Sunday, December 29, 2019

Cooking the Books: Cash Mountains (2019)

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

On the basis of figures released by the Office for National Statistics, the Times (9 April) reported:
  ‘Private companies, excluding financial institutions, have tucked away £173 billion since March 2016, the last full quarter before the referendum, and are sitting on £747 billion of cash, a level not seen before. At 35.3 per cent of GDP, the size of their pile of cash as a proportion of national output is at a historic high (…) In 2017, before the financial crisis, cash balances as a share of GDP were only 25 per cent. In 2000 they had been 20 per cent. They started to climb in 2012.’
This brings out how capitalist firms operate. A firm is an independent unit of capital seeking, through the actions of its top managers, to expand itself by making a profit and re-investing this in more productive capacity and production.

Cash mountains arise when the money profit acquired from selling the product is not immediately re-invested. This happens when the market for the product becomes saturated through overproduction, so that it is no longer profitable to produce them. In the particular case highlighted by the ONS figures, however, the reason seems to have been different.

Since the referendum, which went the wrong way as far as most of them are concerned, firms have been waiting to see what the post-Brexit profit-making conditions are likely to be. But the Brexit negotiations have dragged on and on. Profits are still being made from maintaining production at current levels but, in view of the uncertainty, they are not being re-invested in expanding production. Firms seem to have been marking time and as a result, have accumulated profits as cash.

The Times described this as ‘cash hoarding’ but this is not an entirely accurate description. It is not as if the cash is being stored in some safe. It is used to bring in an income as interest through buying stocks and shares and government bills and bonds, in effect by being lent.

Some critics of the present economic system describe it as a ‘debt-based economy’. This suggests that capitalism is driven by the pursuit of interest. Some have even absurdly suggested that capitalism has been kept going by loans to workers to buy things. Actually, capitalism is based on the pursuit of profits, of which interest is a sub-division. Some firms borrow money to invest in production for profit and, when they make a profit, share a part of this with the banks or other financial institutions that put up the money.

Those who talk of a ‘debt-based economy’ tend to think that banks create the money they lend by a few keyboard strokes. In fact, they can only lend what they have. The present ‘cash mountain’ is a reminder of where some of the what-banks-lend comes from – those who have lent them money either directly, or indirectly via the money market, including from firms that for one reason or another have built up cash mountains from uninvested profit.

England’s Dreaming (2019)

Book Review from the June 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mike Wayne: England’s Discontents: Political Cultures and National Identities. Pluto Press. 2018.

This is an attempt to make sense of political cultures and national identities with a particular focus on England in the light of both Brexit and moves towards Scottish independence. It is influenced heavily by the Italian quasi-Marxist Antonio Gramsci and his concept of hegemony. As such, much of the book is concerned with the formation of political cultures and identities – and how these inform national identity and political movements.

It is full of phrases like ‘highly multi-accentual’ and ‘counter-hegemonic organic intellectuals’ and so if you have an aversion to this sort of academic ‘discourse’ the book is not for you. Nevertheless, there are some good points within it and it is generally worth persevering. Much of it is concerned with the identification of ideologies and their key characteristics, mainly conservatism, economic liberalism, social liberalism and social democracy. Wayne explains the differences that characterise them and the relationships between them, including how they have often interlinked to form dominant ‘hegemonic blocs’ in various periods of modern British history. The most recent and notable has been the alliance between conservatism and economic liberalism, an alliance which is now facing various challenges as well as internal contradictions.

