Wednesday, June 29, 2022

A Land Fit for Heroes - 1999 (1999)

From the November 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Twenty-five percent of homeless men sleeping on the streets of London are ex-servicemen (Times, 3 August). The smelly, aggressive drunk on Hungerford Bridge was once a hero! A survey carried out in 1993 concluded that the main cause of homelessness and its consequences is the breakdown of relationships and alcoholism, and these develop during military service. So there it is—the even more important question is: “Are these heroes fit for the land?”, and the worrying answer is “apparently not”. It is not just the so-called positive side of the Armed Forces, teaching discipline and how to feel you’re doing a great job killing fellow workers you’ve never seen before and who’ve done you no harm, but the side-effects of living in these conditions. Only recently has there been an admission that life in the Forces can easily make you unfit for life outside.

Major Colin Crawford of Combat Stress, which provides counselling to 5,000 ex-service personnel (of whom five percent are women) says that military culture and rituals act as a support for members who’ve had traumatic experiences. When they return to civilian life that support is missing and relationships fall apart under the strain. The Forces concentrate on bonding among personnel and life is lived to a strict pattern of parades, drills and uniforms, but they receive no training or advice on how to cope with a return to civilian life. Officers are not taught that the Forces’ way is not acceptable in “Civvy Street” and that, for example, an order to an office junior to get them a cup of tea will receive a dusty answer, or even simple things like the meaning of “cash-back” in a supermarket. In the Forces you are taught to hide and discipline your feelings and traumas and stresses of what they may have seen or suffered cannot be discussed leading to further isolation or heavy drinking. The latter, the major leisure occupation in the Forces is, at worst, encouraged and at best ignored.

The problem is not confined to this country. In the USA twice as many ex-servicemen committed suicide after the Vietnam war than were killed during it. At last the problem has been recognised and self-help groups are being formed to assist in the transition back to civilian life. However, Soldiers to be (Part 1, BBC1, 10 August) showing the training and discipline expected before men and women are even accepted into the Forces, depressingly illustrates how much work needs to be done (and undone) to give ex-members a chance of successfully returning to civilian life. After “serving their country” they may have escaped death or physical mutilation but their experience has left them scarred for life. What made them part of an effective fighting machine has made them incapable of maintaining normal relationships within the family and friends or coping with the different stresses of working under capitalism.
Eva Goodman

Chechen war (Part II) (1999)

From the November 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
For too long now, the Chechen people have held that second-class status was often afforded South Africa’s black population. Indeed, in Moscow they are disparagingly referred to as “blacks” and the prejudice can be traced back over 150 years to the time when Tsarists conquered the area.

Stalin’s hate for them was such that he had the entire population deported to Central Asia in 1944, citing charges of Nazi collaboration—a venture that would wipe out some 60 percent of the Chechen population.

In recent years they have been blamed for every social ill facing Russia, from drug trafficking and kidnapping to black-marketeering. It was therefore not really surprising that the latest Moscow bomb attacks got blamed on Chechenya’s aspiring islamist secessionists—in spite of no evidence existing to suggest this—while providing the Russian rulers with another opportunity to send troops into the tiny republic.

Ostensibly, the present Chechen conflict was sparked by the seizing of border villages by islamic militants—the fundamentalist Wahhabi muslims, intent on creating an independent islamic republic made up of Daghestan and Chechenya. In the Chechen republic Wahhabi support has increased recently, chiefly because of high unemployment, despair at a corrupt local elite, frustration with the slow pace of market reforms and at the little effort Russia has made to rebuild the republic after the bungled Chechen war of 1994-6.

The Russian rulers, however, didn’t need much of an excuse to send troops into Chechenya at the end of September. They still feel the humiliation of Russia’s venture into Chechenya in the mid-90s, when 6,500 Russian troops lost their lives fighting Chechen guerrillas and the consequent pull-out sparked by public outcry at home. Moreover, here was a former superpower being whipped by a tiny band of poorly-trained fighters.

In the wake of that particular conflict, though still claiming Chechenya was breaching laws laid down in the Russian Federation constitution, Moscow was embarrassingly forced to accept the republic’s de-facto independence, but not formally.

More importantly, the Russian rulers are all too aware of Chechenya’s real significance. In spite of its size (7,350 square miles compared with the 8.64 million of the former Soviet Union) Chechenya is a veritable goldmine, and all the more important considering that previous successful secessionists—Georgia and Azerbaijan—took with them a wealth of mineral resources.

Chechenya, landlocked on three sides by Russia, includes fertile farmland that straddles the wheat fields of southern Russia. It has key transport assets—rail/road routes that link the Black and Caspian seas and trade routes to other trans-Caucasus republics. Most importantly, Chechenya controls vital oil pipelines that connect the Black and Caspian seas, as well as vital oilfields and refineries. We can add to this Chechenya’s chemical and engineering industries as well as its supply of building materials. All said, Chechenya equals roubles equals profits.

But one wonders why Russia, in recent weeks, has concentrated air strikes on oil terminals, bridges and dams. The strategy seems to be one of destroying Chechenya’s infrastructure and raw material supplies and to seal it off from the outside world. Sounds familiar? By all accounts Moscow has modelled the attack on the NATO strategy in Kosovo, hoping to bring Chechenya to its knees in as short a space of time as possible and with minimum loss of Russian life.

Nine years after the Chechen nationalists first informed Moscow of its secessionist ambitions, and with hundreds of thousands of Chechens now living the meagre life of the refugee in neighbouring republics, stability looks a long way off, and with President Aslan Maskhadov now enlisting the help of the region’s most prominent warlords—such as Shamil Basayev, a veteran commander of the first Chechen war that Maskhadov initially disowned—the conflict looks set to be long and protracted.

With so much mineral wealth at stake, wealth they are afforded no real share in, the Chechens should at least realise that whichever elite—Russian or Chechen, Russian Orthodox or Muslim—calls the shots, they will always come a poor second to the lure of the rouble and the profits that await the real victors. The 80-100,00 who lost their lives in the first Chechen war is a poignant reminder of this fact.
John Bissett

Greasy Pole: Tories In Trouble (1999)

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

There was once a young Conservative MP who, when he arrived to take his seat, was taken aside by an elder statesman and advised never to forget that the party had a secret weapon, which was loyalty. For a very long time the Tories have traded on that impression—that they are a party which prizes loyalty and unity above all else. There is very little evidence to support this. Even when that new Member was being given that advice the Tory record on the issue was anything but unblemished. In fact their history is studded with examples of splits, intrigues, back-stabbing and manoeuvring to unseat the leader.

