Thursday, May 7, 2020

Down with Prisons! (1996)

The A Word in Your Ear column from the May 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The common belief that prisons are full of dangerously anti-social people from whom the rest of us must be protected is a lie. It is a lie so popular that even to question it is deemed to be an act of the wildest utopianism. We are taught to regard the imprisonment of the few as some kind of guarantee of the security of the many. But the many feel far from secure. And the imprisoned are mainly harmless, or harmful only to the extent that they are treated as they are.

As a child I remember a cop coming to the school-cum-prison in which I was being educatcd-cum-indoctrinated-cum-incarcerated to tell us all about what would happen if we broke the law. He carried the authority of a man born only a little too late for a career in the Gestapo and he terrorised little children with fears of the dire consequences of their wrongdoing. Boys with stolen sweets in their sticky pockets almost wet themselves. The cop painted images of dark dungeons presided over by men with the tolerance of Old Testament gods. We all agreed that this was no place to end up in. Next time our class went shoplifting the look-out arrangements were especially vigilant.

Years of being conditioned to fear the awfulness of prison hardships and indignities has done much to strengthen the unhealthy respect for property which so pervades the working class. Most people are afraid to take any of what they themselves produce, not because they believe it really should belong to the property-owning minority (the real thieves) but because they dare not break the thieves’ laws. They are scared. The prospect of prison is supposed to make us scared.

As a means of teaching people to respect private property prisons are remarkably unsuccessful. Most inmates come out with more knowledge about how to get away with breaking the law than they had when they entered. There is no evidence at all that prisons do anything very much except scare people who are not in them and brutalise those who are. The tragedy is that most of those in there have been quite well enough brutalised by the deprivations and degradation of being propertyless in a property society without needing a prison regime to roughen their edges.

The vast majority of the prison population is locked away fro one reason: they have violated the sanctity of property—taken what does not belong to them. Why have they done this? Aside from the odd cases (not infrequently fictitious) of millionaires’ wives roaming around department stores and stealing for attention, the main reason for stealing, whether from shops or cars or houses or workplaces is lack of money and lack of the hope of making a mark in society without gaining things which cost more than can be paid for. Stealing is a consequence of poverty and of powerlessness. Take away these factors and who need steal? (Take away money and property and who could steal?)

Millions of prisoners are incarcerated across the world simply for disagreeing with the government. From the tortured wretches in the hell-holes of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran (apparent international enemies, but all at one when it comes to the Dictatorship of Property) to those in Britain who refused to become conscripted killers in time of war (the “crime” which sent so many socialists to prison) or pay their poll tax, what are these but prisoners of conscience? It doesn’t pay to stand by your principles under capitalism. In China there are approximately ten million political prisoners locked away in camps. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the trade boycott.

And yes, there are the few—a small minority even within the minority of the prison population—who are so damaged, so ruined by their upbringing and circumstances, and so driven to brutality that they have murdered, raped and committed unspeakable acts of cruelty and inhumanity. Is the humane response to brutalise them further by locking them in cells and punishing them for what society has made them? It has become a commonplace of mean-minded conservative sneering to deride those of us who counsel compassion and understanding for those whose deeds the tabloid press choose to call evil. (Their evil-spotting becomes remarkably myopic when it comes to nuclear buttons and bombs dropped from legalised terrorists in the name of international order.) well, call me a “do-gooder” (which is preferable to being a do-badder) or a softy, but the truth is that only spite can justify taking an inadequate person and making them less adequate by throwing them into the hopeless despair of imprisonment. These places are an affront to a society which declares itself with haughty arrogance to be civilised. They are monuments to the barbarity of a system which cannot afford compassion and support for the damaged and so buries itself in the futile and spiteful torments of punishment.
Steve Coleman

Opportunity knocks (1996)

Claire Short and Peter Mandelson
TV Review from the April 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

With the next General Election on us within a year or so the bourgeois political parties and the TV companies are already preparing themselves for what might be a nasty campaign. Nasty, that is, and bitterly contested, but totally meaningless. The news teams at the BBC and ITN know what is in store for an angry and bewildered working class and so do the current affairs programme-makers. The two primary features of the last campaign will almost certainly be present in the next one—muckraking peppered with vacuous political assertions with little or no basis in fact. While the last election was bad the next one will be closer still—and therefore worse still.

