Sunday, February 14, 2021

Hero Worship: A Conversation With a Visitor from Mars. (Part 1) (1927)

From the November 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The first Friday in every month, I receive in my small suburban house a distinguished and eminently intellectual visitor from Mars. Where I met this worthy gentleman, in what contrivance he effects his journey to Earth, and how he mastered the English tongue, I must not divulge for I am bound to secrecy on all these points. Yet I cannot forbear from recording the conversations which have taken place between us. My friend’s remarkable criticisms of worldly institutions concerning which his mind is free from prejudices and accepted opinions, his sage interpellations and remarks, and, above all, his insatiable curiosity which has prompted me to explore and examine many aspects and phases of human life, have changed me from a meek peruser of a daily paper (the name of which rhymes with “Wail") to an eager and regular reader of a certain Socialist monthly journal.

However, on Friday, August —, the Martian entered my study, and after inquiring as to the state of my feet (in the usual Martian way), proceeded to make himself comfortable in my best arm-chair, and fixed me with his relentless inquisitive gaze. I groaned inwardly for I realised that I was doomed to the usual merciless inquisition; nevertheless, batting him playfully over the bean, I exclaimed, “Marty, old son, your little top-knot must be full of vague wonderings and misgivings again; pray unload them to your kind uncle.” He did so to the following effect—

"Esteemed and respected friend, in the course of my peregrinations and observations here below, I have noticed with astonishment that there are always various and differing individuals exalted above their fellows, and that these individuals either through accident of birth, ridiculous actions, criminal deeds or (occasionally) illustrious achievements, are regarded with almost divine reverence by their fellow-men. Now I plainly see that the conditions on this wretched planet foster and nourish this primitive "hero-worship"; ignorance, of course, induces men to believe in the superhuman powers of others higher up in the social scale, and the ignorant, aware of their own pitiful mental condition and limitations, behold with awe and amazement the petty achievements of a slightly more developed brain, moreover, 'hero-worship' is certainly aroused and nourished by your noxious newspapers. Sir, in a solitary issue of one of your vile dope-sheets I read glowing eulogies of individuals dubbed ‘princes,’ ‘duchesses,’ and 'ladies,’ sticky journalese accounts of ‘the world’s greatest cricketer,’ ‘the greatest soldier of to-day,’ ‘Hollywood’s daintiest actress,’ and even longer accounts of poor miserable wretches, who, warped by environment and damned by heredity, have committed atrocious crimes.

“But —” here the Martian jumped to his feet in his excitement and indignation, “I hear not a word except of detraction or abuse about the great masses of manual and brain workers by whose labour alone the social machinery is kept going, and I laugh aloud when I hear the results of economic conditions attributed to the ‘energy’ or the ‘wisdom' of great men. Now, sir," continued the Martian, looking at me dubiously. "I assume you know something concerning the origin, development, and effects of this hero-worship cult—pray enlighten me.”

Gracefully placing a lozenge in my mouth and coughing importantly, I spoke as follows :—

“Mankind, Marty, until quite recently, was in the main unaware of the quantitative or qualitative laws of physical causation, and natural phenomena were invariably attributed to supernatural agencies: and, sad to relate, even in the year A.D. 1927, very few mortals can interpret sociological phenomena scientifically. Thus it is not strange that the course of civilisation is considered as little else than a mere story of remarkable individuals and their actions. Last century, a rhetorical wind-bag by the name of Thomas Carlyle, expressed this opinion in the following words:—
  “ ‘As I take it, universal history, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the history of the^great men who have lived here.'
“Marty, old boy, pass me Spencer’s 'Study of Sociology’.”

The Martian did so, and I read aloud the following:—

"Round the camp-fires assembled savages tell the events of the day’s chase; and he among them who has done some feat of skill or agility is duly lauded. On a return from the war-path the sagacity of the chief and the strength or courage of this or that warrior, are the all-absorbing themes. When the day or the immediate past affords no remarkable deed, the topic is the achievement of some noted leader recently dead . . .”
"That is a rather vague idea of the origin of ‘hero-worship,' ” remarked the Martian ; "would you favour me with a more detailed account?”
“In primitive human societies of the ‘totemistic ’ or ‘savage' type,” I began, “private property, except for small personal belongings, was, in the main, unknown, and land, boats, fishing-nets,, tents, etc., were generally the property of the tribe in common. Such societies provided little scope for 'heroes’; nevertheless, the germ of ‘hero-worship' was in being, as is shown by the fact that among the aborigines of Australia at certain times, ceremonial dances and songs are indulged in (under the direction of the 'Biraark' or witch-doctor), in which great events in the 'Alcheringa’ or distant past are commemorated, and ancient heroes are extolled. Moreover, the witchdoctor in these savage organisations often encourages hero-worship and plays upon the supernatural dreads of the tribesmen.”