For example the 1922 Committee got its name from a rebellious meeting in that year at the Carlton Club which was responsible for toppling Austen Chamberlain from the leadership and thereby bringing down the coalition government under Lloyd George. In 1958 a huge rift opened up in the Macmillan government when all the Treasury Ministers, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer, resigned—an event which Macmillan famously brushed aside as “a little local difficulty”. A few years later Macmillan showed what he thought about loyalty and unity when, in a panic about a little local difficulty at some by-elections he sacked a chunk of his Cabinet including his ever loyal, never complaining Chancellor Selwyn Lloyd who had always made it clear that he was ready and willing to any job, no matter how distasteful, required of him by the government of British capitalism. In more recent times there was the ruthless business of Michael Heseltine and the men in grey suits toppling Margaret Thatcher.

This fractious tradition is still going strong. It is arguable that the Conservative Party has never experienced such disunity and disarray as it does today. What is more it has had no compunction about revealing its splits to the voters at large.

Consider the matter of the ex-ministers’ memoirs. These are very often a welcome source of income and consolation for those who are no longer in the seats of power and who pine for their chauffeur-driven cars, the media attention and the other trappings of office. One difficulty is that the higher sales usually go to the more revealing—the more bitter, scurrilous and bilious—memoirs. If there was ever such a thing as a united government it would be unlikely that its ministers could write their account of life in the Cabinet with the desirable degree of titillation. Of course this is not a problem for the people who so gruesomely ran the government when Thatcher and Major were in Number Ten.

John Major has had his say about Margaret Thatcher, writing her off as a bossy, overbearing and stubborn obstacle to proper government. This is not an example of what is meant by Tory loyalty because Major was Thatcher’s favourite son—the man she wanted to succeed her in 1990. The same might be said about his criticisms of Norman Lamont, who managed Major’s 1990 campaign to succeed Thatcher as Tory leader. Lamont’s reward for this was the job of Chancellor of the Exchequer but unluckily for him this coincided with the kind of financial crisis which Chancellors are supposed to be able to cure but which are beyond them. The so-called Black Wednesday in September 1992 when the Bank Rate went soaring and Sterling was removed from the Exchange Rate Mechanism illuminated how powerless are the experts and the politicians in the face of capitalism’s crises. The decision to take sterling out of the ERM was in stark contrast to Major’s assurance that this would not happen because the solution to British capitalism’s problems was to be a member of it. So Lamont had good cause to be aggrieved, and even more after Major sacked him and now that Major is largely putting the blame for the crisis on his shoulders.

Black Wednesday
Lamont clearly thought that his efforts to get Major into the premiership deserved a more grateful response. Of course had he been practising that Tory loyalty he should have held his tongue, accepted his downfall and given his all in supporting the government, even if that did mean rewriting history a bit. In fact he has been busily engaged ever since in attacks on Major, of varying degrees of subtlety. The version of Black Wednesday in his memoirs differs from that of Major and, as might be expected, does not take the blame for it on himself. Cynical and bitter, Lamont is now a pathetic figure—exiled to the Lords, penning the odd newspaper article, trying to persuade us that Pinochet saved Chile for civilisation and that all those people who disappeared there at the time have gone missing of their own accord.

A lot of this disunity came bubbling sulphurously to the surface at this year’s Tory conference. Naturally they gave William Hague the customary standing ovation but this did not obscure the fact that his grasp on the party leadership is as precarious as ever. Almost as soon as he got the job Hague was under fire, as if the MPs who had voted for him suddenly woke up to the fact that they had made a terrible mistake. Hague has done all kinds of things to win a few friends—married a pretty blonde who smiles nicely for the cameras, eaten spicy Caribbean food in the street at the Notting Hill Carnival, been seen in public wearing a baseball cap, had a skinhead hair cut. No man could do more. But none of this has done him any good.

While attention has been diverted by these distasteful antics Hague has silkily got rid of most of the leading Tories from the days of Thatcher and Major. Clarke and Heseltine more or less deselected themselves and are now standing critics on the issue of Europe. Lilley was sacked after a typically clumsy attempt to discard his past reputation as the scourge of single mothers and benefit claimants. Michael Howard was persuaded that he should spend more time with his prejudices. The only remnants of those former days of power are Redwood and Widdecombe, neither of them completely in touch with the reality of vote winning.

No doubt there are some fascinating reminiscences now burgeoning in the embryo memoirs of the likes of Lilley and Howard. Meanwhile Hague has a Shadow Cabinet whose public presence is—well, shadowy. They are unrecognised, almost anonymous. Hague will have a hard job to convince the working class that these are the leaders who should be trusted to run British capitalism, swamp world markets with British made goods, progressively enrich the British capitalist class while bludgeoning the workers into a docile acceptance of their role as the exploited wealth-producers. In this he will endure for as long as he may be seen as a vote winner. If that changes he will be ruthlessly discarded by this party which likes to boast of its unity and loyalty. If—or perhaps when—that happens it will be his turn to write his memoirs, to complain about an ungrateful party and of how he was, in effect, hoisted with his own petard.

Voice From The Back: “Planets rule capitalism” (1999)

The Voice From The Back Column from the October 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Planets rule capitalism” 

Astrologers have come up with an alternative explanation for the latest market losses: the solar eclipse. According to Jane Bowles, a financial astrologer, eclipses are often associated with share losses—the 1987 crash occurred just 12 days after an eclipse. Ms Bowles, writing with co-author Graham Bates, predicted in 1994 that this August would prove difficult for investors. She said: “This eclipse promises to be one of the worst of the century.” Times, 11 August.

Nice work! 

Union bosses have clocked on for record salaries after inflation-busting wage rises of more than five times those won for their members. The biggest pay rise went to Derek Hodgson, hard-Left leader of the Communication Workers Union representing postal and telephone workers. His pay and perks package rocketed by nearly 30 percent to £92,000, compared with an average 4.5 percent increase for most workers. Hodgson was closely followed by Lew Adams, outgoing chief of rail union ASLEF, who received a 23 percent rise. Adams, who was ousted by a member of Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, saw his basic wage rise from £52,980 to £65,073. Pension and perks bumped the package to £105,489. The increases are revealed in figures compiled and realised by the Certification Office, which regulates trade unions. Mail on Sunday, 18 July.