These inherent tensions between conservatism and economic liberalism are brought out well and mean that economic liberalism periodically finds common cause with social liberalism instead (as under Blair). This is because conservatism finds expression in three important strands of identity that the market economy of capitalism tends to undermine or contradict as a matter of course – ethnic/religious identity, national identity and ‘deep-history’ identifications (ie, tradition, routines and rituals, etc). As Wayne explains rather neatly:
  ‘Together these three strands attempt to create a moral framework for an economic system that does not have one, a point of national identification for a mode of production whose expansionary logic cannot be contained within the nation-state and a slowing down of historical change for a revolutionary change-obsessed mode of production’ (p.69).
These are the types of tensions he sees as having helped (among other things) fuel populism in recent years and it’s difficult to disagree. Sadly, as a counter-balance Wayne seems to be a calling for the recreation of the historic bloc that was based, in his terms, on the alliance of social liberalism and social democracy that dominated the post-war period in the UK until it started to break down in the 1970s and was rolled back in the 80s. He sees leftist Scottish nationalism as a potential vehicle for rekindling this and seriously underplays the negative role that nationalism plays in countries like Scotland where it is not as overtly right-wing and conservative as it typically is in places like England. But it is interesting too, that much polling evidence shows that the ideological make-up of the Scottish population is actually rather less different than is often supposed to that of England and Wales, especially on major left/right issues – and this goes unmentioned.

Also unmentioned is any real sense of what socialism might mean. It is a word used occasionally in historic contexts but it is never really made apparent what this is or how it might relate to (or seek to oppose) the other ideologies – or, for that matter, the tendencies some of them have helped foster that Wayne finds abhorrent in modern English political culture.
Dave Perrin

Editorial: Bad Advice From A Trade Union Leader (1944)

Editorial from the December 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Charles Dukes, C.B.E., is general secretary of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers, which has about three-quarters of a million members, according to the Daily Express (January 20th, 1942) he is one of the small number of Trade Union officials in the £1,000  a year class. Starting work at eleven as an errand boy, he went through various jobs before reaching his present position as a Trade Union official. In the intervening period he has been a Member of Parliament, was for many years in the I.L.P., and is now in the Labour Party. In the last war he was an opponent of war. If experience teaches, it might be assumed that his life and political activities should have taught him much about the problems facing the working class. He claimed, many years ago, that apart from what he picked up in his brief school days up to age 11, he was self-educated. He writes articles on the problems of the day in his Union’s monthly journal that betray a painful lack of understanding, but that lack certainly cannot be ascribed to his own educational difficulties. What they do disclose is a complete failure to appreciate the nature of capitalism and the position of the working class in that system.

In an article in the May, 1944, issue of the Journal he lamented, but accepted, the fading of the dream of working-class internationalism. “It is no use pretending,” he wrote, "that there has not been a moral collapse in respect of internationalism. Whether we shall see its revival in the next decade is exceedingly problematical. . . . Our Labour Movement believed fervently that we could build the International Labour Movement across national frontiers, and ignore the ties of race and nationality. For the second time this theory has been disproved. It is not that the ideal is wrong, but rather that in its practical application it ignored the influences of race, which are deeper than association between peoples of different nationalities. The moral code is not enough. . . . The physical sanction throughout the ages has been necessary to enforce civic law, and there can be no doubt regarding its necessity in the enforcement of international law. Until this simple truth is grasped, we are merely fooling ourselves in pretending that a peaceful world can be ensured without the means to enforce the International Code.”

A little analysis shows the flaw in this argument. Mr. Dukes, in effect, despairs of working-class internationalism because ties of race and nationality prevent the workers from coming together effectively, and in his despair he turns to the idea of some international body which shall wield armed force to restrain national groups. But who shall make and control the international body? Since all the governments are capitalist governments, it is the capitalists who are to do this: but, according to Mr. Dukes' earlier remark, they too would be prevented by ties of race and nationality from getting together in an international body! We see here the sad spectacle of the workers’ chosen representative who despairs of his own class and hopefully bestows his trust on the capitalists, believing that they will do what the workers are incapable of doing. Truly reliance on a broken reed.

And why, we may ask, did the efforts at working-class internationalism fail? Basically they failed because the workers have not yet grasped the truth that all over the world they have a common interest in destroying capitalism by their own class unity and efforts; but this hits Mr. Dukes too. Internationalism, like charity, is something that should begin at home, it ill becomes the supporter of a capitalist government in one country to lament the lack of international class sentiment among the workers in other countries.