Peter Horrocks, editor of BBC2's Newsnight, has confessed to his exasperation and disgust at the main parties for their increasingly authoritarian and devious handling of the news media. The Tories have, of course been masters at this for years, but writing in the Parliamentary Review, Horrocks claims that the Labour Party has become even worse:
  "Labour's internal machine has an iron grip. As a broadcaster and believer in open political discussion, one deplores such authoritarianism. Faced with polls we can't rely on and politicians who are prepared to be controlled like puppets, what do we provide for our audiences?"
What indeed? As an example of Labour ‘'fixing" Horrocks cited the Harriet Harman school-opt-out affair when the Labour leadership strongly advised its MPs to stay away from the studios. Many who initially agreed to appear on Newsnight and other programmes to criticise Harman changed their minds after being warned off by the leadership and Labour spin doctors. If this is the case—as it almost certainly is—then the MPs in question are just as culpable as those who now direct their media appearances. The only reason they can have for their behaviour is that of hanging on to their jobs and of a desire to win an election by default.

On the ball
Luckily, the television news media—for once—do not seem prepared to take this lying down. After taking political beatings from both Labour and the Tories previously with numerous accusations of bias and collusion, there are signs of a fight-back. Horrocks in particular has warned that the media will turn its attention away from the spin doctors and their puppets towards "genuine free spirits” out of their grasp as the election draws near. Most interestingly of all for those who offer a genuine alternative to the bogus socialism of New Labour, Horrocks writes:
  "Expect to see alternative politics covered. Tony Blair will attempt to portray himself as candid and realistic, but it will, be carefully controlled, designed to give nothing away."
If Horrocks really means this and is not just making idle threats, this is encouraging, particularly so for groups like the Socialist Party. In fact, if Horrocks and others like him are looking for a genuine alternative to the sterile politics of the capitalist parties, they need look no further than in our direction. Who else offers a serious alternative to the market economy and can provide the democratic debate and argument on which news programmes thrive? The Socialist Party will be standing candidates at the next General Election and we are willing and able to provide representatives to comment on a wide range of issues, all of whom will take the opportunity to expose the trickery and shallowness of capitalist politicians. Lively, democratic debate is assured—what more can Peter Horrocks want than that?

In the meantime we have lots of other suggestions to make. In particular we can offer a line of questioning guaranteed to expose the Tory twits and Labour fakers which still dominate the news media and which is to be particularly recommended to those interviewers with a reputation for integrity and tenacity:

  • Which problems that beset the market economy e.g. unemployment, crime, poverty, war are capable of solution within the system?
  • Why are previously tried policies on all these fronts being put forward when they failed in the past?
  • Which policies offered by any of the parties now haven’t been offered in some shape or form in the past, both here and abroad?
  • If there are any, did they solve the problems they intended to solve?
  • If so, give examples. If not, why not?
We should no doubt be prepared for a long period of silence when politicians are asked of their successes in solving the problems of capitalism for we all already know the answer—there haven’t been any, as the problems are still there. Once their egos have been pricked and their policies exposed, the real opportunity for sustained and informed TV debate on the issues will then be upon us. But paradoxically, silence, as far as the tepid professional politicians go at least, would still—as likely as not—be golden. And not just for socialists, for it is clear that the “service’’ they give to supporters of the market economy is an increasingly embarrassing one and is recognised as such.
Dave Perrin

These Foolish Things: The Age of Leisure (1996)

The Scavenger column from the May 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Age of Leisure

"The holiday home was buzzing with the sounds of the modem cottage industry— faxing, computing, phoning . . .

Technology, once hailed as the liberator of the work force, has become an insidious thief that steals scarce holiday time. Laptops, phones and faxes are readily transportable, available at hotels, airports and on some planes. Holidays can all too easily turn into the virtual reality' of a day at work.