Life in the capitalist class

Her monthly florist’s bills are more than $5,000 alone. And her frock habit is legendary: she is the one who is said to have paid £350,000 for a single outfit from Chanel. But who’s counting when your jewellery collection includes a single 30.34 carat diamond worth more than $2 million? Observer Magazine, 8 August.

Life on the scrap heap 

Last winter, 20,000 older people died from cold-related illnesses—with adequate insulation in their homes many of them would have lived. Even the mildest winters can be lethal to vulnerable older people. As soon as the temperature drops, many have to choose whether to keep their heating on—or eat. They simply can’t afford to do both . . . Elsie’s home is so poorly insulated that heating it adequately is almost impossible-—and certainly more than her pension allows for. “I’m frightened to put my heating on for very long because I’m on Income Support. When it gets really cold I stay in bed to keep warm.” With your help, we can insulate homes like Elsie’s to make them more energy efficient and reduce fuel bills. Leaflet from Help the Aged and Scottish Gas.

Feudalism lives on 

There are tens of thousands of bonded labourers living in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, despite a 1992 law outlawing the practice, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The group has freed 7,500 people since 1995, when it started raids on plantations so remote that few people ever venture there . . . A video the group secretly made in 1996 shows dozens of male labourers in leg irons, while at work cutting cane on a farm near Hyderabad. The group estimates that there are roughly 50,000 bonded labourers in Southern Sindh. Most are low-caste Hindus from the nearby Thar Desert, a group that remained in the area when Britain’s Indian colony split in 1947 into primarily Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. Because most labourers come from traditional nomadic communities and are illiterate, they are helpless to defend their rights. Boston Sunday Globe, 18 July.

Owing space 

News that the private company SpaceDev plans to claim the near-Earth asteroid Nereus as its own property is an exciting boost for the belief that the Solar System will be colonised by private industry. Space-Dev’s chief executive, James Benson, doesn’t know whether his proposed take-over of Nereus will prove legal, but nobody else does either. Space treaties prohibit nations from owning celestial bodies, but say nothing about private companies . . . industrial chemists in space will be able to make and sell virtually anything. They will create a trading economy that will be entirely self-sufficient. But since it will require very long term investment—although there will be short term profits—there will be no room up there for terrestrial politicians with their five-year attention span. In space, the capitalist will be king. Astronomy Now, 11 August.

New Labour copies Old Labour 

In an unusually direct intervention, Mr Howarth said the government “fully supports the employers”, regards fire-fighters conditions as “outmoded and unjustified” and believes strike action would be a “relic of an old and discredited confrontational approach to industrial relations”. Tony Blair is understood to have discussed proposals by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, for the government to outlaw industrial action in the fire service and impose binding arbitration, but decided not to act until a national strike is called . . . And with a shortage of military fire engines and the armed forces overstretched in the Balkans, ministers have been warned against being drawn into a showdown with a popular group of public service workers. Guardian, 7 August.

Letters: More on socialism (1999)

Letters to the Editors from the October 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

More on socialism

Dear Editors,

It’s been good to see the lively debate over the directions we should take as revolutionaries, in the recent letters on the “S” word question.

Although I am in favour of keeping “Socialism” in our party name, we shouldn’t let ourselves get too hung up about words—any word can become abused and misused; indeed you only need to think how the term “democracy” has been rendered almost meaningless through its use by state and corporate mouthpieces. Descriptions such as socialism, communism, anarchist-communism, Free Access and Common Wealth are all valid, if used meaningfully, for the sort of society we dearly wish to see. There is nothing to stop us using a multitude of words and descriptions for what we stand for in our propaganda (another word that has become distorted!). What’s important is that we get our ideas over as effectively as possible. There is no reason why we should constantly shout “Socialism” from the material we produce and distribute, and anyway, much of the time we don’t.

However, for many many people the words “socialism”, “socialist” hold the sort of vision of an alternative, free society that we stand for. This makes it a strength, and something that will attract people who consider themselves politically aware or socialist to the World Socialism Movement. The title “socialist” connects us to the long tradition of revolutionary ideas and movements of which we are a part in a way that Free Access, for all its merits, probably doesn’t.

The important thing would seem to be that socialists take an open-minded and non-dogmatic approach to the way we present and develop our ideas. Discussions like this should hopefully stimulate us to think how best to spread the message of self-emancipation and common ownership.
Ben Malcolm, 

And unfortunately, socialism must be near the top of the list of words that have been abused—.- Editors

. . . And more

Dear Editors,

I agree that it is imperative for the Socialist Party now to hold more firmly than ever to its name. The end of the century has at last seen the demise of the big con, Leninism, and has also seen the self-unmasking of that other confidence trick, Labourite “socialism” (both of which equated socialism with nationalisation ). It would be too easy now, and a mistake, for the Socialist Party to let itself be seduced by the present lack of interest in the word socialism, by abandoning the name to which the Socialist Party alone has a right. As the one party truly representing the working class, we should know better than to give in to the pessimism of the moment. Wasn’t it a Socialist Party speaker recently who said, “The next century belongs to us”? We can’t afford to throw away our name, now that the name-stealers are at last tired of playing with it at our expense.

The Socialist Party is the one party (together with our companion parties of the World Socialist Movement) which stands, and has always stood, for socialism: a stateless, moneyless, classless world community, democratically controlled by the whole of society and with free access to the goods and services people need to live as true human beings. The Socialist Party must be proud of its name and now, more than ever before, must stand by it.

I see nothing wrong, however, with extending the name, logically, to World Socialist Party: full title, World Socialist Party (Britain), a party of the World Socialist Movement.
Anthony Walker, 
Christchurch, Dorset

Seeing red

Dear Editors,

Ivan’s article, “Keeping Their Hair On”, in the July Socialist Standard made some interesting points about party colours and the image of politicians. But why are certain organisations or institutions associated with particular colours?

For example, royalty has traditionally been represented by the colour blue and yet there is no certainty as to how or why this originated. I am not even sure if there is a reason for the left being traditionally represented by the colour red.

Whatever the reason for the association of the left with red, why does the Socialist Party still use this colour too—at least for its publicity and stationery? The Socialist Party is not left-wing (or any “wing”, for that matter) as it is advocating an entirely different system. Red, in the context of socialism smacks of Commies, Reds, Lefties, Militant, “Keep the Red Flag Flying” and all that other nonsense we are trying to distance ourselves from. Think of the old Soviet Union or China and what comes to mind? Red flags!

