Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The cost of lives (1985)

From the May 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

The relentless pursuit of profit under capitalism produces a wealth of contradictions: coal mines are closed while old people die of cold, food production is curtailed despite widespread starvation, hospitals are closed and ill health in the general population increases in spite of advances in high technology medicine. The provision of health care is distorted by the competing forces within capitalism as social needs are, if catered for at all, secondary and coincidental to the overriding requirement of profitability.

The interests within the health care system are: the workers trying to obtain improved medical services "free at the point of use"; the government trying to "privatise" medicine and reduce state provision of health care, the insurance companies who are gaining increasing numbers of subscribers to private insurance schemes as the National Health Service deteriorates; the companies who supply drugs, equipment, provisions. construction and services and are parasitical on the health service; private medicine with fees for consultation and surgery.

Although bringing health care under state provision with the development of the National Health Service appeared to represent a gain for the working class it is, in fact, a victory for ruling class expediency and has developed, and continues to be shaped, according to the needs of capital. There is no doubt that new discoveries, technological improvements and modern drugs have eased the misery of many serious diseases. However, it would be wrong to assume that the use of sophisticated techniques automatically confers benefits on patients. Illich (Limits to Medicine, 1976) claims that coronary care units are no more effective than normal medical wards but require three times as much equipment and five times the number of staff to run them. Garner (The NHS: Your Money or Your Life, 1979) cites research which supports this claim and points out that patients nursed in coronary care units have a higher mortality rate than those nursed at home.

Ineffective or even harmful treatments may continue to be used because they are profitable or allow control, prestige and power by vested professional interests. The misleading publicity (or advertising) which accompanies technological medicine and discouragement of information and knowledge outside professional circles may lead to a "demand" for dubious medical treatments by the general public who mistakenly believe that miracle cures have been found without being aware of potentially dangerous complications or side-effects. The damage that commercialised medicine can cause has been pointed out by Eyer:
  . . . when doctors went on strike in Los Angeles County in 1976. limiting elective surgery for the most part, the death rate fell by about 15 per cent and rose well above its previous level when the doctors resumed practice. before returning to normal. This means at least one out of every six deaths in Los Angeles is due to the overdevelopment of medicine.
(J. B. McKinlay (Ed.): Issues in the Political Economy of Health Care, 1984.) 
Although excessive medical and surgical intervention is a feature of private health care, under-provision of facilities is common when its supply is less profitable. Professor Stewart Cameron of Guy's Hospital. London claims that 2,000 sufferers from renal failure may be dying unnecessarily each year in Britain because of insufficient renal dialysis machines (Medicine in Society, 1984).

The considerable variation in the provision of health care facilities has been summed up by Julian Tudor Hart (Lancet, 1, 405. 1971) as the Inverse Care Law. in which he states: ". . . the availability of good medical care tends to vary inversely with the need of the population served. This operates more completely where medical care is most exposed to market forces and less so where it is reduced." Wales typifies the Inverse Care Law with some 10.000 deaths from coronary artery disease each year and 25,000 men of working age suffering from angina, but with a dearth of cardiologists compared with regions in England (Medicine in Society, 1982). This contrasts markedly with private medicine as the fashionable London clinics accepted patients from the continent for coronary by-pass surgery until it was realised that patients receiving drug treatments made similar progress. It is true that a minority of people with coronary heart disease benefit from by-pass surgery providing they are properly assessed and identified. Also the much simpler and safer procedure of supplying cardiac pacemakers could save lives in Wales if they had the resources.

Heart transplants make dramatic news but there is little evidence that, on average, they prolong life expectancy. The deaths of heart transplant patients get very little reporting by the media, distorting the benefits, or lack of them, of technological changes. Nevertheless, in spite of all the evidence that technological advances need to be approached much more cautiously and with considerably more evaluation, there seems to be more specialisation and technological expansion than ever before. Garner has pointed out that doctors in the United States carried out twice as many operations on a group of Federal employees when paid a fee-for-service than doctors paid a flat salary by another insurance scheme. Similarly, the number of hysterectomies performed in Saskatchewan increased by 72 per cent after the introduction of national health insurance which reimbursed the doctor. Apart from the obvious profit motive, the restriction of skills to a professional elite concentrates power, prestige and more money into fewer hands. Mitchell (What is to be Done About Illness and Health?, 1984) claims: "We tend to assume that historically paid physicians opposed the herbalists and lay healers because their methods were ineffective or dangerous. Yet there is considerable evidence that it was because these methods did work that they were threatened".