At this juncture, I noticed that Marty seemed to be dozing.

“Are you asleep?” I exclaimed peevishly. “Not at all,” rejoined the Martian, blandly. “I can always think better with my eyes closed.”

I continued:—

"The second stage of social development is called the Patriarchal society, and in this social organisation ‘hero-worship' was much practised and encouraged. In the Patriarchal stage, paternity is the leading fact, and men are counted relatives because they are descended from the same male ancestor. This fact led to the adoration of, and the glamour of, romance, which gradually enveloped the ancestors of the different tribes; in fact, Marty, even now, in the East, ancestor-worship is the basis of religion. In the Patriarchal stage, hero-worship is essentially the common root of music, of drama, of poetry, and other miscellaneous types of literature. This is evident whether you scan the Bible, the Iliad, or the old Keltic legends. The Old Testament, Marty, is a wonderful galaxy of personalities—many of whom, incidentally, are not the patterns of virtue so regularly assumed. We are told how Abraham (after the necessary precaution of girding up his loins) journeyed to such and such a place according to the Master’s orders, and how Daniel (without the aid of a saucer of milk) showed his prowess as a lion-tamer. Jewish institutions and customs on the whole merely creep in to add colour to the biographies of the 'great men.' The old heroes were certainly revered and scoffers at the 'great men' were summarily dealt with. In Homer’s ‘Iliad,’ one Thersites, addicted to the dangerous habit of thinking for himself, foolishly questions the orders and opinions of the chiefs — his answer comes in the form of a lusty swipe from the sceptre of Ulysses.”

“But,” asked the Martian, "were there no writers or thinkers who saw that the 'worship’ of the heroes was due to the accumulation of false and supernatural tales?”

I pondered for a moment, and then answered—

"Yes, much later in the early 2nd century A.D., Lucian held up to ridicule the gods and the old heroes in witty little burlesques, in which Jupiter, Hercules and the like, become little more than buffoons. But the voice of Lucian was 'drowned in the hubbub of the book market,’ where the hero, boosting works of Pausanias, Ovid, Pindar and Euhemerus held undisputed sway encouraged by the ruling class and their literary sycophants.”

"By the way, my friend,” said the Martian, "here’s a little thought about these 'great men’ of your world. The origin of a 'great man’ is, I suppose, natural, and thus I submit he should be placed with the other phenomena which brought him forth, as the product of environment and heredity, that is the product of conditions. The offspring of two Chinese is never a Red Indian, and the son of a black reared in darkest Africa is hardly likely; to become a great philosopher or dramatist. I mean, my friend, that the 'great man’ only arrives under conditions favourable to his appearance. But please continue about the development of hero-worship after the Patriarchal stage.”

I did so.

"Sad to say, Marty, the origin of the State or Political Society coincides with the development of the art of warfare. Centuries before the decline of the Roman Empire, the drying-up of the lakes and rivers in Central Asia compelled the inhabitants of N.W. Mongolia and E. Turkestan to press westward into the broad valleys and push forward the original inhabitants of the plains; thus stems upon stems were thrown into Europe. Later, the increase of population and the desire to plunder the riches of the husbandman and the craftsman led these numerous Germanic tribes to wage war upon the more civilised societies. Thus a society dependent on great war-lords arose, and the fighting units of the society became bound by bonds of loyalty and obedience to their chief. This form of society gave a great impetus to 'Hero-worship,’ because the examples of former warriors were cited in order to stir the spirits of the youths, the adventurous life itself gave abundant opportunities for mighty deeds of valour, and, moreover, after a time, the causes of the wars seemed in the eyes of the wagers to be romantic and noble rather than economic. Then, when the host-leaders obtained permanent control of a definite territory, states evolved, while the life of the community remained essentially one of military allegiance. This is the age of Chivalric Romance. The alleged deeds of the great warlords in the earlier period were made into songs which were sung at the courts of great nobles by wandering minstrels.”

Then, taking "Romance and Legend of Chivalry,” by Hope Moncrieff, from my book-case, I read aloud the following:—
"Chivalry which found an organisation in the feudal system and a consecration in the wars of the Crusade, had its origin in the robust Teuton stock that mainly overspread the downfall of the Roman Empire. Tales of chivalry abounded everywhere,” I continued, "and in particular the legends connected with Arthur and Charlemagne increased and spread all over Europe. It was Cervantes in 'Don Quixote’ who gave the death-blow to the last lingering regard for romances of heroes which had become truly pitiful in their total disregard for worldly possibilities.”

"Surely they were never so ridiculously idealistic and false to worldly life as are the ‘best-sellers ’ of to-day?” interposed the Martian.

