, the antics of randy vicars and miraculous occurrences temporarily dry up, it can be difficult to know what to fill the column with.

Take the last few weeks: Religious news highlights have amounted to little more than the on-going child abuse scandal stories, money laundering and tax evasion in the Vatican, and a new miracle from the dead Pope John Paul II, paving the way to his sainthood. This month, then, it’s back to a subject we’ve touched on before: devils and demons.

Just like Santa, Satan too has his little helpers it seems. Last month we looked at the Catholic’s demons, but Catholics don’t have a monopoly on them. In Islam, they have the Jinn. We only have room for a few details of these amazing creatures here, but for an unbelievable account see here. No, seriously, it’s unbelievable. Look it up.

Allah created the angels from light and the Jinn ‘from the smokeless flame of fire’ apparently. And like humans, he created them for the purpose of worshipping him. They are invisible, but in spite of their invisibility‘ can appear as humans, animals, trees and anything else’. And, like the Catholic demons, they have the annoying habit of possessing humans. Not only humans in fact, but also ‘animals, trees and other objects’. ‘By doing this, the evil Jinn hope to make people worship others beside Allah’ it explains. And when this happens ‘the name of Allah has to be used in expelling the Jinn’. ‘We know as Muslims’ it assures us ‘that Jinns possess people for many reasons. Sometimes it is because the Jinn or its family has been hurt accidentally. It could be because the Jinn has fallen in love with the person. However, most of the time possession occurs because the Jinn is simply malicious and wicked’. To set our minds at rest though, we are assured ‘the next time you see something that looks like E.T. it’s most probably just a wicked Jinn trying to scare and confuse you’. Well if that doesn’t scare and confuse you nothing will.

A bit too far-fetched perhaps? How about goblins? These little devils can be found, apparently, amongst the people of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. And, it seems, can be a bit of an embarrassment. Fortunately for the Halo-Halo column the Bulawayo24 news website covers their activities in great detail. For example:
  • 3 June 2013. ‘Drama as goblin falls out of man’s trousers in a commuter omnibus’.
  • 30 May 2013. ‘Prophet sends goblins to steal woman’s G-strings’.
  • 18 May 2013. ‘Goblin impregnates woman while hubby was away for two years’.
  • 4 May 2013. ‘Drama as goblin demands sex from owner’.
  • 24 April 2013. ‘Goblin visits victim (40) in the form of his dead mother’.
  • 2 March 2013. ‘Goblin seriously burns prophet’s private parts’.

And the list goes on and on. Jinns and goblins not your cup of tea? Oh well, better the devil you know . . .

Letters: Divided society (2013)

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

Divided society

Dear Editors

It's not surprising that so many of the promises on poverty and inequality made by politicians have been broken ('Empty Rhetoric', Voice from the Back, July). The so-called elite who run society don't really care about the rest of us.

Yet, it doesn't have to be like this. There is masses of research to support the idea that we can choose the kind of society we want to live in, and that includes a more equal society free of poverty.

Researchers like Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson published evidence a few years ago. It showed that a very divided society makes our physical and mental health much worse. Inequality makes us ill. There is also less trust between people too. Their book The Spirit Level pointed out that everyone suffers in that kind of cruel society.

More recently, David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu published The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills. Once again, the savage decisions made by many governments damaged people's health and well-being. Cutting back on health and welfare increases diseases and creates unhappiness.

We need to create a different future for ourselves.

Graeme Kemp. 
Wellington, Shropshire

Entirely agree. It’s good to know that there are others out there who agree with us.



Dear Editors

I thought your article Resistanbul in the July Socialist Standard was one of the best, most informative and helpful I have read in a very long time. But did you really have to spoil it on the front cover with a trite and infantile reference to turkeys and stuffing?

Your article was extremely respectful and sensitive to the issues and challenges facing Turkish society and the Turkish people. Your cover was cheap and childish.

Andrew Northall. 

Election Statement: People not Profits (2013)

Party News from the August 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Election statement for the local Lambeth council by-election in Tulse Hill ward, London, 25 July 2013

People not Profits

Things are not produced today to meet people’s needs. They are produced to make a profit. And that’s the cause of the problems people in Tulse Hill face.

Under the profit system profits always come first. Before providing basic services like health care and transport, before improving conditions at work, and before providing decent housing.

It’s profits first, people second.

Under the profit system production is in the hands of profit-seeking business enterprises, all competing to maximise the rate of return on the money invested in them. Decisions as to what to produce and how much, and how and where to produce it, are not made in response to people’s needs but in response to market forces.

