Friday, July 3, 2020

West and East (1979)

From the July 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
   “The search for a new job should aim first at obtaining an interview and then being offered a job as a result. The message which comes across clearly for both these tasks is, ‘You are the product — market yourself effectively’.” 
From an advertisement for Dismissal, Redundancy and Job Hunting, a book published by Which?, the consumer magazine. 
  “It seems to me that, right up to the blank page in front of me, money proves the omnipotence that it has already demonstrated in the factory. It does not only have the capacity to guarantee or threaten my existence, but also that of censuring my tongue. When I come to speak of it, I am incapable of finding words which would allow me to express anything which seems in any way adequate. Money exercises an absolute power over the terrain of objectivity: here, as in the factory, it has the power to exile into the realms of poems those who dream of abolishing it, or, which comes to the same thing, to cut out our tongues.”

Haraszti, Worker in a Worker State, p. l15


Mason’s ‘Marxists’ (1979)

From the July 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

13th March 1979

Dear Mr. Mason,

My attention has been drawn to the fact that in the Panorama programme on 12th February 1979 you made the statement that the Provisional IRA are ‘Marxist based’.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is opposed to all other political organisations, including the IRA, and would claim to be Marxist based. However, we are also opposed to violence as a political means, and take the view that a transformation to a socialist system of society can be made only by democratic means, when a majority sees the need for it and is prepared to run such a society. We are prepared to defend this position in public debate, and find it regrettable that you should have made the erroneous statement which you did, at a time when our comrades in our Irish companion party are doing all they can to dissociate themselves from the terrorism and senseless violence which are the stock-in-trade of the IRA.

I am therefore writing to challenge you to a public debate on these issues with a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, at a time and place to be agreed. I am sure you would not wish to evade the responsibility you incur in making statements of the kind you did in the programme in question.
Bill Valinas 
(General Secretary)


Reply:

29 March 1979

Dear Mr. Valinas,

Thank you for your letter of 13 March to the Secretary of State (your reference 76/10/2.4). Mr. Mason has asked me to reply on his behalf.

Mr. Mason notes that you object to a remark made in a recent Panorama programme to the effect that the Provisional IRA was ‘Marxist based'. He is sorry that you are concerned about this but he would not agree that this description is either inaccurate or other than fair comment. The Provisional Movement’s own newspapers frequently attempt to describe the violent campaign in Northern Ireland in terms of a Marxist class struggle. And remarks in a sense similar to his own have also appeared in print in England. To take only one example, Mr. Jeremy Paxman, writing in The Listener of 15 December 1977, said:
  “Although the Provisionals were founded by military-minded veterans of previous IRA campaigns they now include in their ranks a growing corps of battle-hardened young men who owe their allegiance as much to Marx as to the traditional concept of a united Ireland. Tensions between the two groups are strong, but they are united in a belief in the legitimacy of violence.”
I have also been asked to say that Mr. Mason entirely accepts the statement in your letter that both the Socialist Party of Great Britain and its companion party in Ireland are committed to the democratic transformation of society to a socialist system; and that both parties have been outspoken in their condemnation of terrorism such as that perpetrated by the Provisional IRA. In describing the Provisionals as ‘Marxist based’ it was never his intention to suggest that other Marxist based parties necessarily supported their aims or methods, and he does not believe that his remark would have been generally understood in that sense.
J G Pilling

Reply:
If an organisation calling itself the Society for the Elimination of Suffering consistently advanced a policy of genocide, no doubt Mr. Mason would feel justified in describing it as humanitarian. Where is his evidence that the IRA adheres to the theoretical system of Karl Marx? Apparently, it is that ‘if the Provisionals and the BBC says so, it must be true'. So much for political argument.
Editorial Committee

Blogger's Note:
See also April 1979 Socialist Standard, Belfast Diary: Mason's 'Marxists' .

