Wednesday, August 3, 2022

A Challenge to Mr. Bevin on Post-War Reconstruction (1942)

From the August 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cutting away from the vague generalities of most of the Government spokesmen Mr. Ernest Bevin, speaking at the annual meeting of the National Chamber of Trade in London on July 15th, 1942, made two definite statements about post-war reconstruction, one on behalf of the Government and the other on his own behalf. The first need not detain us long. He said that “it was the policy of the Government to try to establish for the post-war period minimum wage regulations for all forms of employment” (Times, July 16th, 1942). In form it is somewhat ambiguous since it is not clear whether it is intended to be a permanent arrangement or only one “for the post-war period.” The probability is that it is meant as a pledge of a permanent policy. For the rest it is interpreted by the Manchester Guardian to mean not “universal standards such as those laid down by New Deal legislation in the United States, but . . . the British method of covering all industry with trade boards and collective agreements.” (Manchester Guardian.; July 17th.)

“Mr. Bevin,” says the Guardian, “at least is trying to do something now that will be ready before the good intentions have time to fade.” After the last war the good intentions did fade; so that the Labour Party in office discarded its own minimum wage policy drafted when in opposition. Let us assume, however, that this time the policy will be carried out, what does it amount to ? It will be a gain to a number of badly organised workers but it is only necessary to look at the past experience of such arrangements, with their low minimum rates, the exceptions for workers not up to the average level of health and efficiency, and the wholesale evasions, to see that it is a pledge of very modest value to the workers. Mr. Bevin’s second point is more interesting. He said: “At the end of the war we should be able to buy goods only for goods. The rentier, comfortably living on interest, would certainly be gone. It will mean that we shall have a nation at work, and that will not be an unhealthy thing.” (Daily Herald, July 16th, 1942.) The Times and Manchester Guardian reported him slightly differently. Instead of saying that the rentier would certainly be gone, they have it “would be entirely gone.” This, it will be observed, was not a pledge on behalf of the Government, but a statement of what Mr. Bevin believes will take place and of which he approves. We may digress for a moment to quote the Concise Oxford Dictionary about the rentier. The definition is “Person living on rente, person not needing to earn his living.” And “rente” is explained as of French origin, meaning “Income, especially that consisting of life annuity or dividends.”

So now we may seem to be getting somewhere. People living on property incomes, not needing to earn their living, will be gone ! (Incidentally if Mr. Bevin feared that there might be some propertied persons who would manage to escape the healthy necessity of working, he has already to hand a powerful instrument of which as Minister of Labour he has had experience. We refer to the prosecution of absentees from war work, fined or jailed under Defence Regulations.)

We are, however, going much too fast. Mr. Bevin has not yet convinced his fellow members of the Government, and was disowned by the Chancellor on the radio (2 Aug.) We may safely rule out any mass stampede on the part of the propertied class to surrender voluntarily their property and the income derived from it. An alternative is that it may be taken away from them. The S.P.G.B. has throughout its existence urged that the conversion of private ownership of the means of production and distribution into common ownership is the only way to solve the poverty problem; but Mr. Bevin does not subscribe to this. He is a member of the Labour Party, and that Party, far from seeking to abolish the rentier, prepares to establish him more firmly than ever by setting up state industries or public utility corporations and compensating the present owners with Government bonds, or stocks guaranteed by the Government. Has Mr. Bevin noticed, for example, how the rumours of nationalisation of the railways gladdened the hearts of the railway stockholders ? The Sunday Express (June 7th, 1942) reported “a slow upward move in home rail stocks. The buying is based on the theory that Britain’s railways will never return wholly to private ownership.” The Express went on : —
“That would have most important results for the 500,000 investors in railway stocks. Instead of a fluctuating income dependent on operating results, their revenues would be fixed.”
In short, Mr. Bevin, these stockholders are counting on the Labour Party establishing them in permanent security as rentiers.

Again on July 8th, 1942, the News-Chronicle reported another rise in railway stocks, and said : —
“. . . the current market explanation of the recovery yesterday was that it was inspired by statements of trade union officials that plans for the unification of the railways under a public board are well under way.”
It is then established that the rentier class, far from expecting Mr. Bevin’s Party to deprive them of their wealth and income, and make them work, are confidently looking to that Party for security as rentiers in the difficult post-war period.

