Saturday, April 3, 2021

Peasant revolt (2008)

Pamphlet Review from the March 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Symond Newell and Kett’s Rebellion, By Peter E Newell. Past Tense (c/o 56a Info Shop, 56 Crampton Street, London, SE17). 2007

Mostly family history is a rather tedious collection of meaningless names and dates, occasionally however genealogical research can provide one with a true insight, a personal link to historical events, thus demonstrating the reality of what would otherwise be just a story. Thus it is with Peter Newell’s excellently researched pamphlet. The essentially economic causes, the rather alarming course of events in and around what was then England’s second city, Norwich, and outcome (none too good) of this peasants’ rebellion are clearly illustrated. All in all this is an interesting and informative account of a little known incident in English history.

Further reading:

50 Years Ago: The Uses of Monarchy (2008)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

The present Royal Family comes as close as any capitalist politician could desire to the modern monarchical ideal. No interference in politics, but a worthy interest in science; admirably suited to gather prestige abroad; most of all, a continual and absorbing attraction to the working class. There have been hints recently that the publicity has been overdone, that there have been too many chambermaids’ reminiscences and news items like the Sunday Pictorial’s announcement that the Queen’s bust-line had improved to maintain the essential dignity of royalty. Nevertheless, the Crown today as never before embodies the national ideals—the ideals, that is, of the national ruling class.

But does monarchy serve any interest for ordinary people, beyond giving a holiday and a pageant now and then? It may be said that if it does them no good, it does them no harm either. If it were true that to fill people’s heads with nonsense did no harm, that might be so; and most of it is nonsense. There is no reason for thinking that the Queen and her husband are not pleasant, decent people. If things were otherwise, however, the truth is that they would still be presented as paragons. Some monarchs have been cruel, irresponsible and contemptibly low, but their subjects have still been asked for reverence. Within a week of Edward VIII’s abdication his shortcomings were common knowledge, and Sir Charles Petrie (in the book already quoted) hinted at a strain of abnormality in Edward from the Hanover ancestry; would those things have been said if Edward had remained the King?

It is not the monarch that is at fault in all this, but the social system which needs a shining symbol; where there is no monarch, something else has to be held up to dazzle the dispossessed. The man with the flag and the girl admiring the pictures in her magazine have the light full in their eyes just now—but they need only look away for a moment to see who holds it up, and why.

(From front page article by Robert Coster, Socialist Standard, March 1958)

Voice From The Back: Reformism Fails Again (2008)

The Voice From The Back Column from the April 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Reformism Fails Again 

It is a basic socialist principle that no programme of reforms can solve the problems of capitalism, but here is an example where well-intentioned reformism has made the situation worse. “Hospitals were last night accused of keeping thousands of seriously ill patients in ambulance ‘holding patterns’ outside accident and emergency units to keep a government pledge that all patients are treated within four hours of admission. … An Observer investigation has also found that some wait for up to to five hours in ambulances because A & E units have refused to admit them until they can guarantee to treat them within the time limit.” (Observer, 17 February)

Capitalism And Euphemism 

Capitalism has got to have euphemisms to cover up the sordid nature of the system. Thus children maimed by napalm bombs is called “co-lateral damage” and troops blowing up their own troops is called “friendly fire”. A recent addition to this sorry catalogue is “extraordinary rendition”. “David Miliband has admitted two US ‘extraordinary rendition’ flights landed on UK territory in 2002. The foreign secretary said in both cases US planes refuelled on the UK dependent territory of Diego Garcia. He said he was ‘very sorry’ to have to say that previous denials made in ‘good faith’ were now having to be corrected. The renditions – the transport of terror suspects around the world for interrogation – only came to light after a US records search, he said.” …”Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said extraordinary rendition was ‘a polite way of talking about kidnapping and secret detention’”. (BBC News, 21 February)

Jobs For The Boys 

When in opposition, Gordon Brown criticised the last Tory government for the “revolving door from the cabinet room to the board room”, but he has remained silent about a similar ploy by his own party members. “Twenty-eight former Labour ministers have cashed in on their connections in government and Whitehall by taking jobs in the private sector in the past two years. It represents the biggest exodus of ministers into the private sector since Labour came to power and is worth at least £10M a year in salaries and fees.” (Sunday Times, 24 February)

