Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Who are the Socialists? (1923)

From the April 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

By their deeds ye shall know them.
“A Socialist is one who has yearnings for an equal division of unequal earnings.” Thus! our old-fashioned type of antagonist. Finding such puerile nonsense no longer serviceable, more cunning and artful methods are employed to-day. Every sentimental reformer and noisy aspirant to working class "leadership” is hailed by our opponents as a “Socialist.” When we question the justification for the use of the word in relation to these individuals, members of the working class who accept such definitions without thought or reason, offer the inane reply in simple sincerity: “Well, he calls himself a Socialist.” It is not without reason that the capitalist class in an underhand way assist in the deception that these individuals propagate Socialism. It is comforting to them that the workers accept teachings that imply their trust and faith in such people, because the unquestioning acceptance of these teachings signifies that the workers have not reached that stage of mental alertness which would enable them to analyse and draw their own conclusions. Such understanding would render the efforts of both the well-meaning reformer and the self-seeking “leader” futile. One has but to recall the war to remind the reader how these so-called “Socialists” proved conclusively, by their out and out support of Capitalism, the fraudulent nature of their claim to such a title. Unfortunately, working class memory is a fleeting thing, and permits these agents of Capitalism to continue their campaign of confusion. In a good many cases it is from these people that men and women sincerely seeking to understand the why and wherefore of their lives imbibe their unsound economics and confused conceptions. A visit to a few of their meetings supplies the evidence, and where discussion is permitted it is reduced to a mere farce. Not without reason: Does it matter if these false doctrines are the outcome of sincerity or deliberate design? the effect is equally pernicious to the worker, and of service to the masters: What then is the difference between the Socialist Party and other political organisations seeking the support of the workers? It is the difference between Reform and Revolution: We have but one object, the establishment of Socialism, to achieve which we work for the revolutionary political organisation of our class. Reforms are necessary to a rapidly developing Society, but granted the carrying through of the whole of the programmes of the Reform parties, the fundamental condition of the workers would not be improved. Generations of reforms have been accompanied with a relative worsening of their conditions. Likewise, to make ridiculous and extravagant “demands” on behalf of the workers while they remain without understanding, merely shows the ignorance or treachery of their would-be “leaders.” Without power to enforce these demands they may save their breath, for when the workers have the power they need no longer formulate demands or claim "rights,” much less beg their oppressors to hear their woeful tale of want. Powerless in ignorance to-day, they will become mighty and formidable in intelligence tomorrow. While the majority are in the former condition they retain the belief inculcated by their rulers’ so-called education, that Capitalism is the best and only system possible—hence, at election times they vote for that system and in war time fight for it. There can only be one correct conception of Socialism, the scientific one. Likewise, those accepting by understanding, the principles arising from this conception are the Socialists, and all others consciously or otherwise enemies of that cause. What then is this scientific conception? It is briefly summarised in our principles. The present system of Society is the result of the development of a previous system, a development in which was generated the conditions for the new Society. Are similar conditions present within the system of today? All the means for prolific wealth production are present to-day, but privately owned by the capitalist class, and socially operated by the working class alone; yet capable of being socially owned and democratically controlled for an output of wealth in whatever quantities required to satisfy the needs of the whole people. There is one obstacle; lack of understanding by a majority of the workers of Socialism, the knowledge we seek to impart. To talk of reforms, united fronts, demands and rights, is to knowingly or unknowingly play the masters’ game and divert the toilers from correct knowledge. Disillusioned of their frothy “leaders,” and with only contempt for the snivelling reformer, they will march on without need for "trust” or "belief” in anyone, but knowing through understanding that the power of their organised policy will realise their long-delayed emancipation through the establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth.
W. E. MacHaffie

Hypocritical Clynes. (1923)

From the April 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. J. R. Clynes, as the result of his long association with the “Working-class” Movement, has thoroughly learned to trade upon the traditional short memories of the workers, and so can with safety to his position indulge in vagaries according to the situation at any given time. As witness to this, we would draw our readers' attention to some of the remarks to which he gave utterance in his presidential address to the National Federation of General Workers’ Conference at Leamington recently. Speaking as a trade-union leader he declared that:—
  “The outlook for mutual agreement is not bright, and the sacrifices which the workers have had to endure have not "hastened the trade revival which cheaper labour was said to guarantee.” (Daily News, 18/8/22.)
Further:—
  “The service and sacrifice of the millions of workers during the war, who served their country in the Army and Navy, have been scantily rewarded in the days of so-called peace.” (ibid.)
With regard to the important admission that “the outlook for mutual agreement is not bright,” and others to the effect that a matter of six million workers have lost wages to the extent of £10,000,000 per week, and that where resistance was offered the end was often defeat, one would imagine that Mr. Clynes would seek alternative methods to retard this downward tendency. There is no sign of any suggestion, however, but only a vague threat of retaliation in the future, when the conditions of the labour market may permit. It is just here where he reveals his inconsistency, for it is but a short time back, viz., 1919,  when he was loudest amongst those crying for increased production by the workers —for who cannot remember his signature appearing on the well-known Government Poster of that time? It is obvious that increased production, with a decreased consumption, could not possibly redound to the advantage of the workers.
Dealing with the second quotation above, the rewards to those who served in the war are only what were to be expected, if only from our experience of previous campaigns; yet we know that Mr. Clynes ably played his part in helping to prosecute the war—at a safe distance from the mud and blood of Flanders.


These are but jottings, merely intended to show in some slight way the nature of the man whose influence over men is considerable. That these remarks may lead to some diminution of that influence, with a corresponding increase in self-reliance on the part of the workers, is the hope of WILEB.