Widgery (Health in Danger, 1979) has questioned the "medical prestige mongering" of advanced medicine: "In Buenos Aires doctors are playing about with cardiac surgical units costing tens of thousands of dollars while new-born babies die in the precincts of the hospital for lack of decent milk". He also questioned some of the cardiac resuscitation procedures:
 . . . while every effort can and should be devoted to monitoring and reviving patients in units equipped for intensive care, the kind of indiscriminate, ineffective invasion we carried out, which we wholeheartedly conceived as solely for the patient's good, was in fact depriving the dying of the last shred of dignity in order to give us a little practice and a little false prestige. None of this is to argue that we should abandon or relent our development of medical science, but we need to sharpen its focus, take more seriously its implications and applications. We need to ask honestly, every time whether its net result enhances the doctor's prestige or the patient's well-being, for these are by no means the same thing.
Under capitalism medical care assumes its most profitable form and there is usually more money to be made from curing a complaint than preventing it. In under-developed countries the resources consumed by curative medicine in the prestige hospitals of the major cities have been at the expense of preventive services in the rural areas. ("The Politics of Health in Tanzania", Development and Change 4 (1) 39. 1972) has put the contradiction of high technology medicine co-existing with poor primary services in Tanzania in perspective:
  . . . a man has hookworm anaemia (common in Tanzania). He has been ill for years; eventually he has to stop work altogether. He is admitted to hospital. He needs laboratory tests, skilled medical and nursing attention, drug treatment and a blood transfusion. After a time he improves, and he eventually goes back to work. At home, he catches hookworm again; the whole process is repeated. If his village had used pit latrines none of this would have happened.
Poverty remains the main cause of a considerable amount of ill health. Millions of children die each year from malnutrition and infection in the Third World. Even in the more affluent countries workers have higher mortality rates than the rich as a result of working in stressful, polluted, alienating environments and living in poor housing conditions. And within countries such as Britain relative poverty is still quite widespread. Thus a socially deprived area such as Rochdale has an infant mortality rate 2½ times greater than the national average.

In advanced, industrialised countries preventive services also have a low priority because they are less profitable. Yet governments are anxious to shift the burden of costs away from the state and back to the consumer. As Crawford states:
  The emphasis on individual responsibility for health mystifies the social production of disease and undermines demands for rights and entitlements to medical care. Beneath the rhetoric about the costs of medical care and the obligation of the individual to remain healthy lies a political programme to shift the burden of costs back to labour and consumers and to paralyse regulatory efforts undertaken to control environmental and occupational hazards. (J. B. McKinlay. op. cit.)
As it is uneconomical to safeguard workers' health during unemployment because a reserve army of labour is available, drastic cuts have been made in the health and social services. But substantial increases in military expenditure, aid to private industry, the police force, and tax advantages for the wealthy reflect capitalism's priorities.
Carl Pinel

Running Commentary: Sporting life (1985)

The Running Commentary column from the May 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Sporting life

Now that she has single-handedly seen off General Galtieri and Arthur Scargill, the President of Grantham Town Football Club has turned her attention to that section of British football followers whose activities are famous. at grounds in this country and abroad, for so artistically blurring the distinction between sport and war.

The Labour Party are uneasy at this development, for there may be some solid votes in this, if Thatcher can convince the workers that she is the Iron Lady who not only made the Falklands safe for British Coalite and the coal fields safe for the NCB but the football terraces safe for the family outing.

So Labour's response had to be that she was getting it wrong. Football hooligans, they claimed, do not emerge through any inherent wickedness but because Tory Britain offers youth nothing better than the dole queue, slums, disease . . . Frustrations build up and have to be released somewhere; the excitement of a big football game is as likely a place as any for this to happen.

This line might be more convincing if Britain under the Labour Party had not been a place of poverty, unemployment, slums and despair — if there had been no such thing as aimless, neurotic youth when Wilson and Callaghan were at Number Ten and if those had been halcyon days of impeccable behaviour on the football terraces.

But of course it was not like that. Capitalism is always an ugly, depressing, restrictive system whichever party tries to manage it. It must always condemn the majority to lives of exploitation and poverty, a frustrating contrast to those of the workers' economic and social superiors.