A Ray Of Hope 

Socialists are often told that socialism is impossible because human beings are innately war-like and aggressive, but this report seems to suggest otherwise. “More and more Israelis are avoiding mandatory military service— something long viewed in this country as a proud rite of passage. “In the past, it is true that not serving in the military was considered the exception,” said Dr. Rueven Gal, author of A Portrait of the Israeli Soldier and former chief psychologist for the Israeli military. “In more recent years it became more tolerable and more acceptable to people.” In 1997, according to army statistics, fewer than one in 10 Israeli men avoided their mandatory three-year military service. These days, it’s closer to three in 10. Women, too, are opting out at a faster pace: Over the last decade, the number of women avoiding military duty rose from 37 percent to 44 percent.” (Yahoo News, 2 March)

Another Ray Of Hope

The awful carnage in the hate-filled Middle East and the religious brutality there fills socialists with gloom but this report would seem to suggest that all is not lost. “After almost five years of war, many young people in Iraq, exhausted by constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and skeptical of the faith that they preach. In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have narrowed their lives. “I hate Islam and all the clerics because they limit our freedom every day and their instruction became heavy over us,” said Sara, a high school student in Basra. “Most of the girls in my high school hate that Islamic people control the authority because they don’t deserve to be rulers.” Atheer, a 19-year-old from a poor, heavily Shiite neighborhood in southern Baghdad, said: “The religion men are liars. Young people don’t believe them. Guys my age are not interested in religion anymore.” (New York Times, 4 March)

Letters: CND’s weaknesses (2008)

Letters to the Editors from the April 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

CND’s weaknesses

Dear Editors,

As a former ban-the-bomber I would like to make a few points regarding CND (Socialist Standard March)
  1. Its original appeal was rather insular, asking the government to set a moral example and give a lead to the rest of the non-nuclear world—“Let Britain show the way”.
  2. It recognised that it would seem completely unrealistic to demand unilateral action from either of the two great nuclear powers. Much more reasonable to seek to prevent nuclear possession spreading—those who do not have them should not make them.
  3. The Labour Party leader Gaitskell and others (and the media) consistently and quite knowingly mis-stated the CND policy as: “Asking ‘the West’ to disarm.” Which it never did—urging ‘multilateral’ agreement and reductions by means of various treaties.
  4. CND sometimes made ludicrous claims that it influenced Test Ban agreements etc. All Test Bans or Weapons Limitation treaties were concluded when (a) Testing was no longer deemed essential or (b) when the warheads to be scrapped had been rendered out of date or no longer necessary as technology enabled the production of smaller, but more accurate and effective, weapons and delivery.
  5. Significantly, CND support in the UK began to diminish when it broadened its campaign to oppose all nuclear weapons.
  6. Some CND supporters supported the existence of NATO.
  7. Some (Stalinists and some Trotskyists etc) members of CND did want ‘one-sided’ disarmament and were staunch supporters of the “workers’” bomb.
  8. Some ‘Communists’ did have the integrity to oppose capitalist and workers’ bombs.
  9. Pacifists (like myself) were a minority in the movement—most accepting that non-nuclear conventional war may sometimes be necessary.
  10. “Entryists” did achieve some limited success (certainly temporarily controlling at least one Branch), but they were generally flushed out by the more genuinely radical elements among the membership.
Nevertheless, it would be churlish to ignore the remarkable contribution CND made in raising public awareness of the nuclear issue. Sometimes it is forgotten how deeply limited was the public knowledge of the kind of facts that CND routinely uncovered. Speaking personally, the kind of stuff that I have tried to articulate exposing (in the cause of socialism) the breathtaking hypocrisy of double dealing defence policies of the past and present was spawned by CND. The real disappointment is that comparatively few CND members moved beyond the optimistic (but narrow) objectives embraced by the original policies.

Obviously, the oft repeated claim that “there will not be time” for a deeper objective than nuclear disarmament (I made it myself) has, thankfully, proved to be erroneous.
Richard Headicar, 
Hethersett, Norfolk

Back to basics

Dear Editors ,

Thank you for the comments. I’ll like to respond only to what I think are the main issues raised by Adam Buick’s remarks on my book (Socialist Standard, March). This does not necessarily mean that I am in agreement with him over other things that I do not take up here.

(1) The Speenhamland system is about as similar to Basic Income (BI) as en egg is to a chestnut. We are more than two hundred years on from that agrarian economy. Moreover, Speenhamland was a conditional system and BI is, by definition, unconditional. Criticisms of a conditional system can hardly be applied to a system that is unconditional per excellence.

(2) The objection at the core of the whole article, that BI “would be a wage subsidy to employers” is rather odd. If the law prohibits employers from paying less than a Minimum Wage, as happens in many countries, the argument sinks all by itself without any extra help. Some trade unions are more than aware of this and, for example, the ESK (Basque Union Group) have been BI supporters for some time now.

