Sunday, May 15, 2022

Sting in the Tail: Institute of Dementia (1994)

The Sting in the Tail column from the May 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Institute of dementia

One of the influences on the thinking of Downing Street is the Adam Smith Institute. This organization is the so-called “think-tank" of the Tory Party. Their latest foray into the brave new world we can all expect under a Tory government is typical of the Tory Utopia they have in mind for all of us.

Britain, which at present is covered by five percent of forest, will have a forest covering 65 percent of the total land mass. Mines, factories and farmland will be given over to forests with wolves and bears.

Presumably these creatures will be shot, trapped and maimed by champagne-swilling landlords assisted by forelock-tugging peasantry.
"Private security firms will patrol villages and housing estates and surveillance cameras will cover the bulk of Britain. " (Guardian, 5 April)
In the Tory Utopia there will be major breakthroughs, in a privately-run Health Maintenance Organization, in dealing with dementia, cancer and AIDS.

We can only hope that scientists, seeking a cure for dementia, start their research in that dementia-ridden pocket of human stupidity called the Adam Smith Institute.

Land of hope and tory

A Tory Party Conference is a festival of unreality. The stirring chords of Land of Hope and Glory are struck as the leader emerges to thunderous applause.

The themes are loyalty, nationalism, toughness and realism . . . but most of all loyalty. The leader is everything. Mindless devotion . . . and loyalty are pledged. In reality it is all an empty sham. John Major is now finding out just how empty.

Take the case of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, the former Solicitor General for Scotland, bon viveur and wearer of tartan trews, tartan waistcoats and for all we know tartan boxer shorts.

Speaking on BBC Scotland (4 April) he called his leader a "ventriloquist’s dummy" and a "softie".

Not that Major’s rivals fared much better. "I don’t like Clarke and I don’t trust Heseltine — I   think he’s a spiv and Clarke’s a bounder."

In the nasty world of capitalist politics, loyalty is a conference illusion. These horrible job-hunters are all falling out as they try to get their snouts deeper into the Westminster trough of power and wealth.

Another ego trip

The Detroit summit involving the seven leading industrial nations (G7) set about the impossible task of solving capitalism’s unemployment problem.

Needless to say, the attending finance ministers were less than unanimous about what should be done. America wanted Germany to relax its monetary policy in the hope that this would get economic growth moving again, but this was angrily rejected: Britain was all for a free-market approach but Japan warned of the social consequences of this, and so on.

However, numerous "Think-tanks" were not slow to offer their solution. These included the inevitable work-sharing, the spread of "wise taxes" and one which really boiled down to the jobless taking in one another’s washing.

But the summit did succeed in achieving its primary aim — to provide the opportunity for some political peacocks to strut their stuff on the world stage, and they enjoyed it so much that they agreed — and here they were unanimous to do it all over again in July in sunny Italee!

Go for the big one
"Paying For Our Crimes" was the title of an article by Joan Bakewell (Guardian, 21 March) in which she highlighted various groups throughout the world who want restitution for the wrongs they have suffered.

There are those British prisoners of the Japanese during World War Two who want compensation for their ordeal; American indians and Australian aborigines who demand the return of lands stolen by white settlers, and an African organization which wants an apology for slavery along with the cancellation of all Third World debt on the grounds that "We don’t owe them anything. They owe us"!

All of these claimants, or at least their ancestors, have been treated abominably, but so has the world’s working class. They have been robbed, murdered and degraded by capitalism for two hundred years but socialists do not encourage them to ask for compensation. Instead, we urge them to forget about crumbs from the table of their masters’ banquets and to take the whole feast for themselves.

Benn’s glad tidings

That big lead over the Tories in the opinion polls may seem to point to a rosy future for the Labour Party, but an article by Tony Benn in Tribune (8 April) paints a different picture.He says that the party is in an alarming" position in the constituencies:
"Party membership is down . . . young people seem uninterested in joining . . . and our historic link with the unions has been weakened. "
If this last bit means that trade unions are at last putting the interests of their members before those of Labour politicians then it is good news. Even better is that any youngsters who dislike capitalism are less likely to have an entanglement with Labour standing between them and a consideration of the case for socialism.


"Socialists believe in levelling down while Conservatives believe in levelling-up" has been the oft-repeated claim of trie Tories down the years.

