Saturday, July 25, 2020

Corrections. (2006)

From the July 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Political trainspotters will have noticed the mistake in the part of last month's Greasy Pole devoted to Margaret Beckett when we said she "once savaged Neil Kinnock for his refusal to back Tony Blair against Denis Healey for the Deputy Party leadership". The Tony in question was of course Benn not Blair. Our apologies.

Also last month, in reply to a letter on "redirecting production to meet needs", we wrote that "it has been suggested that world food production would have to be increased by at least 60 percent to get to a position of sufficiency for everybody on the planet". To avoid misunderstanding, this suggestion referred to more than basic food needs. Total food production even today is theoretically enough, if evenly divided, to prevent anyone dying of starvation. "Enough food is now produced worldwide to provide sufficient calories for all humans, but distribution is uneven and unequitable" ( _761576477/Food_Supply_World.html#s 3). Of course, in socialism, with the artificial scarcity and organised waste of capitalism gone, enough food will be able to be produced to provide a more than adequate diet for all.

The editorial in April stated that "real power today does not lie in elected bodies but in the hands of those who own the world's wealth". This was a reference to the power to take economic decisions not to political power - the power to set the machinery of state in motion - which is in the hands of governments ultimately responsible to elected bodies, even if used today in the interest of those who own the world's wealth since those currently elected support and sustain capitalism.

What price democracy? (2006)

From the July 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recent scandals about donations to political parties confirm that under capitalism some – those with money – are more equal than others.

Births – marriages – deaths – everything in capitalism, even that which currently passes for democracy, has a price, and last month the Electoral Commission, an independent body that oversees political party spending on elections, published its balance sheet on the costs of the last UK General Election.

Mrs Blair, the wife of the Prime Minister, who was not contesting any constituency, apparently spent £7,700 on having her hair done.  The acceptance of this by the independent commission presumably means that this woman’s hair was in some way related to the electoral system that is supposed to underwrite our alleged freedom of choice.

There were other serious items: £3,638 went on make-up for the then Tory leader, Michael Howard – an expense that failed utterly to disguise his loutish leer.  The Labour Party spent £264,000 on a bus and another £75,000 having it converted and yet a further £3,172 re-branding it as the Prescott Express – a somewhat tantalising sobriquet in the light of recent events.

And then there were the very serious items; very serious because the huge amounts involved were spent on providing personnel in the form of spin doctors and professional liars skilled in mendacity and obfuscation who it was calculated could con voters into parting with their votes.  £441,000 was paid to an Australian ‘political tactician’, while his short-stay accommodation in London cost the Tories a further £27,000.  Fortunately for Labour, there was no need to import political charlatans as part of the carefully choreographed Blair strategy was to cultivate their own indigenous species of con artists.


In total the infamous ‘three main parties’ spent some £40 million pounds buying representation in the House of Commons. That, it could be said, is the price of British democracy.  The Labour Party spent £18 million, the Tories roughly the same amount and the Lib-Dems £4.3 million.  Effectively, this is what it costs to ensure that the personnel staffing British capitalism’s political administration do not pose any threat to an economic order firmly based on the exploitation of the overwhelming majority of the electors.

Traditionally, rich and very rich people supported the Tories and when the Liberal Party was the alternative government of British capitalism it, too, enjoyed the influence and affluence of the rich and powerful.  It was unnecessary to ask why rich people and prosperous business enterprises supported these parties; their donations were investments in politics; investments that would encourage a healthy return in the form of ensuring that government would not pursue legislative practices harmful to the interests of its donors.  In other words, that politicians would not bite the hand that feeds them.

Labour Party spokespersons were once vociferous in exposing and emphasising this support of the landed gentry and the industrial and commercial magnates for its political opponents.  Labour’s then more frugal organisational and campaigning funds came largely from the trade unions, who also assumed they were promoting a political interest sympathetic to the cause of their members as well as opening avenues to career betterment for aspiring union leaders. 

That was before the Labour Party had demonstrated to the British ruling class that it had become the electable alternative to the Tories and could safely exchange places with the Liberal Party. Despite the occasional bit of leftist sloganising from its slow learners, experience had clearly shown that Labour leaders were now aware that in government they had to facilitate capitalism – a task they could frequently do more efficiently than the Tories because the fiction prevailed that they represented the working class.

Incompatible with genuine democracy

The media, which is supposed to inform us, didn’t raise a head of steam about the Electoral Commission’s report but did raise a fuss about the remarkable generosity of the millionaires clamouring to ‘lend’ money to the Labour Party under foot of reasonable expectations of titles of one sort or another.  The Tories, on the principle of honour among thieves, didn’t overly embarrass the government either – indeed Prescott’s sexual adventures received more attention than the scarcely covert corruption in both government and opposition.