(3) The author’s views that a BI would be a “wage subsidy to employers” without taking into account the economic forces of the time and without bothering to look into what effects a BI might have on the working class are not only more-than-dubiously based in historical terms but he also seems to be arguing as if the only decision-maker is the management. But aren’t management wishes conditioned in any way by resistance from the workers? According to this line of argument, one might almost deduce that the workers shouldn’t engage in too many distracting struggles to improve their conditions because the minute a bad economic situation comes along the management will take away what they’ve won previously. This is an odd way of understanding things.

(4) Have you pondered how a BI might affect the sector of the working class that is subject to the more precarious form of contract (about 40 percent of the workers in my country, Catalonia)? I’ve seen in the talks I’ve given over the years that, when the public consists in particular of very young workers, BI is understood as a measure that would help them to avoid accepting the very bad and insecure working conditions they’re obliged to accept at present. A BI would give them the chance to say “no” to job situations that they have to agree to now. Have you wondered how a BI might affect a lot of women who depend economically on their husbands? Have you really thought about the possibilities for workers’ protests that a BI could offer as a resistance fund? In general, the right immediately grasps the whole potential of BI and is therefore totally against it (as the debate in the Spanish Parliament revealed on 2 October 2007). The left, at least part of the left, has more problems in understanding of the whole potential a BI could have for a good part of the working class. It’s a shame, but that’s how things are.
Daniel Raventós (by email)

We can’t see how, given the way that capitalism works, a state payment, whether conditional or unconditional, to all workers is not going to end up being a wage subsidy to employers. It is bound to upset the labour market by setting in motion downward pressures on wages and salaries. Of course workers, through their unions, should resist such pressures (as they always should), but the employers’ trump card is going to be “Look, your members are not going to be worse off, since their total income from us and the state is going to be more or less the same”. In other words, a Basic Income scheme would not make workers better off in terms of money income; it would just be a more or less neutral “reorganisation of poverty”. Surely you don’t think that if BI was fixed at even as low as £5000 a year workers would be better off by that amount? Or that employers could be prevented by law from taking this payment into account when fixing or negotiating the wages they pay?

Yes, we are aware of the benefits that are claimed for BI and they sound alright. But excuse us if we are rather sceptical as we’ve heard claims of this sort made for many reforms of capitalism (including for family allowances, which the advocates of BI now want to replace by their scheme). The fact is that, while workers can obtain some improvements under capitalism, capitalism itself cannot be permanently reformed so as to work in the interest of wage and salary workers. At the present time, with the fiscal crisis of the capitalist state, any reform that will cost more money is not likely to pass anyway. Much better, then, that workers should go for the bakery rather than a few more, perhaps unobtainable, crumbs – socialism rather than a reform to capitalism. 

Police strikes

Dear Editors,

Many thanks for forwarding on the article from the Socialist Standard (January) about the last, failed, police strike. I’m sure many of the officers who heeded the old Police Union’s strike call would have agreed with the sentiment – although I’m not sure history has necessary proved it true.

One thing that the article does not reflect is the police’s reluctance, as true now as it was then, to have to resort to this final exercise of industrial action.
Communications Department, Police Federation of England and Wales

Obituary: Gladys Marie Catt (2008)

Obituary from the April 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Gladys Marie Catt 1918-2008

Marie joined the SPGB in the spring of 1941. The outbreak of war had profoundly disturbed her, along with her family and friends. Her two brothers and her future husband had become conscientious objectors and she became engaged in their struggles to win conscientious objector status. Marie was persuaded about the necessity of socialism partly by the Party’s stand against working-class participation in the war, but also by the forcefulness and clarity of the Party’s speakers at the outdoor meetings held at Lincoln’s Inn Fields and she joined the Palmers Green Branch where she met Sid Catt, her future husband.

In 1957, she, Sid and daughter Jean emigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto. After settling in, they became a contact and propaganda centre for the Socialist Party of Canada. They set about recruiting members, holding discussion forums in their home and speaking at Allen Gardens. By 1964 they had organized the first Party Local east of Winnipeg.

