Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Thorneycroft's budget and yours (1957)

Editorial from the May 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

Budgets and Budget speeches follow more or less regular patterns year after year. First it is the deep gloom type—”We are on the brink of disaster and only a desperate effort will save us.” This is normally followed by the “don’t rock the boat” type—"if we keep on a steady course we shall make it”; and a year later by the "let us rejoice, prosperity is round the corner and we can afford a few tax reductions.” In the fourth year it starts again on gloom and disaster.

Thorneycroft and Gaitskell
The budget this year is type number two. The last budget of the Labour Government, introduced by Mr. Gaitskell in April, 1951, was type number 1. It put up income tax, levied another 4½d. a gallon on petrol increased entertainment tax on cinema seats, introduced charges for spectacles and false teeth, and stepped up some purchase tax rates. On the other side it raised the marriage and child allowances for income tax and increased old age pensions from 26s. to 30s. for single persons and from 42s. to 50s. for married couples.

Certain features turn up every year whether the Chancellor is from the Dalton, Cripps, Gaitskell team or from the Tories, Butler, Macmillan, Thomeycroft. One is the eternal nagging of the workers to work harder and not press for higher wages, coupled with the Government's solemn pledge to keep down the cost of living. The other constant feature of budgets is that the Chancellor sorrowfully regrets that his limited resources prevent him from pleasing everybody as he would have liked to do; while the Opposition screams that he has wickedly and wantonly neglected all the really deserving cases and if only they were in office it would be a very different story.

Hope Springs Eternal
By now it might have been expected that budgets would have been seen in their true proportions, but, as the poet Pope wrote 200 years ago, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” and every year there is the same wave of excitement and curiosity about what the Chancellor will produce from his little red box. Pope, who was cynical, could have had this budget-fever in mind in his second line, “Man never is, but always to be blessed,” for in truth, for the mass of the population the hope that some day a Chancellor will do something really nice for them is the purest illusion. The little differences that budget policy make one way or the other to them are trivial compared with the worker’s everyday problem of his wages and what they will buy. Governments come and go and budgets let out a little there and take in a little here, but no Government ever urges the workers to fight for higher wages, always the opposite. And the big things go on unchanged from one generation to another. The rich minority still own almost everything that matters in the country we live in. and it is they, as company shareholders, who stand to gain when prices go up and wage increases are denied under the Tory-Labour policy of wage restraint

Low Prices and Low Taxation?
But it must not be thought that because high prices bring their hardship that a remedy could be found in low prices and low taxation. Prices and taxes were far lower before the war than they are now but workers' wages did not buy any more. Each pound note bought more, but there were correspondingly fewer notes in the wage packet. Workers, the great majority of the population, live by selling their energies to an employer and whether prices are high or low the struggle over the selling price (wages or salaries) goes on. The employers, including the boards of the nationalised industries, try always to pay as little as possible. Less interest in the vote-catching manoeuvres of Chancellors and more attention to the struggle for higher wages would be a better attitude for the workers to take. 

Another Social System
But this, though the more fruitful policy, still does not lead anywhere; and that is why the Socialist Party exists. And we must repeat for the benefit of those who do not yet know it that Socialism is quite different from the aim of other organisations. Socialists are not trying to carry out an improved Labour Party programme.

The elements of the problem are simple. Nine people out of ten live frugally and with little to hope for, on wages that never leave any worth-while margin beyond necessities. And the social system we live in does not even produce enough consumer goods to satisfy reasonable human needs; nor will it ever do so. At present the means of production and distribution—land, factories, transport systems, etc., are owned by the propertied minority and used by them to make profit out of the sale of the products. Goods are not produced solely for use but for profit, and national groups, coming into conflict through rivalries about markets and trade routes (like the Suez Canal), and sources of raw material (Middle East oil), are all forced into their costly and inhuman armament schemes and H-bomb tests.

The Socialist aim is to get to the root cause of these evils of poverty and war by changing the basis of the social system so that things would be produced not for sale and profit but solely for the use of mankind. Only by this can war and poverty be abolished, and along with them class and national rivalries and hatreds.

Fantastic! say the thoughtless opponents of Socialism, including supporters of the Labour Party. All great social advances of the past, including the abolition of chattel slavery and serfdom, have appeared to be fantastic until they came about.

Party News Briefs (1957)

Party News the May 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

May Day, 1957. Once more the Party is making a special propaganda effort, this year on Sunday, 5th May. In London there will be several outdoor meetings, and Birmingham, Glasgow and Nottingham will also have afternoon and evening outdoor meetings. A May Day Rally will be held at Denison House. London, in the evening, commencing at 7 p.m., when the speakers will be Comrades Ivimey and Wilmott. Further details of all meetings are elsewhere in this issue.

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Meeting on Strikes. At very short notice the Propaganda Committee arranged a public meeting at Denison House on Sunday, 7th April. Comrades R. Critchfield and J. D’Arcy spoke on “Another General Strike?" Although the audience was not as large as usual at such meetings, the meeting was a lively one and after both speakers had made a contribution, several members of the audience put some good questions and took part in discussion. Some had taken part in the recent strike. A collection of five pounds was taken up during the interval.

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Conference will be over by the time this issue is printed, although the Standard will have gone to the
printers beforehand. Conference news will be reported, therefore, in the June issue.

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The May S.S. Sales Drive. During this month many Branches are undertaking an extensive programme of canvassing the Socialist Standard. Plans are also in hand for a special drive on May Day.

Last year over 6,000 Standards were sold, and this year we are hoping to do even better. All members are especially asked to do all they can to help in canvassing, contacting newsagents, selling at outdoor meetings and by personal contact, etc. The Literature Sales Committee will be pleased to give any further information required.

Phyllis Howard

Emptying the sea by bucket (1957)

From the May 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

For those misguided people who like going in for marches, demonstrations, signing petitions and lobbying M.P.s. Capitalism sees to it that they are kept busy, even if they achieve nothing.

The fact is there is so much wrong, so many objectionable things taking place all the time, that the marching enthusiasts are bound to miss quite a lot. Apart from this they suffer from two fatal faults, first the objects of their marching are only effects and do not touch the fundamental cause, secondly, the fundamental cause being the class ownership of the means of production, marching is not the way to remove it.