The question is, where does all this leave the issue of democracy, that vague principle which the government have men and women trained to kill and die for and which we are told is the guarantor of our freedom? 

The politicians, the media and the rest of what are called ‘opinion formers’ insist that we have democracy, that we have free elections which allow us to choose whatever form of government we wish, unlike countries where a single-party dictatorship exists. 

Such dictatorships usually allow elections where the people may approve or disapprove of given candidates within the dictatorship but have not the freedom to vote for any other parties or for independent candidates.  In other words the people have imposed on them by force, corruption or the control of information a specific political regime and have not got the necessary democratic machinery to challenge that regime.

Dictatorship and bourgeois democracy

Looking at the vast sums of money involved in our allegedly democratic elections we can hardly claim that they are ‘free’!  In fact in most of the so-called democratic countries it could be said that the astronomical costs of challenging for political power have been deliberately manipulated in order to ensure that those who cannot attract rich backers will be denied meaningful access to the democratic process.

Effectively this means that in the same way as people in dictatorships are denied the right to make real political changes, in Britain and other allegedly democratic societies prohibitive financial restrictions are placed in the way of the working class organising politically to effect real economic change.

This does not mean that socialists equate dictatorship and bourgeois democracy.  Within the latter we are free to organise politically and to develop our support to the extent where we can eventually overcome the embargoes and impediments that capitalism’s restricted democratic forms impose on us, whereas in the former any Socialist work is necessarily clandestine and can invoke severe penalties.

What we can equate is the hypocrisy of bourgeois politicians, who rightly condemn those capitalist dictatorships where political freedom is denied and yet are willing participants and vociferous defenders of a form of capitalism wherein financial impediments exist that make a mockery of real democracy.


The recent debacle surrounding the revelations of enormous financial donations and alleged loans from the millionaires to Labour and the Tories (the Lib-Dems do not represent as promising a political investment as the others) may have caused some embarrassment.  It will, however, be a passing phenomenon because the very system that exposes them also protects them in that it excludes meaningful opposition from outside the ‘three main parties’.

That said, however, the evident chicanery of the whole nasty business requires some means of political sanitising that will shield the politicians while still providing the parties of capitalism with the financial means of maintaining their monopoly of power – without allowing any democratic access for cultivating meaningful opposition either to the system itself or its trusted political agents.

Various suggestions have been made but the front runner appears to be the state funding of elections.  Such a method, across the board and pertaining to every candidate in elections, might be a welcome widening of the political process, which is why it is unlikely to happen.  More likely is a scheme to allocate funds on the basis of the number of MPs each party has in parliament, which would simply perpetuate the present situation and consolidate the current undemocratic scheme while resolving the embarrassing issue of funding for the politicians and their parties.

Fair and free elections 

The idea of fair and free elections would give the ruling class political apoplexy.  Imagine a general election where socialists had a level playing field, an election that was in effect a plebiscite on the question of Socialism or Capitalism.  The traditional parties of capitalism would be united in telling us about the remarkable plethora of reforms they intended to introduce to ease poverty in certain areas, to reduce crime, to tackle the housing problem, help the aged, build nuclear bomb shelters, etcetera.

The socialists would not be offering any reforms of the old, failed system in which the vast potential of the planet is owned and controlled by a relatively small minority of people who allow the production of goods and services only when it holds the promise of profit for them.  On the contrary, we would be asking for a mandate to abolish the entire concept of ownership in the means of production and distribution so that everyone could freely participate in wealth production and everyone would be free to take from the common pool of wealth thus created in accordance with their needs.

Further, in the context of what we are discussing, we would be offering the establishment of an open and genuine system of participative democracy in a world where the massively destructive and ubiquitously corruptive power of money would no longer exist.
Richard Montague

Letters: Scientific proofs (2006)

Letters to the Editors from the July 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Scientific proofs

Dear Editors

As both a scientist and a socialist, I was dismayed to read two statements in the May Socialist Standard which appear to reflect an anti-science or anti-academia bias. The first statement, found in the Pathfinders column, is that “science itself is unable to prove anything very much at all, whether it is a theory of gravity, evolution, or climate change”. While this is ‘technically’ true, it is more than a little disingenuous, and may lead readers to believe that the Socialist Party rejects science as a tool for understanding nature and the human condition.