Marie continued her activities for many years. She always spoke forthrightly and passionately in favour of socialism in whatever circumstances she found herself. Her grasp of the meaning of the object and declaration of Principles was thorough. She once wrote of the significance of these Principles to members of the Party:
 “These have remained the sheet anchor for their understanding, proved the strength of their case and their integrity, making it impossible to confuse them with any reformist organization. This Object and Declaration of Principles are as valid today as they were at the time of the inception in 1904 of this unique political party.” 
B.S. (Canada)

Just in one country? (2008)

Book Review from the April 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

2050 Vision. How can the UK play its part in avoiding dangerous climate change? By Matthew Lockwood and Jenny Bird with Raquel Alvarez. Institute for Public Policy Research. 2007. £10.95.

This 100-page study by the left-leaning IPPR argues that Britain “should be aiming to make reductions in carbon emissions of at least 80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050, if we are to avoid a 2ºC global warming above pre-industrial levels”.

The authors show that this is technologically feasible in that wind power and carbon capture (from fossil fuels) and storage could be developed if enough resources were devoted to this. Technically feasible, no doubt, but how likely is this to happen? The authors themselves mention, though only in passing, the main flaw in their analysis: UK emissions represent only 2 percent of the global total, so even if these measures were adopted in Britain this would only have a very marginal, if any, effect on global warming. But if other countries didn’t follow this would have a disastrous effect on British capitalist industry.

The authors admit that the forecasting models they used failed to include “interactions with the wider global economy” and add limply:
  “Some of these interactions involve risks for energy-intensive, and therefore carbon-intensive, industries exposed to international competition, and these may need extra support in decarbonising if production and jobs are not to relocate.”
Well, yes, and if that happened global warming would not be affected at all. The emissions would continue but in a different part of the world. And since all industries depend to some degree on energy they would all be affected by the increased energy costs the authors proposals would involve, even if it is true that energy-intensive industries would be the worst hit.

In short, applying unilaterally what is technically feasible but more costly would undermine the competitiveness of British industry on world markets, and that no government would dare do. So, in practice, there is no chance that any British government would go it alone on this issue. But the authors still maintain the illusion that one might, by talking of Britain giving a lead which others will follow. Some of those they consulted thought this might happen. Others were more realistic:
  “Respondents from the United States were generally less convinced that leading by example would be enough to encourage movements from the US – despite the ‘special relationship’ between the US and the UK – or from other countries. Differing national circumstances were cited as one reason for this. The UK’s (and the EU’s) increasing dependence on fossil fuel imports puts them in a very different position to many of the world’s major CO2 emitters, which have access to large reserves of coal and/or other fossil fuels. It was therefore felt unreasonable to expect these countries to reduce their fossil fuel consumption just because the UK had taken a lead”.
Precisely, and that’s the whole point. The EU countries, including Britain, are prepared to reduce their reliance on having to import fossil fuels to generate energy. That makes economic sense for them. The US and China, which do have access to large internal reserves of oil and/or coal, are not so keen. And, given that under capitalism “nation shall compete with nation”, why should they be? Why would they shoot themselves in the foot by undermining their competitiveness any more than any British government is likely to by unilaterally adopting the measures proposed by the IPPR’s naïve researchers?

There is, quite simply, no solution to the problem of global warming within capitalism.
Adam Buick

Simon the Sociobiologist (2008)

From the April 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cooking the Books: What’s China’s game? (2008)

The Cooking the Books column from the April 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

An interesting take-over battle is now taking place in the world mining industry. Towards the end of last year, BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, made a bid to take over Rio Tinto, the world’s second largest mining company. According to the Times (5 February) a BHP-Rio merger
  “would create the world’s largest iron ore, aluminium and coal supplier . . . A merged BNP-Rio would control about 36 per cent of the world’s iron ore, which is used to make steel, and consolidate 75 per cent of that market in the hands of only two companies”. (The other would be Vale, the Brazilian mining corporation).
Steel-producing countries dependent on imports of iron ore – China, the EU, Japan – are not too happy about this prospect of an “OPEC for iron ore”. But so far only China has acted. At the beginning of February Chinalco, the Chinese state-owned aluminium company, splashed out £7 billion in cash to acquire a 12 percent holding in Rio Tinto, probably to at least have a say in the disposal of Rio Tinto’s assets.

There is a theory which sees multinational corporations such as BHP and Rio Tinto as agents of the Western “imperialist” states, but here the victims will be other capitalist corporations in the developed capitalist world who are consumers of iron ore and aluminium. In any event, there can be no doubt that China’s various state-owned companies such as Chinalco, Sinochem Petroleum and China Shenua Energy are agents of the Chinese capitalist, not to say “imperialist”, state.