It must not be taken from the above that demonstrations can serve no purpose of importance to the working-class. As a means of rallying support for wage claims, drawing attention to grievances and mustering a certain amount of solidarity during strikes they are useful. But we are concerned here purely with demonstrations as a means of altering the course of capitalism or eradicating one at a time the problems which arise because of capitalism; even in the sphere of wages etc., the effect is short-lived for the conflict between exploiter and exploited goes on interminably and will do so until the exploited understand Socialism.

One of the many things which happen every day under capitalism was the announcement that plans are being made to make troops carry a drug kit to infect themselves against “the latest poison gases” (Daily Express, January 30th, 1957). How are the reform marchers to approach this particular piece of capitalism's ugliness? It is their way to take it in isolation from the system as a whole, this is the reformist approach to everything, i.e., to seek solutions within capitalism, to housing problems, high rents, redundancy, slumps, poverty and wars each on its own without bothering to find out that all the problems have a common cause and can only be solved not bit by bit, but altogether, by the removal of this cause. Faced with the drug kit as an isolated proposition, would they march for it or against it or would there be a division in their ranks—some marching for, some against? Considering the proposition more closely we find these are the points to be taken into account. First, there is no challenge to the existence of capitalism, so they all accept the need for armies. Then, since it is a fact that nerve gases have been stockpiled, which do they prefer, troops to go unprotected against these deadly gases or do they submit to the need for soldiers to carry "a dangerous dose of the drug belladona?” Of course, outraged by our criticism, our marching reformers might shout “ban the gases and the drugs” (there’s a nice slogan for them), but what of the efforts to ban the "A” and "H” bombs? The turbulent sea of capitalism floods in upon them. If this or that weapon were "banned” there is no way of guaranteeing it would not be used, for the politicians who can "justify” their production can surely "justify” their use on any number of pretences. And even without “A” and “H” bombs and nerve gases the workers of the world could have a glorious time slaughtering each other by millions with "conventional” weapons of all kinds.

Within capitalism what can be done? The answer is bluntly that, squirm as they may, while the world remains under the present system, the workers will continue to bear the brunt of it.

While cancer and polio research still rely on voluntary contributions, scientists like Penny are designing "H” bombs, and Dr. H. Cullumbins, one of the chief scientists of the Chemical Defence Station at Parton, had this to say about the effects of the drug injections: "A large proportion of the men may collapse and the military efficiency of the remainder may be negligible, especially in hot conditions. But that is preferable to death from nerve gas poisoning."

From our standpoint as Socialists, taking the interests of the world working-class as our guide, there is no proposition which simply involves re-arranging capitalism that can make one arrangement "preferable" to another. Whatever the arrangement, the workers are going to continue being exploited for the profit of an idle class, insecurity will continue to be the lot of the useful, crises will continue to arise while commodity production, world markets and profits remain, and wars with all this bestiality will continue to arise. It therefore remains that the one object of any real use that the world's workers should devote their efforts to, is the establishment of Socialism. This means they must understand that capitalism cannot be made to work in their interests by adjustments here and there. From this understanding they must build the political organisation to send delegates to Parliament for the task of making the means of production common-property so that society can then proceed from this basis of a classless world to organise production for use and eliminate all wasteful and harmful production, so that mankind in peace eternal be able to enjoy the fruits of their labours to the full.
Harry Baldwin

50 Years Ago: The Significance of May Day (1957)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

The First of May of our own times is in direct contrast to the May-day of old. The old festival had an organic connection with the daily work of the people. The old games, the decorations of greenery and flowers, the bringing home of the May; these reflected the joy of all at the awakening of nature, at the promise of the crops to come, and at the growing light and warmth of the season. To-day, however, agriculture has ceased to occupy the premier place and is consequently no longer reflected in the holidays of the people . . . agriculture itself is, indeed, with intensive culture and the growing use of machinery, fast becoming an industry. The increase in culture under shelter and the rapidity of communication with other climes also diminish greatly the importance of the seasons, and tend to complete the change wrought by the rise of manufacture in the significance of the First of May.

The First of May, though nearly all its old associations are for ever lost, has now a new and deeper meaning. It comes to the toilers as seed time for the harvest to come; a seed time of fraternity and organisation with their fellows, for the harvest of deliverance from wage slavery. May-day yet retains a portion of its old significance; it is still a festival of the people, of those who work . . .

The First of May is, then, a worker’s festival, a pledge of fraternity and internationalism, an awakening to the social mission of the working class.

[From the Socialist Standard, May 1907.]

Nurses refuse to work unprotected (2020)

From the WSPUS website

The pandemic is over and that’s official. Everyone back to work, folks! Enough loafing around already!

According to a document leaked from the Centers for Disease Control, the daily number of new cases, currently 30,000, is projected to rise to 200,000 by the end of the month. 

Fake news, I guess. 

Meanwhile it is reported that ten nurses have been suspended at Providence St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California for refusing to work without the protection of tight-fitting N95 respirator masks. A co-worker had tested positive for Covid-19 and several doctors had advised them not to care for severely affected patients without wearing a respirator. However, the hospital administration ordered them to do exactly that. They were warned that failure to comply would be reported to the state licensing board as patient abandonment and negligence.   

The nurses suspect that the respirators are not really in short supply, as the administration claims. ‘The hospital group is a multi-billion-dollar corporation,’ noted one nurse. ‘It can definitely afford to buy them.’ 

The nurses are scared not only of catching Covid-19 but also of contaminating their families. Over 9,000 healthcare workers have tested positive so far.

In public rhetoric nurses are celebrated as ‘frontline’ heroes and heroines in the fight against the pandemic. But inside the hospitals their fate depends on administrators who totally lack respect for such lowly creatures and ignore their complaints. Administrative personnel may even outnumber healthcare workers. It is their duty to ensure that paperwork is completed correctly. The main concern of high-level administrators is to earn their annual bonus. According to Healthcare Finance News, the bonus of a hospital CEO is on average about a third of base salary and is determined by revenue size and other ‘standard performance metrics.’ 

That is why the administrators do not want to buy ‘too much’ protective equipment. That is why they are always on the lookout for ways to cut personnel and other costs. 

‘There is no shortage of nurses,’ explains one inside observer. ‘There is a shortage of properly paid nursing positions.’ So nurses are forced to put in long hours of overtime. After a time they can no longer take the pressure and ‘burn out’ (here). Many quit. An increasing number commit suicide. 

Such are a few of the delights of healthcare for profit. 

