Thursday, May 26, 2022

Injustice and “the law” (1998)

Theatre Review from the August 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nabokov’s Gloves (Hampstead Theatre.)

Employment is a central feature of most people’s lives, and its impact on behaviour has been widely documented by modern playwrights. In the last five years or so it is easy to remember Alan Ayckbourne's aspiring entrepreneur finding himself literally involved in murder in A Small Family Business; two young city types playing the money markets and thereby occasioning the collapse of the family firm in which their parents work in Serious Money; and Wesker's cook driven to uncontrollable violence as he succumbs to the pressures of life in The Kitchen. And now in Nabokov’s Gloves at the Hampstead Theatre, Peter Moffat shows how the lives of a handful of young barristers are affected by the practice of law.

Nick is a smooth-talking, conceited barrister whose great passions in life are football and pop songs. Both matter far more than his partner, his other relations and his work as a lawyer. But when he becomes fixated with a client his cosy, privileged life quickly collapses. Critics in the posh papers noted Nick’s constipated emotional life and other inadequacies supposedly characteristic of English males. I wouldn’t gainsay Nick’s retarded emotional development, but I would charge the practice of law as having much to do with many of his obvious deficiencies.

In Britain the legal process is like some elaborate game. It is a game which is concerned with winning rather than with justice; with the manipulation of juries and evidence rather than truth-telling: a game in which barristers who represent the interests of clients behave with what is seen as a praiseworthy inscrutability and detachment, even when they know that their clients are guilty as charged. Indeed far from “the law” being a virtuous activity, its practice and also the wellbeing of its practitioners must necessarily become compromised when winning is the order of the day. Justice, like truth and honesty, need and compassion, are inevitable victims of a system which puts winning first and everything else second.

All this is very clear in Peter Moffat’s revealing and engrossing play. If some of the critics choose to ignore the obvious, and to take refuge in clichés about “the weaknesses of the middle class English male” (whatever they are), that is their privilege. Moffat has fashioned an acerbic piece of drama which is played with great conviction by a talented cast, and which grips the audience from first to last. A play which shows the practice of law as a hollow sham, the basis of a privileged lifestyle for its practitioners; the whole sustained by double-dealing clerks intent on more business and thus more money for themselves and their professional (sic) colleagues. Far from the practice of law being a principled activity Moffat suggest that its amoral pragmatism damages both the emotional and moral wellbeing of all those caught up in its clutches. The tainted values which are required in order to succeed, serve only to undermine and tarnish the rest of lawyers’ lives.

But then we shouldn’t be surprised that in an unjust society those who serve the cause of supposed justice are also its inevitable victims. The nature of law in a class-divided society is essentially to serve the interests of the dominant, minority class. And there sure ain’t no justice in that.
Michael Gill

American imperialism (1998)

Book Review from the August 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II by William Blum. Black Rose Books, Montreal, Canada. $19.99 (Canadian). £12.99 in UK, pp. 458. 1998

BIum hasn’t a clue as to what kind of society existed in the former Soviet Union, or eastern Europe. or what exists in China or Cuba today. And this is annoying to this socialist reader. Nevertheless, Killing Hope has much to recommend it, as a work of reference and an exposé of American policy in general, and the CIA in particular, since the end of World War II.

Blum’s account, and exposé, covers the entire world. He mentions that within days of the Japanese defeat in China they were being used by the Americans against Mao’s Red Army; how the U.S. influenced the Italian election of 1948; how they, together with Britain, supported the monarchists, and Nazi collaborators in Greece, even before the end of the war in Europe. Interference in the internal affairs of Albania, Germany, Cuba, most Latin American countries, Angola, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and many more, are all detailed. Even the CIA’s involvement in the ousting of Gough Whitlam’s Labour government in Australia in 1975 is described in considerable detail – all in the interest of American capitalism, and its quest for world hegemony, which it has largely achieved. Truly a sordid business.