In a later article (July, 1944) Mr. Dukes starts off by urging trade unionists not to concentrate too much on social reforms; ”there is always the danger of becoming obsessed with these palliative measures,” he writes. This is a hopeful beginning, but what follows is the amazing statement that the real basic issue deserving attention is ”work and wages,” which “must, for all time, remain the primary consideration.”

Later on, to show that he means just what he says, he adds that “not even a Social Revolution will solve the vexed problem of WORK AND WAGES” (his capitals!).

Mr. Dukes—who at least at one time will have claimed to be a Socialist—goes on to make his reader’s flesh creep at the post-war problem of capitalist governments having to budget “to meet the colossal indebtedness of war-time circumstances,” which includes, of course, paying millions of pounds of interest to investors in government loans. Because of this he warns us that “those who expect big margins out of which to finance great schemes of social development will encounter almost insuperable obstacles.” Then follows a piece of further advice to his own hard-working and low-paid members. “Unless production can be stepped up far in excess of our pre-war production, no juggling with national finance will bring into being any great improvement in the lives of the people of this country. Let us, therefore, understand that the chief responsibility of the post-war government is to ensure full production and full employment. . . .”

This is history repeating itself, for after the last war most of the trade union officials were lending themselves to government propaganda to increase production, and one of the outstanding figures was Mr. J. R. Clynes, an official of this same union, who likewise still writes for the journal. The S.P.G.B. told Mr. Clynes then that the result of the increased-production campaign would be the more rapid rise of unemployment, and events justified our warning to the hilt. Capitalism needs unemployment just as it needs the poverty of the working class. It will abolish neither.

We tell Mr. Dukes’ members that, instead of following his despairing policy of making the best of capitalism (or, rather, of making even less than the best of capitalism), they should turn the other way. Start by appreciating that capitalism necessarily means the exploitation of the working class, and recognise the common interest of the workers everywhere of resisting that exploitation as far as they are able, but, above all, of ending capitalism by international Socialist action. Ponder the wise advice given by Karl Marx instead of chasing Mr. Dukes' will o’ the wisp of “full work at full wages.” Marx said over half a century ago to trade unionists:—
  Instead of the Conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work !” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wages System!”
Don’t heed Mr. Dukes’ ignorant assertion that the social revolution will still leave us facing problems of work and wages. They are part of the capitalist wages system, and will go when it goes.

Letter: The Cause of Crime (1944)

Letter to the Editors from the December 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard
The letter below from Mr. Whitehead continues the correspondence published in our May issue.



Without challenging one of the many examples I gave showing that capitalism and poverty could not be the most serious causes of crime, the Socialist Standard instead is much more concerned with what is my view of the cause of crime.

Actually there is no cause of crime or of any other sociological phenomena, but many causes. And in showing as I did that neither capitalism nor poverty is the cause of crime, I am no more called upon to give the true causes than is a critic logically bound to supply the real explanation when he says spirits are not responsible for the flying tambourines at a seance.

By showing that India, a poor country, has the lowest crime rate, and the United States, the richest country with the highest standard of living among the workers of any nation on earth, has also the highest rate of crime, I demonstrated that poverty could not be the cause of crime. The low violent-crime rate among Jews in any environment and the high rate for violent crime of Italians in Italy or in any other environment shows again that capitalism per se cannot be the cause of crime. The far greater crime rate of Catholics compared with Jews, Protestants, or any other class in Britain, America, France and Germany is not due to their greater poverty and insecurity, as is proved not only by India, where crime is less frequent, but by the fact that Southern Europe and the Latins in general have a greater ratio of crimes of violence (often connected with sex) than the peoples of Northern Europe, but the latter in turn have a greater ratio of crimes against property. These Latin characteristics go with their owners to America, North and South, and even to Australia, where Italians are famous for their ready use of the knife—so much so, that I have a peacetime report of Australian workers striking rather than work in company with Italian colleagues. Germans, by the way, are law abiding in almost any community. And almost everywhere agricultural communities, usually more poverty stricken and insecure than industrial, have a far lower crime rate in the same countries, and as a class all over the world tend to have a lower rate than the industrial populations.

