Thursday, April 22, 2021

Oscar Wilde on journalism. (1923)

From the July 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “In England, Journalism, except in a few well-known instances, not having been carried to such excesses of brutality, is still a great factor, a really remarkable power. The tyranny that it proposes to exercise over people’s private lives seems to me quite extraordinary.
  “The fact is that the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything except what is worth knowing.
   “Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesmen-like habits, supplies the demands. In centuries before ours, the public nailed the ears of journalists to the pump.
    “That was quite hideous.
    “In this century journalists have nailed their own ears to the keyhole.
   “That is much worse.”
Oscar Wilde

Intellectual Impostures (1999)

Book Review from the April 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Intellectual Impostures by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, Profile Books, £9.99 1998

The late Nineteenth Century witnessed the rise of Irrationalism. Philosophers rebelled against what they saw as the rigidities of positivist determinism and retreated into subjective idealism. Henri Bergson personified this movement; Hans Vaihinger’s book, The Philosophy of As If, reflected its Humpty-Dumpty logic: the world, according to this book, might be anything that one imagines it to be; one scientific hypothesis is just as good as any other. This rebellion against the scientific outlook of the Enlightenment culminated in more than an academic fad. The Fascists and Nazis of the 1930s rejoiced in their contempt for rational explanations. It was a crude contempt: books were burned; scientists who failed to conform to the mythology of the tyrant state were dismissed from their posts; to be an honest scientist became a reason for exile. It is a lesson of this century’s madness that we forget at our extreme cost. 

These days the scientific outlook is again being exiled, perhaps more by economic than political pressures. Increasingly, scientists are required to prostitute themselves to the commercial activities of germ warfare, genetically adulterated foods and apologism for ecological vandalism. Theoretical science has been slowly driven from the universities by the new crusaders of Postmodernism. But to call them crusaders is to attribute an energy to a listless and intellectually indolent movement of academics who, far from advocating something, are mainly concerned to deride commitment to anything. At their most risible the “philosophers” of the new Irrationalism are transparently bogus producers of mumbo-jumbo, able to convince only the dumbest of Americans of their wisdom by pronouncing their follies in strong French accents, using made-up words. Derrida’s book on Marx was the epitome of such utter nonsense.

It is high time that the fakes were exposed. Sokal and Bricmont’s Intellectual Impostures is a work of meticulous, relentless destruction of the charlatanism of postmodernist writers who have sought to pepper their ramblings with pseudo-scientific formulae. Sokal and Bricmont are physicists and materialists. With detailed references to the works of writers ranging from Lacan and Kristeva to Latour and Baudrillard they demonstrate the ways in which these theorists have used scientific language—specifically, mathematics—without understanding it. Indeed, in several cases they may not have read the works they cite. This is in keeping with the postmodern outlook, which holds in contempt a relationship between the text and its meaning. Althusser, an earlier prophet of the nouveaux charlatans, wrote a book telling people how to read Marx’s Capital; writing years later, after being certified as a lunatic, he confessed that he had not actually read much of Marx.

Sokal and Bricmont’s impressive volume needs to be read to be appreciated. It is a valuable work of scholarship—for, sometimes the task of scholars is to expose intellectual sloppiness and fraud. There is a particularly stimulating chapter on the relationship between so-called postmodernism (a hopelessly ill-defined term) and chaos theory. There is scope, perhaps, for future writers to produce a book explaining the connection between chaos theory and the economic anarchy of late twentieth-century capitalism.

The best books on postmodernism so far have been David Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity and Terry Eagleton’s Postmodernism. This is a welcome addition to the literature in defence of the materialist conception in the face of the anti-humanist philistinism of our age.
Steve Coleman

Party names and games (1999)

Party News from the April 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Last year Parliament passed an Act to allow political parties to register, both to protect their name and to present lists in elections where an element of proportional representation has been introduced—as in the elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly this May, but also in those to the European Parliament in June and to the Greater London Authority in May next year.

The parliamentary parties brought in this Act mainly to protect their own position by stopping candidates calling themselves, notoriously, Literal Democrats but also Conversative Party and Independent Labour. However it has also settled our dispute with Militant over their attempted usurpation of one of our names (see Socialist Standard, February 1997).