Rob Donnelly of the Confederation of British Industry, says: “More people in management roles are seriously eroding their free time. There’s a cult of irreplaceability that says, ‘As long as I keep my place. I’ll have a job”’ 
Mail on Sunday, 4 February.

Competition will cost £320 million

“Government plans to introduce full competition into the electricity market from April 1998 suffered a setback last night after warnings that an expensive new system for trading power was unlikely to be ready in time.

The committee governing the electricity pool—the wholesale electricity market—warned that a new £250 million computerised trading arrangement would need to be phased in and said it remained unclear how this initial price tag plus the annual running costs of £70 million would be met.”
Guardian, 21 December 1995.

On the scrap heap

The research will confirm “the significantly raised mortality of the unemployed in comparison to all men of working age,” according to tire 1996 edition of Social Trends—the bible of official social statistics . . . In 1990, analysis of an Office of Population Censuses and Surveys study which is tracking a sample of more than 500,000 people drawn from the 1971 census, showed death rates were 37 percent higher than average among men seeking work during the period 1971-81. 
Guardian, 25 January.

If you can pay

“Doctor John Stanford is about to realise a dream. It began in a swamp in Africa and it could result in a medical breakthrough that would rank alongside Sir Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin . . . Skin tests carried out in Nepal, India and Burma revealed that somehow the harmless mycobacterium vaccae worked to stop the terrible tissue destruction effects of TB . . . The company in which John and Cynthia Stanford, Professor Rook, UCL and Eric Boyle retain a major share holding now has a capital value of £70 million ... if [the team at UCL] is right, a lot of people will make a lot of money. But, far more importantly, the world could be freed of the terrible threat of TB. . . “ 
Lorraine Fraser, Mail on Sunday, 25 February’.

“City delights at good round of job cuts”

"It is one of those paradoxes. While most ordinary people get upset at job losses, the highly paid young men and women in the City'—assuming they aren’t the ones being downsized—love them. Job cuts, they argue, enable companies to become more competitive, streamlined, “leaner”, helping improve profitability and dividends. On the wider front, they are also good for the economy as they also help keep down wage inflation. It was for this reason that yesterday’s move by United Utilities, to trim its workforce by a further 1,700, was so welcome in the Square Mile. The shares shot up 14p to 611p, after Wednesday’s 19p jump, as analysts smacked their lips in expectation of chunky dividend increases. One, who wisely asked not to be identified, summed it up this way: ‘The cost reductions are greater than expected, and that’s very good news, really exciting’” 
Guardian, 29 March.

The Scavenger

Twisting and turning (1996)

Book Review from the May 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

L’URSS et la contre-révolution de velours. by Ludo Martens. EPO, Brussels.

Normally we would let the dead bury the dead. And this book (“The USSR: The Velvet Counter-Revolution”) clearly comes into this category, written as it is by someone — the leader of a Maoist party in Belgium — who believes that Stalin was a Great Man and Trotsky a Hitlerite agent. But it reveals an interesting twist to the argument over the nature of the social system in Russia when the Communist Party was in power there.

In the course of their disputes with the rulers of Russia, the rulers of China (Mao) and of Albania (Enver Hodja) came to characterise Russia as “state capitalist”. This was largely name-calling but Mao and Hodja got their State ideologists to work it up into some kind of theory; which, in Martens’s words, went like this:
  "In the Soviet Union, Khrushchev’s coup d’Etat marked the capture of power by a new big-bourgeoisie, made up of the high officials of the Party and State, who de facto own the means of production and who appropriate the surplus value created by the workers. The Soviet State is a collective capitalist".
As it happened, this description of who the Russian ruling class were and how they owned the means of production and exploited the workers was substantially correct, except why did this suddenly come to apply only in 1953 when Khrushchev took over after Stalin died? Since the political and economic structure was the same, if it applied to Russia under Khrushchev it ought logically to apply to Russia under Stalin too. Indeed, it ought logically to apply as well to China under Mao and Albania under Hodja.