Crime is far more complex than Socialists assume, and crimes of violence are far less associated with economic causes than are crimes against property. Sex, jealousy, revenge, passion, drink, uncontrolled temper and other temperamental idiosyncracies have more to do with crimes of violence than has capitalism or poverty.

The causes of serious crime must be sought not only in the sphere of economics, but in morals, biology, psychology, religion and race; and not only in environment but far more in heredity and parental and other training of the young. Even temperature cannot be excluded, crime and insanity being more rife in summer than in winter, in spite of there being more unemployment and poverty in winter.

The psychological and inherited factors all have causes and are obviously associated with material conditions without, however, being, as the Marxians assume, the direct or indirect reflexes, being more often themselves causes of economic reflexions. This, I hasten to add, is not the prelude to a long controversy on the Materialistic Conception of History. My present intention is merely to expose the absurdity of the claim that capitalism is the cause of crime, criminals being rife scores of thousands of years before capitalism became the King Charles' head of Socialists. Finally, if capitalism is responsible for economic insecurity, which causes crime, why do 95 per cent. of the workers suffering from insecurity never commit serious crime, and why are Jews, who in many countries are penalised and relatively insecure, far less prone to crime and drunkenness than Catholics in the same countries?
Yours, etc..
G. Whitehead.

Mr. Whitehead introduces too much detail for us to cover all his statements in the space at our disposal. We will therefore consider the broad aspects of the question, and refer the reader back to the previous reply to him, which he has not met.

First of all, we note that Mr. Whitehead has no remedy for crime. He argues that there is not one but many causes of crime. He has entirely missed the point of our previous reply, which stated that crime "is to lie explained by the capitalist environment in which we live."

Crime did not flourish in early communistic communities because there was no private property and sex relations were free. It grew with the development of private property.

Crime consists of infringement against the social rules of the time. These rules in turn depend upon, or rise out of, the nature of the human communities. In the early communities these social rules were based upon communism and were formulated freely by the community as a whole. With the growth of private property the owners of private property became the rulers and law makers. Infringement of their laws became “crimes.” For example, to-day sex is a private property institution and sex relations outside of wedlock are regarded as crimes, except in circumstances where it suits the rulers—when the birthrate of prospective workers and fighters is going down, rich appetites have to be met, or the needs of soldiers attended to for the sake of morale.

What constitutes “crime" has varied as communities have developed. Among the Spartans in early Greek times thieving was a virtue because the Spartan ruling class was a small body among a host of subservient, and their wits had to be developed to the highest pitch for the purpose of repression. In Elizabethan times piracy by English sailors was a virtue because it brought maritime wealth to the English ruling class. In the later centuries private property owners stole millions of acres of common land from the people, but this was not regarded as crime because the new laws based upon private property excluded from their influence the land that had no individual owner but was free for the use of all. In our own day millions of men are trained to strangle, drown, blow to pieces, shoot and maim their fellow-men, but this large scale slaughter and destruction is not regarded as criminal because the rulers of a capitalist society justify it on suitable abstract principles. If a poor man kills another man no abstract principles will save him from the hangman. If a rich man kills another man he has many avenues to escape from the hangman.

Prostitution, over-drinking, over and under eating, the blind pursuit of wealth and the enslaving of native people, war, and the strain of modern life are all consequences of capitalism, and have a demoralising influence on people. All these things contribute to a weakening of the social instincts. They were present in previous forms of society, but have reached their highest expression and their greatest power for evil in the capitalist system.

Poverty and laborious lives induce a low intellectual condition and a brutalised outlook on life. These together with prostitution and unhealthy sex unions produce degeneracy and insanity.

Crime ratios are misleading. Numbers of people commit what Mr. Whitehead would call crimes but never appear in criminal courts because they are rich or crafty. The poor prostitute figures in records, the rich rarely. While proof is difficult, it can hardly be doubted that much evasion of tax and similar regulations is carried on by monied men who are in a position to “know the ropes," or who can afford expert legal advice on ways of finding loopholes.