Any More For The Sieve? (1923)

From the April 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

You will remember the immortal lines of Edward Lear :
“They went to sea in a sieve they did ;
In a sieve they went to sea.”
And then, after extravagant and variegated adventures, in the last verse he informed us :
‘‘In forty years they all came back,
“In forty years or more.”
I mention this to introduce you to the great thought that has struck Professor Arthur Thomson! He thinks we should all go into the sieve again; and, unlike kindly Edward Lear, he doesn’t want us all to come back.

We welcome the appearance in popular journalism of the man of science. It is good and fitting that those who have been enabled to withdraw from the cut and thrust of commercial life and pursue the search for knowledge exclusively should repay their debt to society in this way. It is to be feared, however, that with the standard of popular journalism fairly low, the scientific contributor is apt to follow suit. But to return to the sieve. The readers of “John O’ London’s Weekly’’ for March 17th were informed, under the large heading, “Mankind Must Be Sifted,’’ of the pickle we are in.
  “There is too little sifting. If ten biologists were asked what feature in modern civilisation gave them most anxiety . . . we are inclined to think all would agree in placing first the relative slackness of selective processes working in the direction of progressive evolution.”
Professor Thomson apparently does not agree with Viscount Grey, who in a recent lecture said that the great question which transcended all others in importance at the present time was the relationship between Capital and Labour. But that is merely by the way. Each to his taste, as it were. He summarises in an able and popular way the successive conquests of poor, puny man over rugged, titanic, barbaric Nature.
  ‘‘These were ages of stern sifting; they lasted long, and they had good results. Man was lifted to good purpose.”
But Professor Thomson almost deplores the fact that in the contest, microbe versus man, it is the microbe which is increasingly taking the count. There are some diseases, he tells us, that weed out the weaker and leave the stronger surviving.
  “But this is a rapidly dwindling process, for the progress of hygiene and preventive medicine tends to eliminate the eliminators; and if we devise methods for saving useful lives, . . .  we have to use them for saving weakly lives as well.”
How sad! How Professor Thomson must have cursed his article of the previous week, wherein he praised the work of Jenner and his conquest of smallpox. That’s the worst of this journalism business; your stuff’s in print before you have time to think. However, at the time of going to press, pending the publication of a further article on a new dilemma of civilisation, there seems to be a case for the scrapping of our sewage system and the return of the cesspool. Let Nature do the sifting. The weakest to the wall, that’s Nature’s way. There are sections of mankind who, so other professors have told us, do give Nature a chance with the sieve. Babies not up to market size are exposed to the vultures, or thrown to the crocodiles. Elderly people who feel the strain of living getting too much for them have their brains beaten out with clubs by their sons. The natives of India treat as sacred the poisonous reptiles which wipe out a few thousand of them every year. They decline to resist the claim of the bubonic plague germ to a place in the sun.

I fear I am doing Professor Thomson an injustice. He sees the other horn of the dilemma. Space precludes quoting in full, but he says :
  "Now, the throwing off of the yoke of Natural Selection without substituting for it any processes of sifting that can pretend to be adequately testing or consistent or well thought out means for man a difficult dilemma and a great danger . . .  the growing solidarity or integration of society makes it easier for the inferior, or defective, or undesirable slacker, to continue to live and multiply. ”
Now to his remedies, his sieves :
  "(1) The multiplication of the radically undesirable must be checked. (2) . . . re-education of public opinion in the lines of the old-fashioned eugenic ideals of pride of race and pride in having a vigorous family. (3) . . . selection which takes the form of insisting on efficiency requirements. The more of this the better when the requirements are reasonable, and when they tend to make life more difficult for unreliable types whose multiplication is not in the interests of the race. (4) . . . To put an end—so gradually that the process is not cruel—to the less desirable occupations. (5) Perhaps the sifting may come sooner than we think, and in an undesirable form.”
He does not mean warfare, for, as he says, war thins rather than sifts, and works in the wrong direction by removing the bravest and best. He concludes rather nebulously by saying :
  “Perhaps it is safer to say that man must more resolutely seek to discover rational and social modes of selection to take the place of Natural Selection, whose rule Is almost over—What is needed is a progressive evolution of sieves."
Nebulous certainly seems the aptest adjective. Notice how the changes are rung on desirable and undesirable. By whom and for whom? Why is the question never once raised as to who and what are the defectives; whence they come or how they arise. I have seen it stated by another of the professorial fraternity that in spite of all hereditary taint 99 per cent. are born perfect. When one thinks of the lives led by millions of workers, this figure is surprisingly low. What happens after birth the war recruiting strikingly revealed, for to get an army of any size, the deaf, the half-blind, the half-witted, and the epileptic were roped in by the hundred. Reflect upon the thousands of dentists, tearing out the teeth of the nation; upon the thousands of oculists attending to our eyes; the battalions of doctors waxing fat on our unhealthiness; our huge and overcrowded hospitals, asylums, yes, and prisons; and then ask, is it sieves we want? Many “enlightened" employers have found that garden cities, well ventilated factories, fatigue reducing methods, staff athletic clubs, canteens, etc., result in higher efficiency, reduced sickness and greater contentment. They have found that the manufacture of defectives does not pay in their particular business. In scores of other businesses it does not matter. Any lapse through the non-operation of these factors is speedily remedied through the Labour Exchange. The employing class as a whole never says, “Low wages mean stunted men, starved women and defective children." It never says, “Long hours and intense toil mean premature age, empty lives and high accident rates for the toilers.” But they do mean so. For every defective born there is a hundred made by capitalism. For the defective born there is a hope of cure; for the defective made there is none—except Socialism. Professor Thomson would chuck him in the sieve. The Socialist would render the sieve unnecessary by ceasing the manufacture of defectives. The scientific professor is concerned with effects, the Socialist with causes. Judge you between us.
W. T. Hopley



