Wednesday, May 25, 2022

A Socialist (1956)

From the May 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard 

A Socialist is a person who desires a new social system. That is to say, Socialism; a world-wide social order equalitarian in character, where the means of living are the common possession of all, and freedom of access to all that society can produce, and where full participation in all that society does is the norm: Of necessity it will be a society where free co-operation and organisation has been taken to its logical conclusion, and where coercion has died a natural death. For obviously in a world where one can help oneself freely to the needs of life there can be no economic domination of man over man, and all organisation must be of the free kind.

As Socialism will be a world-wide affair; it can only be brought about by Socialists throughout the world organising on a world-wide scale. In other words, a Socialist is not only a person who desires Socialism, but also a person who understands Capitalism in a general sense, and sees the need for working in an organised fashion to get rid of it, to replace the system with a Socialist one. What is even more to the point, is that a Socialist is one who not only works in an organised fashion to bring about Socialism, but who expects to work in an organised fashion within Socialist society.

Spivs, and layabouts, whether of the Capitalist variety or otherwise, can have no part in a Socialist society. Too often has the writer heard it said at meetings by a member of the audience; “ I am all for a world where I can help myself freely to whatever is produced, as I would be able to lie around all day.” Apart from the fact that no human being is naturally lazy, if a majority of people wanted Socialism and were in the above category it could not be established. For Socialism being a society where all people's needs will be satisfied; this can only take place if there is a majority of people throughout the world who understand that they must co-operate together to produce enough to satisfy all people’s needs. In other words FREE ACCESS. This state of affairs could not be brought about by a bunch of people who only want to laze around.

To recapitulate, Socialism can only be brought about throughout the world by a majority of people who understand the system under which they live. Understand what it is they are going to put in its place; desire it and are prepared to co-operate in an organised fashion to establish such a system, and work within it, once it is established.

Anyone who agrees with what has been briefly outlined above should contact the nearest branch, for only Socialists who are organised can bring about Socialism.
Jon Keys.

The Passing Show: Success . . . . (1956)

The Passing Show Column from the May 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

Success . . . .

State Capitalism marches on from triumph to triumph. British European Airways last year turned 1954’s loss of £400,000 into a profit of £862,000 (The Star, 28-2-56). And hard on the heels of this announcement comes the news that the British Overseas Airways Corporation almost doubled its net profit in the financial year 1955-56. It made a gross profit of about £1,750,000 on the year, and a net profit of about £500,000. This compared with last year’s net profit of £260,000 (The Observer, 1-4-56). These successes will no doubt make those staunch Labourites, who for years devoted themselves to bringing about the nationalization of the country's basis industries, feel very proud. Or will they?


. . . .  for the Capitalists

The Socialist Party has consistently pointed out for more than half a century that nationalization is no more than Capitalism run by the State or its nominees. It has nothing to do with Socialism. And the more experience the country has of the actual running of nationalization, the more it becomes obvious that what the Socialist Party has always said about it is true. Now even social anthropologists, quietly pursuing their studies far removed from the hurly-burly of political conflict, arrive at the same conclusion. Norman Dennis, Fernando Henriques and Clifford Slaughter, have written a book embodying the results of their researches into the life of a Yorkshire mining town. “They found that"—to quote a review in The Times (54-56)—“they found that, in the mines, the old fundamental conflict between management and men has continued, and that the system of piece-work payments gives occasions every day for conflict between worker and management.” Of course it does. It is merely one aspect of the class struggle. The review of the book (“Coal is our Life”) goes on:
  "The miner remains an employee, and whether or no he works is still dependent on the capacity of owners of capital to cater for him.”
The Socialist case could hardly be put more clearly than that. The worker is propertyless; therefore he is forced to sell his ability to work to the “owners of capital": and if the owners of capital cannot make a profit out of his work, they will not employ him, and so he is not allowed to work at all. Instead he goes on the dole, and his physical energies and mental faculties rot together. And this is the case whether he works in an industry run by private or by State capitalism.

And yet—probably on the very day you buy this paper—the left-wing political parties hold May-Day demonstrations to demand further doses of nationalization! Will they never learn?


Sales Manager

The barnstorming tour of Mr. Malenkov through Britain has been providing journalists with a lot of copy during the past week or two. Patting children on the head, switching on a wide grin for the photographers, scattering “peace-medals” like confetti at a wedding, he has been arousing the ire of some political commentators who fear he may make Russia too popular. This situation is not without its humour. For the reports of Mr. Malenkov's doings—not forgetting his occasional gaucheries, such as asking an Ayr workman what he thought of Burns—are highly reminiscent of election-time, when the candidates of the big parties go cap in hand to the electors to solicit their votes. And the aforementioned commentators, none of whom complain about the activities of Parliamentary candidates who support the British ruling class, are now hoarsely indignant that Mr. Malenkov may win backing for the Russian ruling class by using the same dubious tactics. But what is sauce for Sir Anthony Eden and Mr. Gaitskell is also sauce for Mr. Malenkov—as well as for Messrs. Bulganin and Khrushchev, when they follow in Malenkov's footsteps; and only those who have criticised the electioneering tactics of the British political leaders have any right to criticise the same tactics now being employed by the Russians.


I see it all now

Mr. Malenkov has come to Britain at a crisis in the fortunes of the world's Communist Parties. The present leaders of the Soviet Communist Party have severely attacked the Stalin legend, and have boldly said about their late master what nearly everyone else has been saying about him for the last 30 years. And the Communist Party of Great Britain has. naturally, followed suit. The poor old British Bolsheviks have had to perform the about turn so often that, in revolutions per minute, they must now be challenging the internal combustion engine. Mr. Pollitt is reported to have fobbed off questions with the remark that, if Stalin hadn’t made any mistakes, he wouldn’t have been human. The accuracy of this remark is unchallengeable; but what a pity Mr. Pollitt didn’t have the guts to say so ten years ago, instead of spending his time kissing the ground in front of the great Stalin myth.

It may be that, for some time at any rate, Russia will be ruled by a committee of men instead of by one man. Developing Russian Capitalism seems to require—like developing English and French Capitalism required—a totalitarian regime at a certain stage; and it appears that the Russian ruling class has now decided that the “leadership” cult has been overdone. But committee-rule would not make Russia any more democratic. The powers of a police state like Russia may be exercised, just as effectively by ten men as by one. It is easy enough, for Communists inside and outside Russia, to criticise a fallen idol; but Russians will not have freedom of speech until they are at liberty to challenge the false theories of social development to which Communists have committed themselves, and to discuss publicly whether the Russian system is Socialism, or whether— as is in fact the case—it is merely State Capitalism.


Seconds out of the ring

So the British Royal Family has declined invitations to attend the forthcoming Royal Wedding of the Year (on my right, Prince Rainier, title-holder of Monaco; on my left, Grace Kelly, star attraction from Philadelphia and Hollywood). Which is curious. One would have thought the few remaining royalties would try to consolidate the ranks. But there may be an explanation. For when the crowds cheered at the Philip-Elizabeth wedding, and subsequently at the Coronation, the commentators rushed forward to tell us why. It was (we were told) Loyalty, the great throbbing Loyalty of the British people to its monarch. But now the same British people is showing just as much interest in the wedding of Rainier and Kelly—the representatives respectively of the Monte Carlo gaming-tables and the Californian arc-lights. Can it be that life within Capitalism is so drab that the British people would enthuse over anything which offered a little glamour, gaiety and colour, and that this much-vaunted Loyalty doesn't come into it?