From the foregoing it will be seen that Mr. Whitehead's references to the ratio of crime in different countries and among different people is no answer to the question. “What is the cause of crime?" nor is it a refutation of our claim that crime can only be explained by social conditions. The rate of crime depends upon the influence of the social factors mentioned above in the countries and among the people in question. This is too wide a subject to be dealt with here. Surely his reference to law-abiding Germans is strange in the light of the rise of the Nazi party and the Gestapo, whose performances rival any criminal propensities of the Italians anywhere. What greater volume of crimes have Catholics committed than those committed by Protestants upon native peoples and upon men. women and children in the mines and factory hells of this country during the last century? The opera “Madame Butterfly" is based upon the attitude of Western man towards his Eastern sister, and many of those who go to see it and enjoy the luxury of shedding tears over the tragedy of Madame Butterfly are blind to their own share in similar tragedies.

We would remind Mr. Whitehead that an understanding of the cause of crime requires also an understanding of what crime is.

When wealth becomes commonly owned and each can obtain what he needs, there will be no crimes against property, the intellectual condition of people will rise, and the heritage of degeneracy and insanity will disappear; when woman has no economic need to sell her body, prostitution will disappear; when the relations between the sexes are free and partnerships can be made and unmade according to the emotional requirements of each, sex crimes will disappear. Then at last we shall really live, healthy, happy and crimeless—morals, biology, psychology, religion, race, heredity, and every other ology notwithstanding!
Editorial Committee

By The Way: Give the Dogs a Thousand Lashes, Damme ! (1944)

The By The Way column from the December 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

Give the Dogs a Thousand Lashes, Damme !

The mentality of some Tory M.P.s is weird and wonderful.

Thus we have Mr. D. Robertson (Conservative, Streatham) dilating on the idleness of the men employed on bomb damage repairs.
  He mentioned a case of men who were brought to Streatham in luxury coaches from a hostel at 8 o'clock and went off to breakfast at 10 o'clock.
  They should have had their breakfast before they left the hostel, but did not because they had lain too long in their beds. (Evening Standard, October 27th, 1944.)
Just fancy! Luxury coaches—the louts! Of course, M.P.s don't ride to the House in luxury coaches, not them— usually plain private (“unluxury”) cars, or just common old taxis.
  "If this idleness continues,” declared Mr. Robertson, "I say put the young men into the infantry and let the older men have a spell of unemployment.”
There for you! The young men can smash more houses up in the Army and the older ones do nothing! How Mr. Robertson can imagine this is going to put anyone's roof back, we can't think!

One or two members of the Socialist Party working on war damage repairs in South London have a suggestion; they propose that Mr. Robertson have a week off from the House of Commons and take a turn on the roofs down in Streatham. He won't do much work, of course, but it would give him a marvellous appetite for those wonderful dinners they serve in the Commons restaurant. Perhaps he might feel like lying in his bed Sunday morning as a result; he wouldn’t have to be at the House, anyway, for they don't sit Saturdays or Sundays.

Our comrades say they are quite willing to do a week in the House of Commons for every day Mr. Robertson gets his hands dirty down at Streatham.

Trouble Down on the Farm

As if in answer to Mr. Robertson, the Norfolk War Agricultural Committee has informed the London Star (November 4th) that the Italian prisoners are rather difficult.
  When they are slack, lazy or disobedient we can report them to their camp, but what happens? They may get a spell of detention, but while they are away doing their punishment the farms are deprived of their services, indifferent though they may be.
  We have also found that punishment does not seem to improve them. As a fact, a spell of detention does not have any salutary effect on them, neither does it seem to have any terrors for them.
  And when they return to the farm they are worse than ever. The result is that the farmers will not report them for minor breaches of discipline.
And these are the boys we went to Italy to “liberate”!

This War

More Trouble. Now Thorburn Wiant, Associated Press correspondent back in London after two years in China, wrote : —
   There is probably no more efficient dictatorship than General Chiang Kai-shek’s party.
   There are secret police, concentration camps and firing squads for those who dare to speak, write or act out of turn. (Daily Mirror, November 1st, l944.)
Come, come, Thorburn! Chiang may be more efficient than Hitler—but not more than .Marshal Stalin!.