How To Snare Labour Leaders. (1923)

From the April 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

The ruling class have recently been very busy winning over Labour Leaders by the old game of patronage of flattery. They have been invited to dine with Peers and Royalty, so that they may learn how the master class love the workers. Needless to say, the Labour Leaders, anxious to get the votes of the reactionary, so-called middle class, have rushed willingly into the trap. The “Daily Herald” avoids a definite expression of opinion by saving (12th March, 19 2.1):
  "Our own view is that Labour M.P.'s are the best judges of their own section in social matters. Certainly no one could impute to those in question any weakness of character or any failure to consider what effect their action would be likely to produce."
A few years ago, when the “Herald” was not quite so subservient, it published some verses by W. N. Ewer, which summed up the position more vigorously and more correctly.
  "Whom the King delighteth to Honour.”
  “May we go now, Hodge ?”—Lord Derby.
  “I hope to see Mr. Hodge in the House of Lords.’’—Lord Burnham.
  "Of course, I know Mr. John Hodge very well." —George V. 
When Derby dropped the prefix from your name.
  And hailed you “Hodge,” acclaiming you an equal,
We thought you’d reached the topmost heights of fame,
  That Fate could give you nothing in the sequel  
Better than this admitted full equality
With gentry of the highest rank and quality.
We deemed it then as certain you would get
   The Peerage Burnham now has prophesied you,  
That, clad in ermine and a coronet,
  You’d sit, Lord Hodge, with Curzon, say, beside you,
Perhaps a bishop as your other neighbour
Incarnating the dignity of Labour. 
But now—you’ve passed beyond such petty things
  As baronies and social recognition,
You have become the intimate of Kings,
  You have o'erleaped the loftiest ambition;
Dukedoms and Garters wait you—what’s the bettin ’ ?
You the close friend of royal George of—Windsor.  
But does it never enter in your head
  That here in England honours must be paid for
Either in coin or services instead?
  In fact, that is precisely what they’re made for.
All of them, from the B.E. to the Garter, 
Are merchandise displayed for sale or barter.
It’s not for love of your sweet self alone
  Our lords and masters trouble to amuse you
With honours and with flattery from the throne;
  Dear Hodge, it’s only that they want to use you.
You take their gift—well, thank them as you may for it,
You’ll find they still expect that you will pay for it.  
You cannot pay, as others do, with gold.
 You must sell something—they’ll insist on payment.
What—who is it that’s going to be sold?
  God! Don’t you see beneath the sheep-skin raiment.
Don’t you see “gifts” from royal Faith Defenders
Are just like “easy terms” from money-lenders.  
Hodge! Surely you’re not going to be caught
  By dangled coronets and royal cooing.
Tell them that Labour isn’t to be bought;
  Tell them right out that there is nothing doing.
Quick ! or you’ll find too late that you are netted.
Disgraced and damned and chained and coroneted.
Edgar Hardcastle



Socialism and Christianity. (1923)

From the April 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

The famous Doctor Samuel Johnson once said, “Two contradictory ideas may inhere in the same mind; they cannot both be correct.” And one is reminded of this obvious truth when reading the correspondence recently published in the "Daily Herald” on the subject of "Christianity and Labour.” Of the letters published the majority convey the view that there is a similarity between what the various writers call Socialism and Christianity. To the Socialist, however, those who hold this view betray an ignorance of both sets of ideas. For not only are Socialism and Christianity not identical; they are irreconcilably opposed. The antagonism between Socialism and Christianity is fundamental, as will be seen in the different methods employed to explain social conditions, and also in the totally different concepts of life. To find an explanation of present social conditions the Socialist analyses society and discovers therein two distinct social classes, separated from each other by clearly marked political and economic characteristics. One class, the capitalist class, own and control the means of wealth production, but take no part in the process of producing the wealth. The analysis of the Socialist shows that the capitalists, who own an enormous mass of wealth, are able to obtain this wealth by the robbery of the other class in society—the working class.

Having no property in the means of wealth production the members of the working class are compelled to sell their energy to those who own the various tools of production, in order to obtain the wherewithal to live. It is by means of the workers applying this energy to nature given material that the wealth necessary to human existence is produced. But the great bulk of this wealth is appropriated by the capitalists who have control of political power and consequently use that power to legalise their robbery of the working class.

There is little need to stress the fact that, contrary to the wealthy position of the capitalists, the position of the workers is one of poverty and insecurity of existence. In an earlier stage of social development man endured privation through his lack of knowledge of the forces of nature, but in modern society, with man having gained a greater control over natural forces, wealth can be produced in abundance. Starvation or a lack of the means of subsistence, although unavoidable in earlier times, is now quite avoidable. There are ample means at the disposal of modern society for all to live in economic security, free from the yoke of servitude and the exploitation and poverty it entails for the working class. The poverty and the general degradation within society we trace directly to the class ownership of the means of life.

Thus it is in the roots of society itself that the Socialist discovers the core of the "social problem”.

The Christian, however, if he is consistent with his creed, alleges that the explanation of all things, including social conditions, is to be found in that metaphysical abstraction "God”—an abstraction aptly described by Spinoza as the "asylum of ignorance.” To the Christian this world is ”God’s world." He created it, and everything in it, including man. The affairs of the world are supposed to be controlled by this supernatural power, whose activities it is blasphemy to question.