Football is more than a sport, more even than big business. For workers who need relief from the drab monotony of poverty it is a hallucinogen, an exciting dream which seduces millions into the delusion that there is an easy, glorious escape from working-class repression. You too, they tell themselves, can be an adored football star, feted and lauded wherever you go.

The so-called football hooligan is at the very centre of this clash between dreams and reality. Like all conflict, this is a painful experience — and the only relief must be through radical change.

Power drive

Ian MacGregor was bought by the Thatcher government to manage the steel and coal industries so that the workers and the unions would be forced up against reality. In each case, reality meant that world capitalism is in a slump, that the markets for commodities like coal and steel are shrinking, that international competition is hotting up and that the immediate response to it all must be closures of plants and redundancies.

Now, perhaps, there will be a job for MacGregor in the British electricity generating industry, which is about to be hit by a determined sales drive from its French counterpart. Over the past decade French capitalism has invested an enormous amount in the construction of nuclear power stations, to provide cheap and plentiful electricity to what was assumed would be expanding French industry. But the market for power is no less anarchic than that for any other commodity; the recession of the 1980s meant that French industry has not come up to the assumptions, which in turn means that there is now a surplus of generating capacity.

At present, this surplus promises to be about equal to the power demands of the whole of Southern England, including London. The French have tried to off-load as much of this as possible onto home industry, offering cut-price deals, and they have also turned their attention to possible markets abroad. Agreements have been signed to feed some power through cables to Spain and Italy and a similar arrangement is being suggested to British industry.

At a time when profits are under such pressure, British capitalists may find the cheap electricity from France an offer they can't refuse, even if it were to expose all that patriotic encouragement they give to British workers as the cynical nonsense it really is. The outcome may be a surplus of British electricity and pressure for the closure of some power stations as "uneconomic", with production concentrated at those plants where worker exploitation is at its most intense.

People who froze during last winter because they could not afford to heat their homes may be puzzled to hear about a "surplus" of electricity and wonder why it can't simply be given away to the needy. There is a simple explanation. Electricity, like all wealth under capitalism, is produced to be sold in a market at a profit. "Surpluses" are not judged on human needs but on what the market can profitably absorb. That was the message which MacGregor drove home to the steel workers and the miners and which is now likely to be driven home to the power industry workers — and, of course, to the people who need the produce but can't afford to buy it.

Neil down

Will Neil Kinnock ever become Prime Minister? There are strategists in the Labour Party who regard his present troublous times as a holding period for him. They assess the electoral advance Labour needs to unseat the Tories as too great to be realistically attainable by the next election. So Kinnock is marking time, building up support and gaining experience for the big effort in the election after next which, say these strategists, will bring a lifetime of Labour government.

Well this might be an explanation of Kinnock's inability to convince the voters that he should be in charge of British capitalism. None of the guises which politicians are required to adopt has fitted him in any way convincingly. There is the guise of the subtle diplomat, or the consensus-builder, or the iron-willed leader. (We all know which one Thatcher has adopted and with what success). Workers demand that their leaders come before them in some such guise, or in several at once.

Then there is the matter of Kinnock's own party, which continues to display all the symptoms of chronic disarray and schism. In a series of re-selection disputes, sitting MPs are under pressure from left-wing activists; one notable example is in Ealing Southall, where there seems to have been a certain amount of juggling with membership lists and in Brent East, where uncharismatic Reg Freeson has been beset by Ken Livingstone, whose parliamentary ambitions were saved by his U-turn over GLC rate capping. We can expect to hear more of these disputes and of others no less odious.

Kinnock's predicament is that he can give only part of his attention to the shrill demands of his party's theorists and activists; his first concern must be to win power, to placate the political ignorance of the working class so that they change capitalism under Thatcher for the same society under Kinnock.

The lessons of experience are too clear and too recent; they affirm that there is no reason, from the point of view of workers' interests, to make such a change. It does not matter one whit, which guise Kinnock adopts nor whether he wears it to Number Ten. It is time the workers turned against these insulting political games and thought about taking over society for themselves, in their own human interests.