Hi-tech births (1986)

From the May 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The profession of obstetrics has received a great deal of public attention as a result of an inquiry which began in February into the professional competence of Wendy Savage, a consultant obstetrician at the London Hospital. Savage was suspended in April of 1985 by her employers, the Tower Hamlets Health Authority, after complaints surrounding her handling of five pregnancies. Following her suspension a campaign was mounted for her reinstatement by local midwives, mothers and GPs.

During the inquiry a number of criticisms were made of the type of approach to childbirth and pregnancy that has come to dominate maternity care in recent years. According to Savage and her supporters the excessive use of high-technology in modern obstetrics has deprived women of the freedom to choose where and how to have their babies. The process of giving birth has become dehumanised because current obstetric practices have succeeded in shifting the focus of interest from the mother to the machine. Women, argue critics, are regarded as mere objects on a conveyor belt. Wendy Savage and her supporters would like to see this depersonalised system of obstetric care replaced by an approach which emphasises both the naturalness of every birth and the individual medical needs of the women concerned.

While socialists sympathise with these objectives we also point out the limitations which present-day society places on their achievement.

First of all, isn't it surprising that the controversy arose within an NHS hospital providing health care to a particularly deprived working-class area in the east end of London? Not at all. Under capitalism there are two quite distinct standards of health care. For the rich — the capitalist class — there are the Harley Street Clinics and the private hospitals which provide the best maternity treatment money can buy. Consequently they suffer none of the degradations associated with current obstetric practices.

For the poor, on the other hand — the working class — there is the NHS.

Contrary to what politicians tell us the NHS is not in the business of providing an all-embracing caring service, free at the point of delivery and run in the interests of everyone. Its real intention is to serve the economic interests of the capitalist class by placing at their disposal a steady supply of fit and healthy wage slaves. In meeting this requirement of the exploiting class, the NHS contributes enormously to the overall profitability of British capitalism. However, it also represents expenditure and as such the provision of its services must be cost-effective to ensure that the capitalist class get value for their money. In economists' jargon this means that resources must be used effectively. services must be rationalised, financial targets must be met, and wages must be minimised — the NHS is big business and it must be run accordingly. Under capitalism even the most basic of our health needs play second fiddle to the managerial and accounting practices associated with production for profit.

So how do these practices relate to the provision of maternity care? The maternity services operate within a context of scarce resources, shortages of expert consultants and midwives and expenditure cuts. Everything possible is done to cheapen the cost of childbirth and this economic fact determines the quality of care and the practices adopted by obstetricians.

In the early years of the twentieth century maternity care was exclusively handled by untrained mid wives, known as "handywomen". Apart from a few difficult cases, which were handled by doctors or GPs. more babies were delivered at home. Today, however, these functions are controlled by professional obstetricians working from maternity units in large district hospitals. Community midwives have been gradually reduced and as a result the number of hospital deliveries has risen from 15 per cent in 1927 to 97 per cent in 1976, with the intention that home delivery be phased out further (Short Report on Perinatal and Neonatal Mortality, 1980).

With the professionalisation and hospitalisation of maternity care there has been an increased reliance on high-tech medicine. One practice which has increased tremendously in recent times is that of inducing labour artificially by using modern technology. Some obstetricians have argued that inductions are carried out only when the life of the baby or mother is threatened but some experts have pointed out that inductions are not always carried out for medical reasons:
Technology is now being used in some hospitals to induce labour routinely, not primarily for the baby's safety or the safety of the mother, but in order to create a production line system where women have their babies by clockwork during daylight hours. (O. Gillie & L. Gillie, Sunday Times. 1974.)
Given the priorities of the NHS it is easy to see why the rate of inductions increased (from 13.7 per cent in 1963 to 38.9 per cent in 1974). Inductions help to speed up the process of childbirth, ensure that hospital beds are used more intensively and shorten the length of time women stay in hospital. Often inductions are laid down as hospital policy — as was the case in the hospital where Wendy Savage worked — in order to meet a planned throughput of births, perhaps 1.000 babies delivered each year. In a study of inductions, A. Cartwright (The Dignity of Labour) reports that more than half the obstetricians questioned said they would recommend inductions where there were staff shortages or a restricted access to anaesthetics. After giving birth by this method, which often has negative psychological and emotional repercussions, women are ushered out of care to be looked after by a much depleted and hard-pressed community midwife service.

Economic considerations can also be observed behind the startling increase in caesarian sections. The use of this method of delivery was central to the case against Wendy Savage. Tower Hamlets Health Authority claimed that she had performed a caesarian "too late", resulting in the death of a baby eight days after delivery by an emergency caesarian. Although the merits of this particular case are unclear, recent figures released by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys suggest non-medical reasons for this type of operation. The figures show that much depends on how busy the ward is on a particular day. On Fridays, the busiest day for deliveries, there was a 43 per cent increase in the number of elective caesarians (those not performed in an emergency) but on Sundays, the quietest day, elective caesarians were 62 per cent below average. An interesting figure is that the caesarian rate for private hospitals (19.6 per cent) was twice that for NHS hospitals. The explanation here is that most insurance policies cover caesarians, while patients have to pay cash for spontaneous births. Given the choice it is hardly surprising that working class mothers choose the former, less expensive method of payment.

As with all services provided by the NHS for members of the working class, maternity care offers women little choice over the kind of treatment they would prefer. In a study of NHS hospitals in York and London (H. Graham & A. Oakley: Medical & Maternal Perspectives on Pregnancy in Women) most women complained that there were very few areas in which they were allowed any say in their maternity care. They had practically no explanation from the doctors about what was being done to them; they saw too many doctors to receive any kind of personal attention and the whole experience left them feeling like battery hens.

This kind of treatment cannot be blamed entirely on the attitudes of consultants, who are as much victims of the situation as are the pregnant women. Over-worked consultants have little time to discuss alternative options of delivery and for the sake of convenience are likely to make decisions for those in their care. They require a passive rather than a questioning attitude from their patients and this is fostered by the sense of vulnerability and helplessness felt by pregnant women — especially when they are delivered into the hands of experts who, they believe, ought to know best and surrounded by a bewildering array of sophisticated equipment.