In contrast with the scientific determinism of the Socialist philosophy, which points out the overwhelming influence of material conditions in shaping human conduct, the Christian asserts that man is endowed with a free will, and he expects human conduct to take on any particular form regardless of whatever conditions are prevailing. Hence, while the Socialist relies upon a change of political and economic conditions for human improvement, the Christian calls for "a change of heart.’’ In contrast with the policy of the Socialist, who urges the workers to resist the tyranny of their exploiters, and to organise themselves for the overthrow of class domination, the Christian urges the policy of class conciliation. The poverty stricken worker is to shake the hand of his wealthy exploiter, and “Capital and Labour” are to live in harmony. Instead of the end of classes we are to have their continuance under the cloak of “Christian brotherhood.”

The method of the Socialist—i.e., the method of explanation through natural causes is therefore in striking contrast with the method of the Christian, who seeks the explanation through the mistiness of super-naturalism. It is claimed by many who attach little or no importance to the supernaturalism of Christianity that the ethics now associated with that religion are of the essence of Socialism, but only ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation can give rise to the claim.

Throughout the history of societies composed of classes the various ethical codes have been those best suited to the interest of the particular ruling class, and imposed upon the lower orders as a means of government. The ethics of Christianity form no exception to this rule; they are slavish ethics, and as such have been an assistance to government in the hands of rulers throughout Christendom.

It is fairly obvious that for any religion or ethical code to be adopted by the ruling class it must conform to its interest, and the fact that Christianity, with its slavish ethical code, has been a State religion for centuries, is in itself sufficient to merit the serious attention of the student of sociology. Christianity first became a State religion in the slave conditions of the decaying Roman Empire, in an age that is described by Professor Seeley as a religious age, "because it was an age of servitude.” Many historians concur in the view that it was the cardinal ethic of submission which influenced Constantine, the Roman Emperor, to embrace Christianity.

After its recognition by the head of the Roman Empire, the progress of Christianity proceeded apace throughout Western Europe, and its progress can be explained largely by its utility as an aid to government.

The student of history will find that Christianity, like all other religions, has been utilised against the lower orders whenever they have rebelled against the tyranny of their rulers The scriptural 'injunction of “Servants obey your masters,” has always been ready to hand to encourage submissiveness, and the “great” Martin Luther, who is held up by the Protestants as a light of liberty, demonstrated how this injunction serves against the subject class. When the peasants of Germany rose in revolt against their exploiters in 1525, Luther addressed the nobles and princes as follows :
  “Inasmuch as they are evil minded and brazenly refuse to obey, and furthermore, resist their masters, they have forfeited life and soul as do all faithless, perjured, mendacious, disobedient knaves and villains. Therefore it becomes the duty of all here to strangle and stab, secretly or publicly, all such, and remember that there is nothing so poisonous, injurious and fiendish as a rebellious person. Just as you would kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him he will strike you, and with you the whole country.” (Quoted, by Gustav Bang in his ‘‘Crises in European History.”)
It is useless for our Christian apologists to claim that Luther and his like acted in contravention of "true Christianity.” For in every case of the votaries of Christianity using their influence to crush rebellion they stood upon the "authority of the Holy Bible.” The doctrine of non-resistance to evil is one of the chief tenets of the Christian religion, and was taught by its titular founder and his chief apostle Paul. The latter, in his various epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, etc., at all times enjoined the slaves to be obedient to their masters "in fear and trembling,” and to give them the same submission as they gave to Christ. Thus it is clear that the ethics of Christianity with their slavish characteristics are utterly out of harmony with the revolutionary principles of Socialism. Even the much lauded "Golden rule," although no monopoly of Christianity, since it was preached centuries prior to the advent of that religion, and is to be found in most ancient religions and philosophies, is useless to the workers as a means of their social advancement. Those who dominate society cannot be removed from their social position by the preaching of ethics; they can only be removed as all other ruling classes have been removed, i.e., by the reins of government being taken from their control by another class gaining power.

With regard to the different concepts of life between the Socialist and the Christian. The latter can only regard the world as a “vale of tears,” and this life as a painful preparation for a life we are supposed to live hereafter. It is an essential part of Christian teaching that the affairs of this life are as nought compared with the promised life beyond the clouds, and consequently we are enjoined to despise earthly things, to reap our reward in heaven. Of course, the Christian in practice treats earthly things much in the same manner as do non-Christians, but we are concerned here not with his actions but with his teaching. To the Socialist, the affairs of this life, the only life we know of, are of the utmost importance, and our concern is to make it as pleasurable as possible. As indicated above, there are ample means at the disposal of mankind to-day for all to live, in economic security and in healthy social surroundings. But such a condition of affairs will not be accomplished by preaching ethics, whether religious or secular, it will only materialise by the waging of the class struggle in which the workers must be backed up by a sound knowledge of the forces that lead to their emancipation from wage slavery. The workers must realise the fact that, in the words of Marx, "Religion is the opium of the people”; it has been the chloroform in the hands of parasites, throughout the history of class domination, and inasmuch as it has any influence in modern society, it acts as it is its nature to act, as a conservative force, aiming to preserve the traditional illusions of the dead past, as obstacles to the needs of the living present, and the future. Christianity, like all religions, has been driven from every field of science, and since Socialism in philosophy is science applied to society, Christianity can find no logical place in the Socialist philosophy. We Socialists take our stand upon the firm basis of positive science explaining social conditions, and, in fact, all things within the scope of our knowledge, by purely natural causation. Thus, the materialistic movement of Socialism is seen to be utterly opposed to the false idealism and supernaturalism of Christianity. Socialism alone, with its recognition of the supreme importance of material things, can accomplish for the workers what Christianity and its slavish morality assists to retard. We know that economic evolution and the self- interest of the working class are inevitably preparing the path for that great social change, when the workers of the world will enjoy the fruits of their labour in a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production and distribution by and in the interest of the whole community; a system of society known as Socialism.
Robert Reynolds.

