Thursday, June 24, 2021

The BNP advances – what does it mean? (2006)

From the June 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
The BNP gained seats in the May local elections because it put together a better package of lies than the mainstream parties
Despite recent claims to the contrary, the vast majority of British voters find the policies of the BNP nauseating. In the run up to the 2004 local and European elections and again during the 2005 general election, all manner of people, organised in their respective groupings, mobilised against them, from Labour and Conservative Party activists and the myriad left-wing groups, to student bodies, church groups and trade unions. Back in 2004, Searchlight, the anti-Nazi organisation, produced 28 versions of a newspaper targeting the BNP election campaign and distributed 1.5 million copies in areas where the BNP were perceived as posing the biggest threat. Prior to this year’s elections, Searchlight handed out 400,00 copies of their newspaper in 16 versions as well as quarter of a million postcards and again the left and the unions campaigned where the BNP were felt to be most active.

This time round, by all accounts, the panic was just as big as an in 2004. In the wake of a huge election push by the BNP, the anti-racist group Searchlight identified 18 key “battlegrounds” where the neo-Nazis had to be confronted. Other anti-racists groups observed how the BNP, standing 364 candidates, were as strong now than at any time since 1982, when it displaced the National Front as Britain’s favourite bone-head magnet. Ever the pessimists, anti-racist organisations believed BNP pre-election claims could be an underestimate and suggested that a 5 percent swing to the BNP could see them increase their tally of councillors to 70.

A YouGov poll conducted by the Daily Telegraph, prior to the elections, suggested the BNP was set to make “significant gains” in the elections. The poll showed that 7 percent of voters were ready to back the BNP and that some 24 percent had considered voting BNP in the past or were thinking of doing so now.

Regardless of how much these smiley-faced fascists claim to have changed their image, supposedly booting out the bone-headed troublemakers of yesteryear, they still represent the politics of hate – and their writings and statements still contradict the respectable shirt-and-tie image they try so hard to project.

For over six months BNP literature had been portraying the coming elections as a “Referendum on Islam”, linking the threat of Islamist terrorism in Britain to the Labour Government’s asylum and immigration policies and the war in Iraq. One BNP leaflet, handed out in the wake of the 7/7 bombings in London, declared: “If only they had listened to the BNP.”

Moreover, the BNP’s anti-Islam position has gained in prominence since Nick Griffin was acquitted of racial hatred charges at Leeds Crown Court back in February. It did not help that the judgment came at the same time as the hullabaloo over the anti-Muslim Danish cartoons and the consequent display by a handful of young Muslims dressed as suicide bombers and demonstrating in London, a coincidence that allowed the BNP to pass itself off as the champion of freedom of speech and all things British.

Overnight, the BNP moved further to the right in its anti-Moslem line of attack. Heartened by what they perceive as a lowering of tolerance for Islam, the BNP has become more obsessive. Speaking to the Observer, (24 April), Simon Darby, the man BNP leader Nick Griffin has appointed to take over should an appeal to re-convict him go ahead, said: “We are giving voice to the concerns of ordinary people, Yes, part of it is still about race.” Since 9/11 and 7/7, he says, “things have changed: the new issue is Islam”.

Two years ago the BNP were fortunate to ride a wave of patriotism – a tool they can use to great effect when it suits – in the run up to the election, with voters going to the polls as the 60th anniversary of D-Day was being commemorated and rammed down our throats every night on TV, and the English football team were gearing up to compete in Euro 2004 and when manufacturers were reporting sales of 4 million St George flags. This time round they could count on the nationalism whipped up by the World Cup taking place in Germany as well as the patriotism created by the Queen’s 80th birthday celebrations. And neither is their raw branch of nationalism that unique in today’s climate where the UKIP and the Conservative Party can make huge gains in the European elections on a “say no to Europe” platform, proclaiming the merits of British sovereignty, and where the Labour Party is all too ready to send British troops off to far away lands to protect the interests of Britain’s ruling elite.

Recent scandals within the mainstream reformist parties, particularly the Labour Party, and coming in election week, clearly helped boost the BNP vote and resulting in their tally of councillors leaping from 20 to 48. Not least of which was the Home Office fiasco involving the release of foreign prisoners from British prisons, many of whom went on to reoffend, and which played straight into BNP hands. The sleaze turned many would-be voters away from the polling stations too – something the BNP further capitalised on with their supporters making a point of going to the polls. For instance, the BNP claimed a surprising win from Labour in Solihull, when it won the Chelmsley Wood ward by 19 votes, taking its first fascist seat on the council there. But look closely and we see that in Chelmsley Wood 74 percent of the electorate never bothered turning up to vote.