While we have been registered under our full name of “The Socialist Party of Great Britain”, Militant were refused registration as “Socialist Party”. They are now going to Court to seek a judicial review. We don’t know officially on what grounds Militant were refused recognition but this can be gathered from a letter from their Executive Committee to the Registrar of Political Parties published in their paper The Socialist on 12 March. Part of this reads:
The reasons you give are that the similarity of our name to other parties will cause confusion to voters, and that we have adopted our name relatively recently compared to others.
Militant’s letter also includes a passage from the Registrar’s letter to them:
  “other and possibly lesser parties in terms of their organisation and membership have used the name ‘Socialist Party’ over a substantially greater number of years and therefore have a prior claim”.
Reading between the lines it is clear that the Registrar came to the conclusion that, on the evidence, there was another party—us—who had a prior claim on this name because we had used it for longer (95 years compared with 2).

Militant themselves certainly assume this as, in their letter to the Registrar, they try to demolish us in his eyes:
  Over the past two years, we have built up recognition of our name in many areas of the country. There is much greater recognition of our name due to the work we have done, than there is of the SPGB.
In a footnote reference after SPGB they write:
 The Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) is a small party founded over a century ago who are about one-tenth of the size of the Socialist Party (ourselves). They very rarely contest elections and are mainly a propaganda and discussion group.
This is wrong in nearly every respect. We were not founded over a century ago. We have many times more than a hundred members. And it is not true that we “very rarely” contest elections.

Although numbers can’t settle the issue, for the record, we have contested 12 of the 15 general elections that have taken place since 1945 as well as a number of by-elections and the 1989 and 1994 (and now the 1999) European elections. Geographically we have contested elections in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Salford, Oldham, Newcastle, Jarrow, Easington, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Livingston, Swansea and Belfast. In fact, in the 1994 Euro-elections alone, when we stood 4 candidates (including one against Militant who then called themselves “Militant Labour”), more electors—2 million or so—were faced with “Socialist Party” on the ballot papers representing us than the electorate of all the local wards and Westminister seats Militant has ever contested under the same usurped name added together.  

How Militant took the news

Dramatics in Scotland
In Scotland we found ourselves headline news for a week or so as the Registrar announced his intention not to register the latest name for Militant’s front organisation there of “Scottish Socialist Party”. His reason for this preliminary ruling was, apparently, that the name “Scottish Socialist Party” could be confused with ours, especially as we had contested two seats in Scotland at the 1997 General Election. SSP leader and Glasgow councillor Tommy Sheridan, who already sees himself as an MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament), wasn’t at all happy.

First he said he was going to go to the Commission for Racial Equality because it was “racial discrimination” to refuse to allow a Scottish party to call itself Scottish because an English party had a similar name (Herald, 3 March). Then he claimed it was a breach of “two sections of the European Convention on Human Rights” (Herald, 4 March). Then he threatened “a campaign of mass civil disobedience to disrupt the Scottish General Election in May” (Herald, 8 March). Less amusingly, a section of the press began a smear campaign against us. Matthew Norman, for instance, wrote a piece in the Guardian (5 March) suggesting that while the SSP was a serious party with three councillors we were “a minute, slightly weird group which runs in very few seats, proposes the abolition of money and runs on a programme unchanged since 1910”.

Sheridan needn’t have bothered. First, although of course we don’t like people calling themselves “socialist” when in our opinion they’re not, that’s something to be settled by political debate not law. Our dispute was with Militant in England and their use of the same name as us even on the ballot papers (which Militant in Scotland never did, standing in the last election as the “Scottish Socialist Alliance”). Second, in the end the Registrar adopted a relatively liberal approach, allowing as many parties as possible to register including the SSP, only ruling out blatant cases of parties trying to usurp a name to which they had no historical right.

It is true that there would have been no possible confusion had Scottish Militant stuck to their name till last October of “Scottish Socialist Alliance”. But since we, being resolutely anti-nationalist, would never dream of calling ourselves “Scottish” (or “British” or “Welsh” or “Irish”) socialists, we can agree that any confusion between us and the SSP is going to be minimal.

How to vote Socialist (1999)

Party News from the April 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Voters for the Scottish Parliament will have two votes, one for a constituency member as in elections to Westminster and a second which can be cast for a party list covering a larger, multi-member region.