If we are to change people’s stereotypical perception of socialism and socialists—which is difficult enough as it is—then we need to change how people view us rather than reinforcing what they already believe. It is a question of image.

Sadly, capitalism has made image a more important quality than substance but as long as we have to operate within capitalism we will be judged on petty points such as our Party colour, just as much as we can be judged on our ethos. Perhaps we should use the colour blue (or a strain of it) ourselves; that would really give people something to think about!
Simon Montfalcon, 
Romsey, Hampshire

The red flag was first used as a revolutionary emblem in the French Revolution, in 1792 when the monarchy was overthrown. Apparently, up till then it had signified that martial law was in force and of course is still a danger signal (for the ruling class?). In the following century it became the flag of those in France who wanted a social as well as a political revolution.

Thus, in one of his articles on the revolutionary events in France in 1848 (Class Struggles in France 1848-1850) Marx referred to the red flag as being the flag of “the most extreme subversive party”. So too, the first English translation of the Communist Manifesto appeared in an extreme Chartist paper, the Red Republican. The Paris Commune of 1871 adopted the red flag as its official flag, so again Marx wrote about “the Red Flag, symbol of the Republic of Labour, flying over the Hotel de Ville” (Civil War in France).

The words of the song The Red Flag (which used to be sung at pre-WWI Socialist Party meetings such as those to commemorate the Paris Commune, before the song got hijacked by the Labour Party) were written by James Connell in 1889. One line reads “we must not change its colour now”– Editors

Why we need global change (1999)

Book Review from the October 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
To solve the many problems confronting humanity what is needed is a change in the basis of world society from existing class ownership to a world in which the Earth’s resources have become the common heritage of all.
Think globally, act locally, say the Greens. Anyone who follows the news cannot help but think globally. World hunger, financial crises, currency fluctuations, global warming, the hole in the ozone layer, world poverty, trade disputes, war and the threat of war—all these are global problems. But act locally to deal with them?

Local action may be appropriate to protect some local tree or stop rubbish being dumped in some local back yard, but LETS schemes as the answer to world financial turmoil, buying Third World honey as the answer to world poverty, cycle lanes as the answer to global warming? That’s either a joke or a cop-out. Clearly, all these problems can only be solved by global action. We are up against a global system which can only be effectively and lastingly dealt with at that level.

Global capitalism
Globalisation is not just a recent phenomenon; it has been going on since the beginning of capitalism. Historian Immanuel Wallerstein has argued that capitalism has always been a “world-system” in the sense of being a network of many countries producing for a single world market, none of them powerful enough to dominate it and all of them having to submit to its pressures. In this sense capitalism is the world market and the history of capitalism is the history of the development and spread of the world market since it came into being in the 1500s.

What subordination to the world market means for capitalist producers in individual countries is that they are under non-stop pressure to produce ever more cheaply by introducing ever more efficient machinery and techniques of production. The result has been continuous technical and technological advance, a continuous development of the world’s capacity to produce wealth such that by the turn of the century it could be said that a sufficient plenty for all people on Earth could have been produced had global capitalism then been replaced by a society of common ownership and production to meet human needs not profit. But it wasn’t.

Capitalism continued. So did the growth of the world’s wealth producing capacity but in the century that is now coming to an end global capitalism also engendered two world wars and several world slumps, and still today millions of people on the planet go to sleep hungry or lack access to clean water or medical care or decent housing or education. All of which is a damning indictment of global capitalism.

As the American journalist William Greider has put it in a recent book:
For several decades the world’s capacity to produce food, for instance, has far exceeded the entire human population’s need for nourishment. Yet the stockpiles of unused foodstuffs pile up unsold each year in producing nations while somewhere else in the world hundreds of millions of others are malnourished, if not actually starving to death. The paradox is explained away easily enough in market terms. Indeed, the market insists that feeding impoverished people would be harmful to them, indulging their backwardness and postponing their eventual self-sufficiency. That answer may satisfy the marketplace, but for humanity it constitutes another great, unanswered question. Capitalism, for all its wondrous creativity and wealth, has not yet found a way to clothe the poor and feed the hungry unless they can pay for it (p. 468).
The title of his book—One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism—neatly sums up the socialist case against capitalism. Capitalism has brought into being “one world” as far as the production and distribution of wealth is concerned, but humanity is not ready to cope with this since it has not yet created the appropriate social arrangements and institutions; instead, the one world that has come into being is governed by the manic logic of production for profit rather than the human logic of production to meet people’s needs, with disastrous results.

Greider does not write as a socialist but he does employ, perhaps unknowingly, a quasi-Marxist approach. Here is how he presents the effects of what defenders of capitalism see as its most positive side—the non-stop technological development it brings about:
There is another dimension to the technological revolution, however, that is seldom discussed in the business books: the gathering vulnerability of an industrial system that is ruled by persistent excess supply. The same technological imperative that continuously reduces costs and improves quality has also generated a seemingly permanent and expanding surplus in the productive capacity of the world. Crudely stated, the technology competition leads companies to invest in more output of goods than the global marketplace of consumers can possibly absorb. New factories, designed to produce more from less, naturally increase the capacity for production, but the output potential expands faster than older less efficient factories are being closed. This underlying imbalance is compounded by the accelerating drive for globalization, as firms both modernize and rush to build new production in the developing markets. A perverse syllogism is thus at work, company by company, sector by sector: the burdensome presence of overcapacity quickens the price competition and threatens market shares, but the only obvious response is to create more new capacity—that is, to build new factories that will be more cost-efficient than one’s rivals . . . From a managers’ point of view, the challenge is to make sure that the market’s overcapacity becomes the other guy’s problem, that some other firm will be compelled to swallow losses in sales and close down its factories (pp. 103-4).
Marx, too, noted capitalism’s tendency to develop productive capacity without regard for the fact that consumption under it was limited by what people could afford to pay for; that, under the competitive pressures of the world market, capitalist firms were obliged to develop productive capacity irrespective of whether or not market demand was growing at the same pace, with the inevitable result that sooner or later one industry would overproduce in relation to its market triggering off a slump during which the least efficient firms were eliminated, so bringing market demand and productive capacity back into line.

But what sort of system is it where potential plenty represents a problem? And where there can be talk of “excess supply” when so many humans’ basic needs, let alone proper facilities for a decent life for all, remain unmet? Answer: a system which has solved the technical problem of how to produce plenty for all but which is incapable of delivering it because production is tied not to people’s needs but only to what they can afford to pay for.

