Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Greasy Pole: Keeping Their Hair On (1999)

The Greasy Pole column from the July 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Neil Kinnock fought a lot of losing battles along the way to the relative, but lucrative, obscurity of an EC commissioner but few of them were so hopeless as the struggle to discipline his hair. When he first came into prominence as Labour’s spokesman on education Kinnock had a reputation as a fiery left-winger, with ready verbal access to those facile, fatuous theories about how easy it was for left-wing policies to remedy all of capitalism’s ailments. He was a supporter of CND whose position as a Member of Parliament gave credence to the campaigns aimed at persuading the British ruling class to do something as unlikely as give up their capacity to wage nuclear war. All this, it was hoped, would add up to an irresistible appeal to young people making their way to the polling stations to choose between one capitalist party and another.

This was all very well, except for the hair. Kinnock had a tendency toward baldness, which was not consistent with an appeal to youth so he had to carefully train what was left of his hair across his head, to hide the thinning area on his crown. But alas for such vanity; in spite of all that care and attention the voters, young and old, could not be persuaded to elect a Labour government and as a result, as Kinnock became leader of his party, he saw a desperate need to change as much of his image as he could. Out went the left-wing stuff, to be replaced by bitter, raging attacks on Militant, Derek Hatton and the like. Out went the easy talk about simple solutions to capitalism’s problems; instead we had stern lectures on the absolute necessity to buckle down into obedient exploitability. Out went the CND marches, the banners and the chants; in their place Kinnock was wedded to the policy of the British ruling class being up there with the rest of the nuclear powers, with an arsenal capable of wiping out much of the world.

And suddenly, one day without warning, out went the hair as well. Kinnock did not say: “Look here, I’m fed up with all this combing and arranging and spending a fortune on Brylcreem. From now on you will see the real me.” He simply appeared in public with a bald, shiny head where once his ginger tresses had been so painstakingly fashioned and left his public to draw their own conclusions. One conclusion was that this was the work of some image consultant, who had persuaded Kinnock to give up the unequal struggle in the hope that the voters would be more likely to trust a leader who looked like a mature family doctor rather than one who seemed to be clinging to an unfulfilled adolescence. In any case this drastic re-fashioning was no more successful than all the other changes as Kinnock continued to notch up lost elections until he bowed to the inevitable and resigned.

This disreputable episode was forgotten until the advent of William Hague, who has suffered more than most from a negative image. No sooner had he been chosen as Tory leader than the hacks were queueing up to pour scorn on his infantile appearance. At first Hague seemed to have decided that there was some advantage in having a youthful appearance and launched himself into a series of publicity stunts which in the event only made matters worse for him. There was the conference, soon after their defeat in May 1997, of Tory leaders trying to look like people who were repenting their past arrogance and complacency. Hague had them posing for the cameras wearing chunky sweaters instead of the usual suits—which made them appear acutely uncomfortable and no less gruesome than usual. There was the time Hague made a visit to the Notting Hill Carnival—apparently spontaneous if it were not for the press cameras waiting for him—when he tried to amass some street cred by eating ethnic food from a roadside stall. Then there was the baseball cap.

Party Colours
Hague was trying to do to the Tories what Kinnock and Blair had done for the Labour Party—change the way the party was regarded by the voters. One of the early changes in the Labour Party on the way to becoming New Labour was to get rid of the red flag and replace it with the red rose. Hague decided to do something similar at the Tory conference, abandoning the usual blue backdrop and symbolic torch in favour of one made up of multi-coloured different shapes. This upset many Tories. They were probably unaware that blue was not, in fact, that much of a tradition for the Conservatives. It had been established as their colour as recently as 1961, when Harold Macmillan was their leader, replacing a variety of colours which, for example in Macmillan’s constituency, were orange and purple.

But as was the case with Labour’s red rose, these changes did not have the desired effect and it soon became obvious that desperate measures were called for so Hague, who had suffered from the same sparseness of hair as Kinnock, put the matter in the hands of his barber. He emerged from this with a similarly bare head, which did not make him look like a kindly, mature bank manager but a prematurely bald schoolboy. Soon afterwards he set about proving how strong and decisive he is by sacking several prominent members of his opposition team, including Michael Howard, Norman Fowler and Peter Lilley.

Even Peter Lilley hastened to put his head on the block, which was especially nauseating as he had apparently been sacked over a speech he made when he questioned the emphasis the previous Tory government had put on market operation and the policy to ” . . . convert public services into profit-making businesses”. This speech angered a lot of Tories but a few days later Hague came out in support of Lilley:

“It is a great mistake to think that all Conservatives have to offer is solutions based on free markets. If we think that, we would have little to say about public services where there are limits to the role of the market.”

This may have encouraged Lilley to think that his place in the shadow cabinet and as deputy party leader was safe so that in his turn he may have protested at the decision to sack him. But this did not happen.

