Thursday, March 31, 2022

Diary of a Capitalist (1979)

The Diary of a Capitalist column from the March 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard


Lord and Lady Brownlow were telling me the other day of their family financial arrangements. Their four-year-old son, Peregrine, has just inherited £3 million. As they said, he will remain “a very normal little boy”.

Someone must have eavesdropped, because now the Daily Express columnist Jean Rook (29.11.78) has seized the chance to make a cheap sneer. How can any four-year-old with £3 million be “normal”, she says. She has missed the point entirely. He is a very normal little boy by capitalist standards. What’s so special about three millionnn? Nobody said anything about him being normal from a working-class point of view.

Journalists pretend to forget that the two classes in our society are completely different. What is normal for us in the capitalist class is not, of course, normal for the rest of the population. For example, you wouldn’t find a capitalist making a cheap sneer. An expensive one, possibly.


At the club this morning we all agreed what a splendid letter dear old John Wakeham, the Conservative MP, wrote to the Daily Telegraph the other day (15.11.78). He said, in a fine peroration. “Conservatives put their country first, their party second and themselves last.” Absolutely true, we told each other, if by Conservatives you mean the upper-class people who really run the party. Some of us at the club were Labour supporters, and we all accepted it was true of Labourites and Tories alike among the ruling class How different from the workers! Someone made an impromptu speech attacking these greedy union- members, always selfishly trying to grab more devalued money—the “Gadarene rush” as one industrialist called it recently. We all enjoyed the implication that these people perpetually worried about their wages and salaries are simply swine. We had a few rounds of drinks to toast our own self-sacrifice, and the noble unselfishness of all the moneyed people like us. heroically putting their country first and themselves last. We all tried not laugh.


Had a few people to dinner myself this evening. Among the trimmings were half a dozen edible dormice at £39 each (from a farmer near Stockport, Sunday People, 24.12.78). a few jars of caviar at £104 a pound (Observer, 24.12.78) and a small bottle of Hungarian Tokay wine probably dating from the 1680s. which I got recently at Sotheby's for £1300 (Daily Telegraph, 14.12.78). There isn’t much eating or drinking in any of them, but it’s these little things that show your guests you have made an effort.


The poor old Shah of Persia! So the Iranian capitalist class has decided to ditch him. 1 warned him last winter what might happen. I was staying on Kish Island, in the Persian Gulf, where (as the Daily Telegraph put it, 11.11.78) "a complex of villas, casinos, and a luxury hotel has been built and where bevies of imported French girls act as 'maids’. Further lavish development is planned.” It is only for the upper class —"the very rich of the Gulf area, influential Persians, and the aristocracy.” Others need not apply. "Strict security screening makes certain that only the favoured are allowed into the exclusive holiday club with its £800 membership fee. a compulsory £8000 credit card and villas at rentals running into thousands." The idea is an obvious money-spinner, given the number of people around with pots of money to spend on enjoying themselves, and the Pahlavi Foundation, the Shah’s family trust, apparently provided most of the finance for setting up this paradise of extravagant pleasure for the well-heeled (Observer, 7.1.79). "The Shah and his family have spent several winter holidays at a Royal residence on the island but not at the club where the French 'maids’ sunbathe topless" (Daily Telegraph, 11.11.78).

When I stayed there I had several talks with the King of Kings, as he is (or was) known to his friends. I told him that despotism, with its censorship, its vast armed forces, and its secret police (such as the Shah’s Savak), and all the expense of jails for political prisoners, was very expensive. In Britain, I said, the ruling class was firmly in power. and our system was much cheaper. I tried to persuade him to allow freedom of speech, political association, and so on. I pointed out that under our system only the very rich could run mass newspapers and magazines, or own TV and radio companies; and with the state radio and TV also pouring out pro-capitalist propaganda continuously, the people of Britain have so far been persuaded into almost total support of capitalism. The political parties that come to the top in our system (I said) all advocate various models of capitalism, whether mainly private enterprise, mainly State-controlled, or something between the two. So capitalism is safe whichever party is in power; no expenditure is usually necessary on secret police, military tribunals, expensive political jails, or a censorship apparatus; and you can boast of your democratic freedoms, which is very useful in drumming up support for the State, both in peacetime and (even more) in wartime.

The Shah, however, said it wouldn’t work at present in Iran. Practically everyone in Britain can read, and so is subject to written propaganda: not so, yet, in Iran. Nor are TV sets as common there as here. When universal education and hire purchase have put this right, said the Shah, he would think about it.

And now it’s too late! Perhaps I'll drop a line to the Ayatollah Khomeini, the new "strong man", giving him due warning. Despotism seems more stable than democracy; really, the opposite is true.


Have made an agreement for the first day of the shooting next season. I’ve got some nice pheasant and partridge moors for £3500 for an eight-gun syndicate, including myself. Last year the first-day bag of these moors was 700 birds. It’s getting a bit on the expensive side—in lots of places a couple of good days after the pheasants will cost you well over £500 per gun (Daily Telegraph, 11.12.78). Last season I got up a little party and we took a 10,000-acre estate pheasants and partridges for £20,000.

I like imagining I'm knocking over some of these damned strikers or picketers when I’m after the game. Each pheasant I kill, I say to myself—that’s another of these idle trouble-makers accounted for! Shooting’s too good for some of them.


A lot of unnecessary fuss in Denmark. The Danish Minister of Education. Mrs. Ritt Bjerregard. went to Paris for a Unesco conference, and her expenses for a thirteen-day stay were £5,700 (Daily Telegraph, 23.12.78). The Danish PM told her to pay part herself, and when she refused, sacked her.

A storm in a teacup. £5700 is nothing out of the ordinary—I've spent much more than that in two weeks in Paris! If this Mrs. Bjerregard is a member of the capitalist class, she could easily pay it herself; if not. she shouldn't have enjoyed herself on that scale.

The truth is. the Minister seems to have been enjoying herself as if she were rich, when she wasn’t.


Though democracy has many advantages for the ruling class in advanced Western societies, it is not without its drawbacks. Sometimes I wonder if the rival political parties don’t go too far in their battles to secure the fruits of office. There’s no denying that some awkward facts do leak out occasionally.

Mr. Callaghan and most of his ministers have committed themselves to the thesis that the working class causes inflation through pay-increases, which is their defence when they are criticized over the continuing rise in prices. Of course we in the ruling class know that this claim is nonsensical, but it is good propaganda and makes for exciting newspaper stories against the greedy proles. But in their haste to discredit Callaghan's lot and grab place and power for themselves, some Tories have been prepared to show up Callaghan's naive errors, even at the expense of abandoning a first class anti-worker argument. The Daily Telegraph published a middle-page article recently (15.11.78) in which the author pointed out that rising wages cannot push up the price of goods unless the Government validates increased prices by printing more money . . . That this is clearly true is suggested by the fact that many firms have been unable to recoup rising labour costs by increased prices: for if prices could always be raised by as much as costs rose, no firm need ever lose money.” A week later (22.11.78) another middle-page article recalled the real reason why Governments of all kinds have continuously and deliberately inflated the currency for the last forty years: "Keynes persuaded a whole generation that by expanding the money supply and generating mild inflation, thereby reducing real wages, it would be possible to circumvent union opposition to necessary wage-reductions.”

Now we all know that these are the facts of the case. The Telegraph writers have exposed Callaghan—either he has been deliberately doing one thing and saying another (whatever you call that kind of behaviour), or he is painfully ignorant of elementary economics. But supposing the workers get to know of this? Most trade union leaders who appear on the TV hasten to register their agreement with Callaghan’s claptrap. self-evidently fallacious though it is, and grovellingly apologize for their members who have gone on strike hoping to regain the standard of living they thought they had agreed to work for a year ago, is it wise to abandon such a splendid weapon, which the newspapers continually use to pillory the workers?