Financial mania
Capitalism is not just industrial capitalism. In fact capital is not interested in producing things as such; it is only interested in profit expressed in money terms. Investing in the production of goods and services is an inconvenience which it has to go through in order to achieve its aim of ending up with a greater financial worth than it started with. Thus the purest form of capital is finance capital and, from the capitalist point of view, the most convenient way to make more money is to do so by financial dealings of one sort or another. It’s an illusion of course. It’s production, not finance, that makes the world go round. The financial world cannot go on feeding off rising paper asset values for ever. Reality must intrude at some point. But capitalism without finance capital is inconceivable; so too, therefore, is capitalism without financial crashes.

As Greider describes it:
Across many centuries, this story of finance capital’s capacity to become deranged in pursuit of higher returns has played out again and again in different forms of manias and crashes. Eventually, as history informs us, the disorders may be corrected in a grim, violent manner—a great war or a great depression. These events will destroy financial capital on a massive scale and thereby restore a balance between the demands of old wealth and the needs of new productive enterprises. This sort of resolution produces vast human suffering and political upheavals, of course, but also clears the way for capitalism’s next expansive era (p. 227).
Greider thinks that the world is now heading for another such financial crash but he is not writing as an opponent of capitalism. He quotes the British Labour MP Denis MacShane (“For years, socialists used to argue among ourselves about what kind of socialism we wanted. The choice of the left is no longer what kind of socialism it wants, but what kind of capitalism it can support”) and seems to agree with him. In any event, he describes himself as a “global Keynesian”; in other words, as someone who wants to employ failed Keynesian techniques of “market demand management” on a global scale so as to try to avoid global capitalism plunging the world into another global depression or war or both.

If you haven’t considered properly the socialist alternative of abolishing the world market and its manic logic, and setting up non-market institutions, at world, regional and local levels, to co-ordinate the production and distribution of what people all over the world want, this might well appear to be the only solution. After all, if global capitalism ignores the hungry, the homeless and the needy because, not having any money, they don’t constitute a market and so don’t count, why not just to pump more money into the system so that such people can come to count for capitalism? The winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for Economics, Amartya Sen, who has written very clearly on the cause of famines (collapse of purchasing power not of production), also describes himself as a global Keynesian.

Global Keynesians are more advanced than those Greens who advocate local action in the face of global problems. They at least realise that the solution requires action at world level. Their mistake is that the global action they propose is not up to it. The global inflation that would result would probably make matters worse; certainly the financial speculators would love it.

The answer to the problems that global capitalism has engendered is not a policy, even if pursued at global level, that would still leave intact the basic structures and mechanisms of capitalism. It is something much more far-reaching: a rapid and radical change in the basis of world society that will make the Earth’s resources the common heritage of all humanity so that they can be used to further the common human interest.
Adam Buick

The Poverty of the Greens (1999)

From the October 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Green Party has recently made significant strides forward—attaining its first seat in a UK Parliament in Scotland, winning numerous seats at local levels, and getting two MEPs in June’s Euro elections, and is currently choosing its candidate for the Mayor of London. But their policies for making things better are doomed to fail to make things better.
The Greens form a part of the rising “left alternative”, political groups moving in to fill in the gaps left by Labour’s lurch rightwards. Indeed, they present a potent radical package, eschewing the political institutional demands for a leader, instead having two “Principal Speakers”; and presenting a platform replete with sweeping reforms to improve society.

That’s just it though. They are reformists, and for all their alleged radicalism, that’s all they will ever be; endlessly promoting their brand of radical Liberalism warmed-up; attempts to breath life into the mummified remains of the two hundred year old political corpse our current political system is built upon. Their campaigning is not based on changing minds, but on appealing to the values of those who feel abandoned by the traditional parties—promising this time they will get it to work.

A simple examination of their policies suffices to show their misguided muddleheadedness, and the doomed, inevitable failure of their programme. For example, their industrial relations policy:
We know that most collective organisation is in trade unions, and value that. (Manifesto for a Sustainable Society, WR104).
This is hardly a ringing endorsement of workers’ militancy, support for workers in their union struggles. It is simply recognition from afar, a nice idea to be viewed from a distance, and valued like an old pet dog. Then again, however, at least it makes a change from the rabid anti-unionism of the “grey parties” (as the Greens call them). It remains though, a very passive support.

Is there, then, a more radical element to it? Of course there is, our Green friends would tell us:
The Green Party is committed to workplace democracy . . . whereby undertakings shall be managed co-operatively through the involvement of those who work in them and the communities they serve (WR105).
This is excellent, they must mean socialising the production process, handing the reigns of power to the people—we socialists should support them! Well, no, actually:
Worker participation improves the industrial process, increases personal satisfaction and gives the community a bigger stake. Workers’ Councils should be set up along the lines of the successful German model (IN617).
Then we must institutionalise yet more corporatist policies in order to be even and fair about removing people’s right to strike.

But, despite their bureaucratic wishy-washiness, surely the Greens have some truly momentous social policies? Erm . . .
A Citizens’ Income scheme, eventually sufficient to cover basic needs, will be introduced in stages as an integrated taxation and benefit system to replace most present social benefits and tax allowances (EC705).
A basic income for every citizen! Of course, how this is to be squared with the wages system is anyone’s guess. As the 18th century agricultural Speenhamland system showed, when people can get a better income without having to work, they (quite sensibly) take it. The policy would be brought in within the lifetime of one Parliament, and over that time there would be a mass exodus of people from shite jobs (the Greens may like that, but I doubt the employers would enjoy it).
Sustainable industrial activity tends to be more labour intensive . . . the introduction of Citizens’ Income would reduce the cost of labour to industry without pushing people into poverty (IN605).
That’s more like it—it’s a pay-off. With this scheme employers could cut wages, and thus industry would be able to become more profitable. Exactly how, then, this would leave workers better off, is up for debate since at most the basic income could only cover the basic cost of living (or less), their real wage wouldn’t actually change.

This agenda continues:
Land Value Taxation. A system of land taxation, to be known as Land Value Taxation (LVT), will be introduced, this will be a tax on the annual value of land (i.e. excluding buildings, machinery etc.). An initial levy of LVT will be made at a fraction of the annual value as determined by preliminary assessment, according to permitted use. Ultimately the full annual value of land will accrue to the community (EC725).
The hobby-horse of the followers of the 19th century American economist Henry George, and an idea that has an old pedigree (back to the 18th century artisan radical Thomas Spence in his journal Pig’s Meat): profit from land is unearned and so is taxable, leaving the true and “fair” earnings duly accrued to Capital and Labour untouched.