As a result, the health and welfare of the workforce and the effects on the environment take second place. The profit system can’t help doing this. It’s the only way it can work. Which is why it must go.

I know this is only a local by-election but make no apology for raising this issue. The reduced incomes and cuts to services that people in Tulse Hill are having to put up with are a direct result of the profit system being in an economic crisis.

When this happens governments, whatever their political colour, have to cut their spending so as to give profits a chance to recover. As local councils are largely financed by central government this trickles down to the local level too.

So, what’s the alternative?

One thing is certain. The Tories, Lib-Dems and Labour—and now UKIP—have nothing to offer. They all support the profit system and are only squabbling over which of them should have a go at running it. If we are going to improve things we are going to have to act for ourselves, without professional  politicians or leaders of any kind. We are going to have to organise ourselves democratically to bring about a society geared to serving human needs not profits.

Production to satisfy people’s needs. That’s the alternative. But this can only be done if we control production and the only basis for this is common ownership and democratic control.

I have been put forward by the Socialist Party as a name on the ballot paper you can put an X against to register your rejection of the profit system and your agreement with the alternative.

Blogger's Note:

The result of the by-election
Lab 1575
LibDem 277
Green 177
Con 74
Ind 20
Adam Buick (SPGB) 11

Turnout 2282 (20%).

South Africa: Marikana Miners’ Massacre (2013)

From the August 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

In August last year miners at the Marikana Mine in South Africa were on strike for higher wages. The striking miners were confronted by the South African police, who fired on the miners, using live rounds from automatic pistols, shotguns and assault rifles. 34 miners were killed and 78 seriously injured and many miners were shot in the back and whilst lying on the ground. The South African state even considered charging 270 arrested miners with the Apartheid-era ‘common purpose’ murder of the miners massacred by the police.

The global capitalist class in alliance with the pro-capitalist ANC government of South Africa have shown the working class that going on strike, demanding higher wages involves the risk of death. British capitalists have a major role in the Marikana miners’ massacre. The Marikana mine is owned by Lonmin, formerly the mining division of Lonhro once run by the notorious ‘Tiny’ Rowland. Even Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath in 1973 referred to the activities of Rowland and Lonhro as ‘the unacceptable face of capitalism’.

South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers has failed to fight for its members which has led to the creation of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) which represents the Marikana strikers.

A Marikana Miners Solidarity Campaign is demanding the creation of an international enquiry into the massacre, the sacking of the Minister for Police and the Commissioner for Police, charging responsible senior police officers with murder, the release of all imprisoned miners and the dropping of all charges against miners. It also calls for compensation for the families of those killed and injured, the Chief Exec of Lonmin to be put on trial for ‘theft of national resources’, and the end to police violence (tear gas and rubber bullets) against ‘those who produce all the country’s wealth’ (the working class).

There is a weekly picket outside the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square every Thursday from 5-7pm.
Steve Clayton

Cooking the Books: A History of Slumps (2013)

The Cooking the Books column from the August 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

To mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of its Quarterly Bulletin the Bank of England published an article in the June issue entitled ‘The UK Recession in context – what do three centuries of data tell us?’ This took a look at the booms and slumps since 1701.

Actually, the terms used are ‘upturns’ and ‘downturns’. A downturn is defined as the period between the highest point production reached and the lowest point it falls to before it starts to rise again, i. e., from peak to trough. An upturn is the opposite, the period from trough to the next peak. A cycle is defined as the period from peak to peak or from trough to trough.

A table gives the average length of cycles for various historical periods:

The inclusion of data from the 18th century is interesting but doesn’t tell us much about cycles of capitalist production. Not that the economy of the period could not be described in a sense as capitalist, but because the upturns and downturns were caused not so much by the workings of the economy itself as by the outside factors of war (in this century Britain was frequently at war) and bad harvests (agriculture then accounted for 30 per cent of GDP).

It is the later periods that are more relevant for the study of the capitalist production cycle.

1831-1871 was the period Marx studied in Capital and his other economic writings, though he identified the first crisis of industrial capitalism as occurring in 1825 (which can been seen in Chart 1 in the article). He suggested a cycle of about 10 years, not too far from the 8-year cycle the article identifies. At 2.21 per cent a year, this was a period of relatively rapid growth with the short downturns, a period of confident capitalist expansion.

On the other hand, 1871-1913 was a period of slower growth, with the downturns lasting just as long as the upturns and which misled Engels into thinking that capitalism had entered a period of permanent stagnation.