When Mrs. Thatcher gets to Number Ten she may probably want to use the same argument, blaming the unions for the inevitable results of the state’s Keynesian economics: I hope she won’t find the ground has been cut from under her feet.
Alwyn Edgar

". . . Change the environment, change the man. Simple". (1979)

From the March 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "Consider the people's store, after full automation, the implementation of the theory of economic advantage. You dig. no waste makers, no harnesses on production. There is no intermediary, no money. The store, it stocks everything that the body or home could possibly use. Why won’t the people hoard, how is an operation like that possible, how could the storing place keep its stores if its stock (merchandise) is free?

Men hoard against want, need, don’t they? Aren’t they taught that tomorrow holds terror, pile up a surplus against this terror, be greedy and possessive if you want to succeed in this insecure world? Nuts hidden away for tomorrow’s winter.

Change the environment, educate the man, he’ll change. The people’s store will work as long as people know that it will be there, and have in abundance the things they need and want (really want); when they are positive that the common effort has and will always produce an abundance, they won’t bother to take home more than they need. . . .”
From Soledad Brother—The Prison letters of George Jackson (Penguin Books)

50 Years Ago: Capitalism and christianity (1979)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The Christian will tell us that if only we would all show a spirit of brotherhood, the spirit of Christ, and exercise forbearance and be unselfish, all our industrial troubles would vanish. For the most part employers and workers, even those who are nominally Christian, make no special effort to apply their Christian principles to their relationship with each other. There are however religious persons, Quakers for example, who do profess that their religion can and does have a very intimate bearing on their everyday activities, including the running of a business. Thus the Cadbury family claim that the application of Quaker principles to industry has made Bournville something of a model for the industrial world, containing the hope of a solution for the problems of modern history.

The question has been raised in an acute form by the application of ‘‘rationalisation" in the Cadbury cocoa business, the subject of an article in the New Leader (Feb. 22) by a Quaker member of the Independent Labour Party. Three years ago, he says, there were distressing scenes when another 400 women, some of them over 40 years of age, who had been with the firm since early girlhood, were added to Birmingham's 30,000 unemployed.

"I confess", says Mr. Chamberlain, "that as members of the Society of Friends, I had hoped for great things from Quaker employers. I had hoped that they might have given a bold lead to other employers. But with the action of the Cadbury family my hope has vanished".

It has taken 25 years for an ILP speaker and writer to learn that capitalism is a system of society organised not for the satisfaction of human needs, directly, but in the first place for profit-making.

(From an editorial "Capitalism and Christianity" in the Socialist Standard, March 1929)

Political Notebook: An old man does not forget (1979)

The Political Notebook Column from the March 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

An old man does not forget

Harold Macmillan, the Edwardian fop whose languid manner concealed a very sharp political brain, was eighty five years old last month—an occasion marked not just by the usual flood of obsequious congratulations (what’s so clever about a member of the ruling class reaching old age—the real heroes are workers who make it into retirement) but also by a long television interview with none other than Robert McKenzie.

McKenzie, it will be remembered, was playing with his psephological toys when Macmillan was creating history by leading the Tories back to a third victory at the polls. That victory was even more remarkable for the fact that it came a few years after the Conservatives were in disarray after the collapse of Eden’s Suez adventure, which succeeded in pleasing no one in his party.

Macmillan’s technique was essentially simple. First imply—or even, if you are forced to. promise—to do one thing and then, as the realities of capitalism require it, do something else. For example, while he personified all the patriotic nonsense of the heyday of the British Empire, he worked steadily and stealthily to dismantle it.

Like most politicians, he was cursed with an albatross—an unwise statement which probably cost him more support than it won for him. Ever since he said it. Macmillan has been trying to prove that he did not mean that we had never had it so good; on television he pretended to forget who had coined the phrase.

Macmillan succeeded, for a time, by means of openly treating the working class with contempt. And they never resented it. Now, in a winter of deep discontent, Macmillan still does not bother to hide his feelings, holding forth from his sumptuous Sussex home about problems which do not disturb the even tenor of these final days.

As long as it's black

One of the most famous sayings of the original Henry Ford was that of course his customers could choose any colour car they liked as long as it was black. Everyone laughed and bought a black Ford car.

And in a sense that is what is going to happen at the next election. It is a fair bet, that much of the argument between Tory and Labour parties will be about which of them has the more effective method of dealing with the present crisis in British capitalism.

In fact, there is nothing exceptional about this crisis. Every government tries in some way or other to hold down workers’ wages. Since the war, some governments (usually Labour) have succeeded in this for a time, subduing the unions with a mixture of promises and arm twisting.

But this can’t last for ever; workers whose living standards are going down sooner or later begin to notice it—and try to do something about it. And the something must, in the last analysis, be to strike.

Confronted with a situation like this, in the early days of 1974, Edward Heath’s Conservative government accepted a suggestion from the Pay Board (as it then was) to set up something called a Relativities Board. The idea behind this was to pretend that a pay rise conceded to the miners was not really a rise at all—only an ironing out of ‘‘relativities".

This useful and adaptable, piece of jargon is now being used by the Labour government, again to disguise the fact that their attempts to hold down wages are being beaten! Callaghan, apart from offering rises up to ten per cent, is also muttering about a Relativities Board to design ultimate justice for us all.

Nobody should be deceived by this transparent attempt to convince us that there is some enduring solution to our problems under capitalism. Nor by the politicians' mouthings that the parties of capitalism are at odds over the matter.

Thorn or Rose

For some years now one of the sharpest and most uncomfortably barbed thorns in the side of the Labour government has been Frank Field, director of the Child Poverty Action Group.

The CPAG was formed in 1965 to draw attention to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of families living below the poverty line and to demand government action to help them.

So a lot of their work consisted of a detailed, searching analysis of the so-called Welfare State. Their examination of reforms like social security benefits, Family Income Supplements and so on could have done nothing to encourage anyone to believe that such measures hold out hope of any lasting improvement in working class living standards.

Indeed, during the last few months of the previous Labour government — in March 1970 — CPAG presented their findings on Labour’s reforms:
The charge therefore stands: the poor are relatively worse off under a Labour Government.
Field has not allowed any respite to this government: he was at the centre of the row over the leaking of Cabinet minutes which revealed Labour’s intention to postpone the child benefit scheme (a footling reform, hardly worth minuting let alone leaking the things).

Simple souls might assume from all this that Field was an unrelenting opponent of the Labour Party, whose schemes leave the poor relatively worse off than ever. But the politics of reform are not so simple. Field, who in 1966 stood as Labour candidate for the rock like Tory seat in Buckingham South, has had better luck this time—he is Labour candidate for Birkenhead. where the majority in October 1974 was over nine thousand.

No doubt Field has already worked out how he will reconcile his former attacks on the Labour government with his support for them. He must also be hoping that the voters in Birkenhead will not find any problems in swallowing this particularly audacious piece of hypocrisy.

Correction (1979)

From the March 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

In our notebook piece, Gormley, The Scab, last month, there was a slip. The poor devil who wants to form a genuine trade union is not a Polish miner but a Russian one and the “union” leader whom Gormley met is also Russian. (The mistake occurred because the two scabs met at a jamboree in Poland.) It is worth adding that the Russian miner (who is now incarcerated in a ‘‘hospital" where Gormley’s friends pump him full of mind-bending drugs) is not even guilty of the crime of being a Jew. He is no more a Jew than the appalling Gormley himself. And what do communist members of the Anti Nazi League against racism say about the Russian government “accusing" a man of being a Jew?

Letters: Democracy and Socialism (1979)

Letters to the Editors from the March 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Democracy and Socialism

I concur with your exposure of Russia, China and similar countries as slate capitalist. However, I wonder if at times your attitude on this matter is not too negative, if not contradictory. For example, in the August 1978 edition of the Socialist Standard, in an article entitled 'State capitalism and the Russian dissidents', you stated that you could not support the Russian dissidents in their strivings for political democracy and. by implication, for private capitalism. Yet, in the September Socialist Standard you featured tracts on the power of the vote. One of these declared that socialists must capture control of the slate machine through Parliament. If socialism is to be achieved by democratic means, how can you refrain from supporting the fight for democracy (a prerequisite for socialism) in any country? Do you expect the Russians to stagnate and temporise until a socialist government is elected in Britain?