Science works by proposing theories, which are tested to see if they account for the available data, and then modified if they do not. Because new data is always being discovered, scientific theories are never proved with absolute certainty in the sense of a mathematical or logical proof, but rather in the sense of a legal proof – “beyond a reasonable doubt”. The overwhelming evidence in support of the theory of evolution is such that no biologist disputes its ability to account for the fossil record and origin of species; in this informal sense the theory can rightly be said to be “proven”.

Socialists should therefore not reject calls for scientific proof of our social and economic theories; rather, we should meet them by providing supporting evidence, or by modifying our theories when presented with contradictory evidence.

The second passage with which I take issue appears in Voice from the Back, where some professors are ridiculed for speculating on some matter of Christian mythology instead of speaking out against world hunger.

I’d like to know what evidence the author of this piece has that these professors are not socialists and are unsympathetic to the problem of world hunger. And is it his belief that the study of ancient history and literature has no redeeming value, and that it will be abandoned in socialism? Or merely that any activity not directly related to bringing about socialism should be held up to condemnation and ridicule?

Perhaps the author may be able to devote every waking hour of his life to socialist propagandizing, but most of the rest of us need to set aside at least some of our time for employment, hobbies, relaxation, and yes, even inconsequential philosophical debates.
Tristan Miller, 
London SW4

Another view of Freud

Dear Editors

I’d like to comment on the article “Freud and Marx: do they mix?” (May Socialist Standard) and put forward some of my own thoughts on the subject. In order to appreciate Freud you really need to approach him with the right mind-set. That mind-set, in my opinion, is an ability to understand where he’s “coming from”, together with a willingness to appreciate his insights without necessarily buying into his ideas wholesale.

This second point was explained by J.A.C. Brown in his book Freud and the Post-Freudians:
“It is convenient to regard the total body of Freudian thought as falling into roughly three categories: its basic psychological concepts; the theories based on clinical observations and described in terms of this conceptual scheme; and the essentially philosophical conclusions on such subjects as the nature of society and civilization, war and religion, which Freud drew from his own thought and experience. 
Whether or not such a division is logically justifiable it is undoubtedly empirically useful in any consideration of his influence on scientific thought; for many would accept his general approach to psychological problems who would not be uncritical of his theories, and others would accept both without taking very seriously his metaphysical conclusions.”
Freud’s outstanding fault was over-generalisation. But even this criticism of him has to be qualified because you have to judge each of his points individually. Making sweeping statements about someone who made so many different individual points over so many years is it itself an overgeneralisation. Many people have claimed that Freud’s ideas are untestable. This isn’t necessarily true. Seymour Fisher and Roger P. Greenberg have made a concerted effort to test Freud’s ideas against a wide range of scientific evidence. Their findings are compiled in their two books The Scientific Credibility of Freud’s Theories and Therapy and Freud Scientifically Reappraised.

The following paragraph, which appears in their first book, gives you an idea of their general approach:
“Overall, the best argument we can muster for scientifically testing Freud’s models is the fact that many competent people have already tried their hand at it and discovered new, interesting things. It should be added that their fairly precise quantitative observations are making it possible to speak in terms of the degree to which Freud’s ideas are valid or not valid, rather than simply Freud, at least in terms of his theoretical conclusions, had a somewhat pessimistic view of human nature, and in this sense saw things differently from socialists."
However, I believe that this should be set against Freud’s compassionate acceptance of human weakness and limitation, and in this respect, I believe, Freud and Marx were soul mates. Many of their peers would have been happy to regard the hysterical men and women as well as the poor oppressed masses as both, each in their own way, the cause of their own misfortune. Freud and Marx regarded them as fellow human beings, championed their causes, and sought to relieve them from their suffering. In doing so they both went completely against the grain of the societies they lived in, and for that bravery of spirit alone, deserve our gratitude and respect.

The idea that people are the cause of their own misfortune is a central argument of those on the political right. This is particularly so in America where it’s even accepted by many of those who suffer as a result of it. The idea is that whether someone is emotionally disturbed, or mentally ill, or a single mother, or lacks the skills, strength, or ability to get a well paying job, they are somehow supposed to have chosen to be exactly as they are. Giving them no support is then justified on the grounds that they could choose to somehow magically change themselves and their circumstances if they really wanted to. It’s interesting to note that these right-wingers choose to see emotional and economic difficulties in a very similar way.

Freud and Marx would have been united in opposing this absurd idea. Freud would have pointed out that people with emotional problems are victims of their own natures and certainly don’t choose to be the way they are. I don’t need to say what Marx would have said about the source of economic hardship.