As we pointed out at the time, in characterising Russia as capitalist the Maoists were more advanced than the Trotskyists who still clung to the absurd view that Russia was some sort of “workers state” . However, in so doing they were also underlining their own defence of the Chinese and Albanian regimes which of course were also examples of state capitalism.

And this is what happened. After the so-called Cultural Revolution some ex-Red Guards came to apply the same analysis to China under Mao. Others went further and applied it to Russia under Stalin. As Martens describes it from his point of view:
  “The whole French New Right, of the “former-Maoist-New-Philospher” type, started from the analysis of the restoration of capitalism under Khrushchev to then discover that the “bases” of this restoration had already been laid by Stalin”.
Some went even further, such as Michael Volslensky in his book The Nomenklatura (recommended reading, incidentally, for anyone wanting to understand the ancien régime in Russia) whose views Martens quotes as the final proof that the new class/state capitalist analysis of Russia was wrong and should be abandoned:
  “Neither the Leninist party nor its core has ever been the vanguard or even a simple part of the working class . . . In the event of the revolution they were preparing being victorious, this small group would automatically become an organisation of professional leaders. It is thus that Lenin created the embryo of a new ruling class”.
Mao, Stalin and Lenin as advocates and practitioners of state capitalism, this is where the theory Mao and Hodja patronised in the 1960s and 70s led! This has proved too much for today’s Maoist remnants who have now decided to abandon it as a “leftist” deviation. Martens backtracks on a view which he says he held and ardently defended for twenty years, in these terms:
  “We believed at the time that Khrushchev had established a new specific mode of production, state capitalism, a higher form of capitalism where the “nomenklatura” collectively owns the means of production. This thesis isn’t tenable”.
He now believes that Khrushchev didn’t after all “restore” capitalism in 1953; all he did was to embark on a course that would eventually lead to “the restoration of capitalism” but that this didn’t actually occur till Yeltsin came to power in 1991; in the meantime the Russian economy remained “basically socialist”.

So the Maoists have now retreated to the same absurd position as the Trotskyists they hate: that Russia from Stalin to Gorbachov was still basically socialist even if those at the top were feathering their own nests (as if the absence of a privileged group in society wasn’t the essence of socialism).

This view has the added advantage—and is probably a major factor in their U-turn—of allowing the ex-pro-Chinese Communists to make it up with those ex-pro-Russian Communists who haven’t become open reformists, so that they can both rally round the remaining “socialist countries” (Cuba, North Korea, China, Vietnam and Laos). On reflection, perhaps we should have left the dead to bury the dead.
Adam Buick

What's Wrong With Education: How Capitalism Learns ’em (1974)

From the May 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recent figures show that there are over one million adults in the UK who are illiterate. When one considers that compulsory state education has been in existence since the 1870 Education Act, that figure is quite startling. Even if one takes into account that possibly some of that one million are immigrants who were not necessarily educated here, the proportion of illiterates is still very high. In many parts of the country they are trying to tackle the problem. In Birmingham, for example, adult education centres are being established to deal specifically with illiterates. But the Mayor of Birmingham has no doubts about the chances of succeeding in overcoming the problem in his town. “We can’t eliminate illiteracy in Birmingham, but we have to try.” (The Guardian 14th March 1974). Why won’t they eliminate illiteracy in Birmingham, or London or Manchester for that matter? To answer that question one has to see education in its proper context.

Education under capitalism is a topic that always demands and receives much attention. As capitalism’s history unfolds, the importance of education to its continuance becomes more and more obvious. Capitalist society now needs a highly educated work force which can adapt itself to the changing needs of the system. The education world, full of articulate enthusiastic people, is one of great activity. The people involved in the process of imparting knowledge are often more aware than many other similar groups of workers of changes taking place in their own sphere. Great debates will sweep through the education world from time to time, about the place of education in society and how it should be organised and structured. Sometimes the debates are between those that are seen as the preservers of the future élite  against the rest (grammar v comprehensive).

