Saturday, June 13, 2020

50 Years ago: The Snoopers (2009)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

A furore arose recently in the readers’ letters column of the Daily Mirror, when an article revealed that there were thousands of people employed by Finance Companies whose job it was to snoop into people’s lives, and report on would-be hire purchase customers’ credit reliability ( . . .)

Most people look upon snooping as an unsavoury occupation, but do not see where the real unsavouriness lies. This kind of activity is an essential part of property society, a society which provides even more unsavoury occupations, such as the policeman who breaks strikers’ heads with his truncheon, or the soldier mangling workers of othwer countries. The jobs themselves are not likely to ennoble the characters of the performers, but this is not the main issue. They are carrying out a necessary function of an irrational and harmful social order, and one which exemplifies the sheer idiocy of the social organisation.

What sensible reason can there be for an arrangement whereby some workers produce goods, other workers advertise them, yet more workers arrange them in gaudy shop-windows, more workers fill in hire purchase forms, even more run the complicated accounting and collecting system of the finance companies, some more occupy their time snooping into the buyers’ lives, others add up the bosses’ profit, a few store it away in bank vaults, and finally, a tiny section of the population live more than comfortably on the proceeds?

Surely a simpler and less wasteful arrangement is called for? Why should a vast number of people have to perform useless and frustrating tasks, in order to satisfy the selfish wishes of a ruling clique? Yet it is working people themselves who perpetuate this foolish system: who do the useless tasks as well as the useful; the unproductive as well as the productive.

The trouble is that the alternative, a world of common ownership and common effort, is frightening in its simplicity. It seems too easy to be true. Nevertheless, true it is. It’s as simple as that!

(from an article by A.W.I. in the Socialist Standard, June 1959)

Voice From The Back: The advance of poverty (2010)

The Voice From The Back column from the June 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

The advance of poverty

Every day we can read about the expansion of capitalism and how new industrial and commercial giants are arising to challenge the supremacy of the USA. One of the leading candidates in this struggle is India. We are constantly hearing about the modernisation of that country and the supposed benefits of the expansion of capital. We don’t hear so much about the plight of the working class there though. The following news item illustrates that the supposed benefits of capitalist modernisation are not so wonderful after all. “India has 100 million more people living in poverty, official figures show – 37.2 per cent of the population compared with 27.5 per cent in 2004 – with 410 million people below the UN poverty line of $1.25 a day” (Times, 19 March). Surviving on a pound a day while the owning class of that country now boast of the richest men in the world. “Indian names now figure prominently on the league tables of the wealthiest people on the planet. The country now boasts 47 billionaires, up from 12 in 2005 and just nine at the turn of the millennium, compared with 10 in France and 35 in Britain” (Observer, 9 May). That’s capitalism for you – surviving on £1 a day contrasted with the lives of billionaires.

The whip hand

“British Gas has received more than 65,000 applications for 600 gas fitter apprenticeships. The scheme pays £5,000 a year, plus expenses, to train staff to repair boilers and radiators. The 100-to-1 ratio of applicants to openings, twice the usual ratio, has been caused by surging youth unemployment, boosted by graduates and mid-career professionals searching for jobs. Most applicants are aged between 20 and 26, although British Gas said some were in their fifties” (Sunday Times, 18 April). Not only do we have workers madly competing for the right to be exploited but we have workers in employment working overtime for no extra pay. “One person in four is working longer than ever but few are paid extra for putting in overtime. A survey of 2,000 workers, carried out for Santander, found that the average employee in the UK is working a 41-hour week for an annual wage of £27,150. One in seven of those polled is doing at least 11 hours of overtime every week, but only two in five are paid extra” (Times, 4 May).

Fifty years of gradualism

One of the oppositions to world socialism is that rather than have a complete transformation of society we could have piece by piece gradual change. Well let us look at how that has worked out in relation to the environment. “Sir David Attenborough has warned that Britain’s wildlife is being destroyed thanks to man’s impact on the environment. The naturalist made his comments in the foreword to a new book, Silent Summer, in which 40 prominent British ecologists explain how humankind is wiping out many species. It comes fifty years after the publication of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s acclaimed book on pollution of wildlife that helped the growth of the environmental movement worldwide and led to a ban of some pesticides in Britain” (Sunday Telegraph, 25 April). So fifty years after the alarm was sounded the position is even worse. That is gradualism for you. The drive for bigger and bigger profits means that the environment is of little importance.

A papal view of society

There are many ways to look at society. What are the most important aspects of present day society? Socialists might say the fact that a third of the world is starving, or that we live in a society that could be annihilated in a nuclear holocaust or even that in the drive for profits we risk the delicate balance of the global environment. None of these considerations entered into the reasoning of the Pope when he recently visited Portugal. “The Pope yesterday condemned gay marriage and abortion as ‘among the most insidious and dangerous challenges’ to society, as Portugal prepared to legalise same-sex partnerships next week. Benedict also criticised Catholics ‘ashamed’ of their faith and too willing to ‘lend a hand to secularism’. Ninety per cent of Portuguese define themselves as Catholic, but Portugal’s society is increasingly secular, with far fewer than a third saying they attend Mass regularly” (Times, 14 May). Starvation, worldwide slaughter or global warming? Not as important as abortion or same-sex relationships according to His Holiness – no wonder the pews are emptying.