Observing such typical back-stabbing and betrayals, Neil Kinnock has changed yet again. Now he says that all the effort he put into a new image for his party was a waste of time. Whatever the party did, the voters did not want him in Number Ten:
“One of the reasons [voters] eventually put their cross by the Conservative candidate was this innate feeling among a relatively small number of people that they couldn’t see me as prime minister. It’s just there in the biochemistry as it were.”
Well Kinnock is no more an authority on biochemistry than he is on how to win elections so when he offers Hague some advice on this latter issue the Tory leader would do well to proceed with caution. “When I saw William Hague put that baseball cap on . . .,” said Kinnock, “I recoiled for his sake . . . The best advice is collar and tie, shiny shoes, a degree of formality . . .”

Perhaps this kind of fatuous rubbish impresses enough people to have them give weighty consideration over which party they want to run British capitalism. They might spend a bit more time to reflect on how meaningless all this is and that this cynical posturing is designed to ensure that a social system endures which is so damaging to its people that it cannot be justified in any free and open assessment.

News in Review: Mandela Speaks (1964)

The News in Review column from the June 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mandela Speaks

In Pretoria Nelson Mandela has stood trial, with eight others, on charges of attempting revolution by violence. If he is found guilty—and he does not deny that he helped to organise acts of sabotage— Mandela could be sentenced to death.

It is inevitable, in the prevailing conditions and atmosphere in South Africa, that Mandela's case should arouse considerable sympathy. To many of those who resent the repressions and indignities which the coloured people of South Africa are subjected to, Mandela's admitted activities are anything but crimes. They are his people’s cries for help.

It is a truism that violent repressions are bound to provoke violent resistance. Because of this, a man in Mandela’s predicament can often come to be thought of as almost a saint. But history has shown how a saint under duress at one time, can be a devil in command at another. The past is crowded with men who have been imprisoned—and even sentenced to death—for their opposition to a repressive power and who, when they eventually themselves took over their country, proved to be no better than the power they had deposed. DeValera, Nkrumah, Ben Bella are only three like this who spring to mind. 
What of Mandela?

During his trial he set out his views in a four and a half hour speech. It is instructive to examine this speech, especially some of the more revealing passages in it.
We all (Ghandi, Nehru, Nkrumah, Nasser) accept the need for some form of Socialism to enable our people to catch up with the advanced countries of the world . . .
It is common for the leaders of rising nationalist movements to tag the name of Socialism onto the measures of state control they would like to impose to try to advance their country's economy. The correct description for these measures is state capitalism, which in large .doses has often led to the imposition of a dictatorship, and which in any case never offers a country’s workers a future any better than private enterprise capitalism.

But even more significant is another passage.
I approached this question (guerilla warfare) as every African Nationalist should do . . . I attempted to examine all types of authority on the subject. . . . covering such a variety as Mao Tse-Tung and Che Guevara on the one hand, and the writings on the Anglo-Boer War on the other.
The point in this, which Mandela’s sympathisers arc bound to miss, is that both Mao Tse-Tung and the Boers were once lighters against oppression. They used the same sort of arguments about human dignity and freedom which Mandela now uses. Yet in the end they have themselves imposed hard dictatorships, under the thrall of which Mandela and his friends have suffered.

What reason is there to believe that the African Nationalists, if they ever got power, would be any improvement on the Boers? The history of capitalism says that there is no reason whatever.

Spy exchange

Of all the dirty jobs which capitalism needs to have done, spying is one of the worst.

And not the least unpleasant aspect of spying is its calculated indifference. A spy knows the score. He knows that he is out on his own and that if he gets caught he must take what is coming to him. The government which sent him out will not—indeed cannot—help him. Except in the very rare occasions when their hand is forced—the U2 is an example—they will not ever admit that the man is a spy.

This was why the Russians never officially recognised Gordon Lonsdale as one of their agents. For the same reasons, the British government’s protestations, that Mr. Greville Wynne was just a harmless business man, should not be automatically believed.

What seems most likely is that Wynne was a small cog in the British espionage machine, perhaps convinced that he was only doing his patriotic duly by being a messenger boy. The freedom which the press were given, to interview him and to follow him around, when he returned to England suggest that he was anything but an important spy.

The striking thing about the affair was the grisly cynicism with which Wynne was used. The British government held off agreeing to the exchange until they were given a “humanitarian” reason for doing so. The Russians duly obliged by ill-treating Wynne, so that he came back an unrecognisable shadow of the man who went out.

Thus the newspapers were given sonic interesting photographs to take and some interesting stories to print and presumably someone, somewhere, was satisfied that all the niceties of international double-dealing had been complied with.

It never seemed to strike anybody—except the Wynne family—that they were playing with a man's life.

Ah, well, Capitalism has shown again and again that it has an order of priorities and that human welfare is nowhere near the top of it.

Ready for the Unions

More than ever convinced that they are a sure bet to win the next election, the Labour Party are turning anxious eyes upon the problems they are likely to meet when they take office.

One of these problems will be the size of our wage packets. Despite the airy assurances which the capitalist parties give at election times, all of them know that one of their knottiest problems is to hold wages in check while doing nothing which they think might affect the conditions which give rise to a heavy demand for labour.

The Tories have played this one pretty cool, but the Labour Party are convinced that they have a special advantage in meeting this problem. Their leaders never tire of telling us that only a Labour government, with its close ties with the unions, can effectively control wage claims. And now, as the autumn draws near, they are busily rallying the unions to accept the restrictions which lie ahead. 