Exit Ceylon

While we’re on the subject of loyalty, a word about Ceylon. When the Queen undertook the round-the- Empire tour after the Coronation, nowhere was she more enthusiastically received than in Ceylon. Ah! said the experts—loyal Ceylon! But the results of Ceylon’s general election now show a landslide in favour of Mr. Bandaraniake's Party, which promised to make Ceylon a Republic outside the Commonwealth. In other words, the Ceylon ruling class, having freed itself from the control of the British ruling class after the war, is in no mood to retain the trappings of the British monarchy.

And once again the experts are proved wrong.


Chip that Buddha

When a ten-foot high Buddha was being moved by cane into a new temple in Bangkok recently it fell, and the plaster casing was chipped; beneath the casing the Buddha was seen to be made of gold (Sunday Express, 8-4-56). Now, it seems, the Buddhist temples of Siam are full of hurrying priests and laymen carrying hammer and chisel, purposefully bent on seeing whether their own Buddhas conceal the same treasure-trove. Mingled with the prayers of the worshippers comes the sound of the gold-hungry faithful attacking their hitherto inviolate idols. Meanwhile, the original monks are finding that they struck a gusher; offerings to the golden Buddha are pouring in like a pools-entrant’s dream, and already amount to nearly £20,000.

It is easy to sneer at these remarkable events; but surely there is here a message for us all. Beneath the outward show, and doctrinal differences, we can find here a text on which both Christians and Buddhists obviously agree. What text?

To him that hath shall be given,


How revolutionary can you get ?

It was suggested by a delegate at the Co-operative Party conference that no person should inherit more than £20,000 from any source (Sunday Express, 1-4-56). So instead of comparatively few big Capitalists, we should have a greater number of medium-sized Capitalists. What a suggestion with which to arouse the revolutionary fervour of the working class on the approach of May-Day!
Alwyn Edgar

The Matter with Marriage (1956)

From the May 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

Forty-five years ago, only one marriage in 500 ended in divorce in this country. In 1954, 6.7 per cent.—nearly one in 15—went that way. The figure has risen inexorably, and the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce, which has just published its report, was set up in 1951 to enquire into the situation "having in mine the need to promote and maintain healthy and happy married life.”

The trend is, in fact, world-wide. Britain’s divorce rate is lower than those of France. Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. Highest of all is the U.S.A.. and the lowest figures, as would be expected, are for countries with large Catholic populations to whom divorce is forbidden: Canada. Belgium and Scotland. In addition, there is a steady smaller number of decrees of nullity and judicial separation. Most divorce petitions are granted: of 28,347, which were filed in Britain in 1954. only 1,094 failed to obtain decrees nisi.

Divorce had no legal existence a century ago. Before and after the Reformation, ecclesiastical courts dealt with matrimonial affairs and granted separations in exceptional cases, but there was no means of dissolving a marriage. In the 18th and early 19th centuries it could be done by Private Act of Parliament; a procedure referred to by the Royal Commission of 1850 as “ open . . . to anyone who was rich enough to pay for it.” The first legislation allowing for the dissolution of marriage was the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857. It permitted a husband to apply for divorce because of his wife’s adultery; women were given no such facilities until 1923. And—despite another Royal Commission’s recommendations—adultery remained virtually the sole ground for divorce until 1937, when desertion, insanity and cruelty were added.

The principle on which the current divorce law is founded is termed by the Commission “the doctrine of the matrimonial offence”; that is, the viewing of certain acts as being wholly incompatible with the accepted basis of a marriage. The alternative principle, urged by a number of people, is that of “breakdown of marriage,” and any substantial alteration to the divorce law would mean introducing this. The Commission was not in favour of it, and its report is therefore disappointing to would-be reformers; apart from some minor recommendations, it provides simply a survey.

The Commission's explanations of the spread of divorce are familiar ones. They include housing difficulties, the emancipation of women, the loss of moral standards, the complexity of modern life and, most strongly emphasized of all, failure to take the responsibilities of marriage seriously. The remedies, in their view, are educating and encouraging the individual “to do his duty by the community” and increasing the facilities for “marriage guidance.” In the entire Report, which is longer than most books, there is not a word concerning the real place of the family as an economic unit of society, and the real reasons why its disintegration has become a social problem.

The Commission says: 
“The Western world has recognized that it is in the best interests of all concerned —the community, the parties to a marriage and their children—that marriage should be monogamous and that it should last for life. That may be so (though the fact that nearly half a million people in the Western world are obtaining divorces every year suggests that some of the Western world does not recognize it); in any case, it is not saying much. Society never recognized that marriage should be monogamous and life-lasting until it was monogamous. The fundamental, important point is that monogamy is one form of marriage; there have been others, each in accord with a different stage of human development, each with its own moral code showing clearly that it, too, has been “ in the best interests of all concerned.”
The monogamous family as it is ideally conceived belongs really to the Middle Ages, bound by tenure and tradition to its land or occupation. It was economically indissoluble—the reason why, on the surface, it was legally so. As an institution, it was carried op into industrialism. The status of the worker here was different, however: instead of being bound to his land, his village or his craft, he was now a "free” labourer. Thus, the family had remained but without its former economic ties: it had become dissoluble.

In fact, relatively few divorces were obtained by working people in the 19th century. For one thing, they were expensive! for another, the severely localized character of 19th-century industry made masses of workers dependent upon one town and one factory almost as feudal serfs had been on their land. Even until quite recent times, entire families worked in particular mills—“their own”—in the cotton and woollen towns. Men grew up, met their wives and later sent their children to work in the same mill, and when that mill closed down they were unemployed until it was opened again.

The family has disintegrated simply because its economic function has changed; so, consequently, has traditional sexual morality. Morality is the code of behaviour which a society produces to safeguard its institutions, and when the institutions decline, so does the morality. Sexual morality has always aimed at keeping the family intact, and its lack of observance today is effect, not cause. The people to whom it remains vital are those whose status requires the careful maintenance of family life.

It is easy to quote figures and overlook that each one represents a person. Thirty thousand divorces (a year’s yield in England) means 30,000 histories of unhappiness, and that is a horrifying thought. The Royal Commission speaks of “the complexity of modern life” which “multiplies the potential causes of disagreement and the possibilities of friction between husband and wife.” It is not a Commission’s, nor this article’s function to give “human stories”; nevertheless, it is worth reflecting a moment on the things which society can do (that is what “the complexity of modern life” means) to two people who started full of fondness and desperately good intentions.

The individual failings and misfortunes which, in the Commission’s view, cause unsuccessful marriages, are in reality facets of larger problems. The lack of adequate housing, the search for financial security at all costs, the refusal to have children—all are aspects of poverty. Harmony has a hard time in two rooms; equally, it lacks scope in a house with a high rent, instalments to pay, and a host of demands made by a society which “recognizes that marriage should be monogamous and that it should last for life.” The Commission considers that much of the increase in divorce is because “many people can now get a divorce who could not get one before.” That does not really improve the picture: it suggests, in fact, that there are many more unhappy marriages among people who, because of pride, respectability or religious belief (among many more reasons) still can’t get one.