In the borough of Dagenham and Barking, the sitting Labour Party MP, Margaret Hodge, clearly made the BNP look like the party of  the moment when she announced shortly before the election that she had discovered massive support for the BNP, offering that as many as 80 per cent of the electorate would vote for them. She commented: "That's something we have never seen before. They used to be ashamed to vote for the BNP. Now they are not." The media, of course, made much of this, with the BNP thriving on the oxygen of publicity.

Of course there were other factors at play in Dagenham and Barking, such as the government’s refusal to allow the council to build housing and the council’s allocation of housing on a points basis. The areas continuing deindustrialisation, marked by job losses in the docks and at the Ford plant in Dagenham, was also an issue the BNP could mobilise support around. Where the mainstream parties where seen as having let voters down, that was where the BNP found the greatest success.

Lord Tebbit, writing in the Daily Telegraph (21 April), had this to say about the BNP:
“I have carefully re-read the BNP manifesto of 2005 and am unable to find evidence of Right-wing tendencies. On the other hand, there is plenty of anti-capitalism, opposition to free trade, commitments to ‘use all non-destructive means to reduce income inequality’, to institute worker ownership, to favour workers’ co-operatives, to return parts of the railways to state ownership, to nationalise the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and to withdraw from Nato. That sounds pretty Left-wing to me.”
It certainly does sound like left wing reformism – but not Socialist – with the assumption being made that capitalism can be managed for the good of all.

Stuart Jeffries, considering Lord Tebbit’s comments in the Guardian, (28th April), remarked that: “the notion that the BNP might be considered left-wing shows the political vacuum that Labour has created. Not that many of those who will vote BNP next week want to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy. Rather, alienated from their traditional party by its shameless plutocracy and neglect of its core support, some white working-class voters will opt for a party that offers easy lies about their plight.” Suggesting that BNP support is rooted in the failure of mainstream reformism, Jeffries continued: “Blair may not be responsible for populist racism, but he and his party are responsible for putting despair in place of hope from politics for many, and thus making the election of racists likely in several British towns.”

Considering the views of the Labour and Conservative parties on asylum and the former’s part in so overtly upsetting the Islamic world in recent years, their concern for the apparent rising support BNP does seem a mite misplaced. Labour and the Tories may well abhor the policies of the BNP, but have been unsuccessful in confronting them where they have made significant political gains because to do so would mean acknowledging the shortcomings of a system they champion and which gives rise to the politics of race and hate.

The BNP is more the product of the total failure of all the reformist parties to make capitalism a fit society to live in. And this is not really the fault of the mainstream parties, for they are controlled by the system and not vice versa despite their claims and promises. When capitalism fails to deliver, when despondency and shattered hopes arise from the stench of the failed promises and expectations that litter the political landscape, is it any wonder that workers fall for the scapegoating bullshit of fascists and the quick fix they offer?

The hundreds of thousands of misinformed workers who fell for the BNP spiel in May are the products of the demoralising system we know as capitalism, deluded into thinking that neo-nazi solutions to social problems – which they have been led to believe are largely rooted in the colour of a person’s skin – would suddenly improve their miserable lives. In truth, a shortage of council housing and poorly maintained housing estates, low wages and pittance benefits are no more the fault of asylum seekers than, in fact, the mainstream parties who mistakenly believe capitalism can be run in the interests of the workers. At the end of the day the BNP simply put together a better package of lies and, just like the other reformist parties, promised voters little more than extra space at the trough of poverty – and tens of thousands, their minds numbed by the politics of reform fell for the scam.
John Bissett

Exporting Crime (2006)

From the June 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
The witch hunt against ex-prisoners from abroad shows that xenophobia is now more than ever official policy
It was in a desperate attempt to erase from the voters’ consciousness the idea that his party would ever be indulgent towards law breakers that Tony Blair and his opinion sculptors chiselled out the pledge that a New Labour government would be “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. That smooth phrase covered just about everything as far as crime went and it opened the way to a succession of Acts of Parliament which brought in new laws, regulations, surveillance and intrusions. Anti-Social Behaviour Orders had the effect of making many offences imprisonable when they had not been before. Procedural restraints on courts were relaxed to encourage offenders to plead guilty when they were innocent. New prisons have been opened in an attempt – unsuccessful as it happens – to gobble up those who fell foul of Labour’s new penal policies. If all this had any real effect on the crime figures it has not been persuasively obvious but in any case the idea behind it all was to convince the voters – who are so often the sufferers from crime – that, whatever the truth of the matter, New Labour was doing something about it; given time they would eliminate it altogether.