Diary of a Capitalist (1979)

The Diary of a Capitalist column from the July 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sunday

I am staying the weekend with my old friends, the Tavistocks, at Woburn Abbey. The Duke and Duchess of Bedford live in France now, so their eldest son and heir, the Marquis of Tavistock, runs the Abbey. Went for a little spin in an Aston Martin Lagonda that the Marchioness bought the Marquis last year as a seventeenth wedding anniversary present, for £32,000. Nice to see couples who remember these occasions with little gifts. It’s the thought that counts. (Daily Telegraph, 29.5.79)


Monday

A man at Sotheby’s was telling me they sold a case of Romance Conti ’71 recently — a fine wine, but not yet very rare — for £850, and another auction house, Bonham’s, got £580 a case for some ’53 Cheval Blanc (The Observer, 11.2.79). The highest price Sotheby’s ever got was last year, when a Washington wine merchant gave them £8,300 for a single bottle of Lafite. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up with a wealthy friend of mine in California: last time I visited him, he showed me round his bomb-proof cellar shelter, lined with bins of rare burgundies and clarets. After all, if you can afford to buy protection against high explosive in a future attack while the less privileged are dying up above, you might as well enjoy yourself while you wait for the All-Clear.


Tuesday

Lunched with a friend at his club. A chap at the next table was sounding off about how ‘those of us in the upper class’ should stick together. Now I know for a fact that he owns virtually nothing — nothing, that is, that brings him in any income; his pay is twelve or fifteen thousand a year, no more, as a manager in someone else’s factory.

“He’s just a worker’’, I said to my friend, “merely a glorified foreman. If the business closes down, he gets the sack like the rest of them.”

But my friend — who is one of us; he owns companies, like I do — pointed out that this chap’s ideas were all to the good. And of course, on reflection I had to agree. Lots of these white-collar workers, office-wallahs, ‘professional men’, almost anyone who doesn’t actually stand at a factory bench all day, are convinced they are a cut above all the others — all the artisans and worse who dirty their hands, and clock on, and get paid on a Friday. And being convinced they’re different, they feel hostile to the other lot, refusing to co-operate voluntarily in any way, and probably vote Conservative, while most of the people with overalls and dirty hands vote Labour. As my friend says, it’s just what we want! If they all realised they were workers (with different sized wages and salaries and different stresses and strains, but all workers) they would get together and overthrow capitalism, and build a system which benefitted themselves, not us. It’s the old story — divide and rule.


Wednesday

Day out at Epsom, for the Derby. Not a cheap day, what with the admission to the stand, the grub and the champers, and my contributions to the bookies. I had a pony on every race, and didn’t pick a winner. It cost me £216 just to get there, a return flight by helicopter from Central London. Still, as a man on my flight said (Daily Telegraph, 7.6.79), it was worth it just to see all the struggling humanity below, stuck in the traffic jams.


Thursday

Bought a grouse moor in Northumberland — shooting rights over 5,491 acres, and a hill farm of 491 acres. Well over a thousand brace have been shot in the average year; last year’s bag was 1,320 brace. The paper (Daily Telegraph, 1.6.79) said it was bought “on behalf of a British buyer” — that was me. It’s probably an economy in the long run; it’s getting very expensive even for a couple of weeks’ shooting in the autumn. We’re all entitled to relax some time.


Friday

The newspapers that 1 and my friends own naturally keep up our campaign about how all-powerful the unions are getting, in order to make absolutely sure they never get any real power, and also to provide a handy scapegoat for any worker who is unhappy with his necessarily property-less position in society. Hitler, if I remember rightly, ran a similar campaign about how powerful the Jews were getting, for the same reasons. But I sometimes come across fellow-capitalists who have actually begun to half-believe their own propaganda. It’s important for the prosperity of capitalism that we distinguish between what we tell the admass, and what we know are the facts.