Secondly, as you made clear at the time, the Bolshevik revolution was not a socialist one and could not have been, because Russia was a predominantly peasant country and needed to industrialise. However, can you explain why, if it was not the intention of Lenin and the Bolsheviks to introduce socialism, the socialist ideology was adapted and persists today, even if it is based on the assumption that socialism is a prelude to communism? Further, if you accept that Russia had to continue to develop and progress (under capitalism) and you have stated in past copies of the Socialist Standard that capitalism has served the purpose of providing us with the potential to fulfil everyone’s needs, would you have been happier if Russia had developed more along the lines of the capitalist countries of the West, that is. with a greater degree of private enterprise?
P. S. Maloney
Palmers Green London N13

The article ‘State Capitalism and the Russian Dissidents' showed how some opponents of the present Russian dictatorship, while struggling for some measure of political democracy there, envisage replacing Russian state capitalism with private capitalism. Socialists cannot support such a struggle; we oppose capitalism whatever form it takes. Where then do we stand on the issue?

Political democracy—in the sense of freedom of expression, the right to organise into parties, possession of the vole and so on — is essential for the establishment of socialism. But if socialists drop their uncompromising stand for socialism and instead campaign for some reform — including the vote — they cease to be socialists. They end up, like the Russian dissidents, standing for capitalism, which would in the end hamper the struggle for democracy, since capitalism’s “democracy" is anything but stable.

So what should workers in Russia, or any similarly repressive regime, do? Wherever possible they should struggle for socialism, which is a society of common ownership and democratic control of th. means of wealth production and distribution. The most effective, and enduring, struggle for democracy is the struggle for socialism.

The ideology of socialism was used fraudulently to justify the Bolshevik revolution. which marked the birth of capitalism in Russia. That fraud continues; while claiming to be socialist, Russia has a privileged class, a powerful military machine and a repressive state apparatus. The words socialism and communism mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably. Socialism is not a prelude to communism; this is another example of historical confusion used to explain away the existence of state capitalism in Russia. When capitalism is abolished it can be succeeded by only one social system, which can be called either socialism or communism.

Socialists are not particularly concerned about how capitalism develops; this will vary from time to time and from place to place. Neither do we argue that every country must pass through the same process of developing capitalism before socialism can be established. One country can learn from another and compress its development, as happened in Japan after 1857. Overall, society moves towards socialism and the job of workers everywhere is to help it by spreading socialist propaganda.

The important thing is that, in terms of resources, the world is capable of setting up socialism now. All that is needed is for the working class to stop supporting capitalism and to opt for socialism. Workers in Russia are not immune to socialist ideas and we look forward to the day when we can welcome a companion socialist party there.

Parliament Does Matter

Dear Comrades,

B. J. Clifton in his letter (February Socialist Standard rejects the SPGB view that it is mistaken to believe that class rule is based upon economic power. Perhaps he should consider the implications of the alternative view that class rule (control of the state) IS based upon economic pow'er (command over the means of living) which would imply, of course, that irrespective of whether workers support capitalism, as long as capitalists have economic power, they will rule. What this means can be demonstrated by the following formula;

Capitalist class rule ensures the existence of capitalism. Capitalist class rule is based upon capitalist economic power. Capitalist economic power is an inherent and inevitable feature of capitalism. Therefore, capitalism can never be abolished because the condition that enables the capitalists to successfully defend their system — their economic power—is an inherent aspect of the system they are successfully defending thanks (ultimately) to their economic power! Apparently then, capitalist economic power is both the cause and the result of the same thing; their class rule. Looks like they’ve got a foolproof guarantee for perpetual existence so all we workers can do is glumly resign ourselves to an eternity of wage slavery!

If that sounds like one of those awful metaphysical riddles that must have a catch somewhere I would suggest you would not be wrong in thinking so. The point is that capitalist class rule does not exist irrespective of whether workers support capitalism but because workers support capitalism. As the article, "The Parliamentary Road to Socialism” pointed out, capitalist economic power cannot be separated from the massive support, expressed by the election of capitalist parties to Parliament for the system which enables the capitalists to have this economic power. The exercise of power implies the ability to coerce which depends, in the final analysis, on the active or passive willingness of those coerced, to be coerced. Take away the political support for the capitalist system provided by the working class—and the only effective and democratic method of doing this is through parliament where political power is legitimised in the first place — then the economic power of the capitalists will disappear with capitalism itself.
Robin Cox, 
Haslemere, Surrey.

Running Commentary: How much are you worth? (1979)

The Running Commentary column from the March 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

How much are you worth?

Have you ever thought about the man who emptied your dustbin having the power to bring Civilised Life As We Know It to a halt? Or the woman who washed the floor in the hospital ward? Or the person who unlocked your child's school in the morning?

We only ask these questions because of the hysterical denunciation in what is politely known as the media—but which was once, more healthily, called the gutter press—of the recent strikes as acts of crass irresponsibility which would lead to millions dying or being unable to read and write or something similarly dreadful.

It is, of course, perfectly true that a disruption of hospital services, or an accumulation of garbage, or an interference with the water supply, could quickly produce a number of serious problems.

But so far the gutter press has not followed up its flash of insight into the value of these workers by concluding that this very fact must make them worth a very high wage indeed.

Of course this does not apply to everyone. Incensed by the strikes. Spike Milligan, described as a comedian, threatened to go on strike himself, which means he would stop telling jokes—something discerning people thought had happened already. Then there are people like the Royal Family who receive more in a month than the strikers will get in a lifetime and who could threaten to stop making silly speeches and trying to live in half a dozen palaces at once.

Or Roddy Llewellyn could really put the pressure on by refusing to lie in the sun in the West Indies or trying to sing.

In fact, if the entire capitalist class went on social strike tomorrow, by ceasing to exist as a class, the world would not notice the difference except that we would be free of a dead weight of parasitism and could get on with building a society where everyone stood equally.

This is one thing the gutter press will hold its silence over. The useful people in society are the working class; they have only to learn to run the world in their interests and not in that of the parasites.

A Cry For Help

Does this latest Pope really see himself in the role of King Canute, persuaded to try to hold back the inexorable tide?

For some time now religions of all sorts have attempted to disguise the fact that their theoretical justification (if it could ever be said to have existed) has been destroyed, by involving themselves in social problems.

The Salvation Army is perhaps the best known example of this, dispensing their own brand of nonsense along with shelter for drunks, battered children and the like. (The drunks may argue about the description of what they are offered as shelter.)

Other groups have followed the same line; in the more developed countries even the Roman Catholic Church has been able to contain priests who, making their own interpretation of their dogma, have seemed almost as interested in homelessness and vagrancy as in the catechism.

To do this, they have usually needed to put a pretty selective slant on what was allegedly said and done by the person known in certain writings as Jesus Christ. As the pressure of problems in modern society has built up the quasi political priest has become an increasingly evident spectacle.
Now. it seems, the Pope has had enough of this nonsense. On a recent tour of Latin America, he spoke out against those Catholics who are intellectually nimble enough to somehow relate Christianity with "Marxism” and to conceive Jesus Christ as a sort of Che Guevera.

The facts need to be stated. Religion remains, as when it was so described by Marx, the opiate of the people. It aims to divert workers from the immediate priority, of changing the social order here on earth, persuading them instead to accept the chaos of capitalism in the hope that there is a supernatural something after death reserved for those who have done so, with humility

This theory is constantly battered by reality. Can—or should—someone who is starving, or someone degraded and poverty stricken, accept this as natural and tolerable? Religion tries to make this adjustment, to have the best of both worlds. It tries the dishonest, the insupportable, the impossible.

Clearly, it was very unkind of the Pope to be so blunt to those of his followers who, in their desperation, are driven to try this trick. They are in need of help rather than criticism.

Is It Catching?

Whenever a City Editor is stuck for something to fill his column, he can always run off a few paragraphs on something he calls the British Disease.

This Disease takes different forms at different times but one unvarying symptom of it is that it is caused by British workers' unmanageable greed and laziness; another is that it damages British industry in its efforts to compete with that of other countries.

As we all know, the British Disease is at present characterised by inflation which, as all City Editors are agreed, is caused by workers who are greedy, lazy, etc., etc. . . .