More often the debates take the form of priority issues. Most ideas are regarded as good ones, but they can’t all be implemented at once. So the protagonists of the various education reforms line up like competing football teams, but instead of getting on with the game, squabble over which pitch to play on. Nursery v primary, higher education v lower, university v polytechnic, vocational courses v liberal arts courses, etc. In addition to these the age-old, sterile debate about whether education means to “draw out” or to “stuff in” continues. Currently the stuffer-in seem to be losing ground in terms of educational techniques. What the educationists do not appear to realise, and what the Socialist will always be at pains to point out, is that any discussion on education cannot be divorced from the function of the education system within capitalist society.

Capitalism is a world-wide economic system (i.e. Russia and China too) based on private or state ownership of wealth and the means of producing wealth. Education within that framework has a certain well-defined role. One of the definitions of the word “education”, in the Oxford English Dictionary, is “preparation for the work of life.” In other words, education under capitalism is the process of training the working class (that section of the community that has to sell its abilities to work for a wage or salary in order to live) for work. The type and amount of training that the workers will be given (forced to undergo) depends, looking at capitalist society as a whole, on the technological level of society. It did not matter much a hundred years ago (to the capitalist) if workers could not read or write. Now literacy is demanded for the workers. As one “educational sociologist’' has put it: “The literate factory operative, for example, is not only better able to follow instructions and undertake new tasks but has been trained in the school in habits of order and discipline.” (The Sociology of Education, Olive Banks). Most jobs now require that workers have at least a good basic ability in reading, writing and mathematics.

As well as ensuring that there is a work force adequately trained to cope with the difficulties of production at all levels, the education system also fulfils several other basic functions for capitalist society. It disciplines children into creatures able to control the frustrations that will inevitably arise when faced with dull repetitive processes for forty years. In spreading the education catchment to all children a mass education system also ensures (so far as possible within its own limited horizons) that whatever ability is available to capitalist society gets some sort of chance. The reformists in the education world hail this as their golden land of “equal opportunity.” All it means is that clever children get to the top (where capitalism needs them) instead of just rich ones. The vast majority are still where they will remain all their lives — underneath.

Without this wide spreading of the net, technological advance would not continue. And without technological advance, individual sections of competing capitalist groups (countries) would not remain competitive. The competition between the various nations to sell goods on the world market at a profit, also demands that the workers’ education be continually intensified to create those who are going to be able to produce the technological advance that capitalist society requires. Economists, with callous indifference to the interests of those involved, now call the education process “an investment in human capital.” Above all, the education system has to instil in workers the values, prejudices and concepts of capitalist society. True that society needs some of its workers to think, invent, create etc. But the inventions, thoughts or creations of workers must be channelled into lines conductive to the smooth functioning of a market society.

It is this fundamental point about the purpose of the education system that all the do-gooders and reformists in the education world will never remember. Education as a commodity of capitalist society is not given away to provide some sort of elusive happiness for workers. It is there to ensure that the system of society as at present constituted continues, and from the point of view of the capitalist, improves. Once this is remembered, it becomes clear why not only the teaching methods, but also the subject matter is linked with the status quo. Possibly the best example of this is in the teaching of economics in schools and universities. Economics should be the study of how society works. But if that were taught the recipients might start to question a system that so obviously works against the interests of the vast majority. So instead, economics is taught as a collection of ludicrous theories. None of them bears any resemblance to the real world outside the class room.

Some of the obvious pieces of ideological double-think in standard school and college economics are:

  1. That resources are scarce (they are plentiful — it is just under capitalism production and therefore consumption are restricted to what can be sold at a profit);
  2. That governments somehow play a neutral rôle in the economics they are supposed to control, in that government action is aimed at producing the best results for all in society — this ignores the fact that society is divided into two classes (capitalist and working) and the interests of the two classes are diamertically opposed, what is good for one must be bad for the others. And, most absurd of all. 
  3.  that given certain (impossible) conditions, capitalism’s price mechanism leads to resources being distributed in the best interests of society.
This appalling distortion and intellectual juggling that takes place in many subjects (not just economics) can only occur in an educational system geared not to imparting knowledge but to ensuring the smooth running of private property society. This results in children very largely being forced to learn what capitalist society wants them to know. The Badger in The Wind in the Willows neatly summed up the objects of capitalist education: “We don’t want to teach ’em . . . We want to learn ’em — learn ’em. learn ’em. And what’s more we’re going to do it.”