Coal Mining Insanity (2012)

The Material World Column from the November 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

According to a report released in July by National Public Radio and the Center for Public Integrity, black lung disease in coal miners has quadrupled since the 1980s and doubled since 2002. The doubling coincided with an increase of 600 hours in the work year of the average miner. Over 10,000 miners died of the disease in 1985-94 in the Appalachians alone.

There is no treatment for black lung disease. At its final stage – ‘massive fibrosis’ – even mild exertion causes disabling oxygen deprivation. Victims say they can either eat or breathe, but not both at the same time.

The coal seams in old mines have thinned, and the companies extract seams down to one inch thick. These thin seams are often embedded in quartz rock with a high silica content, which generates dust even more deadly than coal dust.

Hiding the dust
In 1960 Congress passed a law to regulate dust levels in mines. But Big Coal and its bought politicians – such as the late Senator Robert Byrd, who cynically called himself “the coal miner’s friend” – weakened its safety provisions to keep down costs for the companies. They seek to protect corporate profits, not workers’ health. Miners are expendable and can readily be replaced, perhaps at even lower wages, from the ‘reserve army of the unemployed’.

The main weakness of the law as passed is that it lets the companies police themselves. A government inspector cannot enter a mine while production is underway – and that is 24 hours a day! – without the company’s prior consent. When the dust level readings taken by the company disagree with those taken by the inspector, the company is allowed to take definitive new readings at five locations chosen by itself.

Weak as the law is, it is often broken. During the last decade mining companies were cited with over 53,000 violations. Fewer than 1,000 resulted in court action.

Waste stream
In February 2011 the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences published a report by scientists from several US universities, entitled ‘Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal’. The authors found that each stage in the life cycle of coal – extraction, transport, processing, combustion – generates a waste stream that poses multiple hazards to health and the environment.

Thus, the release of Coal Combustion Waste (CCW), also known as fly ash, by burning coal exposes people to toxic chemicals and heavy metals known to cause cancer, birth defects, reproductive disorders, neurological damage, learning disabilities, kidney disease and diabetes.

The coal companies do not pay these ‘external’ costs and therefore ignore them. The scientists estimate the annual cost to the US public as at least a third of a trillion dollars, possibly over half a trillion. Accounting for the damage caused by coal gives a ‘full social cost’ double or triple the ‘economic cost’ of generating electricity from coal. Measured against this benchmark, wind, solar and other non-hydrocarbon energy sources are far cheaper than coal.

Greenhouse gas emissions
The authors found that burning coal produces 50 percent more emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2 — the main greenhouse gas) than combustion of an equivalent amount of oil and double the CO2 emissions from burning an equivalent amount of natural gas.

Coal also contains mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, manganese, beryllium, chromium, and other toxic and carcinogenic substances that are released into the environment during combustion. Finally, the crushing and processing of coal release tons of tiny particles every year that contaminate the water, air and soil, with consequent harm to health and the biosphere.

Methane is also released in the process of coal mining. It is a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than CO2. Even when methane decays it yields CO2 — a lose-lose situation.

Mountaintop Removal
The coal companies make wide use of Mountaintop Removal (MTR) in the Appalachians. To get at the coal inside a mountain, they use explosives to blast away the summit, together with the forest covering it. The resulting rubble or “spoil” is dumped into the valleys below.

MTR has been used at about 500 sites in four states (Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee), burying 2,000 miles of streams and despoiling 1.4 million acres of scenic natural terrain. In Kentucky alone there are 293 MTR sites, with over 1,400 miles of streams damaged or destroyed and 2,500 more miles polluted.

This reckless vandalism is directed against a region whose rich biodiversity is second only to that of the tropics. The Southern Appalachian Mountains are home to the greatest variety of salamanders in the world, with 18 percent of all known species.

Just say no!
In view of the massive social costs associated with coal mining and the availability of less destructive energy sources, this industry would be a thing of the past if the government, with its monopoly on violence, were not in collusion with Big Business — in this case, the coal companies.

There is not and never was any such thing as a ‘free market’. Government, with its law-making, courts, and self-sustaining monopoly on violence, is necessary to camouflage the tremendous imbalance between the classes and create the illusion of a society of normal human relations.

If we all, every working class person, just said no, we don’t want this anymore, it would be a first step towards the means of life passing into our hands so we could stop the insane forms of capitalist production that have been destroying our world for over centuries.
Joe Hopkins (WSPUS)

50 Years Ago: A Plea for Human Survival (2012)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. Jonathan Cape, 18s.

This is a brilliant, powerful, bitter book.

The military machine is one of capitalism’s ugliest children. Ugly not only because it is a killer machine, but also because of the discipline, stupidity and wastefulness which its killer motive compels it to have. Some workers glory in these things. They never forget their days in the Forces; they join ex-service men’s associations, parade in their earner; medals, perpetuate the slang they learned in the Nissen huts.

Catch-22 looks at all this with the searing eye of remorseless satire. (…) Joseph Heller is another of the people who, without being Socialists, can compose impressive indictments of capitalism. He is a writer of enormous impact, who constructs and times his sentences to perfection. He can make us laugh and he can grip us horrified with sensitive, compulsive prose. His description of Yossarian brooding through Rome, watching human behaviour decay all around him, will haunt us for a long time. All in all he makes the post-war wave of British novelists, with their startling discovery that a lot of people under capitalism have to work for their living and that in their spare time they sometimes get drunk and have illicit sexual relations, look pretty sick. (…)

At the moment, Catch 22 is sweeping the United States, where cars carry window-stickers which say “Better Yossarian Than Rotarian.” Nobody need think, because of that, that if capitalism throws up another world war the people who have laughed at, been moved by, and agreed with Heller’s book will not turn the required mental somersault and join up with a will. We know now that working class ignorance runs that deep.