Capital accumulation is going on apace in China and China has a desperate need for the materials to sustain this (while it lasts):
  “China is forecast to consume more than half of all the world’s key resources within the next decade and the country is seeking to control mines and oilfields to ensure its supplies. China is already the world’s largest consumer of every big resource except oil and accounts for 47 per cent of all iron ore, 32 per cent of aluminium and 25 per cent of copper.” (Times, 5 February).
China is also the world’s leading consumer of nickel and zinc. To ensure a steady supply of all these essential materials, China has set up a whole range of state-owned capitalist corporations which operate on the stock exchanges of the world, doing deals with and acquiring shares in Western capitalist corporations.

Western financial journalists such as Patrick Hosking of the Times are intrigued as to “why is China playing the Western capitalist game” (Times, 5 February). Hosking doubts that Chinese state corporations such as Chinalco are interested in maximising profits or in maximising dividends to their single shareholder, the Chinese state, and concludes:
  “In one sense it is encouraging that Beijing is buying – literally – into joint-stock capitalism. But it would be naïve to assume its business leaders are motivated by the same forces as their Western counterparts”.
He is probably right. While non-state capitalist corporations are motivated by maximising profits and dividends to their shareholders, states can take a longer and broader view of the overall national capitalist interest. They need to take into consideration such factors as the security of supply of essential materials to industries within their borders. Many a war has been fought to achieve this. But wars are expensive and risky. Much better to try other means first, commercial as well as diplomatic.

This is what China appears to be doing via its state-owned corporations operating alongside Western corporations. At the same time China is building up its armed forces just in case this fails and other means of acquiring a secure supply of essential materials have to be employed (see for example here.).

Greasy Pole: Blair’s a Catholic – it’s official. But who cares? (2008)

The Greasy Pole Column from the April 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard 
If Blair had read Labour Party history, would he have been put off a political career for life?
Soon after Tony Blair’s costive farewell to Number Ten, anyone who fretted about the chances of him joining the ranks of the impoverished – which his government promised to abolish – would have been reassured by the carefully crafted plans of this reluctantly-disciplined ex-public schoolboy who grew up into the ambitiously manipulative barrister on the look-out for an easy way into Parliament. All will be well for the Blair family budget. There will be the “lecture” tours during which each speech will attract fees running into tens of thousands of pounds. A lavish advance of payment will lubricate the writing of his memoirs (we all wait with tightly bated breath to find out how much he reveals and how much hides, of what went on). With staggering, if predictable, audacity he accepted the job of a Middle East Peace Envoy charged with repairing some of the damage wreaked on that unhappy place by military decisions in which his government was heavily implicated. Any spare time will be absorbed by the “consultancy” jobs which, for a few hours a month, promise to richly reward the advice he will give to commercial and banking interests about how to inflate their profits through prudent contracts. But apart from all that – after all, a poor boy from a multi-million pound home in Connaught Square has to scrape a living somehow – there are the spiritual riches Blair expects to spume out of his formally declared conversion to the Catholic Church.

The announcement of Blair’s change to the Roman Catholic church was “formal” in the sense of his long-standing contact with that church while he was a practising Anglo Catholic. His biographer, Anthony Selsdon, described him as “a profoundly religious figure” and says that it was religion and not “…reading Labour Party history” which brought him into politics in the first place. (It will be a matter for Blair to discuss in the confessional whether, if he had read Labour Party history, he would have been put off a political career for life). But for some time there has been little doubt about where, in terms of his allegiance to a church, he would end up. Although an Anglo-Catholic he took communion at Westminster Cathedral which, as it is not permitted for non-Roman Catholics, brought down a stern rebuke from the late Archbishop Basil Hume. For Blair, it must have all been reminiscent of time up before the head of Fettes. That his present situation continues to be confused was quickly pointed out by Ann Widdecombe (herself a convert): “he’s gone against Church teaching on more than one occasion”. On the Michael Parkinson chat show in 2006 Blair offered a rather different version, saying that he had prayed while deciding whether to order British troops into Iraq “I think if you have faith about these things, you realise the judgement is made by other people … and if you believe in god, it’s made by god as well”. Which conveniently passed off the blame for the slaughter onto someone who, as they don’t exist, could not have a say in the matter.