Of course, by "socialists" they mean the Labour Party, but how valid is that claim? One feature of the past 13 years of Tory rule has been the huge pay-outs that top business people award one another. The latest example is the £1.4 million Barclay’s Bank paid to the head of its broking business while offering staff in its branches a two percent pay rise. Is this levelling-up?

Then there is the Tories’ insistence that if British capitalism is to be competitive workers here will have to accept the low level of wages and conditions prevalent in Asia and eastern Europe, and they actually boast to prospective overseas investors about how this is already happening.

If “levelling-up" means bringing the wages and conditions of workers here more into line with those of the world’s sweatshops then the Tories are living up to their claim.

An old tradition

A Glasgow Tory councillor has predicted that Tommy Sheridan, leader of the council’s Militant group will be in the House of Lords thirty years from now: 
"There was nervous laughter from the Labour benches when Councillor Young reminded them: "We've seen it all before and we will see it again". Presumably, the Militant leader would be re-absorbed into the mainstream of Labour ranks on his journey to the right. And respectability. ’ (The Glaswegian, 7 March)
Well, perhaps, but that Tory councillor does have history on his side. Bigger rebels than Sheridan, "Red Clydesiders" such as Manny Shinwell and Davie Kirkwood, ended up in ermine, so maybe some of that nervous laughter was coming from Sheridan and his Militant cohorts.

What a nerve!
Several orthodox Jews jeered the Dalai Lama during a visit to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem yesterday, calling the Tibetan spiritual leader crazy. "You look like an intelligent man, but you're stupid, fleeing from reality," shouted one worshipper.
No, this wasn’t one of the media’s April Fool jokes because it appeared in the press ten days earlier, but shouldn’t religious people be the last ones to accuse anyone else of ‘fleeing from reality"?

Sadly — we were right (1994)

From the May 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard
With the acknowledged failure of state-capitalism world-wide, the futility of Labour's traditional policy of nationalization has been exposed. At another level, the policy of "demand management", on which rested Labour's claim to he able to control capitalism and deliver full employment has, also, been generally abandoned as capitalism has now clearly destroyed the illusion that it can he made a compassionate society. History has vindicated the socialist argument for the abolition of capitalism and the urgent establishment of a truly democratic system of production for use. As we look at the growing misery of the working class and, because we are workers, as we feel these miseries, we may confess that:

The British Labour Party was born in 1906 — two years after the Socialist Party. The latter had a clearly-defined objective, the attainment of Socialism, and a distinctive, democratic strategy for achieving that objective.

The Labour Party, on the other hand, was, to use the words of some of those who delineated its changing strategies, a "broad church". Its membership was diverse in their aspirations: the trades unions, who provided the purse, saw it as a burgeoning political force that would represent their interests in parliament; a multiplicity of reform groups saw Labour as a potential promoter of their varying causes and there was even a minority political element, perhaps the most vociferous in the new party, that aspired to the eventual achievement of a "fairer" society. Some of the latter defined that fairer society as Socialism.

Agitational fodder
While the unions provided the day to day agitational fodder of the party, it was the most coherent strain within the political element, the Fabian group, that gave the organization its underlying philosophy. Whereas the Socialist Party argued that the achievement of Socialism necessitated a conscious democratic mandate, which, in turn, imposed the need to clearly define socialism and gain majority support for it, the Fabians took the view that capitalism could be transformed over time by a process of gradual reforms and, thus, made to function in the interest of the working class.

Effectively, the argument in support of gradualism was based on the belief that administrative changes, brought about by ongoing reforms, would allow capitalism to operate in the interest of society as a whole. Indeed that is probably overstating the case since the concept of real social equality would have been regarded by most Fabian thinkers as an impractical ideal. As opposed to this philosophy, the Socialist Party maintained that capitalism was a system structured on the systematic exploitation of the working class and could not, therefore, operate in the interest of the class it exploited. Today the question underlying that debate has been resolved by the history of the last seventy years but the events that made up that history should be recalled and remembered for, as we know now, the long flirtation of the working class with the Labour Party have been wasted years. They have been costly years in terms of disillusionment and frustration and. especially so for the legions of sincere workers who sacrificed so much for the Labour Party.

Between the two world wars the Labour Party gained power on two occasions. Both were minority governments and both proved dismally ineffective. Not only did Labour in government cause a general reduction in wages by reducing the pay of the civil service and the armed forces but it established the precedent followed by all future Labour governments of seeing unemployment rise during its term of office.