"More so, Marty, my lad. Our Ethel M. Dell’s could learn much from these later romances! However, the 'hero cult’ thus fostered by literature and encouraged at the courts became enveloped in innumerable conventions, and not a few hypocrisies, and thus the Middle Ages became the epoch of chivalry. The 'ennobling’ hero-worship and theoretical condescending regard for women ('high-born’) which were the two leading features of chivalry, did not prevent the scions of 'noble’ families from dealing with insubordinate peasants in the way Ullyses dealt with Thersites, and in France particularly, the 'chivalrous'  nobles maintained this attitude towards their providers till the Revolution of 1789. In the 'epoch of Chivalry,' also, Marty, occurred what is popularly assumed to be an essentially romantic and 'heroic’ war—the Hundred Years’ War. But this war was fought primarily not because of the heroic qualities of Edward III, the Black Prince, Henry V or Joan of Arc, but owed its origin to economic reasons. In short, the Hundred Years’ War was the struggle of England to prevent Flanders from falling under French domination, and thus ruining England’s wool trade with the Flemish manufacturing towns; as Thorold Rogers says, "From the 13th to the 16th century, wool was King." (From 'Economic Interpretation of History.)

"Now in modern times, Marty, a very curious conception of a 'hero’ has arisen. In the chivalric period, the 'hero’ was necessarily a man of 'renowned’ and 'noble’ stock, with 100 per cent. blue blood in his veins, and a son of the soil, who took it into his head to perform deeds of valour, would never be regarded as more than a 'good common soldier.’ Traces of the adoration of the 'high-born hero’ can still be seen in the enthusiasm awakened in childish minds by the movements of ’aristocratic’ nonentities, whilst in rubbishy literature, the story of the brave penniless youth who turns out to be the heir of a piffling kingdom, of which the geographical locality is not specified, still has a considerable though declining popularity; But, Marty, the rise of the bourgeois state gave birth to a 'hero’ of a different type. He is the man who is 'master of his fate'; he is the man who sweeps aside all obstacles that stand in his way to success; he scoffs at prejudices and customs; often he performs his 'wonders’ by proxy, but in that case his is the 'organising brain’; always he emerges victorious from the fight with circumstances: in short, Marty, the 'hero’ of our time is the 'self-made man.’ By far the greatest of this modern type of 'hero’ is Napoleon Bonaparte. H. G. Wells, with his typical bourgeios self-satisfaction, pours wholesale contempt upon the mental and social qualities of Bonaparte. He points out that his notebooks, crammed full with miscellaneous and unconnected observations, show little of a great brain; he states that Napoleon is not known to have had a single genuine friend, and he asserts (with considerable justification) that historical evidence points to the fact that all his actions primarily sprung from egotistical impulses. The very success of Napoleon’s career, however, gives the answer to Wells' unwritten insinuation that Bonaparte compared with the talented writer of 'The Outline of History' would cut a very insignificant intellectual figure. Also we must distrust Wells’ valuations of the abilities of others, when we consider his condescending attitude towards Lenin in an interview generously granted by the Russian in the busy time of the winter of 1920-21. (See Trotsky's "Lenin," chapter 8.) 
W. J.

To be continued.

Voice From The Back: Leave the kids alone (2005)

The Voice From The Back Column from the February 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Leave the kids alone

This should be taught in every schoolroom on earth, instead of the chloroform that is, at present, fed to our kids: “640 million children do not have adequate shelter. 500 million children have no access to sanitation. 400 million children do not have access to safe water. 300 million children lack access to information (TV, radio or newspapers). 270 million have no access to health care services. 140 million children, the majority of them girls, have never been to school. 90 million children are severely food deprived.” (UNICEF press release, 9 December) “Please, Sir, shouldn’t we try to change things?” asks the class rebel. “Be quiet and do as you are told”, is always the reply.     

A black christmas

Last year was a dreadful year for the working class. It was not a particularly good year for socialists either, so excuse us if we have at least one good laugh about 2004. “Members of the far right  British National party walked out of their own Christmas party after organisers accidentally hired a black DJ. ‘We had to be careful what we said when we did the raffle so we didn’t offend the guy,’ said BNP official Bob Garner. The party, at a London hotel was organised by the party’s central London branch. ‘He sounded white on the phone,’ said Garner.” (Sunday Times, 12 December) You couldn’t make it up, could you?

No housing problem here

“Rupert Murdoch is set to pay a record $44 million for a New York home when he snaps up the Fifth Avenue penthouse of the late Laurence Rockefeller. . . . However, even at $44 million, the price Mr Murdoch is paying is dwarfed by the $70 million that the Wall Street financier Martin Zweig wants for his nearby triplex atop the Pierre Hotel on Fifth Avenue.” (Times, 18 December) Any offers, fellow workers? Before you cash in your giros and make a bid it is as well to remember that Mr Murdoch’s inferior flat costs $21,500 per month in maintenance. You may well be a little more out of pocket each month with Mr Zweig’s pad.