But Tony Blair cannot argue that his conversion was an attempt to understand, and unravel, a history of confusion about his political aims. Any reading of his rise through the Labour Party must bring a chilling sense of his single-minded ambition. His first attempt to get into Parliament was in May 1982, in Beaconsfield. A less likely opportunity for an aspiring Labour candidate would be hard to imagine, for Beaconsfield is one of the most arborescent and moneyed towns in the Chiltern Hills. Blair agreed to stand there on the advice of a more seasoned party member, on the grounds that making his mark there would help him in applying for other seats. Perhaps that, as well as the rock-solid Tory vote, gave him some scope in how he presented himself politically; he had no qualms about describing himself as “a socialist” (either without defining the word or offering a definition which was a nonsense) and to admitting to support for CND. Of course he lost his deposit, reducing the Labour vote by 10 percent in the process. But he did indeed make his mark and, buoyed up with approval from local Labour stalwarts, he moved thankfully in search of a more possible seat.

This came in 1983, in Sedgefield, where the local man Les Huckfield was expected to win the Labour nomination. Conscious that the people had their differences from the bankers and chief executives of Beaconsfield, Blair was careful that his address for the adoption meeting did not mention that he had been to public school nor that as a barrister he had represented big corporations in court. He presented a letter of support from the then Labour leader, ex-left-wing-firebrand Michael Foot and it was arranged to unsettle Huckfield by hostile questions fed to Blair’s supporters in the audience. It was all tightly organised and very effective, giving Blair the nomination in a safe Labour seat. It was also – although none of the party members there probably realised it – a foretaste of how he would behave when he got into Parliament and later into Number Ten.

We may ask, for example, how those Sedgefield members would have voted had they heard him say, as he subsequently did: “I believe Margaret Thatcher’s emphasis on enterprise was right” or that “Britain needs more successful people who can become rich by success through the money they earn”. Would those members have sat on their hands knowing that Blair was to justify the invasion of Iraq, at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, by lies about weapons of mass destruction the existence of which, he said, was “beyond doubt” and the defiant declaration “I am absolutely convinced and confident about the case on weapons of mass destruction-critics will be eating some of their words”? And would they have approved him sucking up to the rich and powerful while 13 million – that’s one in five – of the population of the country he was supposed to be leading to the promised land of plenty and safety are officially classed as suffering poverty?

If Blair is to be a proper Catholic he will have to attend confession – get down on his knees behind the curtain in one of those small boxes in a church while some robed hypocrite who rivals him in disseminating falsehood sits on the other side of the grille trying not to yawn while listening to him unburdening his mind before telling him how he can make himself feel a bit less guilty, perhaps by reciting some meaningless incantation or other. The question is, can Blair be trusted to come clean about his sins? After all what he has to confess will be the most serious for a catholic – the mortal sins which have speckled his time in politics. This may take him some time while others – politicians, media people, bankers and the like – wait their turn. It is all a part of the great deception which keeps this unbearable society in being.

An Apology
There was a mistake In last month’s Greasy Pole (Flint’s Hard Line). The TV programme in which Flint stood her ground against Andrew Neil was not The Politics Show (which does not exist) but The Daily Politics. For this confusion we apologise to everyone. Even, in case he reads the Socialist Standard, Neil himself.

World Socialist (2021)

From the April 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Evolution explained (2021)

Book Review from the April 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Blind Watchmaker. Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design. By Richard Dawkins. Audiobook narrated by: Richard Dawkins and Lalla Ward.

This is an audio version of Dawkins’s well-known book, narrated by Dawkins and his wife, actor Lalla Ward. The watchmaker idea belongs to the 18th-century theologian William Paley, who argued that just as a watch is too complicated and functional to have sprung into existence by accident, so too does this apply to all living things with their far greater complexity. Charles Darwin’s discovery that challenged the creationist argument through natural selection – the unconscious, automatic, blind, yet essentially non-random process Darwin discovered – is brought to life in this book.

Dawkins and Ward provide a highly engaging read of Dawkins’s critique of creationism. The audiobook follows an updated edition of the book from 2006 and provides intricate explanations, by way of witty examples, of why random, infinitesimal gene changes over millions of years have produced us and the world we live in. Dawkins’s writing contains a self-deprecating, dry sense of humour that comes to life as he reads the book aloud. Alternating voices between Dawkins and Ward provides a nice listening contrast while also setting apart examples, clarifications, and segments of greater detail. Dawkins and his wife live in a world that is perhaps more scientific on a daily basis than most of us, so the book takes great care to vary the delivery of information for greater emphasis and easy understanding.