In spite of the huge differences in their areas of interests there are quite a number of ways in which Freud and Marx parallel one another. They were both big fans of Darwin and saw themselves as doing work in a similar vein to him.

For an explanation of how Marx’s views on religion correspond to Freud’s ideas about paranoia see Paranoia by David Bell. This is an excellent little booklet which I thoroughly recommend. It gives a brilliant explanation of “false communities”, racism, hatred of asylum seekers, resentment welfare recipients, etc. from a  psychoanalytic point of view. Psychoanalysis has a tremendous amount to offer to anyone who wants to have a better understanding of human behaviour.

I can’t resist mentioning the books of Robert Jay Lifton in which he applies his background in psychoanalysis to the study of recent historical and political situations. Socialists should simply take from Freud and psychoanalysis whatever they find helpful or interesting and leave aside that which they don’t.
Adam Waterhouse, 

Dear Editors 

The article on ‘Freud and Marx’ (May Socialist Standard) was quite interesting and may lead some readers to study more of the works of Freud, Reich and Fromm. However, it appears to make the usual errors by critics of their pioneering work

Freud’s discovery of psycho-analysis is used by the medical profession world-wide and has proved to be beneficial and invaluable in treating patients with deep emotional difficulties.

The article states that “Instinctual Sexual Energy” has never been found. This is not the case. Any objective observation of older babies and very young children will demonstrate that they have a natural and “instinctive” sexual or sensual drive for genital play for long before they have any understanding or knowledge of sexual functioning.

While there have been advances in sexual liberation for adults, in recent years, this has not led to much improvement in social attitudes. There is a specific reason for this. Development in the first five years of life pass through the stages of oral, anal and genital evolution of pleasure zones.

By puberty, on average, girls are menstruating at 10 years of age and boys, on average, are ejaculating at 12 years. So physiologically they are ready for mating.

This in our “Civilised” society is understandably unacceptable. So unlike all other living creatures, the “Sexual Instincts” must be repressed and thwarted. Freud and Freudians understood this and suggested that a price in emotional terms would be made. Hence the ‘Life and Death’ instincts evolve that give rise to the emergence of all kinds of sexual perversions that can develop. These are also expressed in ‘death’ drives in addictions, such as drug taking, smoking, alcohol, etc. And as Wilhelm Reich proved, into homoerotic political diversions, such as fascist and nazi fantasies. (Study the Nazi symbols and expressions and the “death instinct” is self-evident.) Sexuality or sensuality is the deepest natural emotional instinct all humans possess.

Most people, though unaware of their repressed emotions, are able to cope sufficiently in life. It is essential, however, to understand the complexity of our personalities, if we are ever going to be able to create a fully successful socialist society that will be really lasting. For we are not machines or robots, but thinking animals with many emotional layers. Just as the work of Marx is a guide to understanding, and not a dogma like religions. So also, is the work of Freud, Reich and Fromm.
Lionel Rich, 
London NW6

Greasy Pole: No grace without favour (2006)

The Greasy Pole column from the July 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anyone whose memory is flavoured with a proper measure of vindictiveness will have little sympathy for the corpses of careers, once so promising, which crowd into the political morgues of capitalism. They will not be moved by tales of the bewilderment and distress experienced by the careerists at the dying of their ambitions. There will be no bereavement counselling for those who contemplate a bleak life without a platoon of flunkeys to organise their days, to usher them unsullied by probing questions from one media-intensive exposure to another. No sympathetic third ear for those who pine for the emotional highs sprouting from a passage of adroit fencing across the Despatch Box. A stolid indifference will be shown to anyone grieving for red boxes and gleaming limousines, uniformed chauffeurs and swarming police escorts. And no glimmer of empathy will console previous inhabitants of the architectural jewels which are known as Grace and Favour Residences


As almost everyone who can switch on a television set or read a newspaper knows, it was deputy Prime Minister John Prescott who, at a time when he must have been desperate to avoid any more bad publicity, swung the media searchlight onto the whole matter of grace and favour residences when he was snapped by a tabloid photographer playing croquet on the lawn of Dorneywood. Croquet – a game which needs immaculate turf, traditionally played by men and women in straw hats with hat bands in club colours. John Prescott, who is supposed to represent the interests of the people of Hull East, where croquet is not a popular game. John Prescott – who once decked a man at an election meeting for throwing an egg at him, who feeds copy to the parliamentary hacks by gabbling his Commons speeches in a riot of confused syllables, mangled words and malapropisms. Prescott the ocean going steward who angered Harold Wilson by being among the leaders of the 1966 seamen’s strike. And all of this was played out on the immaculate turf of Dorneywood – Prescott’s elegant grace and favour home in leafy Buckinghamshire. The tabloids were ecstatic, playing the game they know so well – making sure as many people as possible are aware of embarrassing facts which, no matter how trivial, can then be left to speak for themselves.