One other aspect of present-day marriage needs to be mentioned: the commercialism which pervades it as everything else in our world. The Royal Commission would have been nearer the point if they had mentioned the sale of canned illusions about marriage instead of complaining that people are too light-hearted about it. The modern young woman has been taught she hasn't a hope without the right perfume and the right foundation; the modern young man knows he must express himself in endearments from the film card-indexes; they both know that they need a contemporary bedroom suite, and they may not have the lolly of Miss Kelly and the Prince but they love each other just as much.

The problems involved are not ones which can be solved by amendments to existing legislation; the important thing is the social condition which leads to 30,000 divorces a year. Once, the monogamous family was a secure, unquestioned institution; changing economic conditions have taken its stability away and commercialized what is left, and the result is a lot of unhappiness for ordinary people who mostly never know what went wrong. The answer to this, as to all the other problems of the present day, is to establish a social basis on. which neither the misery of poverty-stricken or ill-suited marriages nor the purposeless muck-raking of divorce suits can be founded.

The Royal Commission’s function has been to consider what may be done to keep marriage going as an institution of property. Their assumptions about it were, as they say, “implicit in our terms of reference" that is, they did the work they were told to do, and thus are unable to suggest a solution to the problems raised. See marriage as one institution among the property relationships of present-day society, and it becomes a different matter. The obvious and rational solution then is to do away with all those relationships—that is, with the Capitalist system itself—so that human happiness and not gain will be the sole motive of social organization.

What can be said about relations between men and women in such a society is, as Engels says in “The Origin of the Family" (read it), “ limited for the most part to what will disappear.” Not much needs to be said, in any case: only that they will want each other as men and women, and not as housekeepers (which is only too true) or as dream-substitutes (which turns out disappointingly) or as highly-paid employees (which is what some of the better-to-do make of their wives and then are astonished when they behave as such).
Robert Barltrop

No Socialism in Russia (1956)

Editorial from the May 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is very important to the Socialist Party of Great Britain that there should be no confusion about the state of affairs in Russia. The aim of the S.P.G.B. is to see Socialism established everywhere but our propaganda for Socialism is hampered by the belief, held by some people, that Socialism means the kind of social arrangements that existed in Russia under Stalin and exist still. There is no truth in this whatsoever. There is no Socialism (or Communism) in Russia, nor has there ever been.

What Russia has is a regime of dictatorship, administering what can best be described as a largely State Capitalist social system. The State apparatus is controlled by the Communist Party of Russia, the only political party that is allowed to exist in that country. Farcical so-called elections are held, but, as the workers of Russia are not allowed to form political parties of their own choice, only members of the Communist Party and those approved by them are permitted to stand at election and be elected. This is an issue by which to assess the recent talk of changed conditions in Russia. Stalin is dead and some of his actions have been repudiated but it is still the case that no political party is allowed to exist in Russia except the Communist Party. It was over 20 years ago that Stalin had to admit to some visiting Americans that in Russia “only one party, the party of the workers, the Communist Party, enjoys legality." (“Interviews with Foreign Workers’ Delegates". Published in Moscow 1934, p. 13).

The same idea had been pithily put still earlier by Bukharin, who declared that in Russia there is room for any number of political parties, as long as one is in power and the others in prison.

The British Communist Party has just reaffirmed its confidence in the Communist Party of Russia. Let it clearly be understood that this is a renewed declaration of support by the British Communist Party for a regime that suppresses all independent working class political activity. While this condition remains it is idle to pretend that the new rulers of Russia are showing evidence of a changeover from dictatorship to more democratic arrangements.

In asserting that there never has been Socialism in Russia the S.P.G.B. is not making a late discovery. Right from 1917 when the Communists were able to get power in Russia it has been emphasised by the S.P.G.B. that Socialism had not been established in that country. Our declaration on this point and our explanation of the reasons were placed on record in the columns of the Socialist Standard and a selection of the articles was reproduced, unchanged, in the pamphlet Russia Since 1917" (114 pages, 1/-, post free l/½).

The reader who wishes to know what has been the attitude of the Socialist Party towards events in Russia under the Communist Party dictatorship is referred to that collection of articles. He will see there that the Socialist Party in aim and in method has nothing in common with the Communist Parties of Russia and other countries.

Which are the biggest? (1956)

From the May 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

Do you know the name of the biggest company in Great Britain? Or the names of the first three? Or of the first ten?

On page 78 are listed the names of the top 25 companies, as given in a recent survey. How many of them can you place?

To be quite fair, we must mention that the survey confines itself to public companies, i.e., those with shares quoted on the Stock Exchange, and to companies trading mainly in the United Kingdom. This means, for example, that big companies like Shell and the British American Tobacco Company are excluded.

Love and Marriage (1956)

From the May 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “Look closely into the homes of those who struggle to keep and educate two children, those whose job depends upon their appearance of affluence. Behind the scenes you will find financial strain, real poverty, self-denial, and at an early age, contraception and all its mental stresses and physical disappointments. It is the spirit of home life and parenthood which suffers. Love itself is starved and often blamed for its own decline. When love goes, anything may go, but worst of all, the most glorious gift of womanhood remains inhibited and immature. The spirit of motherhood is never fully developed; our social system is gradually crushing the most powerful force for real goodness that is known to the human race.”
(From Childhood Without Fear, page 216, by Dr. Grantly Dick Read, M.A., M.D. Heineraann Medical Books.)

Voice From The Back: The realities of war (2011)

The Voice From The Back Column from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

The realities of war
 
War is often depicted in films, books and TV as a heroic endeavour, that brings out the best in human beings. We are taught to believe that war produces heroic bravery and sacrifice, but the realities of war are far from noble. When President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan the cost of that conflict – $2 billion (£1.2 billion) a week must have figured large in his decision. “Much less discussed are the invisible costs such as the psychological strain on soldiers who have served repeatedly in Iraq and Afghanistan. One in five returning troops is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Suicides in the US military are at unprecedented level – an average of five troops attempt suicide every day, says the PTSD Foundation of America, based in Houston. Last year a record 301 soldiers committed suicide” (Sunday Times, 3 July). War is not heroic it is just another tragedy of capitalism. 
 

War propaganda 
 
One of the illusions that capitalist governments like to foster is the notion that although war may be awful and inhumane at least their side always behave impeccably. A recently published book Scorched Earth, Black Snow: Britain and Australia in the Korean War, 1950 by Andrew Salmon seems to explode that myth. “British and Commonwealth soldiers fighting in the Korean War looted and burnt villages, shot dead wounded enemy soldiers, and killed Korean civilians and prisoners of war in cold blood according to new accounts by veterans of the conflict” (Times, 17 June). The war which took place from June 1950 until July 1953 was a particularly bloody affair. It is estimated that 1,078 British, 40,000 American, 46,000 South Koreans, 215,000 North Koreans and 400,000 Chinese were killed. The idea that capitalism’s conflicts can be carried out in a humane, decent fashion is of course a fallacy. 
 

The wasteful society 
 
One of the illusions beloved of supporters of capitalism is that while it may have problems it is the most efficient way to run society. So what do those lovers of capitalism make of the following news item? The Indian government fearing a potential shortage of grain banned its export in 2007 and this combined with a bumper crop this year has left them with a bizarre problem. “Millions of tons of grain – enough to feed more than 100 million for a year – are at risk of rotting because India’s stockpile is too big to be held in government warehouses. …Prakash Michael, who works for Spandan, a non-governmental organisation in Madhya Pradesh, said: ‘On the one hand, they have grain rotting in stockpiles and, on the other, people are still dying of starvation in India’” (Times, 30 June). That is capitalism’s efficiency in action for you.
 