But a serious problem with snappy, headline-grabbing slogans – Homes Fit for Heroes, You Never Had It So Good, The Pound in Your Pocket – is that capitalist society has a nastily remorseless habit of undermining them. When that happens the slogan ceases to be voter-seductive and becomes instead a repellent embarrassment. This has been the case over the government’s record on deporting offenders who are foreign nationals on their release from prison. It did not sit easily with Blair’s promise to be tough on crime, that such people should be free; the implicit fear was that they would use this freedom to commit other, perhaps even more serious, offences. As the media frantically dug for evidence, Home Secretary Charles Clarke admitted that at least five of the released foreign prisoners had committed further drugs-related and violent offences; two others had been accused of rape, although in one case the charge had been dropped through lack of evidence.

Most damaging of all was the case of Mustaf Jama, who came here as an asylum seeker from Somalia and for that reason was not sent back to that country when he had served a three-year jail sentence for robbery. Jama is one of the prime suspects for the murder of the police officer Sharon Beshenivsky in Bradford. He cannot at present be charged with this murder because he seems to have fled to Somalia, although the fear that he would have been killed if he had been sent back there was enough to keep him in this country. Predictably, this fuelled the tabloid hysteria and encouraged the fantasy that the country was infested with foreigners who were using their early release from prison to rack up even more offences. The uproar became so loud and insistent that it cost Charles Clarke his job; in spite of Blair’s ritualistic assurances of boundless and never-dying confidence in him, Clarke was re-shuffled out of the Home Office and onto the back benches.

Another ritual was the official response to the pending storm of publicity. Last summer the Home Office admitted that there were some 400 released prisoners who under government policy might have been deported. But recently, in response to the determined chiselling away of the governmental wall of denial by the media and MPs, this figure was raised to 1023 – some of them convicted of murder, rape or child abuse. For a short time Clarke said that about 90 of these had been convicted of the “most serious” offences but one of the first actions of his successor John Reid was to raise this estimate to 150 and to elaborate by saying that to include those sentenced for robbery would put the total into “hundreds”. Almost by the day, the situation looked worse for the government. It is as well to bear in mind that this mess – partly a cumbersome, doomed attempt to distort the facts and partly a deliberate attempt to conceal the truth – was the work of the Home Office, which is so prominent in composing and enforcing the laws which are designed to instruct the rest of us in how to behave as the underclass in this society. The exposure of the concealment and the deception must have contributed to the Labour Party losing so many council seats in the recent local elections and perhaps, through the stimulation of a whole clutch of dangerous prejudices, to the relative success of the BNP.

When he was Home Secretary in the 1960s the late Roy Jenkins said that it would be unacceptable for the prison population to reach 42,000. Now it is fast approaching 78,000 which, although there are many more places available than there were in Jenkins’ day, is the officially defined maximum. The Prison Reform Trust has stated that of the 741 prisons 142 are occupied above the limits of health and safety. An ex-governor of Brixton, which is a typically hectic, stressful London prison, has said that too many people are being given custodial sentences; these were the words of a man whose reputation was as an unusually perceptive and humane holder of his office. However, during his time at Brixton a few prisoners managed to fiddle their way into an evening’s freedom; the matter came to light when they were apprehended trying to wangle their way back inside in time to avoid detection. It was the end of Brixton’s unofficial evenings at liberty and, when the outraged laughter had died down, of that governor’s regime there.

Attempts to explain the increase in the prison population are soon confronted with the fact that the property rights of capitalism make for a huge cobweb of repression and denial of access to human resources. Within that, as symptoms of class society, there is the fact that the incidence of crime can go up or down in response to a number of influences. One of them is that working lives and survival are as stressful, if not more so, than they have been for a long time. Another is that New Labour rhetoric about getting tough on offenders has resulted in stricter conditions on Community Orders and the courts, responding to the urgings from Downing Street, using prison sentences more often than in the past. Then there is the fact that female crime has increased, so that more women are going to prison. And there is the rise in custodial sentences on foreign nationals who come before the courts. Over the past five years this figure has increased by 75 per cent, while that for British nationals has gone up by 11 per cent.