Dawkins’s goal in The Blind Watchmaker was to remove any doubt that anything but scientific fact is behind the origin of the universe. Just because something – like human beings or the universe – is complex does not mean that it cannot be explained. Dawkins works hard to help listeners understand the smaller-than-microscopic changes that evolved through staggering amounts of time. To paraphrase the author, do not draw conclusions from your own inability to understand something. The truth of Darwinism comes in its acceptance of physics, probability, and the unending march of time. The author (and speaker) helps listeners out by using examples that are easy to grasp: for example, the evolution from wolves to domesticated dogs. Or how echolocation in bats clearly shows the evolution of a trait necessary for survival of a species.

It is an altogether interesting read that particularly comes to life when listened to in audio format. Highly recommended for anyone who would like to learn more about the origins of the universe and the existence of life on Earth.
Paul Edwards

Questioning Nationality (2021)

From the April 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

The ten-yearly census once again literally poses the question of nationality. The Socialist Standard runs the occasional article on ‘How I became a socialist’ to which this is a companion piece, ‘Why I am an internationalist’.

I begin with a report of migrant labour being used to undercut wages and actually displace local workers from their employment and eviction from their homes. This, naturally, caused resentment and a reaction that became violent resulting in the authorities responding with decisive force.

If this incident seems to have been missed in these days of all-revealing social media, that’s because it occurred in 1832 on the south bank of the Tyne at Friar’s Goose. The mining community there had been in a protracted dispute with the local coal owner who determined to break the strike.

To this end migrant labour was brought in to replace the local workers, some from as far away as Derbyshire and Cumberland, where lead mining was in sharp decline. With the benefit of historical perspective it is clear that both sets of workers were victims of a common foe, capitalism.

Lead mining had ceased to be profitable while coal, at the very heart of the burgeoning industrial revolution, promised rich dividends. All the more so if labour costs could be minimised. Unemployment and the prospect of poverty were wielded to pitch one group of workers against another, keeping them divided and thus effectively powerless.

One hundred and twenty years or so after this event the world was blessed by my emergence, in a maternity hospital named for the local pit. Not on Tyneside though, where I would move to a couple of decades later, but in a Lancashire town ruled by King Coal and Queen Cotton.

However, those two economic monarchs were already relinquishing their power and both had largely been deposed by the time I deserted their realm in the early 1970s. By which time a sizeable community of migrants, on this occasion textile workers from the Indian sub-continent, had settled in the town.

Economic decline fostered resentments and would eventually lead to the election of British National Party members as town councillors. They proved to be so spectacularly useless as councillors their moment was brief, but again indicative of how capitalism, whether consciously or not, can stimulate misdirected resentment and anger.

As already indicated, I moved away from the town and settled in the North East. However, I maintained my allegiance to the football club, a curse I eventually visited on my Gateshead-born son. So was I merely a Lancastrian living in economic exile, all the more so now that I’m domiciled in South Yorkshire?

A reason I was born in Lancashire is that one great granddad migrated from the then North Riding of Yorkshire in search of work. His son, my granddad, married a woman whose family hailed from the Trough of Bowland which was split between Lancashire, and the North and West Riding of Yorkshire.

On the maternal side, my grandmother was many generations Lancastrian, but her husband was of Devonian stock via Wales, another example of economic migration. So, I am the offspring of migrant labour.

This is by no means an unusual story, rather it is the norm. To say I am a …………………………… (please add your own label) is merely to identify an accident of birth. It is no more significant than that. I have a friend who, by his own admission, is vertically challenged and of a placid demeanour. With a beaming smile he informed all he knew that a DNA test revealed he was, at least in part, of Viking stock.

To return briefly to Friar’s Goose, the only difference between the reluctantly itinerant lead miner migrants and those of today who cross continents, is distance having to be travelled. The cause of migration remains constant, in the modern era it is capitalism.

Direct economic necessity, such as brought sub-continent workers to the Lancashire and Yorkshire textile towns, lays the imperatives of capitalism bare. People largely don’t uproot themselves and their families without good cause and capitalism exploits the imperative of need for its own profitable ends.

However, capitalism, driven by its absolute need to pursue profit, can manifest its competitive nature in extreme form, war. Whether cross border or civil, the root of armed conflicts is economic. Trade routes, resources, control of the levers of state and/or corporate power all too often lie at the bottom of martial conflict.

Not unreasonably, people will move away from battle zones if they can. But, even if the prospect of being killed or injured recedes, the local devastation of homes, workplaces and basic services can make life virtually untenable, especially in the short term. And for the poor the short term is all they have.

Whether it’s your lead mine being closed two hundred years ago or your village/town bombed out yesterday, you essentially face the same dilemma, to stay and try to survive, or move and try to survive.