Surprise, surprise

A study by academics at London University’s Institute of Education into the teaching of 8 to 11 year-olds, 88,700 of them, from 2000 to 2003, has come up with an astounding discovery. “The children from the poorest backgrounds made the least progress throughout — starting behind other children aged seven and falling further behind by the age of 11.” (Independent, 6 January) So a kid that is badly fed, badly clothed, badly housed and most likely badly treated is less likely to bloom academically. Astonishing, isn’t it? Where would we be without these academic wizards?

Oops, no one is perfect

“Fourteen Iraqis were reported killed and five injured early yesterday morning after an American war plane obliterated a family house in the north of the country. The military said it was a mistake.” (Independent, 9 January)  The authorities have promised a full inquiry. It must be reassuring to know that when a 500lb bomb annihilates your family there will be a full enquiry. These things happen in the struggle for oil, but it must be marvellous to think of your mother, father and all of your children described as collateral damage. Mustn’t it?

Editorial: A Giant Wave (2005)

Editorial from the February 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

If there is one thing you can always rely on when major disasters strike, it is that people wil  spontaneously respond with whatever they can afford to give towards the relief of the survivors, irrespective of nationality, creed or politics. That the efforts of governments so obviously followed the lead of private individuals in this case tells you everything you need to know about their political priorities. And even when governments publicly pledge money, as Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, recently complained, there’s no guarantee they’ll actually hand over the cash. Much of their ‘generosity’  in any case simply involves waiving some of the crushing debt which their control of international trade imposed on these countries in the first place. While states eye each other warily to see what the others are going to do, private individuals start collections without a second thought. While public relations departments sit up at night figuring out how they can help politicians milk the situation, some workers are on the plane at their own  expense to go where volunteers are needed. While governments are always looking for the angle or the pitch, the lowly masses pitch in regardless.

How different are the attitudes of the rich from those of ‘ordinary people’. People who have never known wealth and never had money are always the first to put their hands in their pockets when a cruel catastrophe slaughters complete strangers. They are the only ones who put their interests to one side and act instinctively, without once thinking of themselves, how they ‘appear’ and what they might get out of it. At times like this, common  humanity shows its true nature in a giant wave of decency, sympathy and solidarity. How unlike our ‘important people’. Politicians are furiously  striking the right self-conscious poses and taking the right media-savvy  positions, religious leaders wring their hands and try for the umpteenth time to defend the indefensible, to square the impossible circle of disaster and divine will, and rich celebs fall over each other to toss in a million  or so but never fail to do it in a blaze of publicity. When disaster is in the public eye, these people can always be found eyeing the public. To us, a wall of water is a terrible image. To them, it is merely a backdrop image against which they maneuver to be viewed.

Now the giant wave of publicity has started to ebb and recede. 150,000 more people in the region are severely threatened with water-borne diseases including cholera and typhoid, but the world’s media will have gone home before that happens and the forgetfulness will set in. Meanwhile, elsewhere, in the first two weeks since the tsunami struck, approximately 200,000 people have died, quietly and away from the cameras, of simple malnutrition and water-related illnesses. And in the next two weeks, 200,000 more. And again and again. It’s the simple background noise of capitalism which passes unnoticed and  unremarked, the lapping of a vast ocean of misery on our hardened consciousness. While the savagery of nature can wring our hearts and empty our purses, the savagery of our social system barely raises an eyebrow. Yet if there is anything positive that can be said about this catastrophe it is that human beings are at heart a caring lot and that if capitalism survives it is because of a lack of people’s conviction in their own abilities, and not a lack of depth in their compassion for others.

Pathfinders: Tsunami Special (2005)

The Pathfinders Column from the February 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tsunami Special
Nature is humanity’s best friend and worst enemy. The tsunami in South East Asia was a major disaster that, for a change, cannot be blamed on capitalism, and one which reminds us if we need it that socialism can also expect to face sudden catastrophes like floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and even meteorite impacts. How would we deal with them? We present a special Pathfinder report on some aspects of disaster prevention and recovery.
Population and demographics

The real reason earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and floods kill so many people is that they live in known danger zones. In capitalism it is a question of livelihood and property, either or both of which prevent people moving. There is no way at present to predict population demographics in socialism, yet it must be obvious that nobody would choose to live next to a ticking timebomb, and given the freedom of movement implied by the abolition of land ownership we would expect the largest contribution to saving lives to come from populations spontaneously shifting away from high-risk areas. Furthermore, work patterns in capitalism mean most people take their holidays at the same time, and in the same holiday areas, giving rise to a dedicated and overcrowded holiday coast industry. Instead of moving away from danger, the financial incentive at present is for poor people to move towards it. It is highly debatable, in light of all this, whether socialism would ever be required to mount relief operations on anything like the scale we see at present.