Beating the drum
The outbreak of World War Two saw Labour beating the recruitment drum for British capitalism while its leaders took places in government with the Tories and Liberals. As far as economic policy was concerned, Labour had never really promulgated anything more substantial than good intentions allied to a doctrinaire fixation with nationalization — which latter form of state capitalism its leaders misrepresented to the workers as common ownership and socialism.

In fact the real pioneers of what was to become the foundation stone of Labour’s economic policy came from outside the Labour Party. In the mid-Thirties, a group of banking theorists originated an economic philosophy that was to take its name from the most prominent of the group, John Maynard Keynes. The central theme of the new doctrine was that the cyclic nature of capitalist production, involving booms and slumps, identified by Marx and validated by the continuing history of capitalism, could be planned out of the system by a deliberate policy of "demand management".

It is not our purpose here to examine Keynes’s theory but, instead, to look at whether it proved effective in controlling the crises of capitalism. If the new formula did work, it would not, of course, resolve the problems of capitalism. Poverty, while it is aggravated by unemployment, is really a result of employment — the fact that the majority class in society has to sell its mental or physical ability to an employer. Many other of capitalism's endemic problems exist irrespective of whether there is a slump.

Nevertheless, the promise of being able to establish a means of controlling the economy would represent a tremendous step forward and would enable government to fashion its social policies on a foundation of full employment. It was this particular aspect of Keynesianism that appealed especially to the Labour Party. All the political parties of the Left, the Right and the Centre adopted Keynes and it was the apparent validity of that theory that made the subsequent provisions contained in the Beveridge Report for a post-war "Welfare State" appear realistic.

To all but the socialist the rise of welfare capitalism appeared to be a gargantuan leap forward. Looked at from the perspective of capitalist Britain in the ’90s, it might seem that the period following World War Two, when not only Labour but the Conservatives fought elections around promises of improved social welfare, were good days for the working class. Closer examination reveals otherwise. Both Labour and Tory governments struggled to keep public spending in check for, despite Keynes and the more important massive post-war rebuilding programme, capitalism limped along in a series of mini-slumps.

Industrial mayhem
These, then as now, led to increased public spending, as government (both Labour and Tory) tried the Keynesian formula of spending as a means of avoiding recession. This forced government into monetary policies that fed inflation and the net result was mayhem on the industrial front as workers fought to maintain the value of their wages against a background of rising prices and a multiplicity of legislative schemes for freezing pay.

It is arguable if the Keynesian strategy delayed the onslaught of slump but it failed to check unemployment nor could it disperse the storm clouds of capitalism’s crisis. In fact, it was Labour's last Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, who was forced into making major assaults on public spending. In effect, though governments of both complexions had previously imposed welfare restrictions, it was Healey, at the behest of the International Monetary Fund, who inaugurated that phase of capitalism’s counter-attack on the entire concept of the welfare state that subsequently become known as "Thatcherism".

While socialists saw the post-war social security package as planning for the permanence of poverty, and while we pointed out that supporters of the Beveridge Plan in Parliament had argued their case largely on the basis of the benefits of the various parts of the Plan for British capitalism, nevertheless we accepted that a slice of bread was preferable to hunger. We oppose reformism not because we see all reforms as bad or undesirable but because they are promoted as a means of making capitalism secure and because even the mean reforms that the workers do win can, as we are all now well aware, be reduced or abolished.

Today, of course, the Labour Party doesn’t even pretend to champion nationalization or any of the other schemes which they lyingly misrepresented as socialism. They have made it clear that it is not their intention to revoke the anti-trade-union laws which the Tories introduced nor to undo the privatizations that this government has used to enrich its friends. Their principal preoccupation is to convince "business" — the visible face of capitalist parasitism — that they can help to improve profits and limit taxation.

Sometimes, of course, when we read the horror stories that attend on poverty, housing and sickness today, we are tempted to regret that we were right. That knowledge, however, must make us redouble our efforts to build a party offering a genuine socialist alternative to capitalism.
Richard Montague

Between the Lines: No sense in censorship (1994)

The Between the Lines column from the May 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

No sense in censorship

The government is currently proposing an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill which seeks to ban videos which present what is termed "an inappropriate model for children". This follows allegations that the behaviour patterns of children are being adversely affected by violent video films which are sometimes "cut" for TV or are shown at times that children aren't supposed to be watching.