So what's the solution? Both the best and the worst aspects of the use of technology are represented in modern obstetrics. On the one hand the risks to mother and child associated with child-birth and pregnancy have fallen dramatically, as evident in the reduction in the perinatal mortality rate (still births and deaths during the first week of birth) from 38.5 per cent in 1948 to 17 per cent in 1977. But on the other hand modern obstetric methods have left women feeling degraded and brutalised. Under capitalism this situation will never be resolved; technological advances can only be used for the enrichment of the tiny few and the consequent enslavement of the vast majority. A truly civilised standard of medical care can flourish only in a truly human society and judging by current obstetric practices, it is perfectly obvious that we clearly do not live in one.
G. Davidson

Freedom not for us (1986)

From the May 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Freedom is one of those words which nobody can be against. The trouble is that it means different things to different people. To socialists freedom means that we should no longer be forced by economic necessity to go out onto the labour market and sell our working abilities for a wage or salary to those who own the means of life. In other words, freedom for us means emancipation from wage slavery.

To the capitalist, however, freedom means the freedom to exploit wage labour and to buy and sell without government interference. Unfortunately, but in a sense understandably (as Marx pointed out a long time ago. the ruling ideas in class society are those of the ruling class), it is this second sense of freedom that is the most prevalent today — a fact which allows capitalists to disguise their sordid money-making as an application of the noble ideal of freedom.

The present controversy over Sunday opening is a case in point. The government and other supporters of this proposal present it as an extension of the area of freedom. In this particular case, however, they have some difficulty in disguising the purely commercial aspect of this proposal to allow supermarkets and other shops to trade on the one day of the week when their moneymaking activities have been restricted up till now.

Of course socialists don't take sides in this controversy, and even less support the Bible-quoting opponents of the measure, but we can't help pointing out that Sunday opening would represent a further victory for the logic of capitalism, a further invasion of our lives by the rampant commercialism that is an inherent feature of the system. But we are under no illusions that this is how it has to be under capitalism and how it will be, as capitalism continues its course. America is there to show us Europe's future when all the barriers to "free" capitalist trading inherited from a non-capitalist past (which actually never existed in America) have finally been swept away.

Another example is the much-vaunted "freedom of the press''. If you ever bother to read the editorials of the mass circulation daily press (most people don't, and rightly) you will find that they have an extremely high opinion of themselves: according to them a "free" press is a bulwark against tyranny and dictatorship. But if you scratch the surface a bit. you quickly realise that by "freedom" they mean freedom for the capitalist enterprises (not to say the millionaire press magnates) who own the daily papers to print in them anything — be it lies, pornographic, violent or obtained by unscrupulous methods — that they consider will sell more copies of the newspaper-commodity they produce.

If from time to time they expose some corrupt practice by a politician or government official it is to the benefit of the capitalist class, not us. All government spending is in the end a charge on profits and politicians and officials are there to carry out certain administrative functions on behalf of the capitalist class — not to help themselves to a share of the profits wrung from the wage and salary working class.

Then there is advertising. The dailies today are in fact more advertising sheets than newspapers in the sense that the sensationalised "news" items they publish are essentially bait to get people to buy the paper with a view to their reading the ads. So much is this the case that Eddie Shah, owner of the latest addition to the daily gutter press, has gone on record as looking forward to the day when newspapers will be given away free, financed entirely from their revenue from advertisements. To call such commercial rags a "free" press is a travesty of the word freedom.

Having said this however, a free press does exist in countries like Britain and America but it is not represented by the mass circulation commercial dailies. Rather is it represented by journals of opinion, published by committed groups wanting to put their point of view across — such as the Socialist Standard and of course other such publications that put a different view from ours. In other words, in the end the genuinely free press in the West is not much more extensive than its counterpart — the samizdat press — in the East, even if its conditions of publication are much less difficult.

Another example of the abuse of the term freedom to make it mean the absence of legal restrictions on money-making was over commercial radio. In Britain these were most appropriately called "pirate radios" (in fact, this is what they should continue to be called), but in France they called themselves "free radios". Some of them were indeed genuinely free in the same sense that the Socialist Standard and other non-commercial journals of opinion constitute the free press — they were run by people with a desire to communicate ideas or to simply amuse themselves and others without any ulterior money-making motive. But most were set up as profit-seeking enterprises.

In the end. the government agreed to legalise the private commercial radios, presenting this as an extension of "freedom" whereas, once again, it was really just another invasion of commercialism into our daily lives. If having the opportunity to listen to inane and insulting jingles urging us to buy this or that piece of rubbish is an extension of the domain of freedom, then the difference between the socialist and capitalist conceptions of freedom can be fully appreciated.
Adam Buick

Fit for consumption? (1986)

From the May 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under capitalism food supplies are manipulated to increase profits regardless of the consequences to health. This is because food, like all other goods, is produced for its exchange-value and, therefore, supplied according to the dictates of the market instead of for social needs.

Profits from agriculture are maximised in the following ways: destroying or storing food when there is a surplus that cannot be sold at a profit, regardless of the number of deaths from starvation or malnutrition; cutting back on food production to prevent unsaleable surpluses in subsequent harvests; farming land more intensively by using artificial fertilisers and pesticides; extending the number of processes which food undergoes.

Although about a quarter of a million old people in Britain suffer from malnutrition and there are obscene inequalities of wealth in the rest of the population, generally speaking there is relative affluence compared with underdeveloped countries and the problem for food manufacturers is to try to persuade people to buy more in order that the market can be expanded and profits increased. Normally manufacturers can persuade the public to buy more by the skilful use of advertising, playing on the fears and insecurity of consumers in an aggressively competitive, acquisitive society. But food presents a greater problem because, beyond the level of satiety. people do not eat more as a result of increased wealth. Nevertheless, profits can be increased by extending the number of processes which food undergoes and adulterating it with cheaper additives.

In 1969 a Lancet editorial pointed out that, on average, three pounds of chemical additives a year were consumed in food by each person in this country and that the number of additives exceeded 20,000, but by 1985 this number had increased to 35.000 and the consumption of additives was a staggering 8-11 pounds a year! Indeed, a new term — 'junk-food' has been coined to describe the artificially flavoured, highly processed food that is increasingly consumed today. Additives are used to provide colouring, enhance flavour, inhibit mould, emulsify, sweeten and provide uniformity of ingredients in the products sold.

The extent of the profits that can be made from expanding the processes which food undergoes can be seen in the sale of potato crisps which cost forty or fifty times more than the same weight of potatoes. Fish fingers and chickens are treated with polyphosphates (E450) to absorb more water, while fish and prawns are dipped in water before being frozen to increase their weight. It has been estimated that the public pays nearly five million pounds a year for water! (Walker. C. and Cannon. G. 1985. The Food Scandal, Century Publishing). All of these practices are perfectly legal: the 1984 regulations only require water to be declared in uncooked cured meats if it exceeds ten per cent.