Some chilling facts
 
Politicians are fond of painting a picture of social improvement. They love to tell us how lucky we are to live in a modern progressive Britain. The latest figures about the plight of the old and poor show what a piece of fiction this will prove to be this winter. “One in five households in fuel poverty as energy prices soar. 5.5m homes spend over 10% of income on fuel, and bills will rise further to fund new power networks. Figures show a huge rise in UK households in fuel poverty, even before expected rises in the price of gas and electricity, and charities predicted that this winter would see millions more people struggling to keep warm at home. The Department of Energy and Climate Change statistics show 700,000 more UK families fell into fuel poverty in 2009, bringing the total to 5.5 million – one in five of all households” (Guardian, 15 July).  
 

Same page, different worlds
 
That we live in an ugly class-divided society was well summed up on one page of a recent issue of the Times. There on page 41 was an advert for Medicins Sans Frontieres begging for funds to deal with the awful threat of millions dying on the frontiers of Somalia and Kenya of malnutrition and lack of clean water. On the same page we could read of the lavish preparations for the 40th birthday party of Nat Rothschild that is taking place in Porto Negro and is expected to cost £1 million pounds. “Set to inherit £500 million, Mr Rothschild has already notched up a fortune of $1 billion (£620 million) on his own account” (Times, 9 July).





Letter: An Anarchist Replies (2011)

Letter to the Editors from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
We have received the following criticism from Iain McKay, the editor of the collection of articles by Proudhon that we reviewed last month. Our reply follows.
I was under the impression that a reviewer should actually read the book that they claim to be reviewing. Apparently ALB (Socialist Standard, July 2011) does not think so – how else to explain his demonstrably wrong comments on my Proudhon anthology Property is Theft!
 
You proclaim that Proudhon’s argument in What is Property? “wasn’t as radical as it might seem since what he was criticising was the private ownership of land”. True, it states the land is a “common thing, consequently unsusceptible of appropriation” but it also proclaims that “all accumulated capital” is “social property” and so “no one can be its exclusive proprietor” and that “all property becomes…collective and undivided” (Property is Theft!, 118, 105, 137). Positions he subsequently repeated: “under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership” (377). 
 
Your use of “currency crank” shows that you simply do not understand Proudhon’s ideas, likewise when Proudhon is proclaimed “a free marketeer, bitterly opposed to ‘communism’ in the same terms and language as other free marketeers”. Strangely, I’ve yet to find a “free marketeer” who would acknowledge your admission of Proudhon’s “insight that under the wages system the producers were exploited” or argue for “the abolition of property” (254) as well as a federation of workers associations to end capitalist exploitation (712) and for “disciplining the market” (743). Still, you proclaim in your best ex cathedra tones that market socialism “is the economic equivalent of a square circle” which is something they would agree with…
 
The “communism” Proudhon was attacking was that of the Utopian Socialists and Louis Blanc – highly regulated, centralised systems in which liberty was not the prime aim. I was under the impression Marxists shared Proudhon’s opposition to that kind of “communism”. Anarchists who, like myself, are libertarian communists need not “plough through his rambling writings” to discover that Proudhon “was a life-long and bitter opponent of ‘communism’” as I discuss this in my introduction and explain why subsequent anarchists rejected his position. I also discuss that “he was a gradualist” and why later anarchists rejected this. 
 
Similarly, you completely ignore Proudhon’s critique of statist democracy in favour of proclaiming he “was opposed to government, even a democratically-constituted one, making rules about the production and distribution of wealth”. As Property is Theft! shows, his actual position was that a democracy reduced to electing a few representatives in a centralised system would not be a genuine one. Instead, he advocated a decentralised federal self-managed system – precisely what the Paris Commune introduced and Marx praised in 1871. But the Paris Commune, like so much, does not warrant a mention by you.
 
Was Proudhon “on the wrong track”? Partly, as my introduction suggests. But did I suggest he was completely right? No: “While we should not slavishly copy Proudhon’s ideas, we can take what is useful and…develop them further in order to inspire social change in the 21st century” (51). Marx did precisely that in terms of economic analysis and the Paris Commune.
 
Needless to say, Marx’s followers seem keen to deny that. Hence your statement that I am “on to a loser here” as Proudhon cannot be “compared with Marx” particularly as “most anarchists accept Marx’s analysis of capitalism”. Yet as I proved much of what passes as “Marxist” economic analysis was first expounded by Proudhon. Still, I can understand why you fail to mention that awkward fact…
 
You may proclaim Proudhon “an anti-socialist” but that will only convince those who think communism equals socialism. For those interested in the evolution of socialist ideas in the 19th century, Proudhon cannot be ignored nor dismissed given his contributions to both anarchism and Marxism. That is why Marx spent so much time attacking him, often dishonestly, while appropriating his ideas. 
 
So I do find it appropriate that you uncritically mention Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy given that your “review” follows it in distorting Proudhon’s ideas (as I show). It is sad to see Socialist Standard continuing that shameful legacy. Suffice to say, you can disagree with Proudhon’s ideas (as I do for some of them), but at least do so accurately. I had expected better.
Iain McKay 
 

Reply:
Proudhon’s arguments against property are mainly against property in land but he does also mention, as you point out, “accumulated capital” as not being entitled to a property income as it’s the product of labour. But he no more objects to private “possession” of capital (i.e. the right to use it but without the right to a property income from it) than he does to the private possession and use of land. He later developed this into his key theory that interest as well as rent should be abolished. In fact his book could well have been entitled “Property Income is Theft”.
 
We imagine that his view that rent, interest and profit derive from the unpaid labour of the producers is one of those you claim Marx copied from him. But Marx never made any claim to have originated this view himself. In fact in The Poverty of Philosophy he says that Proudhon didn’t either but that it was first put forward by English writers in the 1820s and 1830s such as Thomas Hodgskin, William Thompson and John Bray.
 
We are surprised that you object to Proudhon being described as a “free marketeer” since he clearly stated that, once his interest-free credit scheme had been implemented, there should be no government interference in the workings of the economy. This is openly admitted by present-day “Mutualists” (as he called his scheme). See http://mutualist.blogspot.com/ which proclaims that it stands for “free market anti-capitalism”.
 
As to his views on communism, we’ll let him speak for himself:
 “Communism is inequality, but not as property is. Property is the exploitation of the weak by the strong. Communism is the exploitation of the strong by the … In communism, inequality springs from placing mediocrity on a level with excellence. This damaging equation is repellent to the conscience, and causes merit to complain … [C]ommunism violates…equality…by placing labour and laziness, skill and stupidity, even vice and virtue on an equality in point of comfort” (McKay’s book, p. 132).

“Communism shunned, that is the real meaning of the 1848 election. We no more want community of labour than we do community of women or community of children!” (p. 317).

“The proprietor, by interest on capital, demands more than equality; communism, by the formula, to each according to his needs, allows less than equality: always inequality; and that is why we are neither a communist nor a proprietor” (p. 491).