Avoiding World War 3 (1985)

From the May 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

We live in an epoch which will either be looked back on as a nightmare from which the human race had to escape, or will not be looked back on at all. Since the Second World War. not a single day has passed without there being a major war taking place somewhere in the world. Over twenty-five million people have died in these wars and each conflict has had its own individual history of human tragedy and suffering: Kenya, Vietnam, El Salvador, Sudan, Chad, Pakistan, Lebanon, Algeria, Nigeria, Ireland, the Falklands . . . the list seems endless. Most recently, in the Gulf War between Iraq and Iran, over a quarter of a million people have been slaughtered in four years.

We have witnessed the greatest increase in the forces of destruction ever: a single nuclear bomb can now release more explosive power in seconds than was released during the entire Second World War. World military spending has increased by twenty-seven per cent in real terms since 1972, to reach 620 billion dollars a year. This means that about one million dollars is being spent on the killing industry every minute. The amount spent on cancer research is less than one per cent of the 52 billion dollars spent annually on military research, while the British military research budget of £1.8 billion is sixteen times the budget of the Medical Research Council. The British government spends about £2 million an hour (£17 billion a year) on "defence" — in other words, the powers of destruction.

The mass suicide for which these weapons are designed has reared its ugly head several times in recent years. Take, for example, this report from the Observer (7 September 1980):
  Three times in less than a year NORAD (North American Air Defence Command) computers have detected a nuclear attack which was not actually taking place. On each occasion the crews of B52 nuclear bombers raced to their aircraft for take-off and the crews of intercontinental missiles began preliminary launch procedures.
For all of its talk about security through "deterrence", the government clearly does not trust its own propaganda; they have developed detailed plans about what will happen when, rather than if, war breaks out, Home Office Circular ES 1/81. quoted in Civil Defence Review 35/2.85/3. states that "for planning purposes, it should be assumed that there may be as little as seven days' warning of an attack and the basic essentials of plans should be capable of implementation in 48 hours". The East Anglia Regional Health Authority, meanwhile, have drawn up a plan for health services in time of war, including an 18-page appendix on herbal remedies for use in the absence of conventional drugs — juniper for cystitis, mistletoe for hypertension. The same report advises that for protection from fall-out we should wear home-made thick overalls or "heavy rubberised clothing" with "a plastic bag over the head with a hole for a medical or improvised gauze" to provide head protection (Guardian, 17 August 1981). This insulting rubbish is intended to give us some kind of reassurance about a future catastrophe which is on the cards.

On a less farcical note, we have the ominous tones of the government booklet, Protect and Survive:
 If a death occurs while you are confined in the fall-out room, place the body in another room and confine it as securely as possible. Attach an identification . . .
And, with the advice to end all advice, the Home Office Circular ES 8/1976. which was sent to the chief executives of Councils, but merits study by us all:
 When radiological conditions permitted movement, district and borough London controllers should assume that one of the priority tasks for their staff in areas where survivors were to continue residing, would be to collect and cremate or inter human remains in mass graves . . . once the initial clearance of corpses has been completed, there would be still a problem of several weeks, and perhaps months, of an above average rate of dying from disease and radiation effects. Nevertheless, a return to the pre-attack formalities should be the objective in the longer term.
(Quoted in E. P. Thompson, Protest and Survive, 1980)
The government, then, is anxious that, as soon as possible after an orgy of nuclear devastation. we should get back to the very formalities which would have led to such a tragedy in the first place. If we are going to avoid a Third World War, we must start by looking at the nature of those formalities. How is it that present-day society generates war as sure as night follows day?

There are many dubious theories held about what wars are fought for. Politicians of various kinds will tell us that wars are fought for freedom, justice, democracy and so on. For most of us. however, our conditions of life have to be defended in a struggle which is far from the battlefields or weapons silos. Wars are not fought over the level of our wages, rents or mortgages. They are not fought over high political or theological principles. Wars in the modern world have a basically economic cause, which relates to the power of a minority in each of the states of the world. Much window-dressing is used to convince the cannon-fodder that our lives are being laid down for something more noble than the commercial interests of our bosses, or the sordid privileges of the Kremlin bureaucrats. But there are occasional moments in which we hear, from the horse's mouth, just how the interests of the small, property-owning class drag us all into the nightmare of modem warfare.

We live in a society in which we are bombarded from an early age with the idea of the nation. We are said to be "British". And yet, for most people in Britain, this just happens to be the place in which we sell our ability to work in order to survive. The amount most of us truly own could be fitted into the barrel of one gun. A newspaper advert for army officers states that "Your part will be to prepare for a war everyone prays will never happen . . .  it will be difficult to remember that you are still protecting your country and all you love most". It will indeed be difficult to remember that it is "your" country: according to government figures, the richest 3.2 per cent of people in Britain today possess 84 per cent of listed shares, 91 per cent of private companies, and 88 per cent of land. So much for the property- owning democracy.