This theory, popular as it may be. is not supported by the facts. Inflation, apart from not being caused by workers getting higher wages, is not peculiar to British capitalism.

President Carter recently took himself along to the Capitol to tell the American people (his speech was televised) all about the State of the Union. Some of his speech was devoted to a catalogue of America’s nuclear armaments and of how they can wipe out “every large and medium-sized city in the Soviet Union".

Apart from this joyful news, Carter also has a lot to say (although he did not call it the American Sickness) about inflation in the United States. Inflation, he said, is his overriding domestic priority; he urged Congress to approve the Budget he had sent them which was designed, just like Healey’s, to end inflation for ever.

Carter also addressed himself to the American workers. Without actually calling them greedy, lazy, etc. etc. ... he admonished them: “We cannot afford to live beyond our means, to create programmes we cannot manage or finance, or to waste our natural resources."

So not only does America suffer from this same disease of inflation as Britain: it also has to endure the same fatuous “remedies” being mouthed by its politicians.

Anyone who worries about inflation being contagious, spreading like some virile baccillus across the Atlantic, can take heart. It is caused by a deliberate act of government policy, as a method of eroding wages which cannot be held back in actual monetary terms.

It leaves workers chasing their tails— which is what it is meant to do. At anytime, a government can stop inflation, and replace it with other policies also designed to hold back wages. Whoever heard of a disease which the patients inflict upon themselves?

Rear View: We Come in Peace, Shoot to Kill (2021)

The Rear View Column from the April 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

We Come in Peace, Shoot to Kill

‘Despite the damage coronavirus lockdowns did to the world’s economy, 2020 marked a record high in global military spending, according to a new report. As always, the US was in the lead, accounting for 40.3 percent of the world’s military expenditures at $738 billion. The report, released by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), says total military expenditures added up to $1.83 trillion in 2020, a 3.9 percent increase from 2019 (, 25 February). This news comes as no surprise to socialists: we have said for over a century that war is endemic to capitalism. We recall that the Obama–Biden Administration promised to do away with nuclear arms once and for all, but instead committed $1 trillion to building the nuclear stockpile and modernising nuclear production facilities. Commenting on an earlier admininistration, the late Carl Sagan, a visionary and humanitarian scientist, observed: ‘For me, the most ironic token of [the first human moon landing] is the plaque signed by President Richard M. Nixon that Apollo 11 took to the moon. It reads, ‘We came in peace for all Mankind.’ As the United States was dropping seven and a half megatons of conventional explosives on small nations in Southeast Asia, we congratulated ourselves on our humanity. We would harm no one on a lifeless rock’.

What about life on Earth?

Another (probably) lifeless rock has been invaded by a swarm of robots. Of multiple attempted Mars landings by robotic, unmanned spacecraft, ten have to date been classsed as succesful. Did any science fiction writer envisage a race to Mars? There is, indeed, kudos to all the thousands of workers across the world – these mulitiple landings are collectively an achievement on a par with the launching of Sputnik 1 just forty years after the fall of the Czars. Returning to the present, we are informed: ‘Internet sleuths claim to have decoded a hidden message displayed on the parachute that helped Nasa’s Perseverance Rover land safely on Mars…. They claim that the phrase “Dare mighty things” – used as a motto by Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory – was encoded on the parachute using a pattern representing letters as binary computer code’ (, 23 February). The phrase is used in an 1899 speech by Theodore Roosevelt, in which he said: ‘Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.’ Oscar Wilde described us ‘poor spirits’ more accurately and succiently when he said : ‘To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all’.

War without end?

‘Humanity is waging a “senseless and suicidal” war on nature that is causing human suffering and enormous economic losses while accelerating the destruction of life on Earth, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has said. Guterres’s starkest warning to date came at the launch of a UN report setting out the triple emergency the world is in: the climate crisis, the devastation of wildlife and nature, and the pollution that causes many millions of early deaths every year’ (, 18 February). Such news would not have surprised the astronomer and Marxist Antonie Pannekoek. Writing in 1909 he observed: ‘Natural resources are exploited as if reserves were infinite and inexhaustible. The harmful consequences of deforestation for agriculture and the destruction of useful animals and plants expose the finite character of available reserves and the failure of this type of economy. Roosevelt recognises this failure when he wants to call an international conference to review the state of still available natural resources and to take measures to stop them being wasted. Of course the plan itself is humbug. The state could do much to stop the pitiless extermination of rare species. But the capitalist state is in the end a poor representative of the good of humanity. It must halt in face of the essential interests of capital’.

Don’t Panic

Commenting on billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s Starship project which may someday send humans to Mars, Shannon Stirone, in an article titled ‘Mars Is a Hellhole: Colonising the red planet is a ridiculous way to help humanity’ (, 26 February), writes: ‘Legitimate reasons exist to feel concerned for long-term human survival. But I question anyone among the richest people in the world who sells a story of caring so much for human survival that he must send rockets into space.’ Neither misleaders nor multi-millionaires can save us. Sagan says : ‘Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate.’ Yet more positively he also stated: ‘Humans have evolved gregariously. We delight in each other’s company; we care for one another. Altruism is built into us. We have brilliantly deciphered some of the patterns of Nature. We have sufficient motivation to work together and the ability to figure out how to do it. If we are willing to contemplate nuclear war and the wholesale destruction of our emerging global society, should we not also be willing to contemplate a wholesale restructuring of our societies?’ (Cosmos, Futura, 1987, p. 358). Pannekoek, who died in 1960 just as humanity entered the space age, would concur: ‘It is time for mankind to ensure itself of material abundance by establishing a free, self-managed world-society of productive labor, thereby freeing its mental powers for perfecting its knowledge of nature and the universe’ (A History of Astronomy, 1951).

Pathfinders: The Price of Everything (2021)

The Pathfinders Column from the April 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last year, you will not be astonished to learn, a great many peer-reviewed research papers on Covid-19 were published. Upwards of 75,000, to be exact, with another 10,000 or so available on pre-print servers, i.e. awaiting peer review (New Scientist, 16 December). Great, you might think. The brainiacs of the world rolling up their sleeves and getting down to business on a somewhat pressing matter. The world of science should be delighted.

Er, not exactly. Papers are being shunted out at the rate of 4,000 a week, and who can possibly read all that? Scientists say they’re not reading but drowning, and they want new smart tools to wade through it all (

But still, it’s been an unusual year, so you’d expect a tsunami of research papers, wouldn’t you? Actually, this is no different from any other year. Scientists have for a long time been decrying their ‘attention decay’ in the midst of an ever-increasing flood of academic studies (Independent, 11 March 2015). And their libraries need a lot of magazine subscriptions too. No one knows how many scientific journals there are, but several estimates point to around 30,000, with close to two million articles published each year (

Alright, but presumably all this stuff must get read eventually?

Again no. A 2007 study estimated that half of all academic papers are read by only three people, their author, and two journal editors (Smithsonian Magazine, 25 March 2014 ).

Yes, but all the same, it’s all worthwhile research, isn’t it?

You’d presume so. But a recent discussion with a friendly in-house editor in the field of epidemiology sheds a somewhat different light on things. It seems that much of what gets sent to high-impact journals is, basically, pretty low grade. An editor’s job is to decide which papers are worth sending out for peer review, but this editor says that 85-90% of the papers she receives effectively ‘go in the bin’, with only around 10-15% going out to peer review. Some journals save money by not bothering with an in-house sifting process, and send everything straight out to review, but this inevitably creates a bottleneck. And reviewers, it needs to be borne in mind, don’t get paid, their motivation being assumed to be keeping abreast of new developments in the field. If they have to provide detailed recommendations on papers that should have been ‘binned’ by the journal’s editor, that’s less overall incentive for the reviewer and more useful research time wasted.

That might just be one overworked and jaded view though?

Not according to psychologist Stuart Ritchie: ‘We think of science as being this objective thing that […] produces all these scientific papers, which are almost sacred things. But a lot of people don’t see how the sausage is made. […] In a lot of cases, the science is useless, not worth the paper it is written on’ (New Scientist, 19 August 2020). In his view, the review system isn’t up to much either. Even if reviewers try to check, they usually can’t get access to the raw data, so they can’t really verify what they’re reading. And on top of that, they can often guess where a paper has come from, despite the supposed anonymity, so bias can creep in.