Of course, such radicals as Thomas Spence were around at the birth of the idea of the small-holder market economy, which lives on in the minds of the Greens:

Smaller and more democratically structured enterprises are more open to community regulation, ensuring that greater care is taken both of the people who work in them, and of the concerns and needs of the local community and the environment.

There is the myth of Mom & Pop businesses, as if being small makes a business any less dominated by the overriding imperative for profits. With small companies we are to return to the dream of fair economics, freed from the distortions caused by big-business. the one true market redeemed from its despoilers.

Of course, the real enemy of the small capitalist, the banks, will get theirs too:
Under the current banking system, money is created predominantly as interest-bearing debt by commercial banks and the financial institutions. This will gradually be replaced by one in which money is created interest-free for the benefit of the community. The place of the commercial banks in financing enterprise will gradually be taken by mediating, non-profit local community banks providing low-cost finance, both at district and regional levels (EC512).
Pardon me, pray, please, do excuse me, it’s so very hard to type while laughing this hard. So the Greens believe that when a bank wants to make a loan it just creates the money by magicking it out of thin air! And a Green government is going to take over this magical power and use it to make loans free from that evil interest! Actually, to return from the world of Paul Daniels for a moment, only the central government not banks can create money; banks are already what the Greens say they want them to become—”mediating” institutions between lenders and borrowers, making a profit (if only to offset losses from bad loans) out of the difference between the rate of interest they pay to those who lend them money and the rate they charge borrowers.

The Greens have strong convictions, a sense of justice, and a need to care for the environment and the future. However, their policies fail to live up to their values—or even begin to meet the necessary conditions for bringing them about. So long as they remain committed to a generalised community and humanity, neglecting and ignoring class interests in favour of consensus, then effectively they are propping up the capitalist order. Without backing the liberation of the working class, they are continuing our routine enslavement.

The Greens in Germany show us that these reformers will go the way of all reformers, forced by the electoral system, and the dictates of staying in power, to turn their backs on the Party’s pacifism, and support the NATO Balkans war.

The Greens are just the new face of an old Liberalism (“Whigs Astray” as William Morris called it in the 1880s), lost in a wilderness of trying to finally making the market work, failing to meet the real needs of the community, so long as they fail to address ownership of property and the abolition of class.
Pik Smeet

USA: To Whom It May Concern (1999)

From the October 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Day trading and Internet trading on PCs have grown rapidly due to the need to attract smaller investors by giving them faster access to the trading floor. But it is not only money at risk from widespread playing of a financial video game with volatile share prices.

Time magazine (August 9) featured the 12 killings and suicide carried out in July by an American day trader who tried to make a living betting on share prices. “Who was Mark Orrin Barton? Why did he go berserk?”, they asked. But despite reporting how Barton had lost heavily from trading in erratic Internet stocks; despite mentioning how he twice remarked on a declining stock market to people he worked with at brokerage firms before opening fire on them; despite pointing out he was the prime suspect in his first wife’s murder shortly after taking out a $600,000 life-insurance policy on her (he had wanted it to be $1 million, but could not afford the premiums); and despite printing Barton’s thoughts in his letter for the police (“I have come to hate this life and this system of things. I have come to have no hope . . . [I plan] to kill as many of the people that greedily sought my destruction”), the magazine concluded “he scatters clues but no answers.”

On the contrary, to those willing to face them, the answers for 13 dead and 9 others with gunshot injuries are unmistakable: money and the marketplace. Or—as these are both part of the same system—capitalism. Only capitalism requires money to exploit productive resources, offer finished goods and services to a subordinate majority for profit, and coerce those able to work into becoming employees of an asset-owning class. And because capitalism makes money vitally important for obtaining necessities of life, achieving a bearable existence, and avoiding all manner of disturbing problems; getting and retaining as much of it as possible are what daily preoccupies and drives the vast majority of people, thereby helping maintain the status quo.

Inevitably, when difficulties and worries intensify to the point where sufferers “come to have no hope”, people can snap and lash out. Perhaps Barton thought blame lay just with specific people “that greedily sought [his] destruction”. Or perhaps, as his To-Whom-It-May-Concern letter suggested, he knew full well that capitalism’s “system of things” was indeed responsible, but was not aware a much easier way of living could be pursued, and so, seeing no way out, chose to die with those connected most closely to his downfall.

On July 27, the manager of Momentum Securities, where Barton hired computers and phone lines to gamble at online share trading, insisted debts incurred over several weeks be cleared up. Barton handed over a $50,000 cheque without funds in the bank to cover it. He went home and bludgeoned his estranged second wife to death with a hammer. Next day, the cheque bounced. That night, he killed his 11-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter the same way. On the third day, Barton arranged to see the Momentum manager, purportedly to pay off his debt at the firm. Once inside his office, Barton opened fire. He also gunned down the manager of All-Tech, another brokerage across the road where Barton had ceased trading in April, apparently because he had been barred until able to restore his account to a minimum balance of $40,000. Several other day traders who had lent Barton money to settle numerous debts, and no doubt wanted paying back, were also killed or injured.

Following the suicide of the man other traders called “Rocket”, because of how excited he got when his stock gambles were climbing, it can be seen that his losses consumed virtually all the cash from his first wife’s insurance settlement. If he did kill her for a better life, as the police believe, the “system” soon determined otherwise. With the known facts, is there the slightest doubt that minority ownership of vital assets, a market necessary for business transactions, and the money mechanism an owning class needs to exploit property and people were what drove Barton “berserk”?

If those working in the media insisted on reporting the true cause of these regular losses of life, rather than usually just beating about the bush, then we would all move that much nearer that much sooner to ending them for good. For this deadly violence is not unavoidable. A change of ownership of productive industries and resources from a few to the many would eliminate the stress of personal financial worries since there would be no finance to worry about.

Maybe, in needing money themselves just like Mark Barton, media employees don’t want to risk their own living standards until support for common asset ownership becomes overwhelming. But as the media do have the ability to inform and influence most people, their weak-kneed entertaining-for-profit reportage of capitalism-caused tragedies and scandals merely perpetuates these incidents, endangering everyone including themselves.