There is, of course, a third alternative—that the rentier class have already disappeared or are about to disappear. It is fantastic to consider such a thing, but there are many supposedly well informed people who believe it to be true. There is Mr. J. B. Priestley, who writes that the war-time changes “are tending to bring people nearer to one level, both economically and socially. The differences between classes are much less marked” (Picture Post, June 27th, 1942). There is Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who, commenting on Priestley’s statement, approved of it and added: “I also hope and believe that such changes will continue after the war and on a great scale” (Picture Post, July 4th).

Mr. Priestley claimed that “many of the worst features of our pre-war life have vanished and are rapidly dwindling. For example, our fantastically gross and really sinful inequalities.” Then there Mr. Ivor Brown in the Manchester Guardian (June 6th, 1942), who fancies that we have already slipped into Socialism. “A 10/- income tax (with surtax in proportion) has given us what the Socialist orators could never do, Socialism in our time.” Ownership of a farm or factory is, he says, now only nominal, the owner “is just the employee of one or more Ministries.”

One can only gasp at the self-deception and short vision of such people and wonder how they manage to get like that in defiance of all the evidence that they are wrong. Presumably they knew about the pre-war inequality, that under 2 per cent. of the population owned about two-thirds of the accumulated wealth, and that three-quarters of the population owned between them not more than one-thirteenth of the wealth. Let us grant for the moment that at present the annual increase of the wealth of the propertied class is drastically curtailed in many instances by war-time taxation (as it was in 19l4—1918) but have they never heard how these fortunes leapt up again in the years after the last war ? Do they think that the rich are no longer with us ? Who do they think paid £6 17s a bottle for Benedictine at Christie’s sale on May 22nd, 1942 (Daily Telegraph May 23rd): £50 for six bottles of brandy, and liqueurs at £27 a dozen ? Did they not read of the £100,000 that was bid by a London builder for 130 bloodstock racehorses that had belonged to the late Lord Glenelly ? (Daily Express, July 15th, 1942). Do they ever look at the amounts left in the wills published in the Press ? On seven days chosen at random in July the Times published particulars of 55 wills. The amounts ranged from £12,000 to £426,000, and totalled £4,060,000—an average of £75,000 a head. Let us make the necessary allowance for death duties, ranging up to 50 per cent, and more on the millionaire fortunes, and even then ask Mr. Priestley if he really imagines that the position of these people “tends” to equality with that of the mass of the population. Again let him look at Whitaker’s Almanack, 1942, and see the big estates left in 1941. There are 13 of £500,000 or more, ranging up to one which is over £4,500,000. They average about £1,500,000 per head. Ten of them are over £1,000,000. Does Mr. Priestley not know the authoritative estimate that three out of four adult persons who die each year do not possess even £100 to leave to their heirs ? Does Mr. Priestley not know that in 1939 the average wage of an adult male worker in industry was less than 70/- a week, with hundreds of thousands earning far less than that. Does he not know that earnings have kept pace with the increased cost of living only where long hours of overtime are being worked ? Did he see the comment of the Birmingham magistrate on the disgrace that a married lorry driver, after 19 years’ service on the Great Western Railway, is receiving only 68/6 a week? (Daily Herald, July 16th.) Does he really affirm that there is not fantastic inequality between the position of the workers and the position of the propertied class, in war or in peace ?

This brings us back to Mr. Bevin. Does Mr. Bevin stand for the abolition of property incomes of all kinds ? Does he think this will take place in the post-war settlement ? Since his fellow Cabinet Ministers do not share that view, how does he propose to convince them ? And after that how does he propose to win the Labour Party away from its programme of stabilising the position of the rentier class? Does he agree with the S.P.G.B. that Socialism, which necessarily involves the abolition of private ownership of the means of production and distribution and all forms of property income, is the only remedy for the problems of the working class ? If the answer is yes, why is he a supporter of other programmes ? It the answer is no, what is the programme (apart from the one item of minimum wage regulation) which he believes will solve the problem without Socialism.

We make the confident forecast that no other policy will solve the problem. The propertied class will, under pressure, do various small things to meet working class discontent, but they will never be got off the workers’ backs until a Socialist majority determines to have Socialism. The post-war world will be very much like the world that went before unless the working class themselves determine otherwise.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Death Penalty in Soviet Russia (1942)

From the August 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have received from a correspondent a letter dealing with the age at which young persons in Soviet Russia are liable to the death penalty. He refers to a statement quoted in the Socialist Standard for June, 1940, from Souvarine’s “Stalin,” that “a decree extended the application of the death penalty for delinquents and criminals as from the age of 12,” and says that a telephone message to the Soviet Embassy elicited the assurance that Souvarine’s statement is untrue. The assertion that children aged 12 are liable to the death penalty was first referred to in these columns in a review of Yvon’s “What has become of the Russian Revolution” (the Socialist Standard, March, 1939). In the issue for July, 1939, we published a denial by a correspondent, who quoted from “The Soviet Comes of Age” that “the death sentence cannot be pronounced on a person under 18 years of age.
Editorial Committee.