Listen to these.
A Labour Government and trade unionists have shown how to work wholeheartedly for the same thing. Sometimes they will have to share uncomfortable responsibilities and consequences. [Who said that? Deputy Labour Lender George Brown.]

. . . unless the unions face the facts of life as they are in the late 1960’s, then in seven to ten years’ time the State will have to intervene. [Who said that? Labour's Shadow Minister of Labour Ray Gunter.]

The miners never had a better friend than Alf Robens. They would be in a mess if he had not come to the Coal Board in I960. [Who said that? Alf Robens, of course.]
These statements—and there are many others to choose from—have a nervously sanguine tone to them. Do the present Labour leaders remember the fights which the Attlee government had over wages? Do they remember the wage-freeze? The strikes, and how the Labour government did their best to break them? Do they fear that they will have to face the same battles, when they are the government?

And is that why they are so determinedly whistling in the dark?

Big time divorce

One of the fashionable tendencies in big business over the past few years has been to merge and to concentrate into gigantic industrial and commercial combines. We need hardly say that the drive behind this fashion has been the need to hold their own in the jungle war that is capitalism.

This tendency has accounted for firms which once seemed to be implacable rivals. An example of this was the merger between the Austin and Morris motor companies, which produced the British Motor Corporation.

These mergers have happened because the companies involved in them have been convinced that they stood to gain a lot by the marriage. And it is that same conviction that has persuaded ICI and Courtaulds apparently to go against the trend and to break up their partnership in the jointly owned British Nylon Spinners.

This divorce will entail Courtaulds surrendering their half share in BNS and ICI giving up their holding of 30 million Courtaulds shares which they were left with after their unsuccessful takeover bid in 1962.

Despite this big shareholding, ICl had no director on the Courtaulds boards, which meant that although they had a substantial amount of capital at stake in the company they did not have a commensurate amount of control over its day to day affairs.

This was one of the results of the strained relations between the two firms which came out of the great takeover battle.

At the same time, Courtaulds have become interested in Nylon 6, a new fibre which they are already producing in a few countries abroad. Dutch and American firms are starting production of Nylon 6 in this country (on the very day the ICI/Courtaulds divorce was announced Chemstrand, a subsidiary of the US Monsanto Corporation, gave out that they intended to build a £6 million Nylon 6 plant in Scotland), and Courtaulds, restricted by their interest in the BNS fibre Nylon 66, saw that they might be losing a trick.

By all the profit-conscious, competitive, standards of capitalism, then, the divorce was a logical move. But it does not mean that there is any reversal in the trend to concentrate.

Rather, in the manner of living cells, ICI and Courtaulds have divided only to become larger and to multiply. It is very much on the cards that one day in the not too distant future we shall see them in a head-on battle over the nylon market. That will be a contest with a horrible fascination all of its own.

Labour or Tory? — Tory or Labour? (1964)

From the June 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sometime before next November the people of this country will decide on their next government.

Although both Labour and Tory parties have a large nucleus of loyal supporters who would never vote for any other party, there is a vast number of voters who arc not committed beforehand. It is these, commonly lumped together as the “floating vote”, who determine which party victory goes to in present day political conditions. The further away from the solid nucleus of a political party the voter is, the more is his vote likely to “float”, and the governments under which we suffer are in effect determined by the most indeterminate of voters—victory goes to that party which is able to capture the temporary support of a few million voters.

The way in which the tide can ebb and flow is well demonstrated by the fluctuating percentages of support published in the public opinion polls. But even these are often not accurate prophets of the actual results, and elections have been won or lost on the strength of the smell of red herrings drawn across the path by the Tory or Labour fishwives just before the votes are cast.

Most voters think the art of government is some mystical thing which is the prerogative of professional politicians; once their votes are cast they are prepared to leave the job to “those who know best”. No small wonder then that the working class get the government they deserve.

Such results inevitably produce a certain amount of disillusionment. From time to time, there arise movements clamouring for the reform of the electoral system or, even more misguided, for the total rejection of the electoral system itself. But the adoption of various systems of proportional representation in other countries has demonstrated that such reform does not solve the basic problem, as the sway of government still passes between the major parties or major coalitions according to the temper of the day. Although it is possible for more shades of opinion to be represented in the debating chamber, the general effect is usually only to lead to greater instability in the government.

Stability or non-stability is not, however, what we are after. What we are after is the establishment of an administration we want—not a government we deserve! To achieve this object two things are politically necessary:

First, the right to vote—this we already have; second, the ability and knowledge to use the vote in the right way—this statement immediately poses the question —What is the “right” way?

Obviously the right way is to vote for what we want. But this involves the ability and knowledge to judge whether the policies of political parties will in fact achieve the desired results; that what the politicians say will happen, will in fact happen! From lifetimes of experience we know only too well how contrary these results have been.

There are two main lessons for this. First, the short term expedient, the shaping of immediate policy into election pledges to try to capture the floating vote. Second, the long term impossibility, the complete inability, of any political party to control the present economic system. The familiar pattern of governments which are incapable of carrying out all their policies and which are inevitably forced to repudiate their pledges and promises will continue so long as the electorate has insufficient knowledge of the causes of Such political duplicity.