The foreign nationals in British prisons originate in over 160 countries, among them Jamaica, Somalia, Afghanistan, Algeria. These are countries notable for violence and social instability. In some cases – for example Somalia and Sierra Leone – there are problems in deporting released prisoners because it is too dangerous to fly there. Jamaica is described by Amnesty International (and other organisations) as a place where “Violence and crime are rife (and where) Police officers are allowed to kill with impunity”. United States Embassy staff in Jamaica are officially advised to avoid the inner city area of Kingston and of other towns and not to use public buses. Unsurprisingly, some of the people who come here from these strife-torn places bring their own strategies of survival, which might entail breaking the law here. Drug offences – mainly trafficking – account for about 60 per cent of the prison sentences and for 80 per cent of women prisoners, many of whom have harrowing stories to tell, of the poverty and fear in their home country which persuaded them to accept the hazardous role of smuggling in the drugs. It is a sad, tragic picture which is not relieved by vengeful punishment.

New Labour’s response to this situation is to take powers to deport released prisoners wherever possible – they plan to make this an automatic procedure in future – which may relieve some very short term problems as it enables the government to pose as taking drastic measures which will reduce crime at a stroke and so boost their chances of being returned at the next election. But it takes no account of the fact that other countries can return British nationals (there are some 800 in EU jails at present). It will not affect the level of crime here by British nationals, which has proved impervious to government policies, because crime, like private property, poverty, repression, is endemic to capitalism. The policy of trying to export foreign criminals is presented as something considered, effective and durable when in fact, apart from stimulating some of the nastier delusions such as racism and xenophobia, it is another panicky episode of exhausted futility.

Japan: A woman for Emperor? (2006)

From the June 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
No male heir born in 40 years sparks a debate about bringing “gender equality” to the Japanese monarchy. What is the role of the Japanese monarchy? Would a female monarch be a step forward?
Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi is an unlikely advocate of women’s rights. But earlier this year the well-coiffed leader was keen to promote gender equality. Not for all women, mind you, or even a few, but rather a four-year-old girl known as Her Imperial Highness Princess Aiko. He supported an effort to revise the Imperial House Law that would allow her to “ascend” to the throne one day. Why this concern for the plight of royal women? Well, the fact that no male heir has been born for the past 40 years might just have something to do with it. Unless something is done, or a prince is born, the monarchy faces the prospect of withering away.

Koizumi responded to the succession crisis by setting up an advisory council in late 2004, which issued a report recommending that women and their descendants be granted the right of succession. The proposal had strong public backing and seemed uncontroversial, this being the 21st century. So it came as a surprise when right-wingers mobilized to oppose the reform. Considering that the reform was intended to save—not abolish—the monarchy, it seems strange that these “traditionalists” (to use a charitable term) are dead-set against it. But there is a certain logic that underlies their stance.

Some commentators have explained the fierce opposition to the reform as stemming from sexism, pure and simple. In a February 23 Asia Times article, J. Sean Curtis argued that the opposition to the reform, which he views as “a significant leap forward” for gender equality in Japan, “exposes the deep-seated anti-female bias at the heart of the Japanese establishment.” Certainly, those opposed to the reform are sexists. But in this case their motivation is not merely to keep women in their place, but to keep all Japanese workers in their place.

Above all, they treasure the monarchy as a valuable means of fostering nationalism. Their concern, often explicitly stated, is that casually throwing away one long-held dogma could threaten the entire ideology surrounding the “imperial household.” Suddenly admitting the triviality of male lineage, after harping on its importance for centuries, could raise other doubts, including the question of why a monarchy is even necessary. Monarchy enthusiasts found it hard enough to accept the idea that the emperor is not a deity, which Emperor Hirohito admitted in 1946. And some still haven’t let go of this idea, as reflected in Prime Minister Mori’s comment, in 2000, that “Japan is a divine nation, with the Emperor at its center.” Today, they are unwilling to make further sacrifices.