“From each according to his capacity, To each according to his needs. Equality demands this, according to Louis Blanc […] Who then shall determine the capacity? Who shall be the judge of the needs? You say that my capacity is 100: I maintain it is only 90. You add that my needs are 90: I affirm that they are 100. There is a difference between us of twenty upon needs and capacity. It is, in other words, the well-known debate between demand and supply” (p 557).
This is not just a criticism of the utopian communist schemes of his day but of the very principle of communism and “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”. – Editors

Material World: Do They Know It’s Capitalism? (2011)

The Material World column from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Everybody knows that, despite the best efforts of scientists, nobody can predict the next natural disaster with any confidence. That’s one reason why planners and decision-makers don’t take better precautions, a fact which gives critics good reason after the event to mount their telescopic hindsights and take aim. Given the same science, socialism would obviously be no better at prediction. The question is whether it would be more careful in taking precautions.

The United Nations currently tries to take a formal Health & Safety approach to the subject, with risk assessments, control measures and all the other tedious but important policies workers know from the workplace (UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction at http://www.unisdr.org/who-we-are/what-is-drr). But, as workers will know from their own workplaces, the devil is in the enforcement. In a private property society one simply does not have the option of moving a population from a high-risk area to an adjacent low-risk one. Nor is the UN able to force national governments to comply where spending money is involved, despite the financial costs of ignoring the problems. According to the UNISDR, the year 2011 was already, by July, the highest ever loss-year on record, largely thanks to the Sendai earthquake, but the general trend is worsening: ‘the risk of economic loss is now rising faster than wealth creation’. According to an Oxfam report last year, 250 million people a year are affected by natural disasters of which around 98 percent are weather-related. And they are getting worse. The rate of weather disasters in poor countries has tripled since 1980, one suspected cause being climate change (http://www.350resources.org.uk/ 2011/05/23/).

But how ‘natural’ are these natural disasters? The report’s author is scathing on the matter: 
‘There is nothing natural about poor people being on climate’s front line. Poverty, poor governance, patchy investment in the preparation and prevention of disasters all stack the odds against the most vulnerable. The future is going to be very bleak for millions of poor people without a shake-up of the ways we prepare and respond to disasters, and without real progress on reducing poverty and addressing climate change.’
In its obsessive attention to individual bank balances, capitalism cannot even respond properly when a ‘natural’ disaster threatens not thousands but millions, when the imminence is well established, and when the cause is known and the solutions are straightforward.

People older than 40 will clearly remember the Ethiopia famine of 1984-5, the iconic, tragic pictures, the gut-wrenched reports from seasoned reporters fighting down tears, the gradual, dawning realisation by the whole world of a disaster of biblical proportions, the Live Aid concerts, Feed the World and Do They Know It’s Christmas? The UN estimated that eight million people were affected in that famine and that one million died. It seems almost beyond comprehension that, in spite of the songs and the sentiments and the coins in the tin, the world could allow the same thing to happen to the children and grandchildren of those survivors.

At the time of writing the developing crisis in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Djibouti is not on any front pages yet already is being described as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. With up to twelve million people affected it threatens to dwarf the 1984-5 famine. Nature, in one of its typically mercurial moods, decided to prolong its dry La Niña cycle so that the rains have failed for the last three successive rainy seasons, making it the worst regional drought in 60 years. As famine takes hold, local food prices have rocketed, exacerbating the problem. Regional fighting in Eritrea and Somalia has complicated matters further, while the Ethiopian government response has been poor and Somalia’s government response has of course been non-existent.

Yet the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has been predicting this crisis for months: ‘The FAO repeatedly issued warnings about the effects of La Niña, but few contingency plans were put in place. That is why there is a shortfall of about 40 percent in the money needed to tackle the crisis’ (New Scientist, 9 July).

It surely can’t only be socialists who understand that the main reason for this disaster-in-the-making is that the people concerned are black, they’ve got no money, they’ve got nothing anybody wants, and that’s why they’re going to die. It can’t have escaped notice that disasters which strike poor people are always more disastrous than those that strike the better-off. Any lingering doubts on this question should have been dispelled by the events of the recent Haiti earthquake.

Haiti was of course hit by a natural disaster nobody could foresee, followed by cholera unfortunately brought in, it seems, by a UN contingent sent there to help. But Haiti, the poorest country on Earth, is nevertheless on America’s doorstep, under the eyes of the world’s press, and images of spectacular urban destruction helped motivate the world to action. It is also a small country, easy to cover from the air, with a road system. The Horn of Africa is remote, huge and inaccessible, and besides there is nothing spectacular or newsworthy about hunger. It hides behind the news like perpetual background noise, audible but not quite loud enough to make it onto our busy agendas.

Until it surges into the limelight on those rare occasions when ‘perfect famine’ conditions combine to force it into the headlines. And then everybody blames the victims for overbreeding because they can’t be bothered to find out the real reasons, and bungs a tenner to Oxfam because they can’t be bothered to find out the real solutions. And they won’t blame the social system, because like the weather it’s just a fact of life, it’s always there and it can’t be changed.

But humans have already managed accidentally to change the global weather system. The urgent task for socialists is to make humans realise they can deliberately change the economic system too. Such a realisation will be too late for the people starving right now in East Africa. But it would make sure that nobody ever starves again, anywhere. Nature is not our worst enemy, capitalism is. Feed the world? First, free the world.
Paddy Shannon

The Not So Different World of Harry Potter (2011)

From the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
The last Harry Potter film based on the books by JK Rowling was premiered last month.
In many ways the world described in the Harry Potter books is vastly different from ours. A world of magic, wizards and witches, flying household objects, time travel. Yet despite all this we also find many similarities, especially in regards to their economic system. They, like us, have a money/wages based society.
 
It is not clear why wizards/witches would need a monetary economy given the fact that there is no scarcity, as they possess the powers to create almost anything with the wave of a wand. One could reply to this point with a question of one’s own of course: given the fact that we Muggles have the technology to produce what we need and more ourselves, why do we continue to rely on a system of (mostly artificial) scarcity?
 
One of the main differences is that while all witches and wizards own their own wands (and therefore in a sense their own means of production), in Muggle society the means of production are owned by a minority of the population, leaving the majority forced to sell their labour-power, in exchange for a wage or a salary, to this minority. It follows then that in order to utilise the non-magical technology available to us we first have to reclaim it from the minority who possess it. 
 
Given the fact that wizards and witches have the ability to sustain themselves already available to them, why do they, like so many characters in the books continue to work for a wage or a salary? If it’s simply out of a love for the job or because of a recognition that the work they do is needed for their own and the common good, then why not get rid of the financial incentive all together and allow them to work on a voluntary basis? Yet we don’t see this, all we see is numerous examples of witches and wizards forced to go without the things they need. 
 
An example would be the Weasley family. On numerous occasions in the books we find this family unable to afford the most basic of items. There is, for example, the moment on the Hogwarts express when Ron Weasley is unable to buy food (beginning of the first book I believe) and is forced into the degrading rigmarole of Harry insisting upon buying it for him. 
 
What about the time he is unable to buy a replacement wand and therefore loses a duel to the financially superior Lucian Malfoy? Indeed an impartial observer using only the Weasleys as a case study could assume that poverty and lack of basic necessities was a problem affecting all in the wizarding world. However, further examination shows this not to be the case. As mentioned previously, we have the Malfoys; a very rich family who have more than they could ever want or need.
 
Incidentally why do the Weasleys seem constantly ashamed of their poverty? Their father (Arthur Weasley) is a highly industrious man and their mother (Mollie) has singlehandedly raised seven children, surely if there is to be any shame in their situation it is to be shouldered by wizarding society as a whole?
 