The Liberal intelligentsia, ever-watchful of further moves towards censorship, is already on the attack, as well it might be. The idea that "video nasties" are a prime mover in causing psychological disturbance is being seriously questioned, particularly — as today seems to be the case — if it is being put forward as virtually the sole explanation of rising violent crime today, by the government. One letter-writer to the Guardian (7 April) repudiated the government’s analysis well enough:
"I eagerly await the archaeological and historical evidence that Caligula and Nero were regulars at the local XXX-rated "adults-only" cinema, that Torquemada was a closet Texas Chainsaw Massacre fan, that Genghis Khan's bloody rampage across Asia and Europe was a search for more horror movies, that the Waffen SS ’s idea of a good night in was a few cans and some video nasties, and the discovery of the VCR from Mr and Mrs Stalin '.v living room on which young Josef watched pirated copies of I Spit On Your Grave. How else can we explain the atrocities committed throughout the history of the human race?"
Clearly, violent and other anti-social behaviour did not begin with the advent of such external factors as television and video. But this still leaves another question unanswered — do TV and video on occasion exacerbate tendencies that are already extant in society? They may not be the cause of psychological disturbance and violent behaviour, but this doesn’t mean they play no part at all.

The warp factor

If videos and TV have little influence over children — and adults for that matter — why do the bosses spend billions every year in advertising? Their research shows that TV and video footage can have a major influence on the way people think and act. Other research backs this up. The British Medical Journal in February this year reported the (separate) cases of two teenage boys who were diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after watching a spoof BBC1 horror documentary. Regular viewing of violent TV shows and so-called "video nasties" may, therefore, have more deleterious effects than some may wish to think.

This entire debate on the role of TV and video has been given another airing recently with the arrival of a new general of violent cartoon programmes from the United States. In the forefront of this new craze is a cartoon series about two delinquent American teenagers called Beavis and Butt-Head.

Kicking butt

Like a dog that has returned to lick its own vomit, Channel 4 puts out Beavis and Butt-Head late on Friday nights as a replacement for The Word, presumably under the false impression that this will stop children watching it. For those of you who don’t already know', Beavis and Butt-Head are quite an anti-social pair. Their only apparent skill is for starting fires, and in one episode, censored for British TV, they blow up a cat by placing a firework up its backside. They are violent, sexist and only have respect for teenage gangsters older and more daring than themselves.

The supposed intention of this programme’s makers has been to satirize the low-culture world of modern American youth, and by and large, they succeed. But as with other forms of satire, there is a danger. Many viewers, enveloped in the same sort of dire culture as Beavis and Butt-Head, may simply see it as glorification of their lifestyle, just like the Tory racists who thought all along that Alf Garnett was a really good bloke.

Attempts were made to ban Beavis and Butt-Head in the UK for precisely this reason. But banning and censoring programmes doesn’t work. Time and again it has just driven them underground - if the market is there that is all that matters. In any case, censorship — no matter how repellent the programme under consideration — is the reactionary’s way out. Who has the right to do the banning and censoring of things other people might want to watch?

The real problem is not so much that violent, horrific and anti-social programmes and films get made but that capitalism provides such a ready market for them. A society based on cut-throat competition, where everything is to be bought and sold, including humans, degrades and brutalizes us all.

The "no future" nihilism of Beavis and Butt-Head is a particularly worrying manifestation of this and it has to be countered by socialists in open debate. One thing is for sure — capitalism will not be able to tame the horrors it has so far unleashed. Only a socialist society dedicated to peace and co-operation can do that.
Dave Perrin

Socialist Party Meetings (1994)

Party News from the May 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

50 Years Ago: The International Basis of Socialism (1994)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

That Socialist society must, by its very nature, be of an international character, is a truism that the Socialist party has persistently stressed. This, not out of any pious sentiment, but through a recognition of the fact that production in the world to-day is based on a systematic division of labour which integrates and interlocks the whole world, or, at any rate, in wartime, large geographical sections of it. But, unfortunately, side by side with this international division of labour, or. more correctly, resting on it. there exists the capitalist system which rends society in twain by its class division, rendering impossible harmony and peace in the production and distribution of the necessities of life (. . .)

The most important factors in the closer welding of the world to-day. and the future, are undoubtedly air transport and radio. Both of these have succeeded in annihilating space (in the sense of time) to an unprecedented degree, and have brought the peoples of the world into closer contact with each other. To-day, of course, the contact is somewhat painful, but eventually it must play a great part in inculcating an international consciousness into the minds of the world's workers and bring home to them their essentially common interests.

(From an article by M. Judd in the Socialist Standard, May 1944.)