Take several news items in the last day or two. The bakers’ union annual conference decided to hold a ballot before calling another strike, an acknowledgement of the failure of last winter’s strike, which the employers won hands down. The Tower Hamlets social workers decided to end their ten-month strike; if they have obtained any improvement on the offer they got in February, it isn’t visible to the naked eye. (Sixty of them left their jobs during the strike; they will not be replaced.) The kitchen staff at Wellington School, after a three-week strike, gave up their claim and returned to work — or tried to; they found their jobs had gone. The outside catering company which actually employs the women had cancelled its contract, and the school was able to say triumphantly that it was making other arrangements. Again, one of the Nottingham Evening Post’s journalists sacked last December for joining the NUJ provincial journalists’ strike (so they not only failed to win their claimed pay rise but lost their jobs too) was told by a Nottingham industrial tribunal that his dismissal was perfectly fair — “If all employees who take part in a strike or other form of industrial action are dismissed or not re-engaged, the dismissal is automatically fair.” (all these items. Daily Telegraph, 7.6.79 and 8.6.79).

A few days earlier, a despatch written by Sir Nicholas Henderson (the new British Ambassador to Washington) was ‘leaked’. Henderson was worried about Britain’s ‘decline’, as seen from his previous job as Ambassador in Paris. Compared with France and Germany, he said, “not only are real wages lower but hours of work are longer”; besides that, working conditions are worse. Sir Nicholas has read about the omnipotent British trades unions, and he called this strange result “the paradox of the British labour scene”. But there is no paradox; we must judge by results. Sir Nicholas should reflect and discover the real reason for what puzzles him: we capitalists are much the stronger in our battle against the trades unions, because as long as capitalism lasts, power resides — naturally enough — with the capitalists.


Saturday

Sad to see that Jackson’s, the Royal grocers in Piccadilly, are closing down. They can’t afford the rent for a new lease of the premises. Many’s the feed of truffles, caviar and pate I have had from Jackson’s. However, as Buckingham Palace said, there’s always Harrods and Fortnums. But while I thought of it, I went round for several jars of their Beluga caviar; I am very partial to it, and it’s only £144 a pound.

On the way back I cheered myself up by buying a new watch; a Rolex Oystcrquartz with rather a nice case of white gold, for £4,116 (The Observer, 25.3.79).
Alwyn Edgar

Letters: Frustrated friend (1979)

Letters to the Editors from the July 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Frustrated friend

I feel inclined to apply for membership but at present I know little about you and your members, and you, of course, know less about me; there was a hint in one article somewhere that you might vet applicants. North Devon is very isolated from the towns where you hold meetings and have branches; it is frustrating to read of the series of meetings to mark your 75th anniversary and see how far away they are to be held. What does membership entail, and how much is the subscription?

Perhaps you could also explain one of your policies to me. You consistently advocate spoiling one’s ballot paper in all elections. Granted that the Labour Party is not socialist, but as indicated in an article in April’s issue, the reforms which it is responsible for have alleviated the working man’s lot to some extent. Not only that, but I believe that its existence has also helped in beginning to create a climate of opinion which is necessary before socialism can be achieved. I have no illusions that the Labour Party can ever achieve socialism, but it has helped me in my own transition from a capitalist upbringing to be ready to accept my, probably rudimentary, notions of socialism. The advantages of a Labour government are only marginal over a Tory one, but that margin is there. I would have thought that a social democratic or reformist phase had its place historically in the transition from capitalism to socialism. No doubt you will tell me where 1 am wrong!
GM (Ilfracombe)


Reply:
The Socialist Party of Great Britain has always argued that socialism can be established only when there is a majority of conscious socialists — people who understand socialism and want it. In line with this principle, we must obviously ensure, as far as we can, that our members all understand the case for socialism. In that sense we do ‘vet’ applicants for membership, which does not mean that joining the SPGB is like being interrogated by the thought police. The branch which deals with the application simply tries to find out the applicant’s political ideas. If he or she disagrees with socialism, then clearly they cannot become members; if they agree they are welcomed into our ranks.

We sympathise with the frustrations of workers who find political propaganda for socialism difficult because they live in a more remote part of the country. But it is only by putting the ideas of socialism across, all the time, that they will take root and flourish. In that way the SPGB has been established and kept in existence — and in that way it will form new branches, even in North Devon!