Perhaps those who write and broadcast will consider what will happen when the prolonged US bull market collapses in a big way. How many more Mark Bartons will violently emerge from an estimated 5 million other apparently normal Americans also engaged in online trading from home computers, and from millions of other small-scale investors with life savings tied up in stocks and shares? And how many more “ordinary” individual killings from robberies, domestic quarrels, financial disputes, etc will follow that such a serious market downturn, which would impact on economies world-wide, accompanied as it will be by an increase in social poverty and desperation as squeezed profits means unemployment rises and indispensable money becomes even harder to obtain?

Just one week after Barton’s rampage, another gunman in America shot two dead at his workplace, and a third at a firm where his mother stated he had earlier been laid off due to “economic downsizing”.
Max Hess

Gould v. Dawkins (1999)

Book Review from the October 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Darwin Wars by Andrew Brown. Simon and Schuster. £12.99.

This is a journalistic account of the arguments that have gone on recently amongst biologists in the Darwinian tradition, between those Brown calls the “Dawkinsians” and the “Gouldians”, so-called after Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene (1976) and Stephen Jay Gould, author of The Mismeasure of Man (1981) and of a series of collected essays on various aspects of evolution.

Although both sides have done original work in the field of biology and evolution, the argument is not really about the facts but about their interpretation. It is in fact a continuation of the old argument between the “Social Darwinists” and their opponents. The so-called Social Darwinists argued that the laws of biological evolution applied to humans in society and that in the social struggle for existence those who came out on top—the rich and the powerful—were entitled to their privileged social position as by achieving it they had proved to be “the fittest”.

Socialists were amongst those who opposed this apology for capitalist rule, arguing that Darwinian natural selection only applied in nature not to human society; because humans had acquired (as a result of course of their evolved biological make-up) the capacity to use tools their social development was driven not by biology but by technology, with social struggles not being a struggle of individuals against each other to survive but a struggle of classes over the control of the tools humans had developed.

Social Darwinism was revived in the 1970s under the name of “Sociobiology” which claimed, once again, that the laws of biological evolution applied to human society and that the behaviour of humans in society was governed by their biological nature; this, they said, was aggressive and anti-social as such traits had been necessary for human survival and so had evolved as part of the human biological make-up.

This was an attack on the up-to-then fairly widespread view amongst social anthropologists that there was no such thing as human nature in the sense of no such thing as biologically-determined human social behaviour since human behaviour in society was socially determined by the culture of the society they lived in. The findings of these anthropologists still stand but times had changed. The post-war boom had come to an end and, with states no longer able to sustain “altruistic” social reforms at previous levels, rugged individualism and no pity for the poor were back on the agenda.

Dawkins’s book The Selfish Gene appeared in 1976. It was a brilliant title to capture the spirit of the coming period. His basic argument was that Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” takes place not between individual organisms but between their individual genes (a controversial proposition in itself) and that genes could therefore be metaphorically described as “selfish” in struggling to survive. The title, however, left itself to being interpreted as saying that humans were genetically selfish and that there was in fact a human gene for selfishness. As a biologist Dawkins knew this to be nonsense but he nevertheless let the title stand.

In the dispute between the “Dawkinsians” and the “Gouldians” it is clear on whose side Socialists don’t stand. Although Dawkins is a militant atheist who makes mince-meat of religion, he is wrong in so far as he lets it be suggested that human social behaviour is genetically determined. This argument has been refuted years ago and has only been revived recently for non-scientific, ideological reasons. This, however, does not make us uncritical “Gouldians”. Gould’s books contain valuable material, but we are not obliged to follow his view that evolution does not mean “progress”, nor his view that there is no inherent incompatibility between science and religion.
Adam Buick

Greasy Pole: Alan Clark – gladly missed (1999)

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

It was never easy to upset Alan Clark but somebody once managed to do this when they called him a fascist. To be clear about this, Clark did not object to being known as a racist bigot. It was just that he regarded fascists as shopkeepers who were concerned about their profits and he was above such vulgarity. He was, he said, a Nazi.

A comment like that tells us all we need to know about the late MP for Kensington and Chelsea and about his contempt for the person on the receiving end, who was no less than the editor of the Daily Telegraph. He was a vain and self-absorbed man who constantly fretted about himself—about his workload, his fellow MPs, the shortage of his favourite vitamins. He operated on the principle that an assumed superiority to the majority of people gave him the right to be rude, cynical and bigoted towards them—and that they would not only accept this but admire him for it.

Well perhaps he was right; after all he was wealthy enough to get away with such behaviour. How else to explain the fact that during his life so many people fawned on him and that when he died they queued up to give vent to their shock and grief? “A national treasure,” wailed the Scotsman: “An exceptional man,” grovelled Labour’s champion spin doctor Alistair Campbell: “A doughty parliamentarian, an accomplished historian,” burbled Margaret Thatcher (one of the very few Clark genuinely liked). But—as we might have expected—leading the field for gut-wrenching sycophancy was Tony Blair: “. . . kind and thoughtful . . . a complete one-off and above all his own man. We will all miss him,” raved the Labour leader.

Moral Standards
Perhaps Blair had forgotten that only a few days before this he had spearheaded his government’s latest stunt—a drive to raise “moral standards” in this country, which promises to be aimed against impoverished workers who try to get by through crime or young girls who get pregnant before they have so much as stepped onto the treadmill of working exploitation. The drive will not be directed against rich philanderers like Clark, who took open pride in his reputation as a compulsive ogler, groper and seducer of women, a man who, when asked about his notorious affairs with a married woman and her two daughters, was unflinchingly contemptuous: “I should be horsewhipped” he sneered.

Blair’s expressed admiration for Clark being “his own man” should not be taken as heralding a change in policy, to encourage any independent thought among the Labour benches. What possible reason can there have been for all those extravagant tributes to the dead Tory? Was he really worth such a fuss being made over his memory? As a politician Clark was pretty small beer. Although he rated himself as clever enough, in the way politicians have to be, for one of the top ministries (he assumed he would fill the vacancy caused when the equally obnoxious Nicholas Ridley had to resign over some leaked injudicious comments about the Germans in Europe) he never rose higher than a junior minister. Perhaps, for his own peace of mind, that was just as well because even at that he resented the work which went with the job. His diaries are littered with sour complaints about the red boxes which had to be cleared and about the civil servants who arranged his timetable for him (although they were, after all, only doing their job; if they hadn’t done it they would have been condemned along with all the other “wankers”).