Educationists, like all reformists, have to realise that the particular social problem with which they are concerned cannot have its contradictions ironed out whilst the causes of those contradictions remain intact. Because capitalist society has as its aim, in producing anything, sale with a view to profit (even if only indirectly, as in education) it cannot take into account the satisfaction of human requirements, where no profit is to be made. And the education system, being but a limb of that society, can only function according to the requirements of that society. The net result as in all aspects of life under capitalism is that workers as a whole have a standard of education (and living) far below society’s possibilities. Those at the very bottom of the ladder end up illiterate.

When mankind ends capitalism, and by its own conscious action replaces it with Socialism, wealth that is produced will be freely available to ail in society. Free access to everything will include free access to knowledge. Education as a process of finding out about the total human environment, will not be an action limited to sections of people’s lives, when forced to learn. Instead, there will be nothing to prevent man’s natural curiosity about the world he lives in continuing to be fulfilled all his life. Like everything else, education will be available to satisfy man’s needs, not as now, for continuing the even running of a system of society that deprives the vast majority of fulfilling life.
Ronnie Warrington

Students against Democracy (1974)

From the May 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Liverpool was proud of The Beatles and its connection with that Cunard Line. What the city thinks of the conference of the National Union of Students held there early April is another thing. Hundreds of delegates from universities, polytechnics etc. assembled for their annual jamboree. Over the years, this conference has endorsed some pretty queer ideas, but 1974 will go down as a vintage year.

This assembly debated students’ grants; elected a new President (a political loner we are told) by 21 votes; didn’t agree to send a delegation to Czechoslovakia to see if the Czech students’ union were democratic enough to form links with the NUS (would their journey have been really necessary?). Then came the body blow to democracy and the right of people to express their views. The outcome of this debate intimated they had a lot in common with the Communist-Party-dominated Czechoslovakia.

A majority of the delegates “voted yesterday to take whatever measures were necessary, including disruption of meetings, to prevent members of racialist or fascist organizations from speaking in colleges” (Guardian, 5th April, 1974). Mr. Steve Parry, the union’s Communist national secretary said: “It was all very well to talk about principles of freedom and democracy, but if people had known, in the days when Hitler was campaigning, what they know now, would they have let him speak? One or two individuals disrupting meetings was not enough. There had to be mass action.”

Another presumably intellectual and would-be working-class leader, Mr. H. Feather, wanted to drive the racialist and fascist organizations off the streets — you must pulverize them. All good emotional stuff to warrant a standing ovation, which of course it received.

But let us leave the heady atmosphere of the conference hall and look soberly at what has been suggested. Ideas not popular with students must be suppressed. At the conference these ideas are listed as fascist or racialist, but of course in reality it doesn’t stop there.

The Communist Party who now urge the working class to vote for the Labour Party took a different point of view in 1930. The following is taken from the Daily Worker 29th January, 1930:
  Workshop meetings should be called . . . and resolutions in the support of our Party should be carried, but the mere passing of resolutions is not enough. There should not be a Labour meeting held anywhere, but what the revolutionary workers in that district attend such meetings and fight against the speakers, whoever they are, so-called "left”, “right” or centre”. They should never be allowed to address the workers. This will bring us in conflict with the authorities, but this must be done. The fight can no longer be conducted in a passive manner. We must lead the masses in struggle against this Government and the time has arrived to use every conceivable means of political agitation. The 'Communist Party and its organ, the "Daily Worker" will lead the working class, fighting boldly and openly, against this government of scoundrels and agents of capitalism.
The government of "scoundrels” was the Labour government elected in 1929 whose Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald had been supported by the C.P. for many years. Is further comment necessary?