Membership of the SPGB costs £6 a year in dues. These are automatically waived for any member who is on a pension and almost automatically for any member who cannot afford them. Membership does not entail any formal obligation to work for the party, but there is plenty of activity going and members are enthusiastic. For our size, we do a tremendous amount of propaganda.

Where there is no socialist candidate, socialists write ‘socialism’ across their ballot papers. We refuse to make the spurious choice between the parties of capitalism, which is like offering a condemned man a menu for his last breakfast. Writing ‘socialism’ on the ballot paper is not wasting a vote; it is a declaration that the other parties are not worth voting for and a manifestation of support for socialism.

Socialists are in favour of workers grabbing whatever crumbs may fall from their masters’ tables; so we recognise that some reforms can be said to have benefitted the working class. This does not prevent us still struggling for socialism, which is the whole loaf rather than a few crumbs. It is not true that the Labour Party is the only party of reform; the Tories are also in the same business — a fact which amply illustrates the futility of reformism. The experience of Labour governments is that they always attack working class living standards — and, worse, they do this in the name of socialism.

Thus the Labour Party, far from bringing about a climate of opinion favourable to socialism, has confused the issue and has made our work that much harder. There is no place in it for anyone who is looking for a fundamentally different party, one which stands for a new society of freedom and common ownership.
Editors.


Wage Labour as Poverty

In your Questions of the Day you state: “Under capitalism the workers are, in the strictest sense, poor, that is, they lack the means to afford the best that is available”. The Socialist Standard similarly refers constantly to ‘poverty’ — see April 1975 headline, “The poor including the unemployed, including the old, are still here”. This use of the term ‘poor’ indicates that the SPGB accept as real all the multifarious ‘problems’ chewed over and half digested by hole-and-corner reformists of every hue; that it is interested in alleviating ‘poverty’ and is therefore a reformist party, or on the road to becoming one, which merely lacks the facilities of the Child Poverty Action Group.

If the SPGB doubts this then they must answer the following questions. If by ‘poverty’ they mean wage-labour then is it not misleading — in the sense that concerns the amount of use-values consumed by the worker — and redundant, since workers are exploited by the wage form whether they enjoy their" use values or not? What alternative meaning can be given to the word ‘poverty’ which does not imply: (a) a moralistic concern for distributive justice; (b) an amelioration of the condition of only a few workers, the rest not being in ‘poverty’; and (c) ‘social engineering’ a la Webbs? Could the SPGB please give me a clear definition of ‘poverty’, nay more, of the poverty-line income? If they could they may like to send a copy to the Fabians, whose members have a hard time thinking up an ‘objective’ one. In fact I shall wager that the SPGB cannot give me a definition which is not vague, redundant or circular.
Mike Mansfield
(Sheffield)


Reply:
Had our correspondent read to the end of the Questions of the Day chapter quoted, our position would be clearer. Here we state: “A little thought will show how capitalism, besides ensuring that workers stay poor, needs them to be poor. If they could get a living without having to sell their mental and physical energies to the capitalists, then the system could not function for who would do the work? By ‘poor’ we do not mean ‘destitute’ though this is an extreme form of poverty.” We go on to point out that “What is called the housing problem is really but an aspect of the poverty problem or, what is the same thing — since it is the other side of the coin — the class monopoly of the means of production." (page 7).

Government statisticians class as ‘poor’ families whose net income, less housing and work expenses, is less than 20 per cent over the Supplementary Benefit rate; five million British families, or 15 per cent of the population, fall into this category. We, on the other hand, use the word to describe the condition of all wage and salary earners, irrespective of individual levels of income and consumption. Workers are poor as a class because they do not own the means of production and cannot therefore afford the best that is available; indeed, we receive today a smaller percentage of the total wealth than our nineteenth-century counterparts. Reformism cannot affect this fundamental feature of the capitalist system.