Selling Arms
As Minister for Procurement at Defence Clark saw nothing wrong with the sale to Iraq of British-made arms which were later used against British soldiers in the Gulf War. Nothing wrong, either, with selling weaponry to the Indonesian government to be used in East Timor. All of this, said Clark, was a good advertisement for the deadly efficiency of “our kit”. Well after all this is capitalism; what do a few thousand lives matter when there is a healthy profit to be made? In the infamous Churchill Matrix scandal he at first encouraged the company (who of course wanted some of that healthy profit) to break the embargo on selling arms to Iraq then watched while they were prosecuted for doing what he had urged on them. Being Alan Clark he then wrecked the whole thing by giving crucial evidence which ensured their acquittal. There was a grisly kind of consistency in all of this: as Norman Tebbit observed he “. . . really did not care what people thought of him or what he said or what he did”.

Clark’s high reputation as an historian is, to put it mildly, charitable since it rests almost entirely on one book—The Donkeys—which is interesting but little more than a shallow exploitation of the then fashionable tendency to expose the cruel incompetence and complacency of British generals in the First World War. His account of the German invasion of Russia—Barbarossa—is tedious and unsatisfactory in its failure to give the war there any real historical perspective. Appropriately, it has been almost forgotten; there are better works, by more competent writers, on that excessively gruesome episode in capitalism’s history.

And what—as if it matters—about Clark’s aristocratic assumptions? What about his moated castle in Kent? His homes in Scotland and Switzerland? His collection of powerful, expensive cars which he drove at speeds careless of the safety of anyone else who happened to be on the road at the same time? He relished the sneer about Michael Heseltine, that he was a man so unaristocratic that he had “bought his own furniture”—as if proper blue bloods like Clark had had their stuff in the family for centuries. The truth is that the Clark fortunes originated in the money made by his grandfather in the thread trade in Scotland. From that the family acquired it all—the castle, houses, cars, furniture, paintings, aristocratic pretensions . . . From the exploitation of the workers in Paisley Clark could be sent to the poshest school in the land; he once said he quite understood football hooligans because he had played the Eton Wall Game.

So this exceptionally obnoxious man was just another fraud. Parliament, among other places, is full of them, peddling their particular deception to sustain a social system which by any human standards should be abolished without delay. All that can be said for Clark is that perhaps he was an unusual fraud, who had the knack of stimulating admiration for behaviour which does not often expect to be tolerated. Capitalism endures through a massive defrauding of its people, as evidenced by the fact that so many of them accepted the self-assessment of Alan Clark as a bit of a rogue, the kind of person they would all like to be if they were rich enough. Which says a lot about this social system and how it operates and what it does to people.

TV Review: Darling and His Great Democratic Deficit (1999)

TV Review from the October 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is little more unsettling than watching some oily defender of capitalism defend the indefensible and appear to believe every word of it. A bad curry comes close, as does malaria, but these only attack the senses in a physical way. For the inducement of sheer intellectual pandemonium in his victims, little could beat Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling. In BBC1’s On The Record (Sunday 19 September) he put in a bravura Orwellian performance in defence of the government’s drive to “eliminate poverty in Britain”.

Given his apparent level of supreme self-confidence in everything his government is doing, why then—the more observant viewer may ask—did Darling barely answer a single question that was put to him? He did, of course, give answers, but rarely if ever to the questions that were actually asked. Requested by John Humphrys to outline what the government would do to help those with poverty-level private pensions which were still sufficient to disqualify them from receiving state aid, Darling replied with an answer concerning how the government plans to continue its scheme to change the tax status of savings accounts. Humphrys furrowed his brow. Asked why more people were officially living in poverty now in the UK than for decades, Darling replied by saying that there were more people now in work than under Thatcher or Major. Humphrys` furrowed brow returned. No doubt when he was asked if he wanted a glass of water before the programme began he replied with “No thank you, I’ve just eaten, and incidentally I think the government can take great credit for that”.

Even with an interviewer as tenacious as John Humphrys can be, it is still quite amazing how much politicians can get away with. And Darling’s interview was hardly on a topic without relevance. Over a quarter of UK residents now officially live in poverty. Poverty is a major contributor to death, disease of various kinds, mental health problems, increased incidence of crime, alcohol and drug abuse, to name but a few. It is probably the biggest single cause of social problems in society and yet a government supposedly elected to eradicate poverty and bring about some sort of social cohesion in Britain cannot address itself to some of the most pertinent questions it is faced with. Why?

This is a government which is expert at seeming to do lots of things while in reality doing little or nothing. It is forever launching “initiatives”, programmes and pilot projects operating at the margins of major social problems. The most minuscule change in the law or the taxation system is presented as a bold new leap which will help to radically alter the state of British society. Even attempts at removing previous reforms—as with the attack on single parents` benefits—are presented as brand new positive reforms. It promises full employment and the eradication of poverty—but never within any remote timescale. In short, it talks big but delivers little.

That this state of affairs has come about is only, of course, a reflection of the (political and economic) impotence of politicians. If they were able to achieve much, then presumably they would—especially if they’d been elected on that basis. But the reality is that they are unable to deal with any of the major problems they supposedly spend their time addressing—in other words, they have even ceased, in the narrow sense, to be reformists. As the economic structure and dynamic of world capitalism does not allow them the leeway to be genuine reformists and try to change the system from within, they are left to chase shadows, playing at being reformists.

To that extent, Alistair Darling is the ideal New Labour politician. He is not even a proper reformist any more, though apparently he thinks he is; he takes great pride in responding to any pertinent question with a tangential answer which can demonstrate some sort of reformist activity, however irrelevant; and he is most passionate of all about the most trifling things of all. In fact he has a hollow fervour akin to some sort of mixed-up born-again Christian who doesn’t really believe in miracles any more. Just like his Dear Leader.

Now some time ago it was mooted by several of the TV interviewers that they should take strong action against ministers and other politicians who appeared to operate a policy of deliberately not answering the questions asked of them, and who instead appear to be reading with gusto off a pre-prepared script. As in the run-up to the next General Election this situation is only likely get worse it may be time for John Humphrys and co to consider what Labour would like to ban across the public services—strike action. After all, the tactic for dealing with vandals and football hooligans in recent years has been to “deny them the oxygen of publicity”. Couldn’t workers at the BBC do the same if the politicians refuse to answer questions and therefore be democratically accountable? Just a thought, maybe, but a nice one at that.
Dave Perrin