The addition of water alone in frozen fish and prawns has no detrimental effects on health but polyoxyethylene monostearate, an emulsifier used in bread to make flour absorb water, causes cancer in rats. Cancers can be caused by some synthetic food colours. The use of amaranth, a red food dye, is permitted in Britain although in 1970 a Russian study showed that in its pure form it possesses carcinogenic activity. Amaranth was banned in the USA in 1976. Its continued use in Britain is a feature of additives in that there is a complete lack of uniformity of products permitted or banned from one country to another. Commercial considerations determine which additives are permitted, however harmful, while public awareness of the dangers of certain substances and consumer pressure in refusing to purchase certain products restricts or modifies their continued use.

The production of meat involves a number of processes which are potentially injurious to health; milk and meat may become contaminated from the routine doses of antibiotics given to cattle to prevent infectious diseases. The modern methods of rearing cattle cause them to be considerably fatter than wild game; the fat is also higher in saturated fats, which contribute to heart disease. and lower in polyunsaturated fats. But meat products present the greatest threat to health. Profits are boosted by using hide, skin. bone, preservatives and large amounts of fat in sausages. Most processed meats not only contain preservatives and colouring but consist of two or three per cent salt by weight while salami consists of as much as five per cent salt. Processed meats and bacon contain nitrates which interfere with the body's ability to convert carotene into vitamin A and combine with amines, occurring naturally in food, to produce nitrosamines which can cause cancer.

It is estimated that about twenty times more salt (sodium chloride) is ingested in this country than is needed for the maintenance of health and that an excessive intake is, at least in part, a causative factor in the production of high blood pressure. But salt is added to a wide range of products besides processed meats, including cereals, tinned vegetables. soups and bread.

Sodium also occurs in the diet by the wide use of monosodium glutamate, a flavour enhancer which permits smaller amounts of more expensive foods to be used. It was also widely used in baby foods until a study at Washington University in 1969 showed that in large doses it damaged the brain cells of baby mice. As babies have a poorly developed sense of taste its use was clearly directed at the mothers who "tested" the food to ensure that it was suitable. The publicity that resulted from the study led to some manufacturers (but not all) withdrawing monosodium glutamate from their products. The extensive use of monosodium glutamate in Chinese cooking can lead to side-effects such as palpitations, general weakness, gall bladder discomfort and numbness of the arms and the back of the neck and has become known as the "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome".

Table salt, itself, is not free from additives but may contain sodium ferrocyanide and magnesium carbonate to prevent caking. In addition, sodium is consumed in the form of sodium citrate in soft drinks. It is, therefore, not surprising that a study in Scotland in the 45-64 age group found that one-fifth of them suffered from mild hypertension.

Sugar is an invaluable additive to the food manufacturer, it provides bulk cheaply, preserves, thickens and sweetens. Every man. woman and child in Britain consumes an average of two pounds of sugar a week. Tooth decay, obesity, constipation, diverticulitis, gall bladder disease, chronic digestive disorders and diabetes have all been implicated to some degree with the excessive consumption of refined foods in industrialised countries. By contrast. adult-onset diabetes is rare in rural Africa where a diet high in unrefined carbohydrates is eaten.

The food industry is also making more use of dextrose in food: more than 16lbs of glucose (dextrose) a year, on average, is consumed in processed foods. Fructose, a naturally occurring sugar which is twice as sweet as sucrose (white sugar) has been used in the food industry in the USA and could be an improvement in health terms because only half the amount needs to be used. But health needs under capitalism are always secondary to the requirement of profitability and the Common Market placed an import quota on high fructose com syrup to protect sugar beet production.

Highly refined foods provide more calories, but less nutrients (unless artificially added) and do not induce satiety as readily as unrefined food, tending to lead to higher consumption with greater profits for the manufacturers. White bread is made by the highly mechanised Chorleywood Bread Process which avoids the hours of fermentation that traditional bread requires. It also contains more air and water than the traditional loaf as a result of using additives that are potentially harmful. Polyoxyethylene monostearate, potassium bromate, propionic acid, ammonium sulphate, chlorine dioxide, nitrosyl chloride, benzoyle peroxide, sodium propionate. L-cysteine hydrochloride and azodicarbonamide are all used in refined bread. Agene was used for bleaching flour for nearly thirty years before it was linked with nervous disorders in humans and in 1968, 600 people in Johannesburg were poisoned by bread containing one per cent potassium bromate (Grant. D., Your Daily Food, Faber and Faber. 1973).

Even when additives are present in food at what are considered to be "safe" levels there is still a risk to health. The American Food and Drug Administration found that two chemicals taken at the same time can enhance the effect of each other; for example. silicone when used with an emulsifier makes the cells of the gut more absorbent and susceptible to poisoning.

There is also considerable contamination in food from the use of insecticides. In 1984 the Association of Public Analysts found that one third of fruit and vegetables were contaminated with DDT (despite being banned), aldrin (a carcinogen), dimethoate and mevinphos.

Although consumer pressure has resulted in a few dangerous substances being withdrawn from food the number of additives used has increased considerably in the last twenty years. Additives will continue to be used while it is profitable to do so. Only a socialist society which puts people first can stop the threat to health which capitalism imposes.
Carl Pinel

50 Years Ago: A Crime of Avarice (1986)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Thursday, April 16th. a woman, Nurse Waddingham, was hanged for murder. She had been found guilty of poisoning a patient in her nursing home, with the object of getting the patient's money. A special correspondent of the Evening News, on the day of the execution, wrote at some length on the life of Nurse Waddingham and on the motive for the murder: "Passion played no part in prompting her crime The motive was one more often associated with men murderers — avarice". Avarice, the dictionary tells us, is "greed of gain". So 34-year-old Nurse Waddingham, widow of "a respectable Nottingham yeoman ", mother of five children, was greedy. What made her greedy? A few years ago. during a court case, her household was described: "There seemed never any money in the house, and scarcely any food. No rent had been paid for nearly two years". The Evening News mentions this, but makes no comment. Poverty is so common that it is not news unless a murder is committed. Then the very natural desire to have food, clothing and shelter in a world where these exist in abundance — for the privileged minority of the population — is "avaricious"’ if the person concerned is not a member of the propertied class.