For all that, Catch-22 deserves to be read and to find its place among the books which stand out against the lie that war is romantic and glorious and necessary but which say unmistakably that the people have nothing to gain from war and that war is sordid and obscene and futile.

(From review by Ivan, Socialist Standard, November 1962)

Contrickery in Conference (2012)

The Greasy Pole Column from the November 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Locked, bolted and barred with every spoken syllable and gesture weighed and scrutinised, the annual conferences of the big political parties are not what they used to be. There was a time when the attending members, taking pride in themselves as delegates, could have hoped that their agenda items, after being amended, composited and generally sanitised, might have borne some relation to the professed policy of their party, or when events scheduled as debates might have aroused some passion or indignation about world famine or dictatorships or devastating war. It is not like that now: “Borderline tedium” was how one observer put it.

This year Conservative Party members might have travelled home from their conference in a glow of satisfaction, under the impression that their doubts about the government had been noticed. As when Cameron defiantly laid it down that no one should feel bad about having been to Eton: “I say yes I went to a great school and I want every child to have a great education. I’m not here to defend privilege. I’m here to spread it”. Except that privilege is nothing if not exclusive – as comprehensive pupils will realise if they ever have to play in their school’s version of the Eton Wall Game. As when the new Justice Minister, Christopher Grayling, thumped his tub to announce the replacement of Ken Clarke’s Rehabilitation Revolution by Rougher Retribution. As when Eric Pickles paraded his plans to obstruct the union activities of local authority workers on the grounds that this will make the unions stronger.

Clumsy Clegg
The LibDems no longer alert us about global warming or the dangers of eating non-organic food, which, to anyone interested in political matters, was only mildly irritating. Now they are preoccupied with their agonised wrestling to keep their place on the same side of the Commons as Cameron’s Tories while plugging the gaps left by those infamously dishonoured election pledges. Their method has been to placate the outraged voters while avoiding the question of why any of their future promises should be believed. This wretched come-down dominated their conference, not alleviated by Nick Clegg and his fumbling efforts to divert attention from their exposure: “There is a better, more meaningful future waiting for us. Not as a third party, but as one of the parties of government… Stop looking in the rear-view mirror as we journey from the party of opposition that we were, to the party of government we are becoming”.

False Images
But those images in Clegg’s rear-view mirror could not have inspired the LibDems as examples for the future. Such as: “I see generations of Liberals marching towards the sound of gunfire” – a phrase first offered by the charmingly mannered Old Etonian, Jo Grimond, their leader from November 1956 to January 1967. Under Grimond the Liberals were on the rise, for example, winning the safe Tory seat of Orpington in 1958 but then declined. In July 1976 David Steel took over, offering the party some hope with his livelier style, and for a while this seemed to bear fruit, but in March 1977 Steel stuffed them into an uncomfortable alliance with Callaghan’s Labour government, and when this failed to keep Labour in power in 1988 he managed the merger with the discredited Gang of Four’s SDP. However, there was persistent enmity between Steel and the SDP’s leader David Owen, a symptom of which was Steel agreeing to a joint policy document without having read it. This year a triumphant Clegg told the conference that Paddy Ashdown will head the party’s general election team – the same Paddy Ashdown whose failure to improve the party’s prospects came to an end with his resignation in 1999. None of these men in the rear-view mirror succeeded in raising the Liberals to the point when they could be seen as an alternative government for British capitalism. When Clegg proclaimed to the conference that the LibDems stand for “a fair, free and open society,” he was offering just another pledge, to be judged by the party’s dismal history of failure.

Vote for Disraeli?
When it was time for Ed Miliband to stand at the rostrum he knew – because almost the entire British media had blanketed him with the advice – that this was his make or break time. He slaved at learning his lines off by heart so that as he boarded the train to Birmingham he was as word perfect as any Old Vic veteran. Although an eavesdropping fellow passenger heard him spurting in frustration “What am I doing? Who knows what I’m doing? Where’s my fucking diary?” he came through to make a speech arousing the massive satisfaction of party members and the media – which can be explained only by reference to their impoverished standards of expectation. Plunging into typical politicians’ gobbledygook, Miliband referred (no less than 44 times) to the concept of One-Nation, with an implied salute to Benjamin Disraeli whose name is forever linked to the phrase – which was also used by Tony Blair in Labour’s election winning 1997 manifesto: “I want a Britain that is one nation, with shared values and purpose…”  At a time of recession, with the promise of even fiercer pressure on our living standards, the best Miliband and his party can do is urge us to have regard to the words of a Victorian politician (whose concern for the effects of the class divide and its resultant problems did not endure into what might be called history) and of a recent leader with the reputation of a blatant liar. Meanwhile in the real world, the British Medical Journal, supported by the Samaritans, reports that as unemployment increases so does the rate of suicide.

Vacant Posturing
The Tories went to their conference this year desperate to hear that George Osborne and his magicians at the Treasury will soon have dissolved the recession into history. In a characteristically empty speech David Cameron was able to feed their appetite. For the LibDems Nick Clegg could do little more than console them for the angry likelihood of approaching doom and his own banishment to bitter memory. Ed Miliband showed that he has finally grasped the need for any aspirant political leader to compose a speech consisting of headlines and vacant posturing. None of them could suggest that for human society there should be something other, better or more hopeful. The case for us doing it for ourselves, for changing the way we order the world so that it is to the betterment of humans, remained intact and unchallenged.
Ivan

The Magic and History Tour (2012)

The Proper Gander Column from the November 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Five creationists must have thought their prayers had been answered when they were offered a free holiday – a road trip across the west coast of America, from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The catch was that on the way they would meet with heathen scientists to dispute their wacky views, and that they would risk humiliation by a BBC3 camera crew. Creationism: Conspiracy Road Trip began with the five fundamentalists being taken ‘on a wing and a prayer’ in a plane above the Grand Canyon. There, they met with a geologist who explained how the canyon was carved out over millions of years, and not a mere 4,000 years ago when ‘the Great Flood’ receded. Next, their coach took them to Lake Powell in Utah, where another scientist described how it would be impossible to squeeze 16,000 animals (presumably including dinosaurs) on Noah’s Ark and still make it float. Driving on to the University of California in Berkeley, the prickly question of incest in Adam and Eve’s immediate family was met with blank looks and feeble responses.