But even so, it can’t be right that people are writing useless papers, surely? What incentive is there to do that? Are they simply incompetent? Here the in-house editor becomes especially illuminating. To paraphrase the conversation: ‘You have to understand how the system works. The way academics are judged is in terms of publications. These days, most staff in university departments don’t have tenure, they have to write funding bids to cover their wages. If they are managing research projects, they have to write even more extravagant funding bids to cover their workers’ wages as well as their own. Funding agencies get their money ultimately from the government, and they are also under the cosh to justify what they have funded. How do they do that? By promising the government ‘deliverables’. What are these deliverables? Generally, academic papers. Government bean-counters aren’t best placed to tell good papers from bad, so it becomes a matter of ‘never mind the quality, feel the width’. The upshot is that researchers pay the rent by writing vast numbers of papers, many of which will never be read. The whole thing is a funding merry-go-round, driven not by the needs of science so much as the needs of people to chase their next pay cheque.’

To make matters worse, there’s ‘a growing trend in doctoral education […] to dispense with the traditional PhD dissertation and replace it with the requirement for doctoral students to publish several articles based on their research in academic journals, in effect moving responsibility for evaluating doctoral research from university committees to journal editors and reviewers’ ( So much for the appliance of science.

Well ok, but papers are at least reliable because they’re full of citations of other work, right? Right, but 90 percent of papers are never cited at all (Smithsonian, above), so citations tend to come disproportionately from a very few papers. Then these citations in turn spawn further citations, in an ever lengthening and uncritical chain, until the original paper can end up all but forgotten.

To give one example, low-fat diets have been a nutritional shibboleth for decades, yet when the lo-carb craze kicked off a few years ago and sent seismic shocks through the weight loss industry, some researchers actually looked again at the published research on dietary fat. It turned out that all the established ‘knowledge’ about fats in diets, and the official advice given by the US and UK for decades, stemmed from just 6 studies in the 1970s. Even those studies were heavily qualified by the researchers at the time, with some saying dietary advice based on them should never have been issued ( What everyone assumed was rock-solid science in reality stood on very shaky foundations.

Wasted effort is bad enough at the best of times, but when humans are faced with a crisis on the scale of the Covid pandemic, capitalism’s cash-fixated approach to science reveals itself as hopelessly inept. It’s a no-brainer to say that researchers should not write bad papers in the first place. But for that to happen, the pressure for funding would have to come off, so that they could stop chasing their own tails. Could capitalism do this? Unlikely. It hates unquantifiable returns. As they say about cynics, it knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing. But socialism, by making everything free, would do it at a stroke, scrap the entire byzantine funding hierarchy, from government down, and scrap the capitalist money system that engenders the whole ludicrous business. Then researchers would be able to focus on the real work of expanding our knowledge, instead of churning out sops to fulfil the next funding bid.
Paddy Shannon

Socialism, Free Speech and ‘Cancel Culture’ (2021)

From the April 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ten years ago, I found myself the recipient of several angry emails, all sent to my work email address. My crime had been to write a letter to a student newspaper in which I criticised a student’s proposal to make it compulsory for university staff to wear a red poppy. The details of this affair aren’t relevant here and my opinions about the red poppy are easy to find elsewhere (in summary: no communist or socialist should have anything to do with the thing). Presumably unaware of the irony, one outraged nationalist emailed me to say that the Second World War was justified, since it guaranteed ‘the freedoms that we enjoy today’, and also wrote to my line manager recommending that I be disciplined for asserting otherwise. For many on the right, this is what free speech really means: freedom of speech for me and for the people who agree with me.

But some – perhaps an increasing number – of those on the left of politics are also eager to no-platform or ‘cancel’ their real or supposed ideological opponents. Weaker manifestations of cancel culture include ostracism, blanking, ghosting and gossip-mongering – the tactics of an online left that often seems hellbent on plumbing the depths of infantilism, narcissism and moralism. Sometimes leftists go even further, attacking the validity of free expression itself and seeking to curtail it. In the ‘wokest’ corners of the web today, appeals to the principle of free discourse are often mockingly parsed as ‘muh freeze peach’ and the essential foundation of radical political debate – being able to write or say what you think in dialogue with (or opposition to) others – is more and more ridiculed as the outdated obsession of centrist squares, out-of-touch boomers, or, to use the argot, ‘literal fascists’.

Left-wing suspicion of free speech is nothing new. To cite a classic example, Herbert Marcuse’s essay on ‘Repressive Tolerance’ (1965) attempted to justify the denial of freedom of speech and organisation to ‘groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race or religion’. Such groups and movements are still with us, of course, and they should be countered at every turn. But we would argue that for socialists, it doesn’t make sense to suppress repellent social and political views – something Marcuse himself recognised would be ‘undemocratic’ (albeit, in his view, a necessary step towards achieving a more genuine democracy). In general terms, expressions of prejudice and hatred should be permitted, not because there exists some ideal ‘free market of ideas’, but because it is only by discussing and debating them that their vile nature can be exposed. As John Milton famously put it in his Areopagitica ‘Let [Truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter? Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing’.

We understand the appeal of cancel culture. After all, many of the most prominent free speech advocates in today’s public sphere are unpleasant conservatives such as Toby Young, who seems to pop up every five minutes on a British television channel to complain that you can’t say anything these days. But we should not embrace cancel culture just because right wingers oppose it. For one thing, free speech, as Thomas Scanlon argued long ago, is a good in itself, regardless of any consequences its exercise might have: this is because freedom of expression – including the freedom to hear others’ speech and make judgements about it – is important to us as rational, autonomous persons who can and should be able to make up our own minds about particular issues.

Moreover, it’s not clear that cancelling even works very well. The conservative and alt-right wingnuts and hatemongers who complain the loudest about being no-platformed – we’re thinking here of Young, Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson – are actually well-connected and powerful operators who, when cancelled, usually have little difficulty in finding alternative outlets for their opinions. Depriving such characters of their platforms is therefore generally counter-productive: all too often, it only allows them (and their deluded working-class supporters) to posture as the victims of a left-wing PC purge before trotting off to their next lucrative media gig. Cancellation does not starve these toxic edgelords of the oxygen of publicity; quite the opposite, in fact.

And what about the less elevated targets of cancel culture? Cancellation can be devastating for the less well-connected. It is becoming quite commonplace for ordinary people who offend against dominant public opinion on issues such as trans rights or Brexit to suffer reputational damage or to lose work and income . And there is little doubt that such personal and financial ruination is often intended by the cancellers. Indeed, the hostile environment created by cancellation aligns perfectly with the individualist, aggressive, competitive dynamics of contemporary capitalism – the ‘abyss of failed sociality’ as Axel Honneth has so cheerily put it – and the social sadism and ‘humilitainment’ that now mars large parts of mainstream media culture.

On social media, cancel culture often involves the vicious policing of speech, pile-ons and denials-of-service for the most minor of offences against political orthodoxy by relatively powerless individuals. As Kristina Harrison has put it , cancel culture, in its dismissal of nuance and dissent, tends to elevate ‘not debate and politics but moral absolutism, authoritarianism and hysteria, the tools of the witch-hunter’. Like the witch-hunter, the canceller moves readily between criticising the ambiguous behaviours or statements of her targets to making essentialist assertions about them, so that public figures or social media influencers who make misguided, ambiguous or problematic remarks about, say, racial or trans issues automatically become racists or transphobes. This point was made well by the late Mark Fisher in his critique of left-wing call-out culture, ‘Exiting the Vampire’s Castle ‘. Veteran BreadTuber Natalie Wynn (aka. Contrapoints), herself a prominent cancellee, makes the same and many other points in her far-reaching critique of the same.