The murder was a callous one. but so are the journalists' capitalist employers callous. They accept the facts of working-class poverty, undernourishment and insecurity as necessary evils, just as they do all the premeditated atrocities of their war makers. Then, when some individual takes to private murder as a means of getting out of destitution, they sit back and sermonise about avarice.
[From the Socialist Standard, May 1936]

Between the Lines: The food problem (1986)

The Between the Lines column from the May 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The food problem

The lunatics are most definitely running the asylum. This Week, Next Week (BBC1. 6 April) devoted one hour to a studio discussion about the problem of food surpluses. You see, there is too much food in Europe — 14 million tons of EEC grain is currently locked away in store and by 1990 the grain surplus is predicted to reach 90 million tons Minister of Agricultural Lunacy, John Selwyn Gummer, stated that "Now we're producing too much . . .  it's damaging the rest of the world, especially the poorest people" Funny that: I thought that "the poorest" people were dying in their millions for lack of food. Grain production has increased from two to four tons an acre in a very short time, moaned NFU spokesman David Naish. and this is causing major problems. Indeed, it seems that the British government is now storing beef in secret warehouses in London — Gummer admitted that this was the case but not one of the experts presented proposed that this beef and grain and all this other "surplus" food should be available immediately for free access. Had someone made such a suggestion — the idea of forgetting about money and profits and the nonsense of the market and producing food solely to eat — they would no doubt have been dismissed as a utopian crank. So the lunatics proceeded to think of ways to solve the problem of food over-production and the starving continued to starve and we have no doubt that Selwyn Gummer and the company had a pleasant Sunday lunch when they left the studio.

Make ’em work

This was the title of a Panorama programme (BBC 1. 7 April) about new policies in certain states of the USA to make it compulsory to work for the state before any welfare payments are granted. In Oklahoma it is compulsory for single women to seek work, even if they have given birth within the previous two months. No work, no payment — no payment, no money to spend — no money to spend, no food for them or their children. It's known as Workfare — a better term is wage slavery In West Virginia unemployed miners are forced to sweep the streets or help the police force as uniformed agents of coercion if they want to receive benefits. So much for the "land of the free" In California unemployed wage slaves are forced to go on courses designed to "make them want to work for wages". In the room where this course is being run is a large sign saying "THINK EMPLOYER". What can be better for capitalism than to educate the working class to be desperate for wage slavery to take whatever jobs are on offer — to look at themselves at all times from the angle of how exploitable they can be? In Britain young workers are already pushed on to YTS schemes where they are ripped off because of their economically insecure and unprotected position. How long might it be before "Workfare" is tried on the unemployed of Britain? Watching this programme showed just how unfree and vulnerable to economic coercion the wage-slave class is.

An orange fool

World In Action (ITV, 7 April) offered an introduction to a political leader who is arguably crazier than Ian Paisley. Peter Robinson, an MP who has close links with the para-military UDA, was shown to be a calculating, bigoted nationalist who is quite happy to let workers stone and kill one another for the sake of obsolete national aims. Robinson was asked why he attacked the IRA for its murders when he failed to criticise the recent violent rampages of the Loyalist thugs. We can answer the question: under capitalism a leader needs to be a committed hypocrite who will justify the indefensible when it is being carried out by his followers for the sake of his political interest. Anti-working-class leaders like Peter Robinson would not know a genuine political principle if it smacked them in the face Unfortunately for the workers of Ireland, it is they who are receiving the body blows and not well-protected, well-salaried stirrers of sectarian hatred like Robinson.


Readers who followed our reference to the C4 Diverse Reports programme which was given over to the Trotskyist Socialist Workers" Party will be interested to learn that Channel Four have felt unable to deal with our complaint of being excluded and have passed our message to the IBA. We await their considered response.
Steve Coleman

Letter: Missing the point (1986)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors.

Below is a copy of a letter of resignation I wrote to CND prior to taking up membership of the Socialist Party. I have also enclosed the reply 1 received. As you can see, Meg Beresford has completely missed the point of my letter, which was to declare that the world will never be rid of weapons of any kind while the capitalist system prevails, and therefore campaigning with CND is a waste of time and effort.
Dear Secretary. 
I am writing to inform you that I wish to discontinue my membership of CND as from now. 
The reason for this decision is that I have come to the conclusion that nuclear weapons are an inevitable symptom of the capitalist system, that is, governments have to protect their individual interests through war and therefore must obtain the most up-to-date weapons available. 
As CND exists merely to put pressure on leaders in the naive hope that they will abolish nuclear weapons, while at the same time supporting the system that spawned them, then I consider its efforts to be futile and contrary to the true interests of the working class. 
In my view, weapons of any kind will only be removed from the planet following the establishment of a socialist society, including the removing of all international frontiers, minority ownership and privilege, exploitation and money.
Nick Brunskill,  Bridgend

Dear Mr Brunskill,

Thank you very much for your letter. I am very sorry to see that you are discontinuing your membership of CND and I understand your reasons. I do not see quite why you cannot campaign for nuclear disarmament within CND on the one hand and involve yourself in other organisations which are working for the socialist society that you would like to see on the other, but there it is.
General Secretary, CND

Greasy Pole: Re-Inventing the Losers (2011)

That Celine Dion song . . .  that one.
The Greasy Pole column from the May 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

One year after That Election, the wretched group who are no longer entitled to be known as Honourable Members Of The Most Exclusive Club In The Land have had time to adjust to their new, cruel reality. Time to accept that they are no longer waved through a doorway by a smiling policeman. To bravely suffer an unaccustomed lack of interest in them by the media. To contemplate a life made unbearable without the weekly session of verbal hooliganism called Prime Minister’s Questions. To manage their homes, gardens and the like without support from a self-designed, self-regulated expenses system. To re-invent themselves in a new, bitterly unforeseen image reminding them of those other, unexciting people who voted for them to manipulate their lives in the name of democracy, justice, equity…

Some of these victims of the voters’ verdict will have clearly had difficulty in rebuilding their self-esteem but this has not been so for Ann Widdecombe, because she slipped away from Westminster without waiting for an election. Which is not to say that her re-invention has been any less grotesque. Widdecombe sat for Maidstone, later Maidstone and The Weald; before that she had tried for the candidature in Burnley and Plymouth Devenport. During the Thatcher governments she was, famously, Minister of State for Prisons under Home Secretary Michael Howard. She quickly assured herself of a welcome from the more apoplectic of the Tory rank and file by calling for zero tolerance for cannabis users, opposition to equal rights for gays and defending the policy of shackling pregnant women prisoners when they were in hospital. More controversially, in the Tory leadership election of 1997 she denounced Michael Howard as having “something of the night” about him. Her meaning was not entirely clear but she provided a lot of material for cartoonists eager to depict Howard as a sort of vampire – which may have helped towards him coming last in the contest.