It is not made clear in exactly how the Malfoys are so incredibly wealthy. The vast majority of people in Muggle society who can boast such wealth have only achieved it through extracting the surplus value from the labour of those they employ, did the Malfoys exploit their wealth through similar means, or are they simply a relic of feudalism like today’s aristocracy? 
 
It is true that in one of the books Hermione started a campaign to free house elves from chattel slavery, but there doesn’t seem to have been a movement to abolish wage-slavery.
 
There is also the issue of religion. It cannot go unnoticed that in the magical world of Harry Potter they celebrate Christmas. Yet given the fact that so many witches and wizards were tortured and killed in the name of Christianity (those that couldn’t employ the fire-resisting charm at least) why would they want to celebrate the birth of its founder? One can only assume that our fellow Muggles who go about expounding the supposed word of Christ have made a serious mistake; in actual fact Jesus Christ was not the Son of God but a highly advanced wizard, capable of charms that allowed him to walk on water, cure lepers, and revitalise the dead! “No spell can bring back the dead Harry, I trust you know that,” says Dumbledore in The Goblet of Fire; “Unless you’re Jesus!” should have been Harry’s reply.
Johnny Mercer

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

World Socialist Review #22 (2011)

Notice from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is Obama a socialist? No, he’s not! This book of 112 pages examines Obama’s outlook and life story, his packaging as a politician, and his policy in the areas of healthcare reform, the economy, the environment, the space program, and Afghanistan. It places Obama in the context of a largely undemocratic U.S. political system and a wasteful, cruel, and crisis-ridden world economic system.

From the Introduction: “We have nothing against Obama personally. We do not accuse him of going into politics solely in pursuit of fame and fortune. He started out with the best of intentions, hoping that one day he might be able to do something to make the world a better place. Our aim is to show how the capitalist class, who exercise real power in our society, corrupt and co-opt well-intentioned young people like Obama, how capitalism frustrates and corrodes even the noblest aspirations.”

Topics include:
U.S. Midterm Election Results * The Tea Party * Obama: The Brand and the President * The World Outlook of the Young Obama * Health Insurance Reform * Obama and the Environment * The Invisible Primaries * The Electoral College * The Politics of the “Lesser Evil” * Unemployment * Waste and Want * Economic Crises * Afghanistan * Asteroids * Right-Wing Talk Radio

To order, go to wspus.org and click on the icon at top right (showing the Obama photo). This will take you to a page at createspace. com where you can create an account and buy copies of the book. you can also get the book through Amazon. Price $7.  Published by the World Socialist Party of the United States.

Southsea bubble (2011)

The Cooking the Books column from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 17 June the papers reported the failure of a bank. It was only a small bank in Hampshire with a single branch. But it was a bank, subject to the same regulations and basic practices as any high street bank. It took in deposits and loaned out money.
 
Called the Southsea Mortgage and Investment Company, it had 267 depositors whose deposits totalled £7.4 million (Daily Express, 17 June) and lent money to people, mainly to buy a house, or to finance property developments. It was the failure of one of its property investments that led to its assets becoming less than its liabilities. In short, to becoming insolvent, to it not having enough assets to cover the value of its liabilities, in particular what it owed its depositors.
 
The Southsea bank was set up fifty years ago. At that time all UK banks were required to keep a “cash ratio” of 8 percent, which meant they had to retain 8 percent of all money deposited with them as cash. The other 92 percent they could lend out at interest. Interest is of course the main source of any bank’s income, its profit coming from charging a higher rate of interest to lenders than it pays to its depositors.
 
This is still how banks operate today, even though there is no longer any formal requirement for a bank to keep 8 percent of deposits as cash. It’s now up to their own business judgement to decide how much or how little money they can safely retain as cash (or assets quickly convertible into cash) to meet withdrawals.
 
Some people think that a cash ratio of 8 percent means that, when someone deposits £100 in a bank, that bank can then immediately lend out an amount of which £100 is 8 percent, i.e. £1250. There is in fact a whole school of currency cranks who do argue this and claim that banks can “create money” (make loans) “out of thin air”. They are obviously wrong. What an 8 percent cash ratio means is that if someone deposits £100, the bank can lend out £92.
 
The “thin air” school of banking is based on a misunderstanding of something that is in economics textbooks about what the whole banking system can do over a period of time. The textbooks set out a scenario of what happens to the £92. They assume that it will be spent and will eventually be redeposited in some bank. That bank now has a new deposit of £92 and so can lend out 92 percent of it, or £84.64. The same will happen to this, and 92 percent of it (£77.87) can be loaned out. In the end loans totalling £1250 will have been made, which is 12.5 times the original deposit of £100.
 
The loans have not been made out of thin air, but out of successive deposits totalling £1250. Certainly, the same sum of money has been used to make these loans, but that money circulates and can be used to make more than one transaction is one of its features. So nothing remarkable there either.
 
The proof – or rather the disproof – of the pudding is in the eating. If the view that a bank on receipt of £100 can then, depending on the cash ratio, immediately lend out many times that amount were true, why would a bank ever go bankrupt from making a bad loan? With deposits of £7.4 million why didn’t the Southsea bank simply write off the bad investment in property development and “recreate” a loan of the same amount for something else?

Letters: Nuclear power (2011)

Letters to the Editors from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nuclear power
 
Dear Editors,

Re Pathfinders in the July issue. Since 1960 all aircraft carriers and since 1955 all submarines in the United States Navy have been nuclear-powered. Their safety record (I understand) is impeccable, although one must remember that this is a “not-for-profit” organization.
 
The history of steam boilers in the 19th century was one of explosions on locomotives, factories and ships until effective standards of design were recognized.
 
Uses were found for boiler waste – ash and clinker from coal was used for breeze blocks, soot for fertilizer.
 
Surely with world socialism standards for reactors would be advanced and uses found for nuclear waste?
Fred Moore, 
Canterbury
 

Reply: 
Your suggestion that socialism might develop safer and more reliable nuclear reactors is certainly reasonable, given that it wouldn’t be trying to do nuclear on the cheap and skimping safety standards in favour of bigger profits. However nuclear power is not so nearly carbon efficient when one factors in build and decommissioning costs. It’s also difficult to imagine how one could dispose of or indeed utilise waste which is toxic for tens of thousands of years, in any social system or with any known science. The most tempting solution would be to lob the stuff into space, however the consequences of a rocket explosion on launch or in the stratosphere hardly bear thinking about. Socialism might very well decide, for this reason alone, that nuclear power is just too hot to handle and look to a combination of other technologies, including reduction in energy consumption. – Edtiors


Plainer English
 
Dear Editors,
 
Thank you for publishing my letter on plain English in the July Socialist Standard. Unfortunately (and also ironically, given the subject-matter), you omitted part of a sentence in the editing/typesetting process, leaving it meaningless. The sentence in question actually read as follows in my original email (the section omitted is highlighted in italics):
 
An “issue” is a bone of contention, but there is certainly no contention (at least among socialists) that a lack of money in the capitalist world is nothing less than a major problem for the vast majority of the population suffering from the affliction.
Martyn Dunmore,
Brussels, Belgium. 