What Means This Strife? (1942)

From the August 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

How to End the Class Struggle. The Rise of Classes.

During man’s very early history, when society was in the stage of primitive communism, there were no classes and no class struggles. Then—and the period must have lasted for thousands of years—private property was unknown, all members of the tribe joining in the ownership of the hunting grounds and fishing waters. The proceeds of the chase were for the enjoyment of every member of the tribe. Thanks to this ownership in common there was no monopolising of resources and wealth by one section of the community to the detriment of another. No man could live by the exploitation of his fellows.

The domestication of animals and the fashioning of tools suitable for agriculture brought to an end this first stage of man’s history. It is always a revolution in the means of producing wealth which causes social relationships to change. Now tribes conquered others with the express purpose of converting the vanquished into slaves. They were brought home and set to work the land. The conquerors owned the tools, the animals and the land; the conquered were propertyless. Thus did private property arise and with it came classes and man’s exploitation by man.

Since that time the history of all society is the history of class struggles, for private property has severed society into the “haves” and the “have-nots.” For this reason we find antagonism between one section of society and another. “Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, baron and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, standing constantly in opposition to each other, carried on an uninterrupted warfare, now open, now concealed . . .” And present-day capitalist society has not abolished the class struggle. “It has but substituted new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of warfare for the old.” (See “Communist Manifesto,” by Marx and Engels.) To-day we have the class-struggle between the capitalist and working classes.

They Won’t Face the Facts
Frequently, especially in war time and during crises, appeals are made to the exploited, the working class, to abandon the class struggle.

Such an appeal was made on May Day by Marshal Petain. According to a Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury report, he “appealed to the French workers not to restore the class system (!)” and spoke of “the unhealthy ideologies of the class struggle.”

(The Marshal, in keeping with his shallow thoughts, is guilty of loose phraseology; the “class system”—capitalism—has not been abolished in France, or elsewhere, and so cannot be restored.)

It is strange how the workers are always held responsible for the class struggle. Yet, as we have shown, it owes its origin to private property, the corner-stone of capitalist society. The class struggle exists because of the clash of interests between the workers and their masters. That the interests of these two classes are opposed is quite clear if we take one aspect of it. The worker sells his energies, his labour-power, to the capitalist. Over the price of this and over the length of time it shall belong to the capitalist, there is bound to be disagreement. The worker, living on the starvation line, wants the best price (wage) he can get; the capitalist, seeking to produce his wares cheaply so that he can sell them in the world market, wants to reduce production costs. He, therefore, tries to keep wages down. Strikes and lockouts, both as old as capitalism, are evidences of the class struggle.

We can say with confidence, therefore, that the Marshal made his May Day appeal in vain. The French workers, like any others, are compelled by the very nature of capitalism to wage the class struggle in order to maintain their standard of life. This they are forced to do, even if they do not understand the economics of capitalism, even if they are not politically-minded. To quote Marx again : “The proletariat goes through various evolutionary stages. Its struggle against the bourgeoisie begins with its birth.” Not Petain, nor Hitler, nor anyone else can check the outbreak of the class struggle, either by words, government decrees or brute force. Nothing less than the abolition of that which gives rise to classes will accomplish that—the abolition of private property.

People like the Marshal are to be found the world over, wherever capitalism has (as it inevitably must) brought into existence workers and capitalists.

On the same day as Petain’s broadcast was reported, and in the same paper, a letter appeared entitled “Labour Discipline.” This writer, too, assumes that the class struggle is the workers’ creation. He deplores the fact that 400 factory workers on strike have refused to obey their union leaders’ orders to resume work pending negotiations. The writer does not stop to ponder why negotiations are so frequently necessary between the owners of industry and their workpeople. For this man the class struggle is a matter of will, of inclination, on the part of the working class. He cannot see that it is a sheer necessity inseparable from capitalism.