In fact Widdecombe herself had something of a bumpy relationship with the post of Party Leader; having failed in 2001 to raise enough support among MPs for her own bid she switched her support to a succession of other failures – Michael Ancram (Michael Who?), Ken Clarke, Liam Fox, David Davis. When David Cameron, as the new Leader, was keen to prove his credentials as a new broom or breath of fresh air or whatever, announced a more equal “A List” of parliamentary candidates she opposed this as “an insult to women”. Having at first declared, in October 2007, that she would leave the Commons at the next election she soon experienced so dramatic a change of mind that she allowed herself to stand for Speaker of the House in the vote to replace the serially unpopular and questionable Michael Martin. Eventually, to widespread relief, she did retire at the 2010 election, selling her homes in London and Kent and moving to a house on Dartmoor.

So – after all the strident hard-lines, diversions, backtracking…there was clearly some need for Widdecombe to demonstrate that there was another person, a reinvention of the MP, within her. Much of that person has, disconcertingly for those who admired her for being above earning any money in such a way, sprouted in the media – where they obviously can recognise a good profitable thing when they see it. She has been an agony aunt in the Guardian (which must have caused some hiccups at many a suburban breakfast table) and for both BBC television (Ann Widdecombe to the Rescue) and ITV. She took part in Celebrity Fit Club as both a competitor and a judge and she is a columnist in the Daily Express. But the height – or should it be the depth – of all this, in terms of her exposure and the public response, was on the hugely popular Strictly Come Dancing. The news that she was to be a contestant in this programme provoked much ribaldry in many a saloon bar, on the theme of speculating about which male partner would be patient and strong enough to twirl someone of her build around the dance floor. To prolong the amusement there were enough viewers, perhaps of the same cussedness as Widdecombe herself had relied on to get her through her career, to repeatedly vote against the judges to keep her dancing. Until December that is, when matters got rather serious and, shrinking from the prospect of voting her into the final, they ended it all.

But it does not follow that her re-invention is at an end; that she will sink quietly from sight. She can be engaged for some kind of public appearance through the Gordon Poole Agency and Talent Bureau – who will gladly let you know how available she is for whatever exposure you have in mind and what it will cost you. For the right sort of money she may even tell you what she thinks of it all now, of her devoted preparations for a political career, her change from being an agnostic to a Roman catholic, her hopes of becoming leader of her party and then of the House of Commons itself. It does not make a pretty story.

But the capitalist system with its contradictions its anarchy its impoverishment and diseases is not pretty. The spectacle of cynical politicians presenting themselves in what they hope will be the most effectively deceptive way is stunningly ugly. And if Widdecombe ever gets to reflect on her political career, driven as it was by her abrasive eccentricity and dogged ambition, she might devote a word or two on how it all says as depressingly much about those who were captivated by her as about herself.

Letter: Socialists and War (2011)

Letter to the Editors from the May 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists and War

Dear Editors

The SPGB has opposed all wars. To date my view is that every war the UK has been involved in since WW2 has been unjust. With hindsight do you still stand by your position in the knowledge of what the Nazis did in the holocaust? I’m not trying to catch you out as I find the party interesting but I would just like to know your views on this and whether you think it is ever right to intervene if it is to prevent genocide. Or does it not prevent it?

Simon O’Connor, (by email)

Our policy regarding the wars that capitalism inevitably generates is one of opposition on the grounds that in the modern world wars are fought to defend “vital” capitalist interests – access to sources of raw materials and markets; and to defend strategic points and trade routes. Because we are propertyless members of society we workers have no such interests. It’s not a question of “justice” (and what a weasel word that can be!); it’s not a question of “democracy”; it’s a question of class interest.

We recognise that Marx and Engels had during their lifetime advocated the use of war as a defensive measure against autocratic and reactionary regimes. Their somewhat romantic view of war ignored the technical developments taking place in the field of armaments. By the turn of the century war had become immensely more destructive. It had ceased to be something remote – it had become “total war” waged on civilians because every worker engaged on the production of mechanised war was now in the front line and everything had to serve war. The destruction of life and property in modern war means that war has become an essentially different thing.

It was in the light of these changes that we adopted the view that war is not an instrument that can be used by socialists or supported by socialists and that democracy could not be defended by fighting. This was the position we adopted in WW2 just as we had done in WW1.Whatever the outcome of wars world capitalism would remain essentially unchanged. It would still be riven by international rivalries in which national, racial and religious hatreds could be stoked up when the need arose.

In any case democracy in itself cannot solve a single problem of the working class. Democracy for the working class can only be consolidated and extended to the extent that the working class adopts a socialist standpoint. To renounce socialism so that democracy may be defended, means ultimately the renunciation of both socialism and democracy.

Whether we would have decided differently in possible pre-knowledge of the mass murder of European Jews is too speculative a question to be answered definitively—the “ifs” of history are as fascinating as they are futile. That war had its roots in international rivalry. In particular the struggle by two “late arrivals” on the world stage—Germany and Japan—to obtain political and economic position and influence more in line with their economic power and to replace the existing world order with one more advantageous to their national interests. Which would have justified continued opposition to the war.

The full extent of Nazi persecution did not become clear until the war was well under way and the information was not available to the general public at the time. In any case, there is an ongoing debate as to whether the mass murder of the Jews of Europe had been intended all along or whether it was in a great part brought on by wartime circumstances and was a by-product of war rather than a settled war aim. The question is not as clear cut as is often believed. In any case Nazi race hate in Europe does not explain the outbreak of war in the Pacific in 1941.

What is clear then is that World War Two was not fought to save Jews from the massacre as this did not get fully under way until some time in 1942. Even when it was clear that something unprecedented was happening to Jews, the Allies failed to mount any significant rescue operations when these became possible. Their political and military calculation was that not to help the Jews was to help defeat Hitler; killing the Jews meant Germany diverting troops and resources from the front line, thus contributing to an Allied victory. According to Paul Johnson in his 1988 A History of the Jews,  “. . . the Holocaust was one of the factors which were losing Hitler the war. The British and American led governments knew this.” – Editors.