Closed-minded academics

Dear Editors,
 
It is infuriating to listen to those sociologists and similar ‘social scientists’, particularly the contributors Professor Laurie Taylor has on his Thinking Allowed programme (BBC Radio 4). These academic circles define the world in a multitude of classes, minutiae of people’s behaviour and so on. They publish books etc on post-communist societies and countries, which reinforce the view that communism has existed. These learned intellectuals stick to the accepted view that communism equals totalitarian state government with central control by a ruling elite. In their lazy thinking that’s it and any advance can only be to liberal democracy or, if they are a little radical, to social democracy.
 
These so-called intellectuals have never bothered to address what is communism/socialism. They don’t seem willing to make the effort to find what Marx and others meant in defining communism/socialism. Because they are part of the intellectual establishment and its output of publications reinforcing stereotypes, they effectively lie or at least mislead about the real meaning. 
 
These people give legitimacy to the view that communism/socialism has existed and is now replaced with a better system. They obfuscate the definition of Marxism on the grounds that we have moved on to the better system of ‘democracy’ but they also misrepresent even this. How do we attack these closed-minded academics and get them to try original thought to their convoluted and erroneous conclusions?
Stuart Gibson, 
Wimborne, Dorset
 

Resource database
 
Dear Editors,
 
Congratulations to Stefan on the excellent article, ‘Money – a waste of resources’ (Socialist Standard, July). In my view this is just the sort of empirical approach needed to clinch the argument for socialism, and one that I’ve promoted via www.andycox1953.webs.com.
 
Theory has its place, but let’s face it, more often than not, a theoretical exposition on Marx’s labour theory of value or the class struggle is likely to be met with a snort of derision or a glazed expression. Facts on the other hand have a kind of primacy that demands a considered response. Hence the urgent need for a robust, wide-ranging, and up-to-date database which Socialist Party members and others can access. 
 
A word of caution, however, should be added at this juncture: When constructing a database, one is likely to come across countless factual inconsistencies. Stefan’s source, for example, has it that there are ‘145,000 people working at casinos and other gambling joints (in the US)’. In my webs.com database, I cite a source (‘Economic Impacts of Commercial Casinos and On-Line Gambling’ by Alijani, Braden, Omar and Eweni, 2002 (?)) which produces statistics showing that there were 364,804 commercial casino jobs in the US in 2001 (205,151 in Nevada alone). 
Andy Cox (by email)

Greasy Pole: Hacking? Who’s hacking? (2011)

The Greasy Pole column from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard 

“Sundays won’t be the same again,” whined the Political Editor. Or rather the ex-political editor of the abruptly defunct, paedophilia-hounding, police officer-corrupting, phone-hacking, record-circulating News Of The World. No more blearily turning the pages for a weekly dose of insight into the chaotic privacy of a select few handily grouped under the shield of celebrity. No more envious excursions into a growingly denser jungle where the more luxurious the undergrowth the larger the financial profit. Never the same again? Are there any who would be ungrateful for such a small mercy? Even accepting that it came swaddled in breathtaking hypocrisy?
 
BSkyB
 The earlier reaction to Rupert Murdoch ending the News Of The World was that it was the tycoon’s punitive response to the exposure of the paper’s habitual intrusion into the private lives of anyone liable to be regarded as newsworthy through hacking into their telephones. However within an hour or so a more acceptable explanation came onto the scene. For some years Murdoch’s News International had been manoeuvring to take over the 61 percent of shares it does not hold in BSkyB, which is estimated to yield them some £1 billion profit during the next financial year. It seemed like good balance-sheet sense to help this process by surrendering the News Of The World’s comparatively modest £12 million annual profit – apart from the prospect of the tighter binding of Murdoch’s relationship with the Tory and Labour leaderships, with all that promises in terms of future concessions for his media machine. It is a long time since political leaders have operated with no regard for the ambitions of that fearsome magnate. A long time since a Prime Minister has omitted to invite Murdoch and his underlings to one of those regularly sickening ventures intro terrified sycophancy among the lawns and terraces of Chequers. And, until the events of recent weeks, it was promising to be a long time before that situation changed. 
 
Gotcha
In essence it was a simple strategy. The party leadership and their advisers paid heed to the prejudices, fears and misconceptions which were stimulated by, and advantageous to, the Murdoch operation and calculated that these could be applied to their electoral advantage. In other words, the Murdoch empire could win elections – a theory which might be said to have fitted in with events in this way:
  • 1969 Murdoch buys the News Of The World and the Sun, revamped from the successor to the old Daily Herald. 
  • 1979 The Tories under Margaret Thatcher and supported by the Sun win the general election against an exhausted and demoralised Labour Party.
  • 1981 Thatcher’s government supports Murdoch’s recently formed News Corporation bid to buy the Times and the Sunday Times – with the predictable guarantees of “editorial independence”.
  • 1983 After surviving a number of problems during their early days in power the Tories win an emphatic majority, helped by patriotic hysteria over the Falklands war, marked by the full-page headline in the Sun screaming GOTCHA! over the sinking of the Belgrano. 
  • 1987 Another Tory election win, with a majority reduced probably in reaction to Thatcher’s impending replacement by John Major
  • 1992 John Major, struggling against the Eurosceptics “bastards” in his party, notches up an unexpected election victory. The Sun helps him on his way by devoting its front page to a request that in the event of Neil Kinnock’s Labour winning “…will the last person to leave Britain…turn out the lights”. Then crows that “It was the Sun wot won it.”
  • 1997 With the Tories descending into a confusion of sleaze, economic chaos and scandal Murdoch joins forces with his persistently loyal friend Tony Blair and his party and Labour win the election in a landslide. 
  • 2010 After Murdoch defects to support the Tories, Gordon Brown’s Labour Party loses the election, replaced by a fractious Coalition.
  • 2011 As the hacking scandal breaks into the open previous assumptions about electoral alliances, governmental stability – and the influence of the Murdoch clan – need to be re-assessed. 
 
Profit
 That ex-Political Editor told us why he grieved at the closing of the News Of The World: “Villains, paedophiles and corrupt politicians will be able to sleep more soundly now that the greatest investigative newspaper on Earth has gone.” He did not mention that such newspapers work so devotedly to unearth their scoops in the cause of higher sales, advertising revenue and investment – or that in that process a significant clutch of criminals and corrupt politicians are enabled to stay active. One investor in News Corporation, the Church of England, held £4 million worth of shares overseen by a body incongruously known as the Ethical Investment Advisory Group which described the News Of The World’s hacking campaign as “utterly reprehensible and unethical”. Compared to that, and in the present crisis in the industry, the advice of Murdoch’s favourite son James, chairman of News International, to the 2009 Edinburgh Television Festival, that “the only guarantee of independence is profit” reads as more illuminating and useful – if menacing. Among the terrified hysteria of Westminster, the panic of laggardly journalists and manipulatory police officers, the figures – an expectation of £135 million a year circulation revenue, £38 million advertising income, and, if the bid for BSkyB succeeded there would be an additional £1.6 billion a year – carried more weight than the exotically titled, smugly gambling excuses of the clerics. The simple fact is that what we know as the media, in all its forms, is no different in its need to conform to the rules and demands of a commodity society. Unavoidably, politicians saw it as a priority to foster such ambitions in the assumption that come the next election it would yield a rich harvest of votes. The sudden flooding of these facts into what is known as ‘the public domain’ provoked widespread outrage. Another example of the urgency for the ‘public’ to react in a proper, reparative manner.
Ivan

Tiny Tips (2011)