Finally, were we to accept our correspondent’s logic, the use of the word ‘rich’ to describe the exploiting class would be unnecessary. Perhaps if we called the workers not rich and the capitalists not poor, he would be not unhappy.
Editors


A Sympathetic Word

As a supporter and admirer of the SPGB and the Socialist Standard, I was a little disappointed when reading Bill Knox’s article on Airey Neave to find no expression of sympathy for his family and friends. Whatever a man’s political complexion may be, a premeditated taking of his life is a great tragedy for those near to him. I understand, of course, that Bill Knox was criticising the values for which Airey Neave stood, but however distasteful these may be I don’t see that anything is gained by cold and callous comments about him so soon after his death. Indeed, I regard it as positively harmful to the cause, and it certainly does not help me in arguing the SPGB case with some of my acquaintances. Even those close to Airey Neave cannot be completely ruled out as possible converts to the cause of socialism, but they would hardly react in a favourable way on reading Bill’s article.

I want to see the SPGB maintain the respect which is properly its due, and I think it is a pity that Bill Knox couldn't have found a word of sympathy to include in an otherwise excellent article.
George Pearson
London SW20


Reply:
Capitalism has raised the creation of human misery to the level of fine art. Angela Rippon presents to us a half-minute film of the mayhem and sufferings of the day, and the response compares unfavourably with that to the weather forecast. Indifference to human need and bloody death becomes the rule and not the exception.

When Neave was assassinated, we were treated to a complete catalogue of his ‘finer qualities’, and the press, which represents the interests of the capitalist class, was full of tributes and messages of sympathy. Our response was not to delight in the fact or manner of his death, but to reject violence as a political weapon while pointing out its inevitability in class society. We had no personal grudge against the man, but words of condolence to his relatives and Tory colleagues would, to say the least, have stuck firmly in the throat.

Millions of people die every year because the system which Neave upheld values material gain above human life. If we extended a few words of comfort to their families we’d get back a demand for something more substantial — like food. To some, sympathy is a luxury easily foregone. Had the victim of the assassin’s bomb been a car park attendant (and we recall that, on hearing of the explosion, the hope was expressed in the Commons that the victim was not a member of the House), we may have learnt in a last paragraph somewhere that he left a wife and four children.

Capitalism will continue to brutalise people and deaden human response to the suffering of others. If the friends of Airey Neave have not learnt this truth from his death or the war in Ireland, then a few kind words from us won’t help.
Editorial

More Equal Than Others (1979)

Book Review from the July 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mervyn Matthews: Privilege in the Soviet Union; George Allen and Unwin, £3.50.

Russian society is correctly described as state capitalist. The argument to support this does not rest essentially on the presence of inequality, a cleavage between the haves and have-nots. However, it does follow from the existence there of class monopoly of the means of production that most members of society will barely scrape a living from the sale of their labour power, while others enjoy the material and other fruits of this monopoly. Those who exercise this monopoly (through their control of the state and party) are called the ruling capitalist class. Matthews, however, eschews any reference to class and defines an elite purely in terms of standard of living.

The average monthly wage of a Russian worker in 1972 was officially stated to be 130 roubles including bonuses. Matthews takes 400 roubles as the lower limit for the monthly earnings of members of the ‘elite’, though some individuals receive far more, for instance, 600 roubles for the First Secretary of a Union Republic and a rumoured 900 for the First Secretary of the ‘Communist’ Party. At least as important as basic income, though, are certain privileges reserved for the elite, often specifically for members of the nomenclatura. These range from automatic payments of an extra month’s pay (the so-called ‘thirteenth month’) to special shops selling scarce goods and not open to all and sundry. Special hospitals cater for the elite while workers languish in the ordinary hospitals, and better quality holiday accommodation is also provided. All these privileges mean that basic income is a very uncertain guide to someone’s standard of living.

Matthews also provides a historical account of legislation relating to privilege and inequality. Lenin in 1918 accepted the need to pay higher wages to ‘bourgeois specialists’. Top party and state officials did not at first receive much above average workers' wages (though the possibility of hidden benefits of the type discussed above should be borne in mind), but by 1925 there was an elaborate hierarchy of occupations, with top party workers receiving 175 roubles (a month?) and the average industrial worker about 50 roubles. By 1928, many managers would have been receiving ten times an average worker’s earnings. These extra elite benefits have existed throughout most of the post-revolutionary period; for example, from 1920 only ‘top people’ were allowed to make use of state-owned cars in Moscow.