Tiny Tips (2011)

The Tiny Tips column from the May 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ever wonder what $60,000 jeans feel like? You’ll never know. Because you didn’t buy that $60,000 pair of Levis 501s from 1890 — the most paid for a pair of jeans, ever. Here are the most expensive items ever sold — the record-setting car, baseball card, toy, and even tooth:
(Dead Link)

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UK Uncut doesn’t have leaders, hierarchy, a PR firm or funders, yet in six months it has changed the face of British politics:
(Dead Link)

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"The state that infamously hosted the Scopes Monkey Trial more than 85 years ago is at it again. Yesterday Tennessee’s General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill that would make it easier for public schools to teach creationism. The bill would require educators to “assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.”

It lists four “controversies” ripe for pedagogical tinkering: biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning. “This is part of a long held creationist strategy,” says Steven Newton, policy director for the National Center for Science Education. “By doing everything except mention the Bible, they are attacking evolution without the theology.”

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In a PPP poll released Thursday, a 46% plurality of registered Republican voters said they thought interracial marriage was not just wrong, but that it should be illegal. 40% said interracial marriage should be legal:

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A 14-year-old Bangladeshi girl, Hena, allegedly was ambushed when she went to an outdoor toilet, gagged, beaten and raped by an older man in her village (who was actually her cousin). They were caught by the wife of the alleged rapist, and the wife then beat Hena up. An imam at a local mosque issued a fatwa saying that Hena was guilty of adultery and must be punished, and a village makeshift court sentenced Hena to 100  lashes in a public whipping:

Her last words were protestations of innocence. An excellent CNN blog post, based on interviews with family members, says that the parents “had no choice but to mind the imam’s order. They watched as the whip broke the skin of their youngest child and she fell unconscious to the ground.” Hena collapsed after 70 lashes and was taken to the hospital. She died a week later, by some accounts because of internal bleeding and a general loss of blood. The doctors recorded her death as a suicide. (Women and girls who are raped are typically expected to commit suicide, to spare everyone the embarrassment of an honor crime)
(Dead Link)

Alternative vote or alternative society? (2011)

From the May 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

When a magician offers you a choice of cards, it doesn’t matter how you decide to pick one, you’ll always get the card they want you to.

It’s the same with any joker who thinks that capitalism can be made to serve us all. Government is there to make sure that the unequal relations of capitalism are maintained.

Not because of some conspiracy but because any party in power finds itself confronted by the might of the people who own our society. It ends up ruling in their interests, rather than the vast majority who work for a living.

That’s why in the financial crisis we’re being made to pay with lost jobs and wages.

You’re being asked to choose a new way of electing those governments that attack you. It’s something that matters a lot to politicians, because it decides how many of them and their mates get the good jobs.

What matters more is what we use our votes for. If we vote for more rulers and the ownership of the world by a handful of people then it doesn’t really matter how politicians share the spoils. But if workers use the vote to reject the false choices that are framed within the context of an owning class dominating another class, we will be further on the road towards a truly democratic society.

If we vote to make the wealth of the world common property in which we all have an equal say, then we can finally have what we call Socialism. We can put an end to minority rule, and we can organise our affairs in our own interest.

That’s why the real choice before you this May isn’t AV or First Past the Post, but choosing to reject class based society. The best choice you can make this May is to join us in campaigning for common ownership.

The Stepford Geezers (2011)

The Proper Gander Column from the May 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

The term ‘reality television’ has become even more of an oxymoron with the latest mutation of the genre. The Only Way is Essex (ITV2) lets us in to the lives of a bronzed breed of Essex geezers and girls. For these walking hairstyles, life is just a permanent loop of nightclubs, boobjobs, salons and boy/ girlfriend difficulties. Somehow they manage to spend more time talking about relationships than actually having them.

Whether or not the viewers can relate to this lifestyle is beside the point. Where the programme detaches from reality is in its staged set-ups. What the group of friends do is directed by the puppeteers at ITV2, who were no doubt cackling maniacally throughout. it’s not clear how much of the show is fake, though. The producers say that most of it is real, despite everything appearing structured, filmed and edited like a cheap soap opera. So, the participants perform as themselves in scenarios which have been guided to some extent. Usually, this pans out as something like ‘hunk x chucks blonde y then flirts with blonde y’s friend, brunette z’.

The Only Way is Essex’s bizarre mix of fact and fiction is less disorientating if you think of it as improvisational theatre. The difference, of course, is that this show is lived for real. Who would have such a flimsy grasp on their lives to hand them over to a film crew? Presumably, the participants enjoy the exposure, even if it means being portrayed with less depth than a puddle. For people so self-obsessed, they don’t seem to care how much they’re being manipulated.

Previous reality TV shows have had the discretion to be set in their own little world, such as a mini-recreation of the past or Big Brother’s bunker. But The Only Way is Essex has been let loose in suburbia. So it’s more like The Truman Show, but where everyone’s in on it. Or maybe the final episode will reveal that it’s all been an extended remake of The Stepford Wives?
Mike Foster

50 Years Ago: Kicked Upstairs (2011)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn has fought a furious fight against his transfer to the House of Lords. Despite his struggles, the government showed that they were determined to have him kicked upstairs.

Some lobby correspondents whispered that Mr. Macmillan personally gave the thumbs-down to Mr. Benn’s efforts to renounce his peerage. The P.M., said the rumour, is at odds with Lord Hailsham, and doesn’t want to set a precedent which might bring him back to the commons.

Mr. Benn’s predicament is not free of irony. The Labour Party, of course, once stood for the abolition of the House of Lords. And Mr. Benn’s constituency used to elect Sir Stafford Cripps, who was at one time an ardent opponent of royalty, titles and the rest.

By the time Labour achieved power in 1945, they had dropped their old pledge about the Lords. Now, in fact, they do their bit towards helping the Upper House alive by supplying their share of life peerages.

It is Mr. Benn’s bad luck to have been born the son of a peer. His membership of the Labour Party is a different matter. He may not be able to resign his title: but he can always leave the party which has supported the system of pomp and privilege.

(“News in Review”, Socialist Standard, May 1961)