And it should go without saying that Karl Marx himself would not have been impressed by no-platforming and cancel culture, although some leftists seem to be confused about this. A meme recently on Facebook consists of a four-panel cartoon depicting alt-lite rent-a-gob Milo Yiannopoulos moaning to Karl Marx about violations of his freedom of speech. In the final panel of the sketch, Marx silently picks up Milo and throws him over a clifftop. It’s a fun image, to be sure; but it’s also misleading. In reality, Marx fiercely defended freedom of speech. In ‘On the Freedom of the Press‘ (1842), for example, Marx, with his usual sarcasm, ventriloquised the Prussian press censors of his day, mocking their hypocrisy: ‘Freedom of the press is a fine thing. But there are also bad persons, who misuse speech to tell lies and the brain to plot. Speech and thought would be fine things if only there were no bad persons to misuse them!’ In fact, Marx opposed censorship throughout his life. And anybody suspecting Marx of capitulating to liberalism in this regard should think again. As Eric Heinze argues, Marx defended free speech not as a bourgeois right, but as something more fundamental: a foundational philosophical praxis that makes possible the very discussion of rights.

Today, we socialists make up a tiny minority of the population and we have very little political and social clout. To change this situation, we need to be able to explain to other members of the working class what socialism is and why everybody will benefit from it. Sometimes this seems like an impossible task: even in relatively ‘open’, liberal societies, the major media organisations, as well as all the other institutions of capitalism, are overwhelmingly ranged against us and communist ideas are vilified, marginalised and misrepresented in both right- and left-wing media. But we must make use of whatever relatively democratic spaces and opportunities do exist to shout about socialism. To attempt to deny free speech to our opponents simply on the grounds that they hold repellent or false views, meanwhile, would be unprincipled and counter-productive; ultimately, it would only make it even easier than it already is for those in power to silence us.

Letter: Was Trump a fascist? (2021)

Letter to the Editors from the April 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

I subscribe to the Socialist Standard (and in former years to the Western Socialist) and reside in Boston, US. I am writing in response to articles in the Standards of Sept, Oct, and Dec 2020 concerning the Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum ness of the US presidential candidates.

As soon as I was old enough to vote I enthusiastically voted for Democrat Lyndon Johnson for president and two years later for Republican Ed Brooke for US senate because both had proclaimed themselves peace candidates while running against open warmongers. Shortly after the votes were counted both turned into war candidates. I grew wise to the shell game and between 1966 and 2020 never voted for a Democrat or Republican for any but the most local offices. Over the years I cast ballots only for candidates promoting socialism of various sorts.

This election I voted for Biden with no illusions that he would other than avidly promote the interests of the capitalists and likely engage in more antagonistic relations with Russia and maybe the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The reason I cast that ballot was that Trump was openly indicating that he was moving towards creating a fascist dictatorship. Hardly a joking matter.

In your editorial ‘How real is democracy today?’ you state ‘ … we must not read into this that capitalist democracy is a sham that workers should have nothing to do with … the workers were not handed their democratic rights on a plate, they had to struggle for them…’ These rights: speech, assembly, religion, freedom from unreasonable search & seizure and the rest are extremely valuable and deserve being protected – to that end I have membership of the American Civil Liberties Union. The state is regularly engaged in attacking these rights but the system of capitalist democracy allows workers space to organize. Hitler, Mussolini, Franco showed us what fascism is. When a Trump is openly threatening such a thing I decided a vote for Biden was a wise thing.

Steve Kellerman

PS For a stunning depiction of life in a free society I recommend the novel Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone.

You say that Trump was ‘openly indicating that he was moving towards creating a fascist dictatorship’ and that this was ‘hardly a joking matter’. Apart from the fact that little that capitalist leaders do is ‘a joking matter’ and indeed can sometimes be a matter of life and death for workers, this does not mean that one of these leaders can at will take over the state and set up a fascist regime, Hitler or Mussolini-style. As recent articles in the Socialist Standard have pointed out, the US, as a developed capitalist state with a longstanding electoral process, has a well-entrenched mechanism for preventing an individual from exercising unrestrained personal power. The result of the November election helps to illustrate that, but, even had it gone the other way, Trump, despite his rhetoric and all else, would still not have been able to set up his own autocratic rule. In fact he would have stumbled on, attempting, always unsuccessfully, to tame the capitalism system and the anarchic market forces which dictate its ups and downs, much the same as Biden is doing now. You are right to say that capitalist democracy, limited as it is, ‘allows workers space to organise’, and this is important and essential so that workers can plan for a society to supersede capitalism and be able to vote to set up that society when they decide to do so. However, we cannot agree that Trump could have seriously carried out threats to remove workers’ space to organise (i.e. their long established democratic ‘rights’) and to close down the American electoral system. Did he even make such threats? So, given that such a thing was not seriously on the agenda, a vote for Biden was indeed a vote for Tweedledee.

You are right to say that Biden’s policies may well be more anti-Russian and anti-North Korean than Trump’s, but all this is part of the international capitalist power game to gain influence over trade routes, raw materials and markets. And since the rulers of all these countries are playing that same power game, we should neither support or sympathise with any of them and certainly not suggest, as you seem to be doing, that there is anything in the least ‘socialist’ or ‘democratic’ in the horribly misnamed ‘People’s Democratic Republic of Korea’.

As a long-time reader of the Socialist Standard, you will obviously know about the kind of socialist society we advocate – moneyless, wageless, marketless and based on common ownership, social cooperation and free access. In view of this it seems a little surprising that you should view Ignazio Silone’s novel Bread and Wine as ‘a stunning depiction of life in a free society’. Our reading of it is that it is the story of a brave individual desperately struggling to survive in the genuinely fascist society that was Italy in the 1930s. – Editors.

Keep Calm And Carry On With The Clichés (2021)

The Proper Gander Column from the April 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard 

When our leaders want a quick and easy way to try and boost our morale they often lazily turn to invoking ‘blitz spirit’. Predictably, the notion has been stirred up during the pandemic by, among others, the Queen, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Labour head Keir Starmer. BBC One’s recent documentary Blitz Spirit With Lucy Worsley aimed to uncover the meaning behind the platitude. As Worsley says, ‘blitz spirit’ is a ‘benchmark of Britishness – something we can call upon in times of crisis’, a jingoistic mix of stoicism, rule-following and optimism.

The phrase glosses over the fear and pain suffered during the blitz, the campaign of air raids on British cities by the German state’s forces during the Second World War. Between September 1940 and May 1941, over 40,000 people were killed and more than two million houses were damaged or destroyed. Britain’s wartime government thought that public morale would suffer without its propaganda, so the idea of ‘blitz spirit’ developed. And it’s lasted through the decades, despite the myths around it being exposed in many books and articles before this latest documentary.

‘Blitz spirit’ has connotations of everyone pulling together amid the bombing, but society’s divisions meant this couldn’t happen. One way that people were literally divided was through their nationality: at the start of the war, 27,000 foreign nationals living in Britain (80 percent of whom were Jewish) were arrested and held in camps amid suspicions of spying. Another division was by wealth: not only were people in poorer areas more likely to be hit by bombs, but the most well-off had better safeguards than the shoddily-built public surface shelters. London Underground stations were a preferred option to these, although the government banned their use as shelters until angry crowds persuaded the authorities to open the gates. Despite the protection they offered, the stations soon became overcrowded and unhygienic. As the Socialist Standard reported in November 1940, ‘while one reads of cocktails drunk in comfortable deep shelters by well-to-do people, one sees the crowds of poverty-stricken with their bundles besieging the shelters and tubes, and the appalling conditions under which multitudes of people spend the greater part of their time in the Underground stations have to be seen to be believed’. The cocktail drinkers were using shelters in places like the Savoy hotel, where the Communist Party organised a protest against the disparity of provision.