In 1943 the West Ham branch of the Socialist Party of Great Britain challenged the local branch of the Communist Party to debate the respective objects of the parties. A reply from their branch secretary dated 23rd February stated that "the Communist Party has no dealings with murderers, liars, renegades or assassins. The Communist Party of Great Britain refuses with disgust to deal with such renegades. We treat them as vipers, to be destroyed.” Methinks they protest too much but we leave our readers to form their own judgement on this outburst from the "holier than thou” brigade. Time and time again, the Communists have tried to break up our outdoor meetings — if not by violence, by concerted hooliganism.

And when it comes to the "Hitler campaign”, might we remind Mr. Parry that the Communist Party were prepared to do a deal with the Nazis in 1939? No question then of violently suppressing the Nazi ideas, but the fêting of Ribbentrop with champagne toasts. The Daily Worker (now Morning Star) had a headline of August 23rd, 1939: The German-Russian talks are A VICTORY FOR PEACE AND SOCIALISM. You could have fooled us.

During the 1939 war the Government shut down the Daily Worker for printing views which were considered to be against the war effort (during the CP spell of opposition to the war). The national press and politicians approved this suppression, and whilst the Daily Worker did nothing to enlighten the workers about Socialism (they were proud of their horse-racing tips), the Socialist Standard (Feb. 1941) stated that the SPGB has its own point of view. True to our basic principles we do not support suppression of opinion, however false we believe that opinion to be.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has personal experience of what happens when such a decision as that of the NUS is operative. We arranged a debate in North London against the National Front. An opportunity for the audience to weigh up the two conflicting schools of thought — socialist or nationalist. We were of the opinion that the audience would be able to judge for themselves the validity of the arguments. But our dear "lefty” types thought otherwise. They broke up the meeting. Did they consider the audience to be such a bunch of morons that they could not judge? Obviously they did, and this might just be the reason why these “revolutionaries” wish to appoint themselves as leaders of the masses. They know what is good for us — they know what we should hear.

Democracy, never a favourite word in their vocabulary, means a method of conducting affairs where a majority decision is reached on the basis of all information being readily available. Who are these self-styled dictators, who in the name of democracy, wish to decide what we shall or what we shall not hear? The suppression of "unpopular views” by violence does not eradicate these ideas. This can only be done by a free exchange of ideas.

It is obvious that a university education can turn out just as stupid and dangerous people as the ordinary elementary school.
C. M.

So They Say: A Moral Stand, Not Taken (1974)

The So They Say Column from the May 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Moral Stand, Not Taken

“Disillusionment” sweeps among Labour supporters like influenza after, usually, a year or two of the government they put in. This time a month or two has set the virus on its feet. One Labour journalist whose readers may already feel the symptoms is Matthew Coady of the Sunday People. In his “Week in Politics” on 31st March he wrote:
  Britain’s helping hand to Chile is to be withdrawn — and rightly. Mrs. Judith Hart. Minister for Overseas Aid, has made the only possible decision.
. . . This Generals’ bloodbath, which overthrew a Left Wing regime, is reckoned to have cost 10,000 lives, many of them executed after secret trials.
Is this the kind of set-up that Britain should help to under-pin ? Of course it isn’t.
. . . There is always a price for a moral stand. In this case it is the price of copper.
Brave words, but mistaken ones. Contrast them with the front-page story in The Guardian only two weeks later, headed Heffer may go after defying Wilson:
  Mr. Eric Heffer, Minister of State for Industry, last night faced imminent disciplinary action over his speech on Saturday in which he threw overboard the traditions of collective Cabinet responsibility and sharply criticized the Government’s decision to complete an arms contract with Chile.
(Guardian, 15th April)
Perhaps before writing “there is always a price” Coady should have seen what was in the News of the World on the day he said it: Wilson warns of price spiral.

Grow Old Along With Me . . .