Early Warning

Much has been made of the need for an early warning system in the Indian Ocean, and one proposal was turned down two years ago because the risk was thought to be remote (source: Unesco report). Most present systems are ill-suited to tsunamis, which cannot be detected by satellite or ocean-surface (a tsunami may only be centimetres high until it hits the shore). A new pressure sensor system (DART) sits on the ocean floor and detects a change in pressure in the water above it, a sure sign of a passing tsunami. Cost not being a factor, in socialism a network of DART sensors could be placed in all ocean floors for even unlikely events. One such tsunami, expected when part of the Canary volcano system eventually collapses, could devastate west Africa, Spain, western Britain and the US eastern seaboard.


One monitoring station in Hawaii did receive early warning of the Asian tsunami but could not confirm it with other stations and could not communicate it because many public offices were closed for holidays. Even had they been open, communication to people in risk areas would have been almost impossible in the short time available. Text messaging to mobile phones can get through when signals are too weak for voice calls, but who do you call? One answer is the Cell Broadcast system, originally designed for advertising local services but generally ignored, which exploits the fact that GSM phones can receive short data messages from the nearest cellphone base station on a separate channel from normal voice and text message communications. Another method is the mediascape system, which targets areas by global positioning satellite and then broadcasts to base stations. Phones are not destined to be separate items for much longer, with new technology emerging to have them sewn into clothes and bags. Capitalism may be developing this, but in socialism, keeping in touch would not be a matter of keeping in credit. Finally, even if socialists at leisure prefer naked bathing, there is always tannoy. Additionally, a chip implant the size of a grain of rice could track them down and, at worst, identify them. At present, the Verichip's usage is confined to Scottish clubowners offering it to customers to save time at the bar (News Telegraph, Jan 17)


Cholera and typhoid are big dangers in tsunami-affected areas, and could double the already gigantic death toll. For our remarks about capitalism's approach to diseases which affect poorer parts of the world, see What is a disaster?.

Aftermath - food

A food crisis is set to emerge as the tsunami has introduced poisonous salt pollution into the arable land areas and polluted the water tables. Socialism could not prevent this, and is one more reason why pre-disaster depopulation would be a sensible precaution, however populations would not have to rely on their own agricultural production nor would they be forced to stay put. A massive mobilisation of people to other regions would be inconceivable today but not necessarily in socialism.

Aftermath - shelter

After a disaster, rescue services need to supply fast accommodation. Now there may be a better way to supply emergency housing, using reinforced polystyrene panels. Polystyrene is cheap and lightweight, quick to assemble, it insulates, so it keeps cool things cool and hot things hot, it is resistant to moisture, mould and mildew, and it's energy efficient. Wrapped in chicken wire and then coated in a film of concrete, it has been tested by the Florida designers in the most extreme conditions and outperforms every other temporary structure, even in earthquake zones. [Link.] This simple technology may very well be developed for widespread use in capitalism. However there is no guarantee that it will, as many such good ideas never see the light of day because there isn't sufficient profit in it for somebody. In socialism, a good idea and some team effort is all that's necessary.

What is a disaster?

Most natural disasters cannot be prevented in advance, but then, it depends what you call a disaster. Socialism, not being concerned with who has money and who doesn’t (because there wouldn’t be any) would prioritise those routine ‘natural’ disasters which capitalism is largely unable to deal with. Thus, quite apart from the ongoing disaster of famine and malnutrition, we would work flat out to save the 2 million people who die annually of diarrhoea due to poor water supplies, the 1.5 million who die of TB and the 1 million who die of malaria (source: WHO). These figures alone are the equivalent of almost two tsunamis a month. How would we deal with this? By not prioritising illnesses that only affect affluent westerners. The three largest drug markets today are fat reducers ($28b), anti-ulcerants ($25b) and antidepressants ($20b). Drugs that would help poorer countries are not developed because drug companies stand almost no chance of recouping the average $800m it costs to bring them to market (source: New Scientist, Jan 15, 05, p.41). In socialism, medical science could be re-oriented almost overnight to solve these ongoing disasters.
Paddy Shannon

Cooking the Books: Who pays income tax? (2005)

The Cooking the Books Column from the February 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

One aspect of our analysis of capitalism that we have not always found easy to get across is the view that taxation is not an issue that concerns wage and salary workers since in the end it is a burden on property-holders. Now a tax dodge recently thought up and applied by some big companies such as BT, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, has made it a little less difficult to explain.