Both the major political parties are prepared to use expediency to gain office and neither has a policy designed to rid us of the present economic system of capitalism. Consequently, whichever party forms the government after the next election, the pattern of events which follow will be similar to what we have experienced before.

Some people think there are fundamental differences between the Labour and Tory parties—others, and this view has gained more credence in recent years —think there is very little difference between them. The latter view is nearer the truth the more we consider fundamental issues; the former view reflects more correctly the views of those who are concerned mainly with surface appearances. It is the fundamental issues which are more important but we should not blind ourselves to the fact that there are considerable differences between Tory and Labour Parties on the ways and means of organising the economics and politics of the country. It is these differences which will decide the result of the next general election.

Shakespeare and Elizabethan society (1964)

From the June 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

In this article it is aimed to outline briefly Elizabethan Society and its effect on the work of Shakespeare. It is necessary to look into the social background in order to see how conditions gave rise to new ideas of society and how they were reflected by Shakespeare.

The feudal system was in a dying state towards the end of the 16th century. The first upheaval and the greatest was due to the change in the methods of production. The most important development was in the growth of the wool industry with its expanding export markets. This led to the enclosure system —the forcible seizure of the lands from the peasants by the rich landlords. Here we had the development of early capitalist industry, and the exploitation of the former peasants.

The feudal system was crumbling and power began to move from the feudal aristocrat to the new landed bourgeoisie.

Now for the political aspects of the time which followed from the change in economic conditions. The intensive reorganisation of sections of the landed nobility and their unification with the bourgeoisie (the new merchant class) which in its early period (almost to the end of the 16th century), brought about the desire for an absolute monarch to. combat rebellious feudal lords.

The victory of the House of York in the Wars of the Roses, brought Edward IV (1461-1483) to the throne. He was the friend of the merchants and during his reign the mercantile system and absolutism in the political arena first made their appearance. Edward IV ruled almost without Parliament. Absolutism reached its climax during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Everybody was affected by the revolutionary changes in the social conditions.

Shakespeare (born 1564, died 1616) was a champion of the new forces. He recognised the barriers of the old feudal order and was in favour of absolutism to crush feudal rebellion. The history plays show this very clearly. The essential theme is the affirmation of absolute power. His fore-runner, Marlowe (1564-1593), likewise reflected in his work the aspirations of the bourgeoisie.

His plays expressed all the passion of an exultant class, eager to rush into the fray for the conquest of the world. Marlowe develops the heroic tragedy. “To know everything” is the motto of Marlowe's heroes. Shakespeare has his roots in Marlowe, but picked up the pen of Marlowe and developed his style considerably.

Above all Shakespeare recognized the necessity of a strong central power, to put down rebellion. The English bourgeoisie favoured not only monarchism, but even absolutism for a time, which still served their ends. This is a problem that occupied Shakespeare.

This also explains the peculiar omissions in his works. In “King John”, for instance, there is no mention of the Magna Carta, one of the most important events of that epoch; this would have lowered the stature of the ruler, and defeated Shakespeare’s purpose.

The bourgeoisie, the squirearchy and the absolutists were united in their common struggle against the feudal nobles who stood for the old order. The history plays leave little doubt as to where Shakespeare’s sympathies lay. The powerful feudal nobles depicted by him—the Percies, Glendowers, Mortimers—are arrogant and refractory. To him they were the scourge of the land. He saw Henry IV’s reign as an uninterrupted series of tragic events due to the feudal uprisings which resulted from the King's usurpation.

A strong King, according to Shakespeare, is the greatest political blessing a nation can enjoy. Title alone does not make a King—he must justify his rank. Henry VI and Richard II perish because they are not such Kings. In the play Henry V we have the only sovereign who has completely crushed feudalism. He embodies all Shakespeare’s hopes which were to be realised by absolutism. In Richard III the King represents a strong ruler who firmly holds the reins of power and puts an end to the intrigues and quarrels of the Court cliques.

The history plays are permeated with the idea of the inevitability of the historical process: “evil inevitability”, Richard II calls it. There are many references to the “times” and the “spirit of the times”.

The Earl of Westmoreland (Henry IV, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 1) replies to the accusation of the rebellious feudal nobles with:
O, my good Lord Mowbray,
Construe the times to their necessities,
And you shall say indeed, it is the time 
And not the King, that doth you injuries.
Then we have the speech by Warwick (Henry IV, Part 2, Act III, Scene I)—
There is a history in all men’s lives,
Figuring the nature of the times deceased;
The which observed, a man may prophesy,
With a near aim, of the main chance of things 
As yet not come to life.
Shakespeare not only states the casual conditioning of events but demonstrates it through all the means at his command. One of the chief means is to relate events to the social background. In Henry IV, the scenes in which Falstaff appears; in Henry V, the scenes in the camp; and in Richard III, the scenes of proclamation depict the life which is the foundation from which spring the major political events.