Despite its lack of any attempt at analysis, Matthews’ book is a handy collection of data concerning the extent of inequality in Russia. The privileges he describes are consequences of the existence of two classes there, since to talk of the ‘wages’ received by Politburo members is misleading; such people cannot meaningfully be said to sell their labour power. They belong rather to Russia's capitalist class, who enjoy material privileges and exercise political power while most of the population — like workers everywhere — are excluded from both.
Paul Bennett

USSR National Exhibition (1979)

Exhibition Review from the July 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Earls Court 23 May - 10 June 1979

Leonid Brezhnev himself cordially welcomed me to the Soviet Exhibition and “conveys best wishes to all British citizens”, at least that is what the handout said.

There is little doubt that the Soviet government has put on a staggeringly impressive display, revealing a degree of technical achievement difficult for one who knew Russia in the lean years after 1917, to grasp.

When we consider the wholesale slaughter and destruction of two world wars, Russia’s recovery is little short of miraculous, confirming once again Marx’s dictum in the Communist Manifesto regarding the immense potentialities of labour allied to science.

The emphasis at the exhibition was on technical output — spacecraft, satellites, aeroplanes, cars, lorries, raw materials (especially minerals), oil, cameras, refrigerators, television sets, furniture, fashion, wines, it was all there, just like Tesco’s. Perfunctory lip service was paid to ‘socialism’ as the ultimate ideal society which Russia “is on the way to”.

But when Brezhnev assured us that the “Soviet Union today is a country of genuine political and social equality”, we sensed a niggling doubt, especially when informed at the television section that trade union membership is compulsory and that the trade unions are “inspired and guided” by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. What we are not told is that ‘inspiration’ is not given by any other political party, because they are not allowed to exist.

Stalin, whose swarthy features once gazed sternly down from every Soviet wall, has completely disappeared, utterly obliterated. It is hard to remember he ever existed. Lenin is mentioned as a formality, introducing Leonid Brezhnev. On the new Soviet Constitution Karl Marx was relegated to limbo, vapourised. ‘Workers of the World Unite’, once the proud slogan on every Russian kopek, was unheard of.

The exhibition was full of Russian salesmen and women taking orders from blatantly rich customers for cars, cameras, luxury watches, fabulous hand-woven carpets, sumptuous furs, expensive wines, glassware and television sets. Soviet capitalism seemed suspiciously like Western capitalist trading, just like any other exhibition at Earls Court. However, the Russian dancers (and nobody, but nobody, can dance like Russians) were well worth the entrance fee.
Horatio

Running Commentary: About hanging (1979)

The Running Commentary column from the July 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

About hanging

Who cares about hanging? Perhaps the thousand-odd people serving life sentences, who may have hanged before 1965, care. Probably a few million workers who, we are informed by such weighty organs as the News of the World, are seething with vengeful intent towards murderers, care. And perhaps those politicians who, although they are able to eat hearty dinners after taking decisions which will result in thousands of deaths, enjoy a public display of what they call their conscience — perhaps they too care.

Since hanging was abolished in this country in 1965, there has been a statistical battle over whether such a cruel and final penalty has any effect on the frequency of the crime which it punished.

This battle has been rather more civilised in tone than the mob hysteria which demands that one killing be expiated by another (how many politicians would, in all justice, survive for long if that were strictly applied?), and which assumes that the harsher the penalty the more effective the deterrent.

If this were so, the job of capitalism’s crime fighters would be a lot simpler. There would be no need for a massive structure of laws detailing sentences. All that would be needed would be one sentence for all offences — something like prolonged torture, followed by public execution, preferably by slow strangulation. That would abolish crime at a stroke.

In fact, human motivations are not so simple. And crime — even the most violent and ruthless — is not the acts of wicked people. Much of it springs from the very conditions which capitalism foists upon us — the slums, the degrading lifetime of exploitation, the mediocrity, the despair.