We are not standing any individual candidates so our message to those who want socialism is to use their first vote to vote against all the various reformist and pro-capitalist candidates by writing the word “SOCIALISM” across the ballot paper.

We are, however, presenting lists in 2 of the 8 regional constituencies (Glasgow and Lothians). Each of the 600,000 householders in these two regions will receive through their letterbox one or other of the socialist election leaflets reproduced on these pages. Here, of course, those who want socialism can show this by using their second vote to vote for the Socialist Party list. Be careful not to confuse our list with that of the “Scottish Socialist Party” which, despite its name, does not stand for socialism but is a leftwing nationalist—a Tartan Trotskyist—party.

Unfortunately our resources do not permit us to give more than a quarter of Scotland’s 4 million or so electors a chance to cast a vote for socialism. In the six other regions those who want socialism will have to indicate this by writing “SOCIALISM” across their second ballot paper too.

Scottish Parliament Elections: Glasgow (1999)

Party News from the April 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

No to Holyrood, No to Westminister, Yes to World Socialism

Holyrood Hysteria

The press and television are screaming at us about the importance of this first Scottish Parliamentary election.

“The most important event of the century . . . ”

“A moment of destiny that will change all our lives for ever.”

It’s all nonsense of course. The day after the election we will find that it is business as usual.

Men and women of the working class will return to the office, the factory or the hospital where we work for a wage or a salary. That is those of us “lucky” enough to have a job. The same round of work, insecurity and poverty will continue irrespective of the make-up of the new parliament in Edinburgh.

Why We Are Standing
THE SOCIALIST PARTY is taking this opportunity to reach out to as many workers as possible. We are not after your unthinking support. We do not want your vote unless you understand that the present system of society—capitalism—cannot be made to run in the interests of the majority.

We want you to consider an alternative society to the present production for profit rat-race that is capitalism. We want you to look at present-day society and ask yourself: does it operate in your and your family’s interest?

Let’s look at this society and see how it operates against the majority and only favours a tiny handful of wealthy owners.

The Present Rat-Race
The whole purpose of producing anything today is to sell it and make a profit. No profit, then no production. That is why so many live in sub-standard housing while building workers are unemployed. That is why people throughout the world are undernourished while farmers are paid not to grow food.

Production for profit means that the world is armed to the teeth. Billions are spent on armies, the whole purpose of which is to protect markets, trade routes and sources of raw material.

Wars are inevitable under capitalism. Capitalism is based on competition, and the logical outcome of global competition is military violence.

Our Opponents 
At this election you have a wide choices of parties. Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Labour, Nationalist, Green, even some calling themselves “socialists”.

There are many differences in their policies, but what have they all got in common? They want your vote on the basis that they could run the system better or more fairly. Despite their differences they all want to run the buying and selling system of capitalism, and this applies as much to the “left” as the out and out supporters of capitalism.

This system is based on the production of all wealth by the working class for a wage or salary. The owning class live off the unpaid labour of the working class.

To talk of “fairer” capitalism is like talking of “fairer” robbery.

What Is To Be Done?
As capitalism cannot work in the interest of the majority, it must go. It must be replaced by a new society based on common ownership and democratic control. There must be production to meet people’s needs instead of production for profit. We must all be free to take what we require to satisfy our needs, without being rationed as today by the size of our wage packet or giro cheque.

This new society can only come about when a majority want it and are determined to get it. Nobody can bring it about for you.

So it’s up to you, not the politicians. The future is in your hands, not theirs.

If you agree with the aims of THE SOCIALIST PARTY you will vote for our list, if you are interested in the ideas of socialism you will contact us.

About Ourselves 
THE SOCIALIST PARTY was formed in 1904 with only one object: the abolition of the wages system and the establishment of a society based on common ownership and democratic control.

As part of the world socialism movement, we want a democratic world without frontiers or separate “nation-states”.

We campaign to get workers to say no to a society based on profit, privilege and competition and yes to a society based on equality, cooperation and meeting people’s needs.

THE CANDIDATES ON OUR LIST ARE: Hugh Armstrong, Richard Donnelly, James Fleming, James Robertson, William Ross, Henrietta Vallar, Victor Vanni.

Scottish Parliament Elections: Lothian (1999)

Party News from the April 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Their Scotland or Our World?

That’s the issue in this election, says THE SOCIALIST PARTY

On 6 May, you will have your occasional ration of democracy with the opportunity to vote for the Scottish Parliament.