It is perhaps surprising to learn that the period 1921-1938 was also a period of relatively rapid growth with only short downturns but, apart from the severe but short-lived slumps of 1921 and the early 1930s, in Britain this was a period of growth in output, even if mainly confined to the South East and the Midlands. In the rest of the country unemployment remained high and shaped the popular perception of the 1930s as one big Great Depression.

The authors do not explain why they lumped together 1952-1992 as a single period when it would have been more historically useful to have broken it in the mid-1970s when the biggest downturn since 1945 occurred (as can also be seen in Chart 1). Even so, during both parts of this period the cycles were shorter with fewer deep troughs than in the previous historical periods.

According to the article’s definition, as output is up on the trough of 2008 we are now in the upturn phase of the cycle even though, five years later, production is still nowhere near the 2007 level. It looks as if the current cycle is going to be longer than in the recent past. In fact it looks more like what happened in the period 1871-1913.

Greasy Pole: A Dissatisfied Novice (2013)

The Greasy Pole column from the August 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

On being elevated to the Tory leadership a priority for David Cameron was to demonstrate that this was a new age with fresh, historically challenging ideas about the party organisation. Among the first of these was to end the system of choosing candidates to contest parliamentary elections by a secret gathering of constituency worthies and replace it with the American primary system of open preference by all registered voters. To begin with this seemed like a clever move – Cameron called it an ’exciting opportunity’ to engage with the voters, designed to patch up the party's reputation after the Great Scandal Of Expenses – which had yielded a glut of MPs facing either dismissal or attempting to salvage some tatters of their reputation by announcing that they would not stand again for Parliament.

Anthony Steen
Cameron had promised that there would be funds to allow some 200 seats to use the new system but in the event there were only two – Gosport and Totnes. The latter had always returned a Tory MP but it was in need of a fresh Tory candidate for 2010 after the sitting MP, Sir Anthony Steen, had been vividly exposed for his extravagant expense claims. Steen is proud of owning a huge country mansion which he designated as his second home. Over four years he claimed £87,729 for, among other things, the upkeep of some 500 trees, a rabbit fence and a borehole. His response to his exposure was to put it down to 'jealousy' of his wealth and luxury when his behaviour had been 'impeccable' but he had been 'caught on the wrong foot' and anyway 'What right does the public have to interfere with my private life? None'. He later apologised but there was a rumour that this did not impress the folk of Totnes, who pride themselves on being bohemian and artistic and independent enough to have their own currency – the Totnes Pound. Perhaps that would explain the rumour that Steen's arrogance had so angered the management of a posh restaurant in the town that they refused to serve him.

In Totnes in 2009 the primary was particularly successful with a 25 percent turnout, which might have been the voters' way of saying 'good riddance' to Steen. From the short list of three there emerged Sarah Wollaston, a local GP offering herself as 'a woman with a real job' who had no previous experience of politics. Tory chairman Eric Pickles declared himself 'tickled to death' and Totnes backed their choice again when Wollaston went on to win the 2010 general election with a majority more than double that of Steen in 2005. But it soon became clear that the route through which Wollaston had come into Parliament was no longer open. In the beginning there had been a promise to extend the primary method to other areas but there is no longer any impetus towards this from Downing Street, where a 'source' has hinted that there has been 'zero debate' of the matter. Wollaston has made her mark as something of a rebel and perhaps Cameron feels that there are enough trouble-makers on his benches without recruiting more through primaries.

Alcohol Victims
Wollaston has informed all those enthusiastic voters in Totnes that 'open primaries are being kicked down the road'. But so far there has not been any sign of her changing her provocative style. As a doctor, one of her enduring concerns is the effect of excessive consumption of alcohol on health and social well-being – she mentions some 8,000 deaths annually – but her campaign to attempt to alleviate this through the price mechanism has not met with any interest. To put the matter into context she voices her concerns at the possibility that the government's reluctance to act is linked with the commercial interests of Lynton Crosby, Cameron's favourite campaign manager, in the alcohol and tobacco firm Crosby Textor. And there are other matters, on which Wollaston has expressed opinions which have raised questions about whether she has chosen to be in the right party or indeed in any of those in Westminster.