A second strange story from a Labour figure was that of Mrs. Marcia Williams, Wilson’s private secretary. On 11th April she made a statement to the press about the “land deals affair” in which her brother bought property with a highly profitable future. Saying “My conscience is dear”, Mrs. Williams explained:
  Employed as I have been, personally, there has been no pension attached to my job . . . I became involved in this venture, nominally, because it was felt that my 25 per cent interest (later reduced to 20 per cent) would provide income over the period of working which could be invested in a pension fund for my retirement.
(Daily Mirror, 11th April)
The fact that there is no pension attached to her job means that Mrs. Williams would have to depend on the State retirement pension. She finds the prospect unacceptable. That is understandable; and it leaves us with the thought that what the Labour government doles out with such self-praise to the working class, its members see as unsufficient to live on

Yes, Sir, That's Whose Baby?

Strange story no. 3. Newspapers on 5th April reported that consultation papers on the road and town accompaniments to the intended Maplin Airport were being rescinded, and the project was therefore now as good as killed off. The Guardian described it as “the Conservative Government’s multi-million pound plan”, and said:
  Mr. Crosland [Secretary for the Environment! has long been opposed to Maplin. On January 16, six weeks before the election, he assured the Commons that a Labour Government would cancel the project within "a matter of weeks”.
The fact is that a Labour government originated it all. In 1966 Labour said that a third London airport was needed and should be at Stansted — motorway, town development and all. After protests other sites were named, and in turn protested over, until Maplin was settled upon.

Claiming credit for squashing one’s own idea is quite novel. Perhaps that is the idea behind trading arms to Chile — to take “a moral stand” and stop it, later.

A Fertile Suggestion

Socialists always welcome old friends, and a venerable one has turned up this month. In a letter to The Observer on 7th April A. Rees of Bradford asserted that the poor make themselves poor by having too many children:
  I cannot help thinking that the people in the poverty trap have reproduced themselves into it. The problem is surely the folly of trying to raise children on low wages, breeding poverty as they breed children.
There is scope for some fascinating calculation here. Lord Longford has a large family but is well breeched; how many children would he have had to have to make himself poor? What about Lord Sainsbury? To get into the “poverty trap” by this method he’d have to put out the work to contract.

On the other hand, Mrs. Marcia Williams did not think of avoiding poverty by going to a birth-control clinic. She had a slice of a property deal instead — showing she knows the facts of life better than A. Rees of Bradford.

Unions and Politics

The General Secretary of the TUC made a speech on 28th March which contained valuable information for left-wing militants. First:
  Mr. Murray . . . said yesterday that no Government would do things for the trade union movement without expecting something from the unions in return. Mr. Murray, who was speaking to a parliamentary press gallery luncheon, said the union movement could not expect unquestioning co-operation.
This should dispose of the idea that “political strikes” can bring compliance from governments, or even that a change of government will give militants what they have been shouting for. And to make the point clear, he later referred to the high-spot of the 1972 agitation against the Industrial Relations Act:
  Mr. Murray accepted that the actions of the Pentonville five — the dockers who were saved from gaol only on the intervention of the Official Solicitor — had been regarded as stupid by some. But the incident had shown how important it was not to make martyrs.
(Guardian, 29th March)
At the time, the five dockers were claimed to have been released by the threat of a strike — a great victory for militant solidarity etc. Len Murray now confirms that it was not so. He might have added that six other pickets went to gaol last year without any suggestion that they were martyrs, and the only protest was a mild one at the severity of their sentences.

A Continuing Mess

What would be thought of a newspaper which, through failure of organization, had two blank pages in every issue? or a tobacconist whose packets of twenty cigarettes had only eighteen in? Presumably, that if they could not put their businesses in order they would soon be out of business.

Yet capitalism tries to educate children and fails in an equally elementary respect. A group in the Manchester College of Education wrote in the Education Guardian on 9th April:
  In research carried out recently by the Cadmean Trust it was revealed that 15 in every 100 children leave school virtually illiterate.
The writers call it “a national disgrace”. But after more than a century of educational expansion, continual reorganization, extension of the school-leaving age and so on the basic problem of education is unsolved. Is it not time capitalism was thrown out for inefficiency in this and every other direction?
Robert Barltrop