The ‘blitz spirit’ myth has endured by its folk memory ignoring the uncomfortable details which go against its narrative. It has also been manufactured through several striking images from the war, all of which are distortions of what really happened. Photographs (and reports) printed in newspapers were subject to strict rules to avoid revealing the extent of the destruction. Those published were carefully selected to manage people’s perceptions, such as the image of St Paul’s Cathedral untouched while smoke drifts around, proudly displayed on the front page of the Daily Mail. The picture was held up as a symbol of London’s ‘indomitable spirit’, but it had been cropped to downplay the damage to nearby buildings. The uncropped version appeared in a contemporary German newspaper, with the opposite intention. Another memorable photo shows a milkman casually carrying a crate of bottles over the ruins of a street. This was staged, with the photographer’s assistant posing with a borrowed coat and crate, and contrived to be acceptable to the censors. The ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ poster was one of three designed in 1939 by the Ministry of Information with the aim of raising spirits. It was never distributed and millions of copies were pulped due to the view that the slogan was patronising. The poster was forgotten about until a surviving copy was unearthed in a bookshop in 2000. In a canny commercial move, it was licenced to be reprinted and subsequently appeared on mugs, t-shirts, cushion covers and other tat as the last decade’s favourite cliché. ‘Keep calm and carry on’ is supposed to mean a patient resilience, but it really translates as ‘put up and shut up’. A sentiment which wartime propagandists realised they couldn’t get away with turned out to be profitably popular 70 years later.

Robert Barltrop
Rather than suggesting that ‘blitz spirit’ doesn’t exist because of its shaky foundations, the documentary says that the idea is better expressed through the stories of how ‘ordinary people’ coped during the air raids. These are recreated by actors presenting the diary writings of six Londoners. Nina Masel went from shop work to a paid job with the Mass Observation project to record people’s experiences, until she resigned, incensed that her contributions were being turned into propaganda. Frances Faviell, an artist and socialite, received just a week’s training as an auxiliary nurse before finding herself having to treat the terrible injuries caused by the bombing. Two air raid precaution wardens are featured: Ita Ekpenyon, who moved from Nigeria to study law, and Barbara Nixon, an out-of-work actress. Also included is Frank Hurd, a full-time firefighter who was killed while tackling a burning building. The sixth person is Robert Barltrop, a teenage warehouse porter who volunteered as a firewatcher when the war started. The programme doesn’t go into his life after the blitz, when he enrolled with the RAF until a bout of tuberculosis prevented him from taking part in conflict. Rejecting the military and what it represents, Barltrop joined the SPGB in 1946, having first heard about the party before the war through conversations in his local shoe repair shop. During his many years as a member he was an editor, writer and illustrator for the Socialist Standard, and his 1975 book The Monument is a readably anecdotal history of the party.

How these six, and millions of others, dealt with the horrors of the bombing was indeed brave and often selfless, if that’s what’s meant by ‘spirit’. But the notion of ‘blitz spirit’ is different, meant to evoke a warm, patriotic reassurance during a crisis, keeping calm and carrying on without asking questions or looking beyond the propaganda. As such, it remains a useful myth for capitalism’s apologists.
Mike Foster

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Party like it's 2021

Some blog housekeeping is in order. It may not be pretty. That is all.

Pathfinders: You are now in Capitalist Economic Time (2022)

The Pathfinders Column from the March 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 27 March the clocks once again go forward an hour, in line with the seasonal ‘spring forward, fall back’ daylight-saving scheme.

But possibly not for much longer. What with Brexit, the pandemic, and Russia and the West playing Dr Strangelove, you may have missed the fact that the European Parliament voted to scrap daylight-saving back in 2019, though recent events have conspired to delay the changeover.

Why are they scrapping it? Because it doesn’t make sense anymore. It was first introduced as a war measure in Germany in 1916, to save energy on lighting. Britain quickly followed suit, and many other countries soon afterwards. With modern lighting systems and more efficient energy sources, this reasoning no longer holds up. Many areas of the world, like Africa, east Asia, and most of South America, don’t bother with it at all. And there are other concerns. The RAC says that the rate of road accidents increases by 19 percent in the two weeks after clocks-back in October (, while a 2012 study found a 10 percent increase in heart attack risk after clocks-forward in March ( But retail businesses like it, as they think it makes people stay out later in the winter so it makes them more profits.

Nothing about time makes much sense. It’s hard for computers to work with, because we use minutes and seconds in base 60, and hours in base 24, as inherited from the ancient Babylonians who divided both the year and the circle by the same number, 360. The enterprising French revolutionaries in the 1790s created a decimal metric system for weights, measures and even time. The metric system stuck, but decimal time didn’t. It’s not hard though. China used a decimal time system for over a thousand years before adopting western time in 1645 (

UK Prime Minister, party animal and patriot Boris Johnson of course announced that Brexit Britain might refuse to fall into line with Europe if they scrap daylight-saving. But this would put Northern Ireland and Eire in different time zones, no small inconvenience to regular cross-border traffic. People already have to change their watches when crossing from Spain into Portugal, because Spain and indeed France are in the wrong time zone. How come? Because of a weird temporal anomaly known as capitalist politics.

When you look at a world atlas, you see perfectly straight lines of longitude and latitude. Political entities and physical properties have no bearing on these lines. You might imagine that time too would be immune from such considerations, starting at GMT±0 (aka UTC or ‘Zulu time’) and proceeding east in hourly increments to the dateline and then in decrements back to zero. You probably picture these zones as being like wide vertical stripes extending from pole to pole, which you only cross when travelling East-West or West-East. But if so, you’d be spectacularly wrong.

Time zones are only regular stripes over international waters. Over land, the clocks melt like a Dalí painting, the zones warping and twisting and contorting as if by some powerful magnetic force, flowing along coastlines, extruding far into neighbouring zones, and even jumping to entirely unrelated zones in little isolated splashes.

If you were to travel due south in a straight line from northern Norway (GMT+1), you would have to set your watch forward an hour to enter Finland (GMT+2). Then an hour again to enter Belarus (GMT+3). Then an hour back for Ukraine and the Black Sea (+2 – although if Russia were to invade as some believe, Ukraine would likely be switched to Russian/Belarus time +3). Still going due south, forward an hour for Turkey (+3) but back again for the Med and North Africa (+2), then forward for Ethiopia down to Tanzania (+3) and finally back again for Malawi and Mozambique (+2). That’s a North-South longitudinal line involving three time zones and seven clock changes.

This haphazard zone-bending or jumping is apparent almost everywhere you look on a world map ( The time zone numbers are not always whole integers either. Iran sits at GMT+3 ½, Nepal at GMT+5 ¾. A more awkward and convoluted system could scarcely be imagined, and all to satisfy precious nationalistic sensibilities.

The popular (and free) astronomy app Stellarium has a User Guide which takes a refreshingly high-minded stargazer’s view of all this: ‘The world is split into political entities called countries. Humans have an unappealing tendency of fighting over the question to which country some territories should be counted. In consequence to much unnecessary and unfriendly discussion we decided to completely drop the petty-minded assignment of political country names to locations in favour of geographical regions. There is only one known habitable planet, one humankind, and one sky. Stellarium users should overcome borders!’ It seems that astronomers and socialists are on the same page. Maybe there’s something about staring at distant galaxies that puts this world into its proper perspective.

There’s nothing sacred about time zones. They were only introduced in the 19th century to synchronise railway timetables. Theoretically, in socialism, we could abolish them and adopt a Single Common Time. Assuming GMT as the baseline, Australians would simply have to get used to having elevenses at 23.00 hours, just like they have Christmas beach barbeques in summer. But there would be no obvious advantage in doing this, any more than having 100-minute hours or ten months to a year.

Assuming therefore that we retained time zones, we could theoretically make them as straight and regular as a global zebra crossing. But this would be impractical and even downright silly. Can you imagine having to reset your watch when you cross the road to visit a neighbour, because your street happens to cross a notional time zone? No, you’d simply redraw the time line around your town to save such bother, and probably around neighbouring towns and cities too. What would be a reasonable distance to travel before having to reset your watch? In short, how far would you bend time?