Grace and favour residences are big business, coming in a variety of sizes and shapes and being awarded for many different reasons. But none of these homes attract the same degree of attention as the few which are allocated to prominent politicians – “given to the nation” as a retreat for senior ministers where they can re-energise themselves after the exhausting business of trying to control British capitalism. Chequers is unique because it is reserved for the Prime Minister of the day, donated in 1917 for that purpose by Arthur Lee, the Tory MP for Faversham and later Lord Lee.  The house nestles among the Chiltern Hills, easily visible from some of the public footpaths around about. Lee gave Chequers on the assumption that, consequent on the sequence of electoral reforms flowing from the Reform Bills, it could no longer be assumed that the Prime Minister would necessarily have their own landed estates. (At the time, some sections if the ruling class had not woken up to the fact that this was an unimportant distinction).


Thatcher was enchanted by the place: “I do not think anyone has stayed long at Chequers without falling in love with it” she wrote – an assessment which would not have chimed in with the millions of workers who spend their lives in homes which, emphatically, they do not “fall in love with”. Ted Heath was also fond of Chequers and stayed there most week-ends, although he was typically frustrated by the refusal of Arthur Lee’s widow, who was allowed to live there until she died, almost forty years after Lee’s death, to agree to the improvements he was impatient to make. Heath organised social events and concerts there, when his guests could enjoy the indoor swimming pool which was a gift from another rich benefactor. If Heath could see no irony in this, the same can be said about Tony Blair and his fondness for hosting events attended by fashionable stars of the media and the entertainment industry – Elton John, David Bowie, Richard and Judy. The publicity was a useful promotion of Blair’s assumed credentials as a trendy – while he devoted himself to his mission to govern the rest of us in a distinctly outworn fashion.

Chevening, a grand house surrounded by a 3,500 acre estate, is now occupied by Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett – although what this will do to her well-known preference for caravan life is anybody’s guess. The Earl of Stanhope left Chevening to “the nation” in 1967, specifying that it must be used by the Prime Minister, a Cabinet minister or a descendant of  George VI. Prince Charles at first had his eye on it but then changed his mind; perhaps he was uneasy about being spoiled for choice. In fact Chevening, along with the now notorious Dorneywood, has previously figured in events exposing the meaner, ruthless nature of a politician’s ambitions and their perceived need to enforce recognition of their standing. When the scandal of Prescott’s office affair first broke he was adamant that he would not be forced out of Dorneywood, clinging to the house as a symbol of his power and influence; to give it up would be to admit to a decline in his standing. It was not until the pressure on him became too intense, symbolised by those photographs of him leaning on his croquet mallet, that he changed his mind, in the hope that this would assuage his critics and so save his place in the government. It was rather like Arctic travellers trying to distract a pack of pursuing wolves by throwing chunks of meat off the sledge – except that in this case it was not human lives, but the vanity of an arrogant, discredited politician that was at stake.


There has been another, equally illustrative and sickening, example in recent years. In July 1989 Thatcher had run out of patience with her Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe, on the grounds that  “…his clarity of purpose and analysis had dimmed”.(which meant that he had disagreed with her too often). When she came to sack him Howe was furious, partly because he would have to give up Chevening, where he was very comfortable. To prevent him becoming too much of a rebellious nuisance Thatcher offered him another post and occupancy of Dorneywood, which at that time was occupied by Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson.  After a spell of bitter bargaining Howe settled for Leadership of the Commons, the meaningless title of Deputy Leader – and possession of Dorneywood. A Tory peer later raged at Woodrow Wyatt about Howe’s behaviour and the fact that the reshuffle had been “… overshadowed by a squalid squabble about houses … Why didn’t he keep his own house?”: to which Wyatt replied “probably because he doesn’t have any money and maybe he needed the money when he sold it”. This sordid episode is a commentary on how devotedly our leaders protect their own interests while they savagely denounce any workers who dare to resist the constant pressure to depress their conditions.

John Prescott must have found it very satisfying to lord it over Dorneywood and its acres. It was, after all, tangible evidence that this man who took pride (and won a few votes) in being rough and ready had climbed so high up the greasy pole. All the more bitter the irony then, that the place should have triggered his downfall.