Shakespeare was a powerful poetical dramatist opposed to the feudal system and in the history plays he used the history of the previous times to help further the object of crushing feudalism. It was a tradition in those days, handed down from medieval times, that drama was to entertain and to teach.

During the first period of Shakespeare’s work until around 1601, there occurred the coalescence of all the foremost forces of the country: upper middle-class, the monarchy, the gentry, and even part of the old landed nobility. This process is reflected by the joyous optimism of Shakespeare’s early work which was filled with a bold and happy affirmation of life, with obviously aristocratic elements. He has two main themes:
  1. The assertion of the absolutist national state; and 
  2. The joy of living now available to society, at last emancipated from feudal bondage.
To the first theme he dedicated the history plays: to the second the series of enchanting, gay comedies like “Two Gentlemen of Verona”, “Love’s Labour’s Lost”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and “The Taming of the Shrew”. But the effects of the disintegration of the class alignment are already apparent in the plays written towards the end of the 16th century, plays like “Much Ado About Nothing” (1598) and ‘Twelfth Night” (1599) with their bitter sweet atmosphere which is never very far from tragedy. The decomposition of the Court had set in, the Puritans were becoming more and more aggressive, the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the nobility had already begun. Hence the tragic treatment of power in “Julius Caesar” (1599) with its confused conclusions and its pessimism.

Shakespeare lived in the period which saw the rise of the bourgeoisie, later to become the capitalist class. Here is an extract from the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels which sums up the situation:—
“The bourgeoisie . . . has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors' and has left no other bond between man and man than naked self-interest and callous ‘cash payment'. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. . . . The bourgeoisie has stripped off its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. . . . The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil and has reduced the family relation to a money relation.”
During the second period to 1609—years which marked the decline of Elizabeth's reign and the advent, under James I, of feudal reaction—the process of disintegration was completed. Corruption was rife and the nobility, with the support of the monarchy, was preparing to defend its position against the bourgeoisie and the gentry. The literature of the time was teeming with pessimism.

These events, plus the execution of the Earl of Essex and the Earl of Southampton, who was a friend of Shakespeare, had a profound influence on the poet. He did not write any more gay comedies but created the powerful tragedies “Hamlet” and “Troilus and Cressida”. In both these plays Shakespeare gives us a picture of the social background as being ripe unto rottenness.

In “Measure for Measure” (1604) there can be seen the internal problems of absolute monarchy. The characters comment on the ruler and on current political events. We have portrayed the dregs of humanity; young profligates of the Court; procurers; corrupt constables and swindlers.

Then came the later tragedies like “Macbeth” and “King Lear", again dealing with the question of Kingship and the troubles of society. “Macbeth” may be seen to be another “Richard III”, but the play is much more profound. It is the portrayal of the mental troubles of Macbeth after he has usurped the throne. “King Lear” can be seen as a powerful representation of Shakespeare's familiar theme showing spurious feudal ideas as opposed to ideas of genuine powerful love. The play also contains doubts about the money grabbing bourgeoisie. Edmund is like the bourgeoisie, a ruthless machiavellian, crafty and ambitious for personal gain.

In “Coriolanus" (1607) we have one of the gloomiest tragedies. It reflects disillusionment in the rulers. There can be seen a criticism and condemnation of the feudal aristocrat trying to rule under the new conditions but wishing to retain his feudal privileges. An interesting feature, also in this play, is the language of the lowly plebians. There is no indication of hypocrisy, greed or baseness and they are presented in a sympathetic manner.

Shakespeare was a powerful poetical dramatist and the language and dramatic intensity of the plays develops beautifully. In the early plays blank verse intrudes on the drama, but later he developed his art and reached a fusion in the heights of poetic drama. His achievement, however, is not only in the form of poetry and drama, but also in his presentation of the social background, and it is only by recognising this that we can fully appreciate his work.

In “A Companion to Shakespearian Studies", G. B. Harrison makes the following remarks:—
A serious student of Shakespeare's plays cannot neglect the national background, for in an age that was in many ways cribbed and confined, the problems of the individual were inseparable from the problems of the state. The picture of a Shakespeare magnificently aloof from life may be pleasing to romantic critics, but it does not square either with the facts, or with Shakespeare’s own comment upon his art. “Players”, said Hamlet to Polonius, “are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time”. Besides the purpose and end of playing “both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature”; “to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure”.
Shakespeare was at first a supporter of the bourgeoisie, the exponent of the program advanced by them when, in the name of humanity, they first challenged the feudal order, but which later they disavowed.

Towards the end of Shakespeare's life the bourgeoisie were already strong enough to throw off their cloak of being in the interests of humanity, to reveal their money grabbing and narrow-minded puritanism. Then he subjected the bourgeoisie to a keen and profound criticism. The rapacity, greed, cruelty, egoism and philistinism so typical of the growing bourgeoisie are scathingly portrayed and attacked. He placed on stage the social types of his day and through them reflected more clearly and profoundly than anyone else, the predominant social ideas of the times.
W. Waters

[Reprinted from the Socialist Standard, June 1951.]

The Australian Scene (1964)

From the June 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sweet Sugar . . . .