In particular, the traditionalists cling to the notion of an unbroken “eternal” line of succession on the paternal side stretching back 2,666 years. Starting on February 11, 660 B.C., to be exact. This “bloodline” is said to be the longest in the world and the very essence of Japan. Perhaps psychology can account for the odd fixation on length, but there is also a social explanation. The idea of continuity is comforting to the rulers of Japan. They have a vital interest in convincing workers that class-divisions will always exist—as symbolized by a distinction between royals and commoners. At the same time, almost conversely, the monarchy conveys the idea that all Japanese are part of a family headed by the emperor that transcends class. Of course, the “facts” mobilized to support this comforting and useful notion are not so convincing.

First of all, outside of Nazi scientific circles, anyone who harps on the importance of blood in relation to genealogy, not to mention its purity, is regarded as a fool. Even if “blood” is a synonym here for DNA, considering that every child is the product of a man’s sperm and woman’s egg, it is hard to see why the male side of this equation should be fixated on.

Turning from biology to history, the claims of the traditionalists hold up no better. The figure of 2,666 years is based on the first recorded histories of Japan, Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan). Both texts are a mixture of myth and historical fact, written in the early eighth century at the behest of the imperial family to boost its prestige. Given this patronage, it is not surprising that the authors were prone to exaggeration. Not only is the length of the imperial line stretched out considerably, but the origin of the Japanese monarchy is actually traced back to a sun goddess named Amaterasu. Those who rely on facts, rather than historical fiction, generally think that the first “emperor” (tenno) appeared some time around 400 AD. Unfortunately, carrying out such archeological research in Japan is impeded at every step by the Imperial Household Agency, which restricts access to tombs and artifacts.

The first emperors, whenever they existed, were hardly social types unique to Japan. Similar despots emerged throughout the world, as an early manifestation of class divisions. (In fact, there is speculation that the imperial family is of Korean origin.) And if older is better, as jingoists in Japan insist, they would have to bow down to lands where these religious/political leaders scratched and crawled their way to the top many centuries earlier. Granted, as our jingoists would surely point out, the Japanese monarchy stretches all the way to the present. But this is only because the emperor was grafted on to subsequent modes of production, whereas despots in other lands often had the good grace to exit the historical stage after playing their roles. The name tenno may remain—although even it was only coined in the eighth century—but the person bearing this title has been shaped by the times, tossed back and forth by the tides of history no less than the “commoners.”

Traditionalists speak of the imperial family as the core of the Japanese nation, but apart from the early centuries of real power, emperors have functioned primarily as figureheads. During the feudal Edo Period, for example, it was the Tokugawa clan, based in Edo (Tokyo) that ruled over a network of fiefdoms, while the Emperor rusticated in Kyoto. Some have argued that the 1868 “Meiji Restoration” (capitalist revolution) marked the emperor’s return to real power, but despite the emperor taking on new ideological significance under capitalism, his role has remained primarily symbolic; first as a unifying symbol wielded by the revolution’s leaders to forge a modern nation-state, and later as a bulwark against calls for greater democracy and as a tool to mobilize workers to fight imperialist wars. Even if we accept the argument that some emperors, most notably Emperor Hirohito, played an active political role, this does not deny that the ruling class as a whole utilized the emperor as a useful ideological tool.

Since the light of such historical facts erodes their cherished myths, the traditionalists’ campaign against the reform has relied heavily on scare tactics. The rank-and-file have been told that a female emperor would be more susceptible to manipulation by politicians or that “Japanese culture” is incompatible with a man playing second-fiddle to his empress wife. And their Japanese blood really boiled when former trade minister Takeo Hiranamu depicted a nightmare scenario, in which Princess Aiko becomes the reigning empress, “gets involved with a blue-eyed foreigner while studying abroad and marries him” so that their child becomes the emperor. Here we have Mein Kampf in reverse, with an “Aryan” peeing in the sacred gene pool.

Most of their energy was focused on attacking the reform, but the traditionalists did manage to offer a few solutions as well. One was to swell the ranks of royal welfare recipients by reviving the status of royals who were stripped of their titles after the war. The emperor’s cousin, Prince Tomohito, offered a more cost-effective solution. Quite unburdened by new-fangled notions of equality, he suggested the reintroduction of concubines, whose wombs could service the needs of crown prince and nation alike.

But before other solutions could be offered, the debate suddenly came to a halt in February. Whether they realized it or not, the opponents of reform had an ace up their sleeve in the emperor’s mustachioed second son, Prince Akashino. While the debate was raging, he set aside his research on catfish (I’m not joking!), to attend to a vital matter with his wife, Princess Kiko. The royal couple, already parents of two teenage daughters, announced that a third child is due in September. This revelation immediately silenced talk of reform—although the birth of another girl might rekindle interest in gender equality.