At the moment, workers’ pay slips show deductions for income tax and national insurance contributions (a tax in all but name, as was recognised by the merger a couple of years ago of the DSS’s contributions section with the Inland Revenue), which are paid to the government, and, in some cases, contributions to the company pension scheme. We’ve always pointed out that these are not really paid by the employee, not even in the formal sense of personally paying the money to the government or to the pension scheme – it’s just an administrative exercise – and that what matters to them is their take-home pay, not gross pay before deductions. As far as they are concerned, their employers never really paid them in the first place the amounts deducted and might as well have paid them directly themselves.

The aim of the tax dodge is to reduce the amount of national insurance contributions paid by employers, both on their own behalf and nominally on behalf of their employees. How it works is explained by Patience Wheatcroft, Business Editor of the Times (30 November) :
Blogger's Note: Missing quote.
Put simply, the scheme involves employees being persuaded to take a pay cut if their employer agrees to pay into their pension fund the amount that had been previously contributed by the employees. The result is to lower the national insurance contributions made by the employer while generally bolstering the employee’s take home pay.

The thing to note is that gross pay is reduced but take-home pay remains more or less the same (maybe up by a £1 or so a week – “bolstering” is hardly the right word, as numerical examples given by the Times the previous day showed an increase, in one case, of £110 and, in another, £38 a year). The only change is that the employer pays the (in this case) pension scheme contributions directly themselves instead of “paying” them to the employee and then deducting them immediately in one and the same transaction.

If they did the same thing with income tax, it would be immediately clear that, as we maintain, workers don’t pay this tax but that employers do. What workers are paid is their take-home pay. That’s what we get to live on and reproduce our working energy and skills.

In fact, it’s not clear why employers don’t do this anyway. It would stop workers grumbling about the difference between their purely nominal gross pay and their take-home pay that is the effective amount they have to spend. Perhaps they want to maintain the illusion amongst workers that we do pay taxes and so have an interest in tax questions.

Newsflash (2005)

The Newsflash column from the February 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Prince Harry Apologises for Not Wearing Nazi Uniform

Shocked paparazzi yesterday snapped Prince Harry in normal working clothes, minus any sign of swastikas or iron crosses.A Palace spokesperson immediately issued an apology. The statement said “It is well known that the Royal Family has a history of Nazi sympathies going back generations and the Prince recognizes that it was in poor taste to appear in public as if he was a normal person. He hopes that no Nazis were offended by his careless act and promises to keep up the family tradition in future.     
Huygens Probe Sends Back First Titan Images

The Huygens probe has sent back the first images of Saturn’s moon Titan, showing a long dark shape resembling an International Communist Current. One stunning black and white image reveals what seem to be  discussion forums on permanent revolution leading out into a remote island of sectarianism. Another shows a flat surface that is apparently strewn with impenetrable position statements. Scientists said Huygens captured more than 300 images of the ICC and that no activity has been detected. The Cassini spacecraft continues to the edge of the solar system where it will eventually establish whether the dark planet Militant actually exists.

Tougher laws on defence of property ruled out

The law on the amount of force owners can use against workers will not be changed, Home Secretary Charles Clarke has announced. A review has concluded the current law, which allows the capitalist class extreme violence” against strikers, protesters and communists is sufficient. “We’ve got all the laws we’ll ever need so I don’t think we have to be greedy”, he said onTuesday. But Mr Clarke added that there will be a publicity  campaign to ensure workers understand they can  protect  themselves from capitalists too. “Do as you’re told and  we’ll leave you alone’, he said .        

Thatcher fined over ‘coup plot’

Sir Mark Thatcher, the son of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was fined £265,000 and given a four-year suspended jail term for his involvement in an alleged coup plot in Equatorial Guinea. Sir Mark protested afterwards “I’m innocent, you know. If there was any plot, I lost it years ago, and so did my mum.”

Red Snapper: Sound bites and unsound nibbles (2005)

The Red Snapper column from the February 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard 

“The Acehnese had betrayed Allah. They were not true to their faith…Allah always looks after his faithful followers…If they don’t become true Muslims they will be struck down.”
Salman al-Farizi, commander of the radical Islamist group Laskar Mujahadin, on the cause of the  tsunami. Guardian, Jan 8th

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“The sum required to establish an early warning system now looks pitifully small compared to the cost in terms of the tens of thousands of lives lost and the billions of dollars in damage caused.”
Professor Calestous Juma, of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, US. UN Millennium Project’s report chief author, on tsunami wave. BBC News Online Technology, Jan 6th.