Capital investment in the Australian sugar industry complex is either high or low, according to the higher or lower profit margins to be gained. As with other industries, sugar has known both these aspects of the trade cycle. At the time of writing, however, it is a booming industry for the cane grower.

Queensland is the sugar state of Australia, and in reviewing the past decade of the industry there, Frank Devine says that the average value of the crop has been in the region of £60 millions a year. It’s an ill wind that blows no capitalist any good, so in 1962, following the United Stales’ decision to stop trading with Cuba, the Australian sugar growers enjoyed a season of almost perfect conditions. The result, according to Mr. Devine, was a record production of 1.8 million tons of raw sugar (500,000 tons better than 1961) and a rake off for the year of £85 millions.
But the sugar men were just flexing their muscles. The income from the 1963 crop (120,000 tons less than 1962) is expected to be at least £105 millions. . . . By 1970 it is estimated, sugar growing in Australia will be close to a £200 millions a year operation. . . . The North Queensland sugar country has almost the atmosphere of gold rush days. (The Advertiser, South Australia, 5/4/64.) 
Not all the growers there are happy about the prevailing conditions, however. “Will the boom go bust?” is a question on the lips of some of the older and more established gentry, who have experienced the leaner and more difficult times of a few years back. They balk at the idea of throwing everything madly into the current boom and have expressed fears about the dangers of over-expansion.

Yet despite themselves, they are hurried along by the tide of frantic boom conditions. To do less would mean falling out of the race altogether and leaving the field to the younger men “. . . full of optimism and busy with plans for mechanisation to make even more competitively efficient one of the most efficient industries in Australia.” An idea of just what this means can be glimpsed from the Commonwealth of Australia Yearbook for 1963, which tells us that about ninety-two per cent of raw sugar is now handled in bulk, with no bagging at any stage.

As we might gather, not all cane growers are rich. Some of them (“battlers” they are called) do their own cane cutting, working terribly hard, but whose return can only be described as meagre after meeting mortgage and hire-purchase payments on plant and equipment. However much they may strive, theirs is a hopeless struggle against the growing efficiency of the big men. They are doomed in the main to bankruptcy, with little else left but their labour power.

Doomed also to extinction (after the manner of the English hand loom weaver of the eighteenth century) is the Queensland cane cutter. During the course of his comparatively short existence, he has become one of the symbols of the tough, cheerful, self-reliant rural battler, resistant alike to smugness, oppressive authority and religious cant. But the rapid growth of mechanisation, as Devine points out, will mean the end of the seasonal worker in the sugar country. ” . . . But it will bring to Ingham and Innisfail and other sugar centres a small army, of new permanent citizens who will sell, maintain and operate the machines.”

So it is the same old picture of emerging industry demanding a specialised labourer, and then casting him into oblivion as further development renders his acquired skills obsolete. Indeed, as though from afar, we hear again the voice of Marx:—
This change may possibly not take place without friction, but take place it must. (Capital, Vol. I.)

. . . . And Sour Grapes.

Grapes grown and harvested for the wineries, for fresh eating, or for dried fruit purposes, are among the most succulent of fruits. Yet because of their commodity status in the modern world, and because of the complications which arise from this, grapes can, and do. acquire a sourness of which perhaps only the grower is aware.

We are beginning to sec the grower viewing his commodity with concern as it becomes evident that demand is not keeping pace with his increasing supply unlike the present position of his fellow grower in the sugar industry. Reading again from The Advertiser of March 5th, Mr. Retalic, secretary of the Primary Producers’ Union of South Australia, airs a dispute between the grape growers and the wine makers. The growers complain that the wineries are refusing to buy much of this season’s harvest. The obvious solution, thinks Mr. Retalic, is to increase the price of sultanas by another £2 a ton. ,

This is clearly a case of man (Retalic) proposing and capitalism disposing, for it is the very uncertainty of the export market for dried fruit that has driven the growers to compete fiercely with each other for sales to the wineries. Just where the buyers are to be found who will agree to pay an extra £2 per ton in a falling market, Mr. Retalic does not say. However, he does seem to know enough about the basic conditions of the market when he admits that:—
The grower could not be blamed for trying to ensure the sale of his grapes, nor could the wine maker be blamed for trying to purchase his requirements at the best price.
So it is simply astonishing then, to hear him round off with a bout of moralising over something which is equally a fact of capitalist life, thus:—-“ What was blameworthy was the complete indifference of each party for the business of the other."

Competition is often lauded by our bosses as something desirable in itself and for its own sake. That sort of philosophy may be alright, when you’re on the winning side, but not when (like Retalic) you start to take some of the knocks. It is then that you begin to deplore “indifference” and want to get together against the other fellow, because he is now bigger than you.

Cold Water on Troubled Oil.

With commendable detachment, The Commonwealth of Australia Yearbook for 1962 informs us on a burning topic of the day. 
The discovery of oil in commercial quantities in Australia has been the object of oil exploration companies for many years. Recent discoveries in Queensland could indicate that this country is on the verge of proving commercial oilfields.
But less detached than the sober appraisal in the Yearbook, and understandably so, is the concern felt and voiced by Senator Maher, when dealing with the results of these expensive oil-seeking ventures. The senator has claimed that “. . . the search for oil in Australia would collapse unless provision was made for the purchase and distribution of the whole of the Moonie (well) production at a fair price.” Investors would lose heart, he said, if all the oil already produced could not find “an immediate market at equitable prices in Australia.” The senator is, of course, after the government to see that this does not happen.