The flag-waving of nationalism is not just childish pomp and pride. The countries for which we are asked to kill are not ours. Those who do have a stake in the nation are those who own it: the class of employers, landlords and investors referred to politely as "the business community". And what are they in conflict over? They are quarreling — at the conference table where possible, over the battlefield and our dead bodies where necessary — about the dividing of the spoils which are derived from the productive work of the majority. There are four main bones of contention between the various national groupings of capitalists.

Employers only receive profit if they sell the goods we have produced for them. In trying to sell goods, they are in competition with one another. States look after their local capitalists in this respect, by organising import controls and other ways of turning trade to the advantage of some capitalists at the expense of others. These moves are always backed up by force. In March 1939, the Conservative Minister of Overseas Trade, speaking not about opposing dictatorship or defending democracy, said: "We are not going to give up any markets to anyone. Great Britain is strong enough to fight for markets abroad". Similarly, the United Nations US Ambassador Andrew Young was quoted in 1977 as saying:
  My approach to Africa is in some ways like the Japanese approach to Asia, and my approach is not necessarily humanitarian. It is in the long range interest of access to resources and the creation of markets for American goods and services.
Raw Materials
Just as important to capitalists, in their pursuit of profit, is the need to gain and defend sources of minerals and other raw materials. This applied in the nineteenth-century Franco-Prussian wars over the coal and steel of Alsace-Lorraine, and inspired the British invasion of Afghanistan in 1897 as well as the Russian repeat performance of this some eighty-three years later. It is also a factor in the war between Iran and Iraq: the Majnoon Islands contain about seven billion barrels of oil. Speaking on ITV's Weekend World on 8 March 1981 in defence of the Rapid Deployment Force, the then Minister of Defence, John Nott, stated: "we have crucial minerals and in fact our oil supplies to defend". Needless to say, the majority of viewers had no mineral wealth at all to defend. Even more revealing was the following admission, made in 1963 by Kennedy’s Undersecretary of State. U. Alexis Johnson:
  What is the attraction that South-East Asia has exerted for centuries on the great powers flanking it on all sides? Why is it desirable, and why is it important? First, it provides a lush climate. fertile soil, rich natural resources, a relatively sparse population in most areas, and room to expand. The countries of South-East Asia produce rich exportable surpluses such as rice, rubber, tea, corn, tin, spices, oil and many others . . .
Thirdly, there is the constant struggle between the various states of the world, whether private- or state-capitalist, over the control of the earth itself, divided as it is into artificial fragments by national boundaries. Since the Second World War, for example, there has been an almost constant series of border disputes between India, China and Russia. This aspect of how the capitalist world system generates war was let slip in a speech made by Lady Olga Maitland of Women and Families for Defence when she was debating against the Socialist Party at Islington Central Library on 19 January 1984:
  Britain is a country which must show that we have the resolution to defend ourselves because we are a vital piece of real estate in Europe.
Trade Routes
Finally, in order to sell their goods and realise their profit, the capitalist class of the world have to be able to transport goods and materials freely. The Suez Canal crisis of 1956 in which Egypt was in conflict with Britain, France and Israel, was a conflict over a vital trade route. Similarly, in 1981 when the US Defence Secretary, Caspar Weinberger, was seeking to stress to the Japanese section of the ruling class the military obligations they owed to their American counterparts. he pointed out that "the USA helps to protect the vital sea lanes upon which Japan depends for its global trade" (Guardian, 29 April 1981).

What must we conclude from all of this evidence? These conflicts over the sources which yield profit are of no real concern to the working-class majority in society, to people who have to live on wages, salaries or the dole rather than on rent, interest or profit. It is the capitalist system of society, which exists throughout the world today, which causes war through its relentless and competitive drive for profit.

Of course, these economic factors leading to warfare have to operate through the agency of human consciousness, with all its complications. The many popular rationalisations of war suggest that religion or culture are leading us to the battlefield. These are often the concepts employed by governments to persuade individual workers to flock to a mass suicide, but they are not the root cause of the conflict. Having recognised that it is the system of production for profit which causes war. we have no option but to seek to replace it with a system of production for use. The capitalist class do not, in general, profit from war, but their system is beyond even their control. When the market dictates they invest in weapons to protect their investments, they have no choice but to follow where their share prices lead.