Unfortunately, the debate between creationism and science isn’t about objectively weighing-up the evidence for opposing beliefs. As some of the less blinkered creationists recognised, having faith is usually like holding up a ‘no entry’ sign to scientific evidence, however persuasive. One of the programme’s own ‘experts’ – a Christian palaeontologist – realised that you can’t reconcile the view that humans co-existed with dinosaurs with the fact that their fossilised remains have never been found together. Believing in creationism is like believing that The Flintstones was a fly-on-the-wall documentary. So, many creationists hang on to their views by just refusing to accept the evidence.

Being confronted by this caused one or two of those on the road trip to be driven up the wall. This made for an increasingly bumpy ride, with TV-friendly tears and awkward accusations of bullying. Suspecting a set-up, steely-faced participant Phil challenged the director, engineered a split among the others and became paranoid about the motives of even the Christians they met on the journey. As a reasonable discussion of differing views, this road trip stalled and then spluttered to a halt.
Mike Foster

Strictly Marxist (2019)

Book Review from the August 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

William Morris’s Utopianism: Propaganda, Politics and Prefiguration. By Owen Holland. Palgrave Macmillan. 300 pages. 2017.

This is an important book that shows that Morris was not a ‘utopian’ in the sense of wanting to set up small-scale intentional communities run on cooperative or communistic lines. This is what Marx and Engels had called in 1848 in the Communist Manifesto ‘duodecimo editions of the New Jerusalem’, as advocated – and to a certain extent practised – by Charles Fourier, Etienne Cabet, Robert Owen and their followers. Morris was a utopian only in the sense of being the author of a utopian novel about a future communist (or socialist, the same thing) society and how it came about. Even in News from Nowhere, there is a criticism of ‘utopian socialism’ as when Old Hammond says of Fourier’s ‘phalansteries’ that they were a ‘refuge from destitution and little more.’

In his purely political writings Morris was even more critical, accusing those who set them up of opting out of the struggle to establish socialism on a society-wide basis. Holland quotes from a book review Morris wrote in Justice (10 July 1886), the journal of the Social Democratic Federation, that ‘although these communities were experiments in association, from one point of view they were anti-Socialistic, as they withdrew themselves from general society—from political society—and let it take care of itself.’ Holland goes to quote from a lecture Morris gave in 1894 entitled Why I am a Communist in which he said that ‘such experiments are of their nature non-progressive; at their best they are but another form of the MediƦval monastery, withdrawals from the Society of the day, really implying hopelessness of a general change.’

What Morris favoured was socialists staying in capitalist society and propagating the need for revolutionary action to change the basis of society to the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life, the same criticism that Marx and Engels had made of those they encountered in the 1840s who argued for setting up intentional communistic communities.

In the book as a whole, Holland places Morris’s ideas in the context of late Victorian society, as in his examination of Morris’s views on the ‘women’s rights’ movement of the time and the peoples of the ‘backward countries.’

As a socialist Morris was of course opposed to all oppression of women, but he seems to have thought that women were better, if not naturally, suited to doing certain kinds of work (such as serving food, as in News from Nowhere) and unsuited for others (such as working down coal mines or at night). Not that the feminists of the time (now known as First Wave Feminism) campaigned for the ‘right’ of women to work at night or down the mines. They were more concerned about their property not passing to their husband if they got married. Many, Holland notes, saw the way forward for women in terms of individual personal development rather than a change in the basis of society.
Adam Buick

Monopoly money (2019)

The Cooking the Books column from the August 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

In June Mark Zuckerberg announced that in 2020 Facebook would launch its own ‘digital currency’. Since Facebook is the F in the GAFA group of US technology corporations that are widely criticised for harvesting private information for profit and/or not paying enough tax (the others are Google, Apple and Amazon), suspicions, not to say conspiracy theories, immediately arose that there must be some ulterior motive, one beyond making more money that is. Even Ed Conway, Sky News Economics Editor, had an article in the Times (21 June) headlined ‘Facebook currency will help it rule the world. Mark Zuckerberg’s new move is designed to make his company more powerful than any country’.

Is there anything in this? Or is it just sensationalism or the usual left-wing practice of selecting particular capitalist corporations or groups of capitalists to blame for things rather than the capitalist system as such or even the far-right delusion that the Jews are out to rule the world?

What is being proposed is an international payments system based on blockchain technology. This is a technology that allows any transaction to be both uniquely digitalised and unable to be tampered with. It was the basis of the Bitcoin scheme devised by the so-called crypto-anarchists. But the Libra, as the Facebook money is to be called (the same as the l in the old l.s.d.), will be different from Bitcoin in several key respects.

First, it will not be that decentralised but run by a central board on which other corporations, such as Paypal, Visa and Mastercard, participating in it will be represented alongside Facebook.

Second, it will be linked to a bundle of state currencies (dollar, euro, yen, sterling, etc) so that, unlike Bitcoin, its value can be stabilised so it can be used as a means of payment.

Third, it won’t be secret. Secrecy is not built-in to blockchain technology but was something added by the crypto-anarchists for Bitcoin to avoid states knowing who the payers and payees were.