To find and produce the oil is one thing; to sell it in a buyer’s market is another, and apparently more than one capitalist has got the jitters over the prospect of heavy financial loss. It seems that the oil-producing geological processes of the past few million years have played a lousy trick on the companies drilling for a paying flow in this continent, for there are suggestions that the quality of the product is not up to the standard of competitors. Apart from this, however, the adverse factor bugging Australian oil is the meagre flow by average world standards. The local flow rate may prove profitable next century when other wells are drying up, but this is cold comfort to the capitalists who want "a reasonable return” quickly on die millions they have spent. This “reasonable return” apparently carries Australian oil above current world prices to a degree noticeable and discouraging to buyers, so naturally they remain indifferent to the business problems of the sellers.

National Development Minister Sir William Spooner has denied that the question of price has bogged down negotiations between the government and the companies, yet this did not prevent him from saying that:—
If the oil companies remained adamant on the matter of a just price and also failed to lift the whole of the Moonie production, the situation would certainly provoke a head-on collision between some Australian governments and the oil companies.
Oil has had a troubled history wherever it has appeared in the world of capitalism. Australia is no exception. It will be interesting to watch the outcome of the struggle, although it will be of academic importance only as far as workers arc concerned. They had nothing before the oil was discovered. They will be in the same position long after the Moonie well has yielded its last drop.
Peter Furey

SPGB Meetings and Debates (1964)

Party News from the June 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

SPGB Pamphlets (1964)

Party Notice from the June 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Links to the above SPGB pamphlets from 1964:
Blogger's Note:
No links for Questions of the Day (1953) and The Socialist Party – Its Principles and Policy (1956) because the versions of both pamphlets on the SPGB website are different editions.

The Passing Show: Cheddington—The Reckoning (1964)

The Passing Show Column from the June 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cheddington—The Reckoning

In just thirty-two minutes during the morning of April 16th, twelve men were sentenced to a total of 307 years imprisonment for their part in the great train robbery. Seven of the unfortunates received thirty years apiece and even the lowest sentence—on John Wheater the solicitor—was three years. Well might The Guardian describe the sentences next day as “a break from tradition", and point out that even in murder cases, a long term is only occasionally given.

It is no part of our business to argue for either side in the case, or to fall in with the idiocy of Methodist Dr. Donald Soper, who condemned the severity of the penalties but wanted Anglicans and Methodists to co-operate in working out a “Christian punishment". Justice Edmund Davies anyway would have had his reply — “A grave crime calls for a grave punishment"—and could probably quote plenty of Bible references and Christian ethics to support him. Probably, too, the majority of people would agree with him, although not without a sneaking admiration for the sheer daring and ingenuity of the whole plot.

Most of those sentenced said they would appeal, but whatever the outcome of this, it is worth repeating the point we made at the time. Those who practice armed robbery are just as much supporters of private property as any capitalist. The robbers of the Cheddington train, did on a much smaller scale of course, what whole groups of capitalist powers do when they go to war from time to time. There is no basic difference, even down to the detail of carving up the spoils afterwards.

In pronouncing sentence, the judge admitted that the crime in its enormity was the first of its kind in the country, and said “I propose to do all within my power to ensure that it will be the last". Which brings us face to face with the old question: does punishment prevent crime? The judge talked earnestly of deterring others “similarly tempted" but clearly failed to face up to the fallacy in his own argument. The thought of punishment obviously did not deter the men who did the robbery. It is too much to imagine that most of them at least had not weighed the possibility of arrest as one of the risks of the game, and carried on planning it just the same. In fact it has been seriously suggested that the Cheddington venture was financed from the proceeds of previous robberies, and if this is true, the deterrent power of punishment has obviously been sadly overrated 

No, crime is just one of the many facets of capitalist society and neither punishment nor a police force can stop it. For the modern criminal has merely responded to the conditions of a scientific and technological age, himself becoming a technician, mastering the know-how of oxyacetylene cutters, explosives, electrical gear and many other gadgets in the practice of his work. So that most of the time it is a see-saw battle between the police with all their modern means of detection and the boys who seek to outwit them. A battle, after all, between those who already own private property and those who want to take some of it from them. How can this sort of problem be solved by one set of robbers punishing another? The conditions of robbery of any sort must go, and that means the end of capitalism.

Health Charges and Hypocrisy

Perhaps one thing about being a member of H.M. Opposition in The Commons is that you can get away with just that bit more hypocrisy than H.M. Government. After all, the electors won’t blame you for things which go wrong while the other lot are in power and workers’ political memories are notoriously short. Anyway, it is about thirteen years since the last Labour government.

And thirteen years is a long enough time to forget the indignities of Labour rule, to forget that quite a number of present Tory policies had their origins in the years of Labour government, and that the Tories have been no more successful in solving working class problems.