Another of those perturbed by this everlasting strife between employer and employed is Lord Dudley Gordon. Addressing the Leeds and District branch of the Federation of British Industries, he spoke thus:
“We must do all in our power to get rid of the idea that the community consists of classes who have different interests clashing and competing one with another.” This paraphrased means: “Do your best to shut your eyes to facts. The class struggle is there alright, but ignore it.”
Lord Dudley’s solution for the whole problem is quite simple. “It would,” he said, “be better if we could look for competition in sacrifice.” This advice could, however, only have been meant for the workers—the usual call for more sacrifices. At any rate, his fellow capitalists ignored the message, for so far they have shown no inclination to enter into competition with each other in sacrificing the privileges of private ownership.

The Socialist Solution
Enough has been said to show that the way to a class-free society devoid of strife is not through the Petains and the Dudleys. Indeed, it can safely be maintained that the Socialist alone knows the solution to this problem. In his spoken and written propaganda, he aims at impressing upon the workers that the time has now arrived when classes need not be.

So long as the means of production were at a low stage of development and incapable of producing enough for all, it was inevitable that a few should ensure to themselves the privileges that ownership gives.

But that need not be now. The means of production can to-day pour our abundance. The truth of this is evident when one remembers that though so many millions are under arms and so many more millions engaged m turning out weapons of destruction, the world still carries on.

The Socialist urges that the way to end the class struggle is to make these gigantic productive forces the property of all society. This would immediately remove the cause of classes and conflict. This remedy, the only one, is, of course, opposed by the capitalist class. Their interests and privileges are at stake.

The task, then, of effecting this economic transformation rests with the working class, and sooner or later the workers of all nations will be obliged to undertake it.

The working class will carry the class struggle to its logical conclusion.

Beginning on the economic field over such particular questions as hours of work and wages, the struggle becomes a political struggle. The workers must win political power in order to carry through their revolution.

As time goes on the working class will realise more and more that this is their historical mission. The workers will become ever more critical of capitalist society. Every sphere of present-day society will be carefully scrutinised by them as their class consciousness grows.

When the majority of the workers become aware that class struggles need no longer be, that is, when they have become Socialists, they will use political power to abolish private property. Capitalism will be replaced by a harmonious social system—Socialism.

When we have the common ownership of the means of life, the individual’s interest will coincide with his fellows. Then, at last, strife and turmoil, so characteristic of capitalism, will no longer impede man’s progress.

With a society united and each giving according to his ability, who can say what will be the limits of man’s progress?
Clifford Allen

If We Are To Survive (concluded) (1942)

From the August 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

With the advent of private property, came more permanent dwelling-places, and interchange of products, the domination of tribe by tribe, and the growth of privileged and ruling classes. Whereas formerly man’s struggle for existence represented a unified battle against the elements, the fight for survival now took the form of man against man, class against class, state against state. No longer did man live a harmonious and cooperative life. The road to prosperity was now littered with the weaker and less fortunate over whom the successful had to step.

A society is the sum total of human relationships. The basis of all societies is economics, or the way in which men make their living. From this base there arises the superstructure of society. the ideas, morals, codes, and institutions. Change the way men are organised to make their living and you change the way in which they react to one another. It is this and this alone that explains man’s transition through the stages of primitive tribal society to feudalism and Chattel Slavery to the various developments of our present system. The ever-accelerating advance of new discoveries and inventions have wrought consequent changes in men’s relationships.

If we want to understand the disheartening human behaviour of the present-day, we must seek for an explanation, not in psychological stereotypes, but in the organisation of society. We live in a commodity system. Goods are not produced primarily to satisfy the needs of people, but to be sold on the market for profit. The means of production are all concentrated in the hands of a very few who live by virtue of their ownership. On the other hand we have the overwhelming majority of the world whose only means of livelihood is the selling of their energies, physical and mental, to those who own and control the machinery of wealth production. The few live well; the many dwell precariously close to a subsistence level.

It is a competitive world in which success is measured in dollars and cents. The scrupulous, the good-natured, those who will not rise at the expense of other, are forgotten men and women who will never bleed the blue of the upper class. It is an economy in which greed and selfishness are the prerequisites of a secure and prosperous life. Consequently, in order to live, man is compelled to develop these characteristics and to strive for personal achievement whatever the cost to his fellow men.

In such a world it is not practical to be unselfish and co-operative. What benefits one class hurts the other it is each for himself and the devil take the hindmost. The contradictions of capitalist society with its wasteful competition are not limited to individuals and classes within a country. In the quest for markets and trade routes on the part of national capitalist interests, the competitions of peace invariably give way to the conflicts of war, and the world finds itself again embroiled in a slaughter of unparalleled proportions.