He also says the Chinese are not fighting the Japs at all—but one another.

We give it up!

A General Tells About the Cause of War

Lieutenant-General Sir G. Le Q. Martel, K.C.B., is writing on Conscription after the War.
  There is a universal hope that after the war the great nations will get together and solve the international problems of trade and currency, and thus eliminate unemployment and poverty. This would remove the main causes of world wars and the need for large fighting forces. (Evening Standard, September 27th, 1944.) 
Unemployment and poverty are not solved by trade or currency reorganisation, but the worthy General is certainly getting rather warm on the causes of modern war.

Perhaps, as he has retired, now he can write this sort of thing. We can’t imagine General Montgomery telling his troops that the war is caused by unemployment and poverty, though.

Virtue is its Own Reward

The Press is already speculating on how much Parliament is going to give the heads of the fighting services when the war is won. After the last war a sum of £585,000 was voted by Parliament to be distributed to Admirals, Generals and Air Marshals.

Admiral Jellico got £50,000, as did French and Lord Allenby. Sir Hugh Trenchard got £10,000 (Air Force), Sir David Beatty £10,000, and Sir Douglas Haig £100,000 and a statue in Whitehall.
  “It seems clear that any sum voted by Parliament must considerably exceed the £585,000 of the last war,” says one London evening paper (Star, September 7th).
Oh! quite clear! And most essential to cut down on expenditure for the rank and file to do so. Those who lose limbs will lie supplied with mass-produced standardised “Woolworth” arms and legs—free of all charge. Better artificial legs—for the benefit of the workers.

Dreaming of Thee !

The following is from the Daily Mirror (October 25th, 1944):—
   Have Your Holidays by Hypnotism, says Doctor.
   Tired and jaded war workers can have all the invigorating benefits of a seaside holiday without ever going near a beach. It can all he done at homeby hypnotism.
  So, at least, says Dr. Alexander Cannon, of the Isle of Man, former psychiatrist to the L.C.C. mental hospital service.
  Dr. Cannon suggests the hypnotism may be based on a wavelength in some way common to the length of the so-called short wave.”
  “The tired and worn-out worker in this dreamland of hypnosis,” he says, “can be made to walk along the seashore on a warm, sunny day, with a cool, refreshing breeze, and to feel the magnetic power being drawn in through the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet as he leisurely walks until he feels wonderful.”
  “Having allowed this dream picture to be implanted in his mind for a period of from twenty to forty minutes,” the doctor adds, “the worker can then be awakened with no recollection of his dreamland tour but with a feeling of energy, power and revitalisation which may last anything from one to four weeks or longer.”
So this is where “psychology” has got us to. Starting out with telling us that the cause of the trouble is our repressions, going on, like Max Eastman, to inform us that the reason Karl Marx expounded scientific Socialism is because be wanted Hegel for his father, finishing up with fortune telling and psycho-analysis.

We are quite amenable to the idea of having this dream implanted on us if Dr. Cannon will undertake to implant one on our guv'nor on the same terms—viz., are will go away to the seaside for twenty minutes in our dreams, if he (the guv'nor) will agree to dream that we’ve done a week’s work and pay us for it (in real money --not dreams).

Great “Legal” Victory of the Working Class

We gather from the Socialist Appeal (September) that the quashing of the sentences of imprisonment passed on the members of the Revolutionary Communist Party is “one of the most important legal victories in the struggle against anti-labour legislation” which the working class has gained.

We must confess to some mild surprise. For ourselves, we have always held that the only real “legal victory” was when the working class captured the machinery of government (including the armed forces) by voting themselves IN and the boss OUT, which would enable them to enact and enforce laws.

Are we to understand that “revolutionary” Trotskyists have now forsaken armed insurrection and direct action for pleading at the bar of (capitalist) justice?

The New Statesmen !

Every week the New Statesman awards five shillings for the most idiotic statement published in the Press sent in by its readers.