Compared to the insincere reformists, the traditionalists are refreshingly principled. They have little use for equality in general, not to mention gender equality, and do not conceal this fact. This is reflected in other efforts they are making to mold society, all supported by Koizumi, such as: revising the history textbooks so children “feel good” about Japan, forcing schools to display the national flag and students and teachers to sing the national anthem, encouraging politicians to visit the war-glorifying Yasukuni Shrine, or revising the Constitution to cut out the bits about democracy and human rights. Their message is simple: “Obey!” Although it remains to be seen whether this prewar template of nationalism, centered on the emperor, will be effective.

We have looked at unprincipled “reformists” and block-headed traditionalists, but what are we to make of those who genuinely saw the reform as a step, or even a leap, forward for gender equality? Can an institution based upon inequality become a beacon for equality between men and women?

Just posing this question highlights its absurdity. But more importantly, this view of an empress as a positive role model implies that achieving gender equality is primarily a matter of changing people’s way of thinking. This ignores the relation between the social system (capitalism) and the way people think and act. The continued existence of discrimination against women throughout the world suggests that there is such a relation. There is not space here to fully explain this, but in part gender discrimination stems from the general interest of capitalists to divide the working class, and the tendency of employers to hire a man over a woman if childbirth or raising a child might interfere with work.

To be fair, capitalism has contributed to gender equality by bringing large numbers of women into the workforce, to be exploited along with their male coworkers. And states are willing to introduce legislation to protect women’s rights when gender discrimination itself negatively affects the smooth functioning of the profit-making system. In Japan, for example, there is alarm over the extremely low birth rate. Unless the state opens the doors to foreign workers, which it is reluctant to do, it may have no choice but to improve working conditions so more women can continue working after childbirth. If this does occur liberals will be ready to supply the flowery rhetoric, but the fact remains that the state would be acting in the common interests of capitalists, not because their “way of thinking” suddenly changed. It is also worth remembering that the state giveth, and if conditions change, the state will gladly taketh away (or at least curtail) any right — whether it be health-care and pension benefits, shorter working hours, or women’s rights.

And even if capitalism could be reformed to eliminate gender discrimination forever, we would still be left with the inequities of this system. Capitalist equality is limited to the relation between buyers and sellers of commodities. Workers, as the sellers of labor-power, are also granted this right (although few commodity owners are swindled so regularly). This marketplace equality, however, conceals inequality within production, where workers have no choice but to work under, and enrich, the owners of the means of production (capitalists). Under this system, gender equality is nothing more equality between men and women as wage slaves. And even this remains a unfulfilled dream.

Socialists are serious about achieving equality—between men and women, and between all human beings—and recognize that true equality can only be achieved when humanity bids farewell to capitalism.

We Want Real Food (2006)

Book Review from the June 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

We Want Real Food’. By Graham Harvey, (Constable £9.99)

Criticisms of food production usually concentrate on the supermarkets: with their emphasis on selling homogeneous produce and driving down the prices they pay to the producers, they play a major role in depriving consumers of healthy and tasty food. The fast-food industry is also attacked for its bland tasteless pap. In this book, though, Graham Harvey points the finger of blame at the companies that produce artificial fertilisers.

It is true that life expectancy is far greater than it used to be and that diseases like TB and cholera are almost things of the past in Britain. But degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis are reaching epidemic proportions. Harvey ascribes this to a change in the make-up of the soil, owing to the increased use of nitrogen compounds in fertiliser, which itself has been pushed by the companies who make big profits from selling the stuff.

Traditional farming exploited the minerals in the soil that contributed to a healthy lifestyle, but modern methods have relied more and more on chemical fertilisers that destroy these nutrients. According to one study, for instance, carrots lost 75 percent of their magnesium and copper between 1941 and 1990.

Minerals have various roles in protecting and promoting human health: copper, for instance, is important for the functioning of the liver, brain and muscles, while selenium protects against the onset of a number of kinds of cancer.

Harvey’s solution is a programme to reintroduce these crucial minerals to the soil. But this will face a problem: “For the best part of half a century, the chemical industry has effectively vetoed every attempt to remineralize over-worked soils and restore the health benefits to everyday foods.” So “What’s needed is leadership – from farmers, retailers or politicians.” Effective government legislation could supposedly promote sensible agriculture and hence healthier and tastier food. But food production would still be at the mercy of the profit motive rather than be aimed at satisfying human need.