Political whores trading (2010)

From the June 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Extract of MI5 recording, number XA4821S, Westminster, May 7. Principals in cross-Party coalition talks, House Speaker residing.

Chair: I must begin by asking you, gentlemen, if any here present are intending in disregard of honour or scruple to prostitute all their principles simply for the sake of power at any price?

All: Of course!

Chair: Oh. Ahem. Well, that’s alright then. Now, to business.

Clegg: Still think I’m a joke, Cameron?

Brown: I think you’re both bloody jokes.

Clegg: I’m not even speaking to you, Brown.

Brown: Alright, I resign.

Chair: To order. The agenda is how to rake back £163bn without ending up with Greek fire in Whitehall.

Clegg: PR! AV plus! STD! No wait, I mean…

Cameron: I’m a liberal Tory, that means I’ll screw the poor and cut child tax credits but I won’t give the rich that huge inheritance tax bonus until next year.

Clegg: I want no tax for the 10k superpoor. And did I mention PR?

Chair: Do Labour wish to say anything?

Blunkett: Ok, we give in.

Cameron: What?

Reid: Who wants to be a coalition of losers?

Clegg: But you said you wanted PR!

Reid: Balls.

Chair: Come again?

Ed Balls: We’ve got what we want, Brown’s head on a pole, plus we won’t get blamed for the cuts we would have had to make in office. We’ll clean up next election. Cameron will be toast and Clegg will be cornflakes.

Chair: You mean you’re walking out on the negotiations?

Harman: Manning the lifeboats actually. Good luck with the deckchairs. The Titanic’s all yours.

Clegg: I knew they weren’t serious. Cameron, we’ve got to do something. The axeman cometh.

Cameron: You mean the IMF?

Clegg: No, I mean our rank and file. If I don’t screw a deal out of this hung parliament I’m hung, and if you don’t, your name will be down there with Ian Duncan Smith.

Cameron: Oh my god. But we’re diametrically opposed!

Clegg: No, that was yesterday. Today we’re liberals. Any deal will do. Now about PR…

Recording indistinct. Sounds of Miliband brothers scuffling and Alex Salmond singing ‘Whose bonny wee lassie am I?’)

Political whores trading

We strongly suspect that the attached transcript (above) is a hoax, which is why we didn’t pay good money for it.

However, something like it probably did happen. Not for a generation has there been such an edge of the seat performance from all three main parties on a high turnout vote, with voters queuing up for hours to get in on the act and then being turned away by the jobsworths running the polling stations. All that drama for a holy grail they all knew was a poisoned chalice. The Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, had predicted that whoever formed the next government and made the required cuts in expenditure would be out of power for a generation afterwards. Perhaps this was why Labour apparatchiks like Blunkett and Reid were throwing in the towel even before the votes were all in, and all that warm Liberal friendly pillow-talk during the election rapidly cooled as the realisation dawned that sometimes it’s better to be outside the tent pissing in.

 An election which produced no clear winner did however produce three clear losers. All three leaders immediately faced the guillotine, Clegg for being the golden boy who lost seats, Cameron for his secretive, Blairlike reliance on an inner circle and disregard of anyone else, as well as his crap and meaningless ‘Big Society’ election message, and Brown just for being Brown when New Labour was supposed to be about Blair, flair and razzle dazzle. A shaky coalition forced to wield the machete on wages and public spending amid general public rage over fat cat corruption has got to be any politician’s worst nightmare, and as if that wasn’t enough, the spectre haunting Europe this season is one of Greeks burning down banks. Hanging over this new government, even before it’s got started, is a ghastly sense of foreboding.

 In the event, desperation has forced Cameron to marry Clegg, on the grounds of better a bad hand than no hand at all. Clegg in particular was in a hard bind. He would have been crucified for not making a deal, their first chance in 30 years, and given the Lib Dem ‘democracy’ mantra, no less crucified for hypocritically siding with Labour when they were in a clear elective minority with no mandate to govern. As it is, he will probably be crucified by his own party for this deal with the Tories. As one Liberal put it: “I think we could be wiped out for a generation by this decision. We will probably be annihilated at the next election” (Guardian, 12 May).

 A common assumption doing the rounds is that, regardless of Cameron’s plan to shore up the ConDem’d government with 5 year fixed term legislation and an increase in the majority requirement for a Parliamentary vote of no confidence, the whole show will probably collapse in disarray in a couple of years or so. Labour certainly are banking on a short period to regroup in opposition and another ‘97 like landslide. But coalitions only look shaky because they don’t happen often in Britain.

 In other EU countries where proportional representation is the norm, coalitions happen almost routinely and government still manages to function, insofar as governments can ever really be said to function.

 The socialist view of all this has been echoed by, of all people, Michael Portillo (see Editorial). Governments don’t control the money, the money controls governments, and when money says ‘Jump’, it is always the working class who are for the high jump. It is with some sadness that we predict that the poor will pay the bill, however the politicians work out their debt repayment schemes, while the rich will do alright, thanks very much. What’s not going to happen is that capitalism somehow falls flat on its face and dies of a seizure.

 Experience shows that capitalism is good at surviving, even though it may consume many of its supporters in the process. All governments are really coalitions of capitalist class interests against the working class, so if workers want something better than pain and oppression for themselves then they had better stop voting for its continuation. Were socialists ever to be in a parliamentary minority and faced with the Clegg dilemma, there’s no question what we would say: A plague on all your houses, you’ll get no deal from us.
Paddy Shannon