The Tiny Tips column from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Thousands of British schoolgirls as young as eight face being taken abroad this summer to have their genitals mutilated and stitched up to preserve “purity”. A campaign by the Metropolitan Police and Foreign Office will suggest that more than 22,000 girls under the age of 15 risk being taken abroad by their family for “cutting”, based on data from The International Centre for Reproductive Health. Girls may have their outer genitals removed and stitched up to preserve their virginity, with an opening as small as a matchstick head, meaning it can take up to 20 minutes to urinate:


Anyone who thinks slavery ended with the 13th Amendment is not paying attention. According to the latest State Department statistics, as many as 100,000 people in the United States are in bondage and perhaps 27 million people worldwide. The numbers are staggering:


Just counting work that’s on the books (never mind those 11 p.m. emails), Americans now put in an average of 122 more hours per year than Brits, and 378 hours (nearly 10 weeks!) more than Germans. The differential isn’t solely accounted for by longer hours, of course—worldwide, almost everyone except us [in the USA] has, at least on paper, a right to weekends off, paid vacation time (PDF), and paid maternity leave. (The only other countries that don’t mandate paid time off for new moms are Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Samoa, and Swaziland.)


Every hour, more than 1,300 severed pork heads go sliding along the belt. Workers slice off the ears, clip the snouts, chisel the cheek meat. They scoop out the eyes, carve out the tongue, and scrape the palate meat from the roofs of mouths. A woman next to Garcia would carve meat off the  back of each head before letting the denuded skull slide down the conveyor and through an opening in a plexiglass shield.

On the other side, Garcia inserted the metal nozzle of a 90-pounds-per-square-inch compressed-air hose and blasted the pigs’ brains into a pink slurry. One head every three seconds. A high-pressure burst, a fine rosy mist, and the slosh of brains slipping through a drain hole into a catch bucket. (Some workers say the goo looked like Pepto-Bismol; others describe it as more like a lumpy strawberry milkshake.) When the 10-pound barrel was filled, another worker would come to take the brains for shipping to Asia, where they are used as a thickener in stir-fry. Most days that fall, production was so fast that the air never cleared between blasts, and the mist would slick workers at the head table in a grisly mix of brains and blood and grease:


Here’s one financial figure some big U.S. companies would rather keep secret: how much more their chief executive makes than the typical worker. Now a group backed by 81 major companies — including McDonald’s, Lowe’s, General Dynamics, American Airlines, IBM and General Mills — is lobbying against new rules that would force disclosure of that comparison. In 1970, average executive pay at the nation’s top companies was 28 times the average worker income. By 2005, executive pay had jumped to 158 times that of the average worker

Monday, May 23, 2022

The Knowledge (2011)

Book Review from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

So You Think You Know about Britain?’ By Danny Dorling. (Constable £8.99)
 
It is often argued that there are too many old people or too many immigrants in Britain, or simply too many people. In this informative and enlightening book, Danny Dorling subjects these and many other commonly-held beliefs to a thorough examination, with frequently-surprising conclusions.
 
The north–south divide has been moving gradually southwards, with more and more areas being categorised as part of the less well-off ‘north’; the dividing line in fact runs diagonally from the Humber to the Severn estuary. On average, if you live on the London side of the line your life expectancy is two years greater than otherwise. Life expectancy is also influenced by many other factors (extra years likely if your father worked in a non-manual occupation, if you have never smoked, if you eat fruit daily, if you have sex at least twice a week, for instance). The north–south divide is now wider than at any time since the 1920s, and is most graphically illustrated by the difference between how long a child born in the most affluent part of London is likely to live as opposed to one born in the poorest part of Glasgow (86.7 versus 74.3 years).
 
Women on average live longer than men, which is why Eastbourne, a popular retirement destination, has 87 men for every 100 women. In other cases, such as Glasgow, a comparable imbalance is caused by men either leaving the area or else dying before they reach retirement age. But women in their late twenties are the most likely to get into debt. And a recession leads to both an increase in emigration and a drop in birth rates, as people are less willing to start a family. 
 
Inequality has increased in various ways, with the incomes of the richest fifth of the population having grown at eight times the rate of the bottom fifth. By 2005, 27 percent of households could be classified as poor, living below the breadline. This poverty is largely geographically-based, but there are no ghettos, in the sense of districts almost exclusively the preserve of one ethnic or cultural group. Yet in England most children who live above the fourth floor in tower blocks are black or Asian.
 
Dorling is well aware that measuring things in terms of profit is not always sensible:
 “British roads, pavements and railway carriages could be far more comfortable places to travel on (and in) if we did not so often judge an activity as worthy only if it makes a profit. We don’t always do this, we don’t always seek only profit, otherwise none of us would have children.”
 This is reinforced by the discovery of the large numbers of unpaid carers, who ‘often visited others’ homes simply to help, for no monetary reward, and often for reasons other than family ties’. There are more carers in places with more people in need of care. So the view, often put forward by supporters of capitalism, that people will not work without being paid in return, is simply untrue. This book not only shows that many beliefs about Britain are wrong – it also discredits a common argument against socialism. 
Paul Bennett

To a Supporter of Capitalism (2011)

From the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Of course the things we need to live will have to be produced by someone in socialism. The difference being that, in socialism, the means for producing and distributing these things will belong to us all. They will not be the possessions of a tiny minority of the world’s population. Moreover, our relationship to the means and instruments to this production and distribution will not be an alienated one. As we share in the productive and distributive efforts equally, we will share in the access to the same. As free and equal members of the human species.Anything wrong with that? Not from where I stand.
 
Capitalism, this society you seem so enamoured with, as in a Faustian otherworld, does not work for us, the majority.
 
Ever heard of the wealthy worrying about the price of energy, foodstuffs, housing, their kids’ futures, paying the bills, etc, etc, etc ad-nauseum? No.
 
Getting employment, keeping it? No.
 
Paying the mortgage, or possible mortgage rate rises. Or being penalised for under-occupancy of their homes if they happen to be recipients of what is laughingly called “the benefits” system?  No, didn’t think you had.
 
Moreover, what gives a minority of individuals the right of ownership, of the things that are necessary for us all to live? Things, such as oil, gas, coal, land that existed long before the ancestors of modern man, crawled from the primordial slime?
 
A minority of people today, claim ownership of these things and more and a whole structure of laws and law-enforcement, has grown, to protect the rights of this minority of social parasites. 95 percent or more of laws, are to protect private property, not the person, why?

It is so that this minority can retain their minority ownership, at the expense of the majority of other people.
 
You and others, support a system – capitalism – that is antithetical to the interests of yourselves, your families and indeed to the majority of mankind, without even knowing how this system works and in whose interests. Indeed, workers go as far as laying down their lives to perpetuate this insanity.
 
And you to try to preach about how good this system is?
 
Tell that to the 30 to 40,000 kids under five, who die every day, of starvation or directly attributable disease. 
 
The two billion of our fellow human beings who go to bed hungry every night.
 
The hundreds of millions who have no access to sanitation or clean water.
 
The hundreds of thousands of people, homeless, even in the so-called ‘civilised’ West, in sight of empty houses.
 
A society, where it is more profitable to let fields lie fallow, rather than produce crops for the starving.
 
A society that destroys food, to keep prices high, rather than feed people.
 
You want this insanity? You’ve got it, it’s called capitalism.
Steve Colborn