We submit the following :— 
  Somebody should now get up, as they did in 1940-41, and point out that Southern England is part of the same battlefront as Normandy, and that the toughest part of the war is still to come. If the German threat to send rocket shells does mature, something of the sort will have to be done. I believe the response would be much as it was in 1940—production would increase and so would popular resolution. We should in our hearts all rejoice that in this war we are not “sending our sons” only, but sharing in some small way in their risks. (New Statesman, July 1st, 1944.)
Please send our five shillings award to Socialist Standard, Rugby Chambers.

New Insecticide

Reference has already been made in these colmuns to the new insecticide, D.D.T.

It is stated that this new compound has already stopped an incipient typhus epidemic in Naples, and been used with deadly effect on bugs, fleas, cockroaches, beetles, moths, lice and mosquitoes. 

It is a great preventative of malaria and dysentery. British troops now have a standard issue of D.D.T. impregnated shirts which effectively protect the wearer against lice for two months even after regular washing. (Times, August 2nd.)

It will be available to civilians after the war. So. perhaps, ends the career of some of the greatest pests of poverty-stricken workers—their poverty, however, will remain.

D.D.T. was discovered by an obscure German student chemist employed by the Basle firm of J. R. Geigy in 1874.

It lay dormant until 1942. when the British branch of the Geigy Company brought it to the notice of the British Government. What became of the inventor is not known.

Explosions for all
  “The reason given on Thursday for the dismissal recently of 1,000 war workers, 900 of them women, from a factory in the West Riding of Yorkshire was that the country is so overstocked with shells that to get rid of them, firing day and night, would take two years. “Two hundred workers are reported to have been dismissed by another Yorkshire firm, but all the 1,200 are said to have been absorbed by engineering concerns in Bradford and Leeds or given jobs as conductresses on buses in these two cities. About fifty have been permitted to return to their peace-time jobs in the textile trade.”—(Manchester Guardian, November 11th, 1944.)

Free Health (? !) Service for Workers
  “Frank statements about the methods of some medical men are made to-day by Dr. Andrew Kefalas, of Sheffield. After pointing out that one reason why many people go to the chemist instead of the doctor is that they cannot afford to pay both, he says this in the British Medical Journal:
  There is a more ugly side to this scandal and that is that so many of us neither prescribe nor dispense at all. We simply dope out stock mixtures. 
Cutting the Cards.
  For myself, I would, in case of illness, as soon lay out at half-dozen patent preparations, select one of them by cutting a pack of cards, and take my chance on the one which turned up, as swallow some of the  'mist this' and ‘mist that' which are foisted upon the people who chance the doctor instead of the chemist.” (Evening Standard, September 12th, 1944.)

“ Good God! said God. I've got MY Work Cut Out.”
  “Britain as a nation is not ready to have victory granted to her,” says Rev. A. M. Hay. of St Paul's, Braintree, Essex, “and that is why the weather—God's weather— has been almost persistently against us since D-Day.”
  Writing in the church magazine, he says: “If there is any doubt that we are not ready for victory, let us ask ourselves how are the majority of people in onr land preparing to celebrate? With revelling rather than with humble thanksgiving.”
Mr. Hay told the Daily Mirror last night: “It was God's good weather at Dunkirk and in the Battle of Britain that saved us.
  “I believe strongly that God uses the weather as an instrument in his moral government,” Mr. Hay added.
(Daily Mirror, November 9th, 1944.)

Massacre in Norway (2011)

From the September 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 22 July, the government offices in Oslo, Norway, were blown up, killing eight people. Shortly afterwards the bomber travelled to a Norwegian Labour Party summer camp mainly attended by children and began shooting them. He killed 68.

To begin with, the news media reported this accurately as a terrorist attack, speculating predictably but wrongly that the attacker was muslim. When it emerged that the attacker was not in fact muslim but a self-declared christian, with political views similar to that held by many mainstream news commentators and politicians, and with links to right-wing political parties throughout Europe, suddenly it was decided that Anders Behring Breivik was not a terrorist after all, merely a deranged madman, acting alone.