It’s all very well having a vote—but are you normally given any real choice? Let’s face it, if it wasn’t for the politician’s head on the front of the election leaflet, could you tell which party was which?

It’s tempting—in the absence of any real alternative—to get drawn into the phoney war that is political debate today. Whether Labour or Tory, SNP or Lib Dem, they all spout the same promises. But it all amounts to the same thing—they offer no alternative to the present way of running society.

Do you really think who wins an election makes any difference to how you live?

And do politicians (whether left-wing, nationalist or right-wing) actually have much real power anyway? OK, they get to open supermarkets and factories, but it’s capitalism and the market system which closes them down.

Reality Check
Do any of the political parties address any of the real issues:
  • Why is there world hunger in a world of food surpluses?
  • Why are there unemployed nurses, alongside closed-down hospitals and waiting lists?
  • Why are there homeless people in the streets and empty houses with “for sale” signs?
  • Why do some people get stressed working long hours while others get stressed from the boredom of unemployment?
So what’s the alternative?
This time you will have a real choice. We in THE SOCIALIST PARTY are standing at this election to put forward an alternative to capitalism and the madness of the market—a society of common ownership and democratic control. We call it socialism.

But real socialism, not the elite-run dictatorships that collapsed a few years ago in Russia and East Europe. And not the various schemes for state control put forward by the old Labour Party. For us socialism means something better than that.

We’re talking about a world community without any frontiers. About wealth being produced to meet people’s needs and not for sale on a market or for profit. About everyone having access to what they require to satisfy their needs, without the rationing system that is money. A society where people freely contribute their skills and experience to produce what is needed, without the compulsion of a wage or salary.

So what now?
If you don’t like present-day society . . . if you are fed up with the way you are forced to live . . . if you think the root cause of most social problems is the market system, then your ideas echo closely with ours.

If you want to vote for our list we’re delighted. But we don’t really want votes based on a misreading of what we are about. We are not promising to deliver socialism to you. We are not putting ourselves forward as leaders. This new society can only be achieved if you join together to strive for it. If you want it, then it is something you have to bring about yourselves.

If you agree with this, you can show it by voting for THE SOCIALIST PARTY list.

OUR CANDIDATES ARE are: Matt Culbert, Kevin Ferguson, Brian Gardner, Andy Malone, Jim Moir, Theresa Ross, Sandy Wilson.

Elections in North East England (1999)

Party News from the April 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are also standing two candidates in the 6 May local elections in the North East, in Primrose ward of South Tyneside Metropolitan Council and in Deneside ward of Easington District and Seaham Town councils. Further details from the North East branch secretary.

The North East branch will also be contesting the European elections on 10 June. A full list will be presented in the 4-member North East Electoral Region. The Socialist list is: John Bissett, Steve Colborn, Stephen Davidson, Andy Pitts. It is planned to have over a million leaflets distributed to households in the area. Further details next month.

50 Years Ago: The Film Crisis (1999)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “We all thought that the forty-five percent quota and the promise of other measures to come . . . heralded a new day for British Film Production . . . How wrong we were. The business of making Britain’s films has not been so unstable since the crisis of eleven years ago. Equally therefore the employment of A.C.T. technicians has never during the same period been so uncertain . . .” 
Thus reads the editorial of “The Cine-Technician” for November-December, 1948, and this is indeed not one wit an exaggeration of the position confronting workers in the film industry today. It indicates (in admirable fashion) the hopes and aspirations of workers which have been ruthlessly smashed against the bedrocks of capitalism which constitute the film industry—as indeed all industry. It is estimated that sixteen out of twenty-seven feature studios are idle with an unemployment figure of twenty-five percent of all personnel, whilst those retaining their jobs know just what a serious threat is presented to wages and conditions when negotiations on a new agreement between unions and employers commence in April this year.

Those who thought film making was in some measure “different” from other sections of industry were rudely awakened by the same old demand last year to cut costs, stop up output and increase efficiency. The first strong protest against the worsening conditions was the Denham film strike of November, 1948, following the issue of notices to ninety-two employees. The union executives refused to back the strike which lasted three days and failed to prevent the majority of these workers being dismissed.

(From an article by “FILM WORKER”, Socialist Standard, April 1949)