Fourth, it will be profit-making. The corporations participating in it are aiming to make a profit out of the fees charged to users.

Those using the service – in theory all of the 2.3 billion Facebook users – will be able to open an account in Libra by converting their state currency into it and using this to pay for goods and services in any part of the world (except China where Facebook is banned). It is rather surprising that the banks themselves have not come forward with such a system. They may well be forced to now. Even the state central banks might have to,

That this is a bid by Zuckerberg to become the ruler of the world is complete nonsense of course. For that, he would have to control armed force, which he doesn’t. And his scheme will be subject to the control of states. They are bound to introduce regulations to stop Facebook money being used for currency speculation, money laundering and other dodgy dealings, just as they have done with Paypal and the others and would love to do with Bitcoin.

Ellen Brown, the US anti-banker theorist, has suggested (‘Facebook May Pose A Greater Danger Than Wall Street,’ Truthdig, 25 June) that what should happen is that the international payments system be run as a public service by ‘democratised’ central banks. That’s to miss the problem. It, too, would be a colossal waste of information technology that could be more usefully employed, in a needs-oriented world, in organising the logistics of ensuring that everyone on Earth had access to what they needed when they needed it – without payment.

Mistaken Identity (2019)

The Proper Gander column from the August 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tucked away on BBC3 is a worthy, if a little rushed, drama which aims to explore and explain how people can come to adopt far-right views. The Left Behind follows Gethin, a young man living with his sister, along with her husband and child, in a run-down Welsh community. The family is threatened with eviction from their rented home, and approaches the council for help with finding other accommodation. A new housing development is being planned, but the family realises that a place there won’t be within their financial reach. When they become homeless, the council doesn’t place Gethin with the others in temporary accommodation, as he’s not classed as a ‘priority’. So he ends up sleeping rough, alongside his father who fell into homelessness after losing his job. Gethin works whatever shifts he’s given in a fast food joint, which isn’t enough for him to have either enough money or enough fulfilment in his job. His gang of friends live similarly precarious lives, with little prospect of anything changing for the better. They blame their situation on immigrants and Muslims, who they believe have taken ‘their’ jobs and houses. The gang’s growing nationalist, far-right views push them to extremes against a local family who run a halal butcher shop.

The Left Behind’s writer, Alan Harris, based the script on research by sociology professor Hilary Pilkington, who has studied what motivates people to espouse far-right beliefs. At only an hour long, the drama doesn’t have time to go deeply enough into the reasons, but it tells a sadly plausible story. It’s set in a community where most people have to struggle on a low income with the threat of homelessness, and research suggests that these circumstances can breed support for far-right views. The play’s director Joseph Bullman says that a feeling of ‘hopelessness’ drives people to the far right. ‘Most of those people, when you read the studies, live ultra-insecure lives in ultra-low wage jobs and they can’t have a narrative for their lives. They feel humiliated, excluded and left behind’ he said at the film’s premiere (www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-48723274). Someone who feels hopeless is likely to believe that they have no power or influence, especially over their own lives. A misguided way of compensating for this is by trying to get power over other people, shown in the drama through the gang trashing and then burning down the halal butcher shop. The gang, and their real-life equivalents, scapegoat Muslims for their own and society’s problems. Prejudice against Muslims is a common route for people who adopt far-right views, as found by Professor Pilkington’s research. It’s easier to blame another group (especially if they look a bit different) than to understand the economics behind issues like low-paid work or the housing shortage.

It’s a complete myth that Muslims are prioritised for social housing or jobs. Those who hold this misguided belief don’t seem to bother asking themselves why religion would be used as a criterion for shortlisting, whether for a home or a job. Councils and companies just don’t work like that. Right wing falsehoods get stirred up by social media, usually as mis-spelt rants on message threads. People of similar views reflect and reinforce each others’ beliefs, an ‘echo chamber’ based on ignorance.

Islam, and other religions, should be criticised for their tenets and practices, but challenging this ideology in a legitimate way requires evidence and rational arguments, best delivered calmly. The far-right takes a stereotypical, alarmist view of Islam, a false starting point which isn’t likely to lead to a reasonable debate. Threats, abuse and violence are used because their arguments are so weak.

Nationalism goes with far-right views. In the drama, the gang talks of ‘standing up for Britain’, which rests on the wrong assumption that Britain is theirs to defend. It’s a case of mistaken identity. The far right, whether as a group of alienated young people or political organisations, see divisions between people in nationality, culture and ethnicity. The real division in society is between the minority who own and run things and the vast majority, of whatever nation, culture or ethnicity, who have to cope as best they can with their circumstances. Unfortunately, the play only hints at the reasons behind the bigger picture.

Where the research behind the script comes through clearest are the scenes with Gethin arguing and pleading with the council housing officer. Their replies of ‘we have a limited number of properties and we have to prioritise people’ and ‘there’s only so much we can do’ must have been said thousands of times in real-life council offices. The other characters representing some sort of authority tend to hide behind bland, hollow turns of phrase when challenged about the system. For example, the councillor at a public meeting about the out-of-reach housing development uses ‘I understand your frustrations’ and ‘I will be working my hardest to take that forward’. Even the manager of the fast food caff pretends his zero-hours-contract staff are ‘associates’ who ‘facilitate our customers’ needs’.

The scenario shown in The Left Behind shouldn’t make us jump to the conclusion that living in poverty automatically leads to being a right-wing numbskull. And while the drama may describe how some people sink to the far right, it’s certainly not the only route. Abhorrent racist and nationalist views are obviously also found among the rich and the reasonably well-off, with different causes. What anyone in the far right has in common is not seeing the real reasons behind society’s problems, and using this to encourage harmful divisions between people.
Mike Foster