For this reason, movements like CND which hope to persuade governments of capitalism to operate this murderous system in a more gentle way, are doomed to failure. Indeed, the policy of gradual reduction of armaments has already degenerated into total compromise, as shown by the CND leaflet, Questions and Answers About Non-nuclear Defence. This advises a "non-provocative" conventional defence policy using "troops with interceptor aircraft and anti-aircraft missiles rather than long-range bombers" and giving "anti-tank missiles priority over tanks". So much for the "Peace" Movement. The Labour Defence Spokesman, Denzil Davies, has recently echoed this "peaceful" militarism, stating that the Labour Party is "totally committed to the defence of Britain" (Guardian, 7 August 1984).

Let those who have a material stake in British capital rise to its defence. For the rest of us — about ninety-five per cent of the population here — our interest lies in defending ourselves against the daily onslaught of capital, as represented by our bosses. The global time bomb we are sitting on can only be defused if it is put under the democratic control of the world community. The only true Peace Movement is one which stands for the abolition of all weapons, through the abolition of the social system which has made them necessary. We can talk seriously about the prospect of permanent world peace only on the basis of transforming social relationships. This is a practical proposition; to hope for the competition in the market place between rival gangs of robbers to be carried out without murder is an idle dream. At the moment we are human commodities, watching our lives being bought and sold on the labour market. But we can use the power of conscious co-operation to reverse the current trend towards a collective suicide. The only way to avoid war is to create a socialist society. Think about it. But not for too long.
Clifford Slapper

Words and Men. — Part 5 (1934)

From the February 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

The romantic revulsion against industrial and commercial society had also a political aspect. Wordsworth expressed sympathy for the Jacobins and wrote in favour of the theories of the French Revolution, at least for a while; Byron was always ready to defend the underdog and in fact died fighting for the independence of Greece; Shelley never tired of attacking despotic and repressive politicians like Castlereagh. In France Lamartine was a prominent Reformist speaker and delivered fervently humanitarian orations; Victor Hugo attacked oppressive measures and red-tape officialdom, and was ultimately exiled for his denunciations of Napoleon III. These men were none the less Romantics; they were imbued with lofty and generous feelings, but those feelings were, on the whole, an avoidance of thought, not a means to it.

The Victorian age of English literature (about 1840-1880) marked the era of definite bourgeois ascendency. Industrial capitalism had found its feet and was at last firmly enthroned. The horrors of the Industrial Revolution were fading, and the god of Things as They Are could settle complacently on his throne, conscious that after all everything was for the best in the best of worlds.

This facile optimism pervades all Dickens' work, notwithstanding his exposure of bad conditions and appeals for reform. Though his characters are diverting and his novels full of entertaining scenes, he remains, from a social point of view, a charity-monger. Ruskin, who couched his hatred of ugliness and of unbridled competition in finely resonant prose, also trusted to charity or to philanthropic legal enactment for “the betterment of mankind." In poetry the great exponent of Victorian complacency was Tennyson, “the Lullaby Laureate"; although at times he could write melodious verse, he was also responsible for some of the most jingoistic ballads in the language. Browning also was in the main satisfied with the existing order, but he has far more scope and virility than Tennyson. The Jeremiah of the new order was Carlyle, an old-fashioned Tory soured by the changes of the Industrial Revolution. Thackeray, fascinated by social success but disillusioned with regard to human beings, produced vivid descriptions of town society tinged with satire.

In France, as capitalism developed, the pendulum swung from romanticism to the most fervent realism. Balzac, in the many volumes of his "Human Comedy" (1829-1850), attempted a vast canvas portraying every nook and cranny of contemporary bourgeois life. Flaubert sprang into instant fame in 1857 with his “Madame Bovary," one of the finest reproductions of small-town inanities, petty-bourgeois aspirations, and feminine neuroses ever written in novel form. In poetry Leconte de Lisle led the impersonal school which carried anti-romanticism to its highest peak with flawless descriptions of animals or scenery, sedulously avoiding any personal or individual reference. This was to a large extent an automatic reaction from the exuberances of Hugo and Lamartine; it had its roots in the increasing pace of production and sub-division of labour which were rapidly sapping the individuality of the mass of mankind.