At the moment, the abolitionists seem to have won the statistical battle, which leaves only the hysteria to be debated. And it is in this that politicians will be able to show us (hoping we will remember it, come the next election) how tortured is their conscience over this great moral dilemma.

In this debate, an important fact is liable to be overlooked. Even if hanging is brought back, it would mean only a handful of people being executed each year. Sickening as that prospect is, it must be seen in proportion to the fact that capitalist continuously organises the deaths of millions of people — in war, famine, avoidable illness, in ‘accidents’.

No politician’s conscience ever suffers over that. The hanging debate will provoke a lot of nonsense, from both sides. As always, it is essential that the working class (to use an inappropriate phrase) keep their heads.


Paradise in Brazil

Brazil, one of the world’s foremost football countries, is now also climbing the economic league table. It has the eighth most powerful economy in the world, and at the present rate of development will by the year 2000 be inferior only to the USA, Russia and Japan. What does this mean to the Brazilian people? Do they reap the rewards of this, and live in plenty and freedom?

The truth is very different. Brazil’s climb began with the military coup in 1964, in which the trade unions and free political activity were effectively abolished and strikes were outlawed. Under this dictatorship, the Brazilian workers squirm as the exploitation screw is turned ever tighter upon them.

As a recent television programme and an article in The Observer highlighted, in Sao Paulo millions of workers live in appalling slums, while just a short distance away there are glittering shops and international banks, evidence of the foreign investment in the country. The child mortality rate increases remorselessly, and hundreds of thousands of children, their parents unable to afford to feed them, are abandoned to roam the streets as beggars, prostitutes or thieves.

Above this desperate misery a small, parasitic minority of capitalists live in apparently boundless luxury. It is a blatant assertion of the reality of the social system — of the fact that the majority of people work, and are exploited, to perpetuate the privileges of the ruling class, and therefore their own servitude to that class.

Brazil has a lesson for the workers in Britain which has nothing to do with their superior football team. Much of the political debate here is about the allegedly irresponsible attitudes of British workers. The implication of all this is that a disciplined, compliant working class would also be a prosperous working class, sharing in the extra profits which their docility brought their masters.

The experience of the people of Brazil provides yet more evidence to disprove this comfortable (for the capitalists) theory. It illustrates the opposition of interests between the classes and the necessity for the workers to struggle in trade unions to protect their interests.
And finally, it shows that capitalism is a society where profits take precedence over people a society which merits only implacable hostility until the day it is swept away.


What the eye doesn't see . . .

We have all heard of the many refugees leaving Vietnam in small boats and getting into trouble at sea. If they are lucky they get picked up by (mainly) British boats and taken to Hong Kong. Being already almost unbearably overcrowded, the Colony is understandably reluctant to allow them to land. They therefore spend weeks — sometimes months — on board ship, lying offshore while one or other government finally, reluctantly, agrees to accept them. The latest and most publicised were the nearly 1,000 aboard the Sibonga. After some haggling they have been allowed to come to England. However, Margaret Thatcher quickly pointed out that in permitting them to come she was not setting a precedent, and other such refugees would have to look elsewhere for a new home.

One effect of all this had not been mentioned until an item in the Daily Telegraph of 31.5.79 by Ian Ward, under the heading “British Ships Will Avoid Refugee Routes”.

For a ship the size of the Sibonga, every day spent waiting for someone to agree to take the refugees means a loss of £7,000, and there is no way of recovering this money. On the other hand, it is a ‘law of the sea’ that ships pick up people in distress.

It has not taken British owners long to find a solution (it is said that owners in other countries thought of it some time ago) — re-route the ships. Apparently most of the emergencies occur in the first two hundred miles from the Vietnam coast. Admittedly, re-routing to avoid this area means extra fuel costs, but these represent far less expense than that incurred for days wasted at anchor waiting to offload the ship’s human cargo.

Refugees will of course continue to find themselves in danger and distress, but, to use another old saying, ‘time is money’. If, by re-routing, the ship isn’t there, no-one can blame it for not picking up drowning men, women and children.