That depends on geography. We often say there would be no borders in socialism, aside from natural barriers like rivers and mountain ranges and oceans, because there would be no states and no ‘countries’ as such. But it’s not entirely true. There would indeed be borders, based on time, invisible and yet real in the sense that you’d have dislocate your day to pass them, with what cultural ramifications we can’t predict, though of course there’d be no fences, guards or customs. Where exactly we might draw these borders would be a matter of debate, but at least it would be a practical and democratic debate, and a relaxed one at that, not one tainted by any squalid nationalistic, political or colonial interests.
Paddy Shannon

Hunter-gatherers: Who are they? What do they tell us? (2022)

From the March 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the time of Europe’s first extensive contact with indigenous peoples in the sixteenth century, the lives of hunter-gatherers have exercised a fascination over our mind. Who are these people? How do they live? What do they tell us about human society? Anthropologists dispute over how exactly we should define them. Beyond the fact that they live exclusively by hunting and gathering their societies are very various. Some, like the forest dwelling Mbuti of sub-Saharan Africa are nomadic, others, such as the South American Canela, live in settled communities. Several alternate between a nomadic and a settled lifestyle from season to season. Some hunter-gatherers are socially stratified, like the indigenous communities of the Pacific North-West of America who have a class of ‘nobles’ and a class of slaves. Others, like Australian aboriginal groups are dominated by elders who control young men by limiting their access to women. Others still, like the Nuer of the Sudan, have egalitarian relationships, but only between men. Hunter-gatherers have a multitude of different ways of organising themselves. The one thing we can say with any clarity is what they are not. They are not farmers. They are not tribal peoples who live partly by farming and have complicated clan structures. They are not urban dwellers and they do not live under the rule of complex states. They do not live like us.

Who are they?
Since the mid-1960s, however, a lot of attention has been focused on one particular type of hunter-gatherer, characterised by the anthropologist James Woodburn in a 1982 paper titled ‘Egalitarianism’ as ‘immediate return’ ( ‘Immediate-return ’ societies are those which do not store or preserve food or other items, but consume what they produce more or less immediately. Only a small number of hunter-gatherer groups following this type of economy still survive. The most well-known examples are the Hadza in Tanzania, groups such as the Mbenjele, and Mbuti in the forests of sub-Saharan Africa, the Ju/’hoansi and !Kung and related groups in Namibia, the Hill Pandaram and Paliyan of southern India, and the Batek of Malaysia. What particularly intrigued Woodburn about all these groups is that, scattered as they were over three continents, they share the same type of social organisation. They are all intensely egalitarian. They live without private property. They have no chiefs, no elders, no shamans, no authority figures of any kind. Each individual is autonomous: no one can tell anyone else what to do. They are not territorial. And though their societies occasionally exhibit low levels of interpersonal violence, they do not make war on their neighbours. And contrary to the practice in patriarchal societies, women live close to their mothers, where they have support at least during their early years of childbirth and child rearing, while their male partners live with them.

Egalitarianism is often a poorly defined term. An egalitarian society is one in which people are equal, but equal in what way? It is a term that can mean many different things, and if you make people equal in one sense, you will often make them unequal in another. If you give a couple with one child and a couple with four children equal salaries, you make them unequal in their ability to provide for their dependents. Historically, the term ‘egalitarian’ has been used rather loosely by anthropologists, to describe societies that show egalitarian features in some aspects of their organisation, but not necessarily in others. The Nuer, mentioned above, were once described as egalitarian for maintaining equal relations among men, but distinctly unequal relations between men and women. It was a sign of the times. More recently, however, the term has only come to be used to describe societies that are egalitarian in more fundamental ways. When speaking of hunter-gatherers, it is used principally to mean two things, political equality and equality between the sexes. Political equality refers to equality of decision-making power. All immediate-return hunter-gatherers exhibit both these types of egalitarianism as well as a number of other features necessary to sustain them. These are principally an absence of authority figures, an equal access to goods and services and an absence of any kind of discrimination. All these societies, in other words, demonstrate a high degree of personal freedom.

Egalitarian, immediate-return hunter-gatherer societies are of particular interest to anthropologists, since it is believed that this was the form of organisation found among early humans. Even though evidence is growing that other forms of hunter-gatherer societies also existed (principally between 40,000 and 12,000 years ago), their numbers are still relatively small and the consensus remains that immediate-return societies predominated. Immediate-return hunter-gatherers are also of interest to socialists since they demonstrate a number of features about our human capacity to live and produce together socially as equals with a minimum of physical conflict.

We are surrounded with ideologies of capitalism which urge us to believe that humans are naturally competitive, aggressive and even warlike, and that capitalist society which promotes these qualities, is therefore well fitted to our nature. Given our prevailing mood of pessimism and the daily experience of living in a competitive capitalist society, it’s not surprising that this story appeals to many. But is it true? It seems not. The mere existence of immediate-return hunter-gatherers gives the lie to this story. If it were the case that we possessed some abstract ‘human nature’ that compelled us all to behave competitively, then immediate-return hunter-gatherers would never have existed, let alone survived sustainably for tens of thousands of years. And if the evidence holds and it turns out that this is the way we organised our societies during the 250,000 years in which we were establishing ourselves as a separate species, then it might surely be said to be the kind of society to which we are best fitted.

What do they tell us?
We must be careful, though. One of the things immediate-return hunter-gatherers can’t do is provide us with a blueprint of how to live in a socialist society. Even if we desired to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, it should be obvious that a pattern of life only sustained by the availability of large tracts of land could not support our current levels of population. To survive, we need some degree of large-scale mechanisation and social production requiring significant organisation and coordination. A future socialist society would look very different from an immediate-return hunter-gatherer one. As it happens, though, we now have a good understanding of the principles by which immediate-return hunter-gatherers maintain their egalitarianism and individual autonomy, and we can see how these are highly compatible with a society of common ownership and free association.

The first and most obvious of these principles is that individual freedom and equality is founded on the absence of private property relations. When everything is shared and every individual has free and direct access to the necessities of life, then no one has the power to stand between anyone else and the satisfaction of their needs. Common ownership, like hunter-gatherer sharing relationships, does not eliminate conflict but it severely reduces it down to the level of the individual or to small groups and prevents it becoming socially disruptive. Just as important for the maintenance of egalitarian relations and personal freedom in hunter-gatherer society is the ability of an individual or family to move away from any conflict situation or any individual who tries to coerce them. In capitalism our mobility as workers is limited. Moving away to another area means quitting a job, selling a house or giving up a tenancy, and finding another one. Within capitalism’s property system, that alone can be an insecure and worrying process, not to say one burdened with a lot of legal paperwork, financial rigmarole and practical hassle. Moving can also mean tearing oneself away from our support networks. In the non-private property environment of a socialist society, however, such restrictions are almost completely eliminated. Even the support we need for ourselves and our families is no longer dependent on particular people but is built into the fabric of a society based on free access and the satisfaction of individual need.

Immediate-return hunter-gatherers can also provide us with useful counter-evidence to many of the claims of capitalist economics. They show, for instance; that market relations are not universal and that human beings have no inescapable urge to ‘truck, barter and exchange’. They show that there is no obvious and necessary division between productive activity and social life, or that what a person receives from society must inevitably be tied to her individual work contribution. They show that acquisitiveness and selfishness are not essential features of human behaviour, that external pressures are not required to incentivise individuals to work, and that inequality and class divisions are not indispensable features of human society. They show too, that the inevitability of scarcity together with all that implies in society is a myth. Most systems of capitalist economics hold that scarcity arises because human beings have unlimited wants and limited means to satisfy them. In reality, however, we are producers as well as consumers of the goods we need to live. This gives us potentially a choice. We can work more and consume more, or we can work less and consume less.

Put in this simple, abstract way such decisions seem straightforward. Yet in a capitalist economy nothing is so simple. Our choices are blocked and distorted by the fact that in between the acts of production and consumption stands the profit motive which drives them both by its own relentless logic. It drives production by the continuous need for capitalists to maximise profit in a competitive environment; it drives consumption by the constant pressure on capitalists to market products, create wants and maximise sales. In the process, profit eliminates choice. Immediate-return hunter-gatherer societies face no such issues. They live at low levels of subsistence and their members require little to lead happy and fulfilling lives, yet even so they often choose to restrict their production in order to maximise their time spent on socialising and other activities. We have the same choice in a socialist society. What immediate-return hunter-gatherer societies demonstrate most clearly is that many of the assumptions made by capitalist economists are no more than a mirage cast by capitalism itself upon us and our relationships.