Assuming that Harvey’s science is on the right lines, he makes a convincing case for changing the way in which agriculture is organised, but the problem is that this cannot be divorced from how society as a whole is run. His website at is also of interest, though we wouldn’t recommend bothering to write to supermarkets asking them to change their ways.
Paul Bennett

Say What You Mean (2006)

Book Review from the June 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Unspeak’, by Steven Poole. (Little, Brown £9.99)

Which word would best describe those who use violence to oppose the US-UK occupation of Iraq? ‘Terrorists’ is condemnatory, while ‘resistance’ (with its echoes of those who opposed Nazi occupation in Europe) may register approval. Perhaps the most neutral term is ‘insurgents’. This is one of the examples that Steven Poole uses to show that choice of words is important, that the labels attached to people or ideas can affect attitudes towards them.

Socialists are well aware of this, of course, the very word ‘Socialism’ having been dragged through the mud of dictatorship and Labour Party politics. But Poole does have some instructive examples to discuss. For instance, Republicans in the US have been advised to talk about ‘climate change’, rather than ‘global warming’, on the grounds that the former is less frightening.

The UN General Assembly had in fact already used the euphemism of climate change, which does not specify in which direction the change is proceeding, under pressure from Saudi Arabia and the US, both which of which have interest in playing down the effects of burning fossil fuels.

Equally, ‘genetically engineered’ has often been replaced by cosier-sounding terms such as ‘genetically modified’ (usually shortened to ‘GM’), ‘genetically enhanced’ and ‘biotechnology foods’. And ‘ethnic cleansing’ sounds so much less nasty than the straightforward ‘genocide’.

In the mealy-mouthed platitudes of capitalism’s apologists, even military operations have to be given nice-looking names. Hence Operation Enduring Freedom (US invasion of Afghanistan) and Operation Just Cause (the invasion of Panama in 1989). The invasion of Iraq was going to be called Operation Iraqi Liberation, till someone realised that the initials spelled OIL!

The ‘war on terror’ is another snappy phrase, one which Poole regards as absurd because you can’t have a war against a tactic or technique. And this ‘war’ has itself given rise to a great many mendacious expressions. Think of ‘extraordinary rendition’, which refers to transporting supposed enemies to countries where they will be tortured: ‘rendering’ is a word used in industrial meat-processing, so perhaps the phrase is not so inaccurate after all.

‘Sleep management’ is what is more honestly known as ‘sleep deprivation’. And ‘abuse’ is used in place of the taboo word ‘torture’, so that the government responsible for torturing prisoners can take refuge in the position that it’s really only subjecting them to abuse.

It needs to be said that the reality of capitalism and its works is what’s really objectionable, not  the names that smell of roses but cover up the filth beneath.

Socialists have always called a spade a spade, not being frightened to expose capitalism and the capitalist class. But Poole’s book is a useful reminder of some of the ways in which defenders of the status quo go about their business.
Paul Bennett

Non-Market Socialism (2006)

Book Review from the June 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Marx’s Labor Theory of Value: A Defense’. By Hayashi Hiroyoshi. (Universe, 2005, $26.95)

It has always been our contention that it is the workings of capitalism, with the problems it causes those obliged to work for a wage or a salary for a living, that throws up socialist ideas and not just the educational and propagandistic activities of those workers who have already become socialists. This book is a confirmation of this.

Written by a member of a group that emerged from the student wing of the Japanese Communist Party in the late 50s and early 60s, it makes the point that money and value will disappear in a socialist society  because production will no longer be carried out by independent economic units (whether individual owners, capitalist corporations or state enterprises) and will no longer be for sale on the market.

It also expounds the view that the Russian revolution was not a “socialist” or “proletarian” revolution and that the regime it established was never socialist, but state capitalist from the start as, given the historical circumstances, capitalism was the only possible development.

As a book put together from articles written at different times, it suffers from a lack of flow, and some of the polemics in the earlier part of the book about the nature of value are obscure, being directed at authors not known in this part of the world even if well-known in Japan.

This said, there are useful discussions in later chapters on Adam Smith, the parts of Volume III of Capital devoted to interest, credit and rent, and on the two different definitions of “productive labour” to be found in Marx’s writings.
Adam Buick