For all that racism manifests itself, capitalism is ultimately equitable, it will exploit any and all whatever their skin tone, language, dialect or point of origin. For its own purposes it will encourage people to consider how their apparent differences make them somehow special, unique, perhaps in some undefinable way superior to others.

After all, it would be disastrous for capitalism if (when) people realise that their differences are superficial, determined by circumstance not race or ethnicity. Cultural diversity can be a positive, but even culture is not a fixed thing, setting people apart.

I will continue to look at the results for the football team I was born to follow, which is about as deep as my support goes these days. It is an example of how capitalism has become transnational. The club was one of the founders of the football league reflecting the economic power of local capitalism in the 1870s and 80s.

One hundred and fifty years later it is a minnow in (to mix my fresh and saltwater metaphors) in the soccer shark pool, recently bought out by an American deal using leveraged finance to raise the capital. My club? Rather like my country, it seems.

For the vast majority of people, the working class of the world, there needs be to be a recognition and acceptance of the one answer to the surely hackneyed question of, what race am I? The human race!

The national question, as posed by the census, merely confirms the limits of capitalism. To push beyond those limits, to socialism, means making that question is as obsolete as a Cumberland lead mine.
Dave Alton

Obituary: Pat Bentley (2021)

Obituary from the April 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

After a long illness, sadly our Comrade Pat Bentley died at the beginning of March. Pat, along with her husband Philip Bentley, was an enthusiastic member of Bolton Branch, having joined in 1978. On moving to Shropshire, they remained Bolton Branch members, attending meetings whenever possible. Along with other Bolton members, Pat and Philip later transferred to Manchester Branch, where she continued to attend meetings.

At this sad time, our sympathy goes out to Philip and their daughter Eleanor.
Manchester Branch

Cooking the Books: Profit-sharing Aussie-style (2021)

The Cooking the Books column from the April 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

When in February Facebook temporarily stopped Australian users seeing, posting or sharing articles from Australian newspapers there was widespread condemnation, and not just from Australia. Most presented it as a case of the people versus a tech giant. Julian Knight, the Tory chairman of the House of Commons Digital, Culture and Sports Committee, declared ‘We represent the people and I’m sorry but you can’t run a bulldozer over that’, adding, sounding like a left-wing activist, ‘and if Facebook thinks it’ll do that it will face the same long-term ire as the likes of big oil and tobacco companies’ (

The GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple) tech giants are unpopular in left-wing circles for a number of reasons: being multinationals, their tax-dodging, and for the way they mine their users’ personal information to attract advertisers by allowing these to aim ads tailored to the individual user. So, many anti-corporation activists joined in the dispute on the side of the Australian government. In fact, however, the issue was not the people versus a tech giant but a conflict of interest between two groups of capitalists over sharing out the revenue and profits from advertising.

Facebook depends for a large part of its income on selling space to advertisers. So do newspapers. As Facebook and Google’s audiences are larger and growing these tech giants have been more successful than newspapers whose sales have been dwindling. Some, however, of the advertising is placed alongside articles produced by newspapers. Newspaper owners have long complained about this:
  ‘For years, news organisations around the world have been pushing for fairer profit-sharing between themselves and the likes of Facebook and Google on news content distributed on social media platforms. Some of the industry’s leaders, like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, have won government support to propose relevant regulations’ (
It was no accident, then, that the first move to try to force Facebook and Google to share some of their profits should have come from Australia as who there says ‘newspapers’ also says ‘Murdoch’. In April last year the government responded by proposing a law to force Facebook and Google to share some of their advertising revenue with Australian news corporations. Google complied but Facebook put on a show of strength. The government compromised by amending the legislation to provide for voluntary revenue and profit-sharing agreements to be tried first. The first one that Facebook negotiated was with Murdoch’s News Corp. The details have not been disclosed but no doubt Murdoch will be satisfied with his share.

That the issue was not one of the people versus a tech giant but one capitalist group against another should have been evident from the fact that the legislation was introduced by an openly pro-capitalist government which had no particular ‘ire’ against big corporations. Far from it. It was acting on behalf of one. Just as governments in Britain, Canada and other countries will be if/when they introduce similar legislation.

The Australian government made no attempt to disguise what it had in mind:
  ‘Australian authorities say they drew up the legislation to ‘level the playing field’ on profits between the tech giants and struggling publishers. Of every A$100 (£56; $77) spent on digital advertising in Australian media, A$81 goes to Google and Facebook’ (
Activists who joined in the chorus against Facebook were being used to help pick chestnuts out of the fire for the newspaper corporations, while Julian Knight is just a windbag.