Blum’s account is particularly useful, because every important statement is reliably sourced.
Peter E. Newell

The Tree (1998)

A Short Story from the August 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once upon a time there was a garden. In this garden was a tree. Once the tree had been useful and small plants had been able to grow tall in its shade. Now it had grown too large, too ugly and too dangerous. The owners of the garden, who were many, were unhappy. Complaints could often be heard against the effects of the tree; its leaves falling in the autumn created a messy nuisance and its great hulk blocked out the sun preventing small flowers from growing. Also the tree had thin spines on its trunk that often injured small children who happened to fall against it. Something had to be done. So the owners of the garden called in the gardeners.

The first gardener was a large man with a red face. He was old and dressed in a suit of heavy green tweed. The owners of the garden gathered round and he spoke to them; “This tree is very old,” he said, “it was planted by our ancestors many years ago. An excellent specimen of its type. It gives fine fruit year after year. Without it the garden would become a jungle rank with weeds. There is nothing wrong with this tree.” Now much that the first gardener said was true. It was true that the tree was old and that it was a very large and, at least from a distance, good looking tree, And it did produce fruit regularly each year. Yet the fruit, although large and tasty, was nutritionally worthless and went rotten easily. Further who could know what the garden would be like without the tree? Many of the owners remained doubtful of what the gardener had said. So they called in another one.

The second gardener was as different from the first as can he. He was young and good looking although his ears were rather too large. He was very enthusiastic and had a wide smile on his face. “I think I have the solution to all your worries,” he declared, “all that is needed is a few subtle alterations which I shall undertake for you.” The owners of the garden were quite happy and let the gardener get on with his “alterations”. These did not take long, and before dawn the next day these were complete. At first no—one could see very much different—the tree was still there and seemed no different. Yet on closer inspection things had changed. On each of the vicious thorns a tiny rubber ball had been placed and around the tree above head height nearly invisible nets had been erected to catch falling leaves. For a while this worked well. Children playing near the tree were safe from harm and there was no more mess from decaying leaves. Yet after a while things began to change. The rubber balls rotted in the wet weather arid eventually fell off. The nets tore in the high winds and finally were ripped away completely away. Before long things were as bad as before. The people were disheartened and called in a third gardener.

The next gardener was something different again. You could see from his piercing blue eyes and his spiky little beard that he meant business. The sunlight gleamed on the bald dome of his head, as he announced; “Comrades, drastic times call for drastic action. I know what must be done with this evil and appalling plant. We shall deal with it vigorously.” Although the man announced the formation of an “anti—tree movement” very few people were interested and he had failed to mention exactly what his plans were. That night be carried them out regardless and in the morning the owners of the garden were faced with the result. “Behold the People’s Tree”. This time there was no doubt that something major had been done. The tree had been painted a bright and shining pink, Its trunk had been shaved of the offending spikes and its branches drastically pruned. Some of the people were aghast at the new appearance of the tree for it was very offensive to look at and the surgery had caused it to give out a foul and possibly dangerous as well. Others were very happy for the new tree had none of the drawbacks of the old. Most, however, did not care one way or the other. Again for a while everything was fine, and everyone grew used to the appearance of the tree. Before long however the tree began to change back. Its thorns grew back but now twice as many, and overhead the branches multiplied. Soon it was worse than before for the tree had began to grow and was now undermining the foundations of the house where the owners lived. The owners of the garden despaired of gardeners and began to doubt that there was a solution to their problems.

Then one of the owners of the garden stood up. He was nothing special, of no particular height, neither old or young and undistinguished in appearance. “I think I know the problem and can think of the solution. The tree must go. We must dig it up, roots as well and dispose of it. But everyone must help to make a proper job of it.” The owners of the garden argued and debated but eventually they came to the conclusion that, yes, the tree must go. The people worked at the job for many a long hour, cutting and hacking away the branches, sawing down the great trunk, then digging out the roots and filling in the hole. Eventually the task was completed. Now the garden looked brighter than it ever had before, its flowers larger, the grass greener. And because it was no longer blighted by the existence of the tree everyone cared for it better. No-one missed the tree once it had gone.