Maybe then you would have missed the point of the statement made in the Commons on April 20th by Mr. Kenneth Robinson, Labour M.P. for St. Pancras North and Shadow Minister of Health. The next Labour government would, he said with a flourish, end prescription charges without making cuts anywhere else in the health service to make way for it. Now does your memory stretch back far enough to recall that the very first charges of this sort were imposed by the 1950 Labour government ? But not a whisper of this from Mr. Robinson.

Such a pledge will of course go down well with pensioners and others, whose plight forces them lo count every penny they spend. At the same lime it gives us an inkling of the contempt in which Labourites as well as Tories hold those who vote for them, the assumption being that a miserable few shillingsworth of pep pills and potions mark the limits of working class ambitions. Ironically and tragically, though, this is pretty near the truth, because working class ignorance means that arguments over crumbs like this can often cause a heated election tussle, while a terrifying problem like nuclear war can be all forgotten.

But health charges or H-bombs, the one thing which does not occur to workers is that they have their origin in the Capitalist system. Stubborn in their political ignorance, they hope to eliminate these problems and leave the cause intact—and that perhaps is the supreme irony of all.

Good Grivas

It’s funny how in the field of statesmanship, supposed enemies of yesterday can become friends of today, and vice versa, depending on the needs of the various ruling groups at the time. History is full of such instances. Stalin after 1945 for example. That was a right-about-turn if ever you saw one. Forgotten were the days when he was a comrade in arms of Churchill and Roosevelt, as the cold war got under way, and more than once the world was pushed perilously close to the brink of another major war. Now the pendulum could be swinging the other way as China develops and Mao becomes the bogyman of the Russian rulers. Then there is President de Gaulle with whom the British government must on many occasions have sworn eternal friendship, but who has been cutting up rough against British interests in Europe and pursuing his own semi-isolationist policies. Will he be the villain of the piece at some future date?

Take a look as the struggle in Cyprus. A few years ago, Makarios was interned in the Seychelles, only to come back later and shake hands over a peace agreement. But the peace was short lived and the British press rediscovers the blood-stained hands of the Cypriot president. Then into the news steps Grivas, another former enemy of earlier years, described by The Guardian of April 13th as “the brains of terrorism”.

General George Grivas was prominent for his direction of the campaign against the British from 1955 to 1959, and waged a ruthless struggle against an equally ruthless enemy, with murderous attacks against soldier and civilian alike. So in your innocence you might be astounded to see The Guardian editorial, again of April 13th, saying this about him:
. . . Whether we like it or not, Grivas is a man of influence, purpose, and decision, and ex-enemies with these qualities have helped us mightily in the past. . . If the General does go back . . . it might not be the worst thing that has happened to the Cypriots lately. The combination of a strong general and a weak president is not usually desirable, but in a country as lawless as Cyprus it can often bring peace more quickly, even if it does not bring justice.
A few years ago no name was too bad for this Grivas as British troops hunted (but never caught) him from one place to another. But times are changing, and with them the whole balance of strategy in the Mediterranean. What’s the betting they'll he pinning a medal on his chest yet?

Status Symbols

The world is full of them, and workers are among their most ardent supporters. What are we talking about? Status symbols of course. In a sane world where things were produced for use, you would expect an outlook in keeping with it. People would have a pride in producing the best at any given time because this would be the only way to give satisfaction to anyone, either in producing or using a particular article. Within Socialism, therefore, we would take great pride in producing things and in using them but not in owning them.

For pride of ownership is one of the false values that arise from capitalist society, where the forces of production are geared to the profit motive, and social approbation for a person is usually in direct ratio to the amount of wealth he owns, not to his usefulness to society as a whole. It is not surprising then that the status symbol has such a firm place in working class affections, and is encouraged by the advertising blurbs with words like ". . . You can be the proud owner of a . . . " But more than that, for many the status symbol is the pie thin crust that conceals the poverty beneath. This is the explanation for the paradox of enormous (mainly second-hand) cars often parked outside the slummiest dwellings, in Windsor a few years ago, over two hundred houses were checked by the G.P.O. and found to have T.V. aerials— but no sets.

Since then, the T.V. craze has slowed down, and people arc beginning to discover that cars are not an unmixed blessing in present frantic road conditions. Anyway, a status symbol loses its purpose if everyone has it so when this happens, the seekers must turn their eyes elsewhere. One certainty is that they will never stop looking. According to The News of the World recently, sun tans are now much sought after, and for as little as thirty shillings you can get your neighbour thinking you’ve just come back from a spell in the south of France. A travel agency in London's West End has started a sun bathing salon with ultra-violet lamps, to acclimatise their clients before they go abroad. Now they find that the majority of those using the salon are not going abroad anyway.

Pitiful, you might think? Tragic would be a better word, and as damning an indictment of capitalism as any. This is the system which never lets us really be ourselves, untrammelled and unashamed, but subjects us all the time to the strain of pretence. For many workers self-delusion plays a part in all this—the vain hope that maybe the pretence will one day be transformed into reality if they can only keep it going long enough and strong enough. Socialism, if it did nothing else, would release us from that sort of indignity at least. 
Eddie Critchfield