Then began the usual debate about how to define terrorism, which is held, as Chomsky has pointed out, to be a “vexing and complex problem” – at least, it’s deemed vexing and complex by those whose job it is to provide apologetic cover for the forms of terrorism that are acceptable to the ruling class.

There is just as much confusion about multiculturalism, or what the Norway terrorist called in his political manifesto “Marxist multiculturalism”. The fact is that human societies, and especially modern ones, are almost always multicultural. As Gary Younge pointed out in the Guardian (14 March): “Cultures are dynamic, and emerge organically from communities. None exist in isolation or remain static. So the presence of a range of cultures in Britain or anywhere else is not novel, but the norm.” There’s nothing wrong with that. A diversity of languages, festivals, music and food is something to be welcomed and enjoyed.

But the other kind of multiculturalism – that which advocates liberal, state-led policies for encouraging and supporting cultural differences at the expense of working class unity – has nothing to do with Marxism. It is something to be opposed as much as the alternative policy pursued by some states of inculcating a single “national identity”. Workers should be encouraged to think of themselves as members of a worldwide class with a common interest, not as members of different “nations” or different “ethnic” or “cultural” groups with their own different, competing interests.

We have never had a problem doing that. That’s because we understand that working class people of all cultures need to come together as equals to fight for issues that unite them as a class. And that’s the only way we’ll ever achieve a society where we can work together for things that unite us all as human beings, regardless of skin colour, religious beliefs, cultural or national origin, or individual difference.

Early Communist (2011)

Book Review from the September 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Gerrard Winstanley: A Common Treasury. Presented by Tony Benn. Verso, 2011. £8.99

Verso have republished this selection of writings by Winstanley chosen by Andrew Hopton. It first appeared in 1989. The publishers have given it a new title, a new Foreword (20 pages) and an introduction by Tony Benn (3 pages). Winstanley, an early advocate of making the Earth a common treasury for all, is always worth reading. The selection here includes only his writings from 1648-9 and so does not include his main work The Law of Freedom.
Adam Buick

Film Review: Super 8 (2011)

Film Review from the September 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

This is a commercial not an art film and any ideological content is entirely subservient to box-office earnings. Its appeal is primarily to young teens and their forty-something daddies. It mates an undemanding kids-versus-aliens storyline to a meticulously detailed 1970s social-realist setting. It is widely said to be the most Spielbergian film never made by Spielberg (who is, however, credited as producer). As such, the cinema-goer gets full value for money: gooey emotion, scares, laughs, big bangs, weird happenings, puppy love and heroic geeks. Essentially this is director, JJ Abrams’s tribute to the master, extensively referencing Spielberg’s life and movies including ‘ET: The Extra-Terrestrial’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’.

There are two interesting aspects to the film. Firstly, the portrayal of the military (the word is evil). The head honcho oversees the torture of the shipwrecked alien into insanity, runs an assassination programme against witnesses including a busload of young teens, and holds an injured high school teacher in grossly unhygienic conditions before murdering him by lethal injection. No comment has been made about the credibility of this portrayal. In the light of the well publicised atrocities in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, it is unlikely there will be none forthcoming. Most would not acknowledge that “they have the right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing” and that we can’t stop them from doing anything.

The second is the nature of the alien. Although it does some scary things, when revealed in full it is not a scary thing – much resembling the comic horror of ‘Cloverfield’, which JJ Abrams produced. In essence, this is a human in alien clothes, perhaps even more human than the humans. Unlike the saintly ET, this alien, tortured and incarcerated, reacts like a human being with anger. It is, however, unlike the demonic aliens from ‘Alien’. Like any human, it can be appealed to on grounds of its own self-interest. The boy hero wisely does not apply logic or an appeal to the alien’s better nature.

Of course ‘Super 8’ is stupid and unrealistic in many respects. But sci-fi’s purpose is to provide an eye-catching scenario within which an entertaining drama can be played out and ideas put forward and issues raised. ‘Super 8’ does this. This is not a ‘socialist film’ but like JJ Abrams’s other creation, the much vaunted ‘Lost’, there is food for thought here.