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“It would be one of the biggest breakthroughs mankind has ever experienced if we pooled our wealth in order to look after the poorer people of the world. Sadly, I don’t think it will happen.”
J G Ballard, novelist, Independent, Jan 4th

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“If I go for a walk through large parts of the South-east, I am liable to be lynched”
Alistair Darling, Secretary of State for Transport. Independent, Jan 3rd

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“A poison has entered the system. And it is beginning to harm us all.”
The Daily Mail on the Blair/Brown rift. Jan 7th

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“Politics is one of the few professions that you can enter without any training whatsoever and suddenly become an expert.”
Allen Carr, anti-smoking ‘expert’, Independent, Jan 5th

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“I was told in my last ‘appraisal’ that I wouldn’t be getting a promotion or pay rise until I proved to the company that I was “worth it”. I was told further that could mean “working through lunchtimes or staying an extra couple of hours in the evenings”. I get raised eyebrows if I leave on-time or am the first to go home, and have chosen to ignore the pointed looks as I leave for my lunch hours.”
Reader’s comment re. article on unpaid overtime, BBC Online Magazine, Jan 7th

Aftermath of the Tsunami: Querying ‘American Values in Action’ (2005)

From the February 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard 
  The tsunami in South-East Asia provoked very different responses from western governments and the populations they supposedly represent. The US state was obliged to raise its donation more than 20- fold in the light of public reaction, but arguably too late to disguise the politicians' real agenda.
Realising that upwards of 100,000 of the then estimate of 165,000 victims of the Tsunami disaster were Muslims, the US wasted no time in sending US Secretary of State Colin Powell to the scene of the devastation. There was much to gain from this mission at a time when the US has been accused of an anti-Muslim crusade in the wake of the devastation it has wrought on Afghanistan and Iraq.

Powell was keen to show the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims that the Bush administration is not islamophobic, even if its military machine did seem to have a penchant for the slaughter of Muslims. He said “We’d be doing it [participating in the relief effort] regardless of religion, but I think it does give the Muslim world and the rest of the world an opportunity to see American generosity, American values in action.”

As for the US “values” Powell’s mission aimed to promote, we need only mention Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay for starters before moving on to the myriad international treaties, on gun control, nuclear proliferation, the environment, human rights etc. that the Bush administration has flicked the proverbial two fingers to since 2000.

US “values” have prompted successive White House administrations to support dictators and tyrannical regimes on every continent, from Pol Pot and Suharto to Saddam Hussein and Papa Doc Duvalier. Between 1945 and 1999, this same defender of global well-being toppled forty governments and helped crush thirty populist movements, assassinated scores of prominent individuals and perverted elections in every corner of the globe. During this period the US armed terrorists, trained right-wing guerrilla movements in the art of torture and financed armies intent on overthrowing democratically elected governments. Some values!

When asked on US television whether the death of 500,000 Iraqi children as a consequence of Western sanctions was acceptable, Madeleine Albright, Powell’s predecessor under President Clinton, replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.”

It seems there are American “values” and “values”. Those Powell is charged with furthering are those of a corrupt elite operating in the interests of corporate America. He was certainly not sent to Indonesia on a show of hands of the US public. His attempt to seek political capital out of present US offers of help to the disaster region is thus opportunistic and utterly despicable, nay, nauseating.

Powell further commented in Indonesia: “I’ve been in war and I’ve been through a number of hurricanes, tornadoes and other relief operations, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”  This from the man who rose to prominence trying to cover up the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, when US forces slaughtered 500 Vietnamese women and children, part of a larger conflict that left 2 million dead, many from the use of napalm and agent orange. We can only assume that Powell is suffering from selective amnesia.

While he feels a surge of pride in the knowledge the US government has promised $350 million to the stricken areas, what is to be made of the fact that this is only a minute fraction of the amount spent on the US invasion and occupation of Iraq? Or, to put it another way, the world is meant to applaud the Bush administration for paying out $350 million with one hand to help people in Asia, while forking out $150 billion ( with the other to kill people in the Middle East.

If you consider that we err in comparing the war in Iraq with the rescue mission in the Indian Ocean, then remember the reason for the invasion of Iraq. Bush and Blair both claimed that this was a humanitarian intervention, a rescue mission, aimed at restoring democracy and freeing the Iraqi people from years of oppression. On this count it stands as the most expensive humanitarian mission in history, considering the size of the Iraqi population — and what does this make of the people who opposed that invasion, the 35 million across the world who marched and protested at the Bush/Blair rescue mission to Iraq in February of 2003?

When Jan Egeland, the UN emergency relief co-ordinator, criticised the initial US offer of $15 million in aid as “stingy”, Bush’s response was to claim Egeland was “very misguided and ill-informed”. Bush later had the figure raised to $35 million, with this figure later increased tenfold – a figure, incidentally, now dwarfed by private donations in the US. All Egeland was saying was that in times of disaster Western governments do in fact appear parsimonious.