She does not warm to the government's drive to 'reform' the NHS and the domination of it by what she calls 'competition economists'; the overall effect, she warns, could be that the NHS will 'go belly up'. On the same theme, after the recent suicide of a benefit claimant, she has reservations about the cuts in welfare benefits: 'When times are tough you really have to focus on what measures help to reduce suicide because we know that this is a pattern in previous recessions … Nobody wants to be unemployed … I've vary rarely ever met people who wanted to be on benefits, but I have met people who are trapped on benefits'. None of this would nourish the career prospects of any MP, let alone a novice like Wollaston. Which may be why she describes Cameron erecting an inner circle of Old Etonians and the like as 'a kind of blindness' and contrasts it with her treatment: 'I am never put on a delegated legislation committee on something which I could contribute to. The classic case was when I was put on one on double taxation in Oman. I know nothing about double taxation in Oman'. She has been continuously frustrated in her efforts to discuss her views with Cameron and regards being in the Commons, where they pride themselves on having human interests at heart, is 'like swimming with sharks. If there is a drop of blood in the water, off they go'.

Wollaston is not the first to be carried into Westminster on a rush of expectation and would not be the first to be tamed by threats to her career or inducements about possible promotion for those who do not rock the boat. Behind the excitement the fact is that like all those others in the past she can have nothing novel to offer and serves only to emphasise how ineffective all of them are. However the system is manipulated it remains in essence the same class-dominated chaos managed by bigots and twisters.

50 Years Ago: Mr. Wilson on Class (2013)

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

In a recent interview published in the Observer, Harold Wilson, Leader of the Labour Party, made some extraordinary statements. Among other things he said:
 ‘The Labour Party must represent the whole country. If you mean what class do I think I am—well, what is the answer? Elementary school, Oxford common room, what does it add up to? There are millions of people—trained, skilled, professional—for whom these phrases about class are becoming more and more meaningless. The white coat, the growing technological character of modern industry is making some of the old battlegrounds unreal.’
Wilson apparently thinks that if a worker can speak grammatically, or do a skilled job, he is no longer a worker.


Earlier in the same series, Wilson actually committed himself to the following remarks:
  ‘Quite honestly, I’ve never read Das Kapital. I got only as far as page two— that’s where the footnote is nearly a page long, I felt that two sentences of main text and a page of footnote were too much.’
This is despite his own claim that ‘economics became his field.’

Mr. Wilson was apparently in such a haze that he could not distinguish page two from page fifty-two, or the beginning of a chapter from the end of it. The first footnotes in Das Kapital which might reduce the main text to this extent are the ones that concern Ricardo, at the end of chapter one, on commodities. In the edition nearest to hand (William Glaisher, London, 1909) these footnotes begin at page fifty-two. In no conceivable edition could they come on page two.

But what a pity that Wilson was not able to overcome the tremendous hurdle presented to his comprehension by some rather long footnotes (he was, after all, only an Oxford lecturer on economics). He might have learned that there is more to a man’s position in society than the colour of the coat he wears. He might even have learned that there are two classes in society—an owning class and a working class. One feels that he might not have survived the shock.

 (From ‘The Passing Show’ by Alwyn Edgar, Socialist Standard, August 1963)

Action Replay: Entering the Straight (2013)

Lolo Jones
The Action Replay Column from the August 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lolo Jones stirred things up a month or two ago. She revealed that seven months as a top US bobsleigh competitor had earned her just over $740.

This annoyed quite a lot of people, mostly other bobsledders (to use the American term for the sport and its athletes). This was far more than most of them earned, they pointed out. Jones’ statement that ‘I’m going to be a little late on my rent’ was seen as particularly offensive, since she is also an international hurdler who receives a lot of money in sponsorships, from Red Bull, for instance. In addition, she’s a devout Christian, but that doesn’t stop her from trading on her good looks for endorsements and pin-up photos.

Behind all this froth are some real issues about how people get to be top athletes and how much financial sacrifice is needed for this. American sportspeople do not receive central government funding, so would-be stars often have to rely on that favourite source of support, their parents. There are stories of people losing their homes or going bankrupt because they tried to pay for their kids’ training. Just as having unpaid interns in large companies more or less limits such posts to offspring of the rich, so something similar might be said of young athletes.

The body UK Sport has a World Class Performance Programme that provides coaches and scientific support, as well as personal awards that contribute to athletes’ living costs; it is backed by the government and the National Lottery. But ‘with a shifting economic environment, it has become increasingly necessary to look towards the commercial sector to provide an additional income stream’ (www.uksport.gov.uk).

Andy Murray, the new national hero, benefited from his mum being a professional tennis coach. Then in 2006 the Lawn Tennis Association paid Brad Gilbert half a million quid to coach him. So there’s plenty of funding for some.

It also helps to be in a high-profile sport, rather than one such as bobsleigh or judo, say. Or an unsuccessful one, with sports such as volleyball losing funding after a poor display in last year’s Olympics. To them that hath shall be given …
Paul Bennett