Yet, in spite of all the greed and deceit, in spite of the brutality and ruthlessness of capitalist society, man is still a social being, and is quick to rally to the aid of his fellow men. It is not uncommon for men to sacrifice their own lives for the well-being of others. In every catastrophe there are always spontaneous efforts to help and assist the stricken and the unfortunate.

The present war is an excellent example of man’s social impulses.

Actually it is being waged for economic and political supremacy among rival capitalist factions. But in the minds of those in the front lines, the purpose is conceived as a humanitarian one. They are fighting to destroy a menace. They are killing in the conviction that humanity will benefit. They are dying in the hope that by their death a new and better world will come to life.

It is not the creation of a more virtuous man that is needed, not an improvement in human behaviour, but the establishment of a social system that will be conducive to an expression of man’s social nature. A society in which existence will be based on the pursuit of progressive and co-operative endeavours. Not only is man capable of living a better life, but the time is now ripe for its establishment. For the first time in history the world is capable of providing an abundance of wealth, more than enough to satisfy the needs of every individual. Modern science has contributed the knowledge and machinery necessary to transpose the biblical promises of milk and honey into twentieth-century reality.

There is only one obstacle standing in the way of a new day and that is the set of ideas that exist in the minds of men. From early childhood our thoughts and conceptions have been trained and nurtured along set patterns. In school and church we are imbued with set notions and prejudices. By the time we have passed adolescence we have a whole host of definite impressions and stereotyped convictions which we are wont to discard. Most of what we know of the world that lies outside our own direct experience is made up more of cursory impressions than of facts, more of myth than reality. Outside of the individual’s limited environment, his contacts with the world are for the most part second, third, or fourth hand. This limitation also holds true for men in high political offices, who rarely are acquainted with the problems and events over which they exercise authority.

It is undeniable that only a few of us have attained any degree of objectivity in our observations. The great majority of us mortals harbour a large repertoire of prejudices and faulty impressions. But the mistaken concepts, hackneyed ideas and ill-advised standards which we flatter to call our reason is a direct reflection of our environment. For example, if we believe in the nonsense that all Jews are shrewd and grabbing, we are reflecting what our training has taught us to believe.

It is particularly difficult in times such as the present, when we are bombarded from every source by propaganda and distortions, to think clearly and accurately regarding the social forces that have engulfed us. In fact, it is difficult to think at all. But the very conditions that make a clear picture difficult makes clear thinking all the more vital.

To the casual observer who has matured beyond the slogans and shibboleths that are intoxicating our senses, it appears inconceivable that any sort of decent life can emerge from the present horror and degradation. It is a world gone mad. However, all is not lost. The war is but further evidence that capitalism can no longer function in the interest of humanity.

It will not require many more years of privation and confusion before men realise the futility of killing each other in the interests of their masters. It will not be beyond the intelligence of the men and women of the post-war world to realise the possibilities of our scientific age. We need not be wary of the man’s ability to adjust himself to a new and better world. Socialism has become more than a dream for the future, it has become the prime need of to-day. Expediency demands a socialist world—if we are to survive.
Eric Hanson.
(“Western Socialist,” Boston, U.S.A.)

Voice From The Back: The Price Of Oil (2006)

The Voice From The Back Column from the August 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Price Of Oil

Away back in September 2003 two workers were suffocated to death in a huge gas leak on Shell’s Brent Bravo oil platform in the North Sea. “Bill Campbell, a former senior manager with the oil giants, says vital maintenance work was ignored and lies told to allow platforms to carry on producing oil at all times” (Daily Record, 14 June). The company were fined £900,000 for safety breaches. An amount that is completely derisory when compared with their billions in profits every year. Bill Campbell who worked in the North Sea for 25 years went on BBC Scotland TV to denounce the company, but they did not send a spokesperson to deny the charges. They were probably too busy counting their profits to consider the deaths of two expendable workers.

Lazy Workers?

“Avoiding work is a full-time job and seems to be getting harder, at least in America where Workaholics Anonymous now has self-help branches in 35 cities. New figures suggest that employees are working three hours a week more than their parents did, the equivalent to nearly four extra weeks a year” (Times, 21 June). Socialists used to be told that socialism was impractical because the working class were too lazy. That argument certainly doesn’t apply here.

A Tale Of Three Virgins

Three sisters in Inverness featured in a bizarre insurance policy. They insured