Personal poetry, however, soon reappeared in the morbidly introspective, quiveringly sensitive, neurotically complex works of Baudelaire. “Flowers of Evil" appeared in the same year as “Madame Bovary," and caused an even greater scandal. The book is a perfect illustration of the emotional chaos and intellectual agony that ensue when an acutely sensitive and highly intelligent man finds himself unable either to conform to, escape from, or even comprehend a society which thwarts and dazzles him by turns.

Victorian smugness was followed by a colourful attempt to counteract the “filth of civilisation" by the pre-Raphaelite movement; there was one poet among them—Swinburne. He is chiefly noteworthy for his unrestrained abuse of the Church and his glorification of Garibaldi. Thus once more the irony of history turns things upside down: the hatred of developed capitalism takes the form of supporting those nationalist movements which are prerequisites to capitalist development.

Apart from attacks on capitalism in general, a swing away from conservatism made itself felt in Meredith—writer of novels, many of which pay little heed to social problems but yet do not take even high society circles over-seriously—and in Hardy, whose grimly realistic description pairs oddly with his mystical, brooding fatalism. Hardy attacked conservatism on the field of morals, and fled from the problems and squalor of industrialism to those of a well-nigh extinct peasantry.

One of the greatest enemies of capitalism in English literature was William Morris; although, perhaps, it is not his literary work that chiefly commands respect, it is important in that it bears throughout the imprint of his passionate detestation of all things capitalist and his unshakable conviction that the mass of men had in the past known happiness and would know it again, but to immeasurably fuller extent, under Socialism. Morris's influence in literature has been considerable, but not always fortunate. His Arts and Crafts movement, virile in his own hands, was emasculated when dissociated from an understanding of history and society.

Towards the end of the century the short story became popular in France with de Maupassant’s vital cameos of petty bourgeois society. Many of them are spicy, yet almost insipid. There is a hollowness about them as there is about the drawing-room life with which they deal. de Maupassant’s technique has never been bettered: he is a byword for economy of style—“everything that is necessary and nothing that is not.” At the same period Zola thrust the working-class into literature. Although he is often called a realist, for careful accuracy of description and vivid characterisation Zola ranks far below Flaubert and Balzac; he surpasses them, however, in his social vision, seeing society as a whole rather than in a series of pigeon-holes. He knew there was a class-war, and ranged himself with the exploited. “Germinal” and “Earth,” his best novels, deal with the aspirations and struggles of the miners and farm labourers respectively. Emotional about them he may be, even sentimental, but here is no charity-monger, nor a romantic flying to a Utopian past.

One of the greatest literary figures of this age, whether in France or England, was that delightful satirist, Anatole France. Scholarly, but never pedantic; restrained, but always pregnant with meaning; passionate without heat or violence, his polished sentences flow irresistibly over the whole field of human endeavour and submerge it in unquenchable irony. Ultimately his outlook is defeatist: he conceives man's stupidity to be ineradicable; but his delicate analysis of social movements, of historical incidents and of individual psychology, makes him rich and delightful reading for all critics of modern society. He has the venom of a Swift, the malice of a Voltaire, the delicacy of a Jane Austen, tempered by the experience of history and given enormous range by the complexity of modern life. “Penguin Island,” his masterpiece, was undertaken in order to “debunk” the Dreyfus case, but developed into a complete parody of French history. Its sly allusions, illuminating anecdotes and subtly ironical comments crowd too thickly upon the pages to be fully savoured at a first or even second reading. 

We have now considered English and French literature from the tenth century to the close of the nineteenth. Later and contemporary works will not be dealt with here. This is not a detailed history but a survey of tendencies exemplified by typical authors. Many figures of great interest must be excluded, for reasons of space. Moreover, in order to make known authors who are often passed over in spite of their significance, relative prominence has been given to men of earlier periods, as compared with recent writers with whom most readers are familiar.

Literature is essentially an outcome of human personalities. Personality itself is the action and reaction between a human physiology and its social environment—complexity reacting on complexity. Hence literature has room for an infinity of gradations and modifications. When we state that literature reflects the movements in society to which its economic basis, the mode of production, gives rise, we do not mean that they are reflected with the precision of a mirror, but rather as in the ruffled surface of a pond: the reflections may be shimmering and irregular in outline, but their main substance is unmistakable.
Stella Stewart