Many radical commentators backed Egeland’s “stingy” claim, pointing out that the Bush administration would be spending far more on the president’s inaugural celebration on January 20th and how the Republican Convention in New York last year cost a staggering $166 million (inclusive of $70,000 for donuts and coffee for the press). We can perhaps better set the US aid promise in context by  considering that the occupation of Iraq is costing the US an estimated $270 million per day, and that the Pentagon’s military budget is $1.5 billion per day – this spent with a view to killing people, not saving them. What else are guns and bombs, tanks and warships for? One F22 Raptor fighter costs $225 million. It does not carry food parcels and medicines but surface to air missiles and cannons. According to the US-based International Action Centre’s estimates, “for what the US is spending for less than one second of bombing and destruction, it could construct a system that could have prevented thousands of needless deaths [caused by the Tsunami].”

As in Britain, so too in the US have the general public humiliated their governments with their generosity. If we accept that the invasion of Iraq was a humanitarian step, that Bush and Blair were motivated solely by the plight of the suffering Iraqi people under Saddam, why did they not set up a charity and see how much the public would have donated to this mother of all rescue missions? Simple, because they realise that people, though often conned at election time, are just not that stupid, and that they couldn’t have collected enough to feed a regiment’s mascot goat.

The generosity shown towards the victims of the Tsunami disaster is not the Bush administration’s “values”, which Powell seems to have been implying in his damage limitation exercise in Indonesia, but rather the basic values of human beings in America, indeed the world over. Unlike other animals, humans are endowed with the ability to sympathise and empathise with their fellow beings. Humans derive great pleasure from doing good, are at their best when faced with the worst and will go to extraordinary lengths to help alleviate the suffering of others. Across the US, as in other countries, there have been all manner of fundraising events, in all sections of society, inclusive of nursery schools, prisons, universities and impoverished communities. In some instances people have queued for over an hour to put money in a plastic collection bucket.

Americans are generous with their time as well. According to a survey by Independent Sector, a US coalition of non-profit organisations, the percentage of volunteers in America is the largest of any country, almost 56%. The average hours volunteered per week by an individual is 3.5 hours. According to Charity America, donations to charity for 2002 were $241 billion, 76.3 per cent of this given by individuals.

If governments depended for their existence on us promoting our real values, they wouldn’t last a week. That is why they spend so much time trying to divide us as a class, lying to us, instilling in us false needs, a false consciousness, appealing to patriotism and the rest of the rot. When it comes to values, there are only class values, ours and theirs. That Powell had to go to Indonesia to try to hijack any US-initiated relief effort, before it was credited to the workers of the US, shows perhaps that they fear not only class solidarity across the world but the very values that have come to the surface in recent weeks.
John Bissett

Floods of tears (2005)

From the February 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean on 26 December, and the ensuing tidal wave or tsunami, have devastated many areas in South and South-East Asia. At the time of writing, deaths are estimated at 225,000, a figure likely to rise, with millions having lost their homes and most of their possessions, and disease likely to increase the number of fatalities. Across the world, people have watched fascinated as their TV screens showed dramatic shots of the tidal wave hitting coastal areas, only to be appalled by the resulting devastation.

Such catastrophes make many reflect on their cause and what this reveals about the world. The religious strove to reconcile the notion of a loving god with the apparent evidence of uncaring brutality. While science can explain how and why these things happen, mystics and other believers have nothing to offer but nauseating platitudes. The secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain opined that ‘People of faith need to have a very firm belief in God almighty… It is for the betterment of mankind at large.’ Of course he neglected to explain how the deaths of so many can benefit humanity. The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales was no better, saying that Christians ‘trust that prayers and belief in an omnipotent God will bring good out of seeming evil and senselessness’. But again he failed to suggest how this might happen. 

While natural forces were responsible for the quake and tsunami, it is at least possible that an early-warning system could have been installed, which would have saved many lives, but of course the issue of cost was a real problem. And its effects have been magnified in many places (in southern India, for example) by developments taking place (in the name of profit) right on the beach, thus destroying natural protective barriers such as sand dunes and mangrove forests.

The Aceh area of Indonesia has been one of the hardest hit. But little attention has been paid in the media to Aceh’s situation before the earthquake. Despite its rich gas resources, its people have been blighted by poverty and malnutrition, as these resources have been exploited for the profit of Exxon Mobil and the Indonesian government. Aceh has also been subject to military occupation for years, with assassination and kidnapping rife, since the government refuses to allow a referendum on independence from Indonesia and persecutes anyone who advocates this. The Indonesian government and army have taken control of aid supplies shipped in to the local airport, and are only distributing these to those who support them.

Of course socialism will still see natural disasters, since it will not involve any kind of ‘mastery’ over nature. But their effect will be minimised by sensible precautions unencumbered by the profit motive. Action to relieve distress will be unhampered by nationalistic and military considerations, and will make use of well-established regional and global frameworks for cooperation and responding to emergencies. It is clear that such disasters call for working together rather than against each other and provision according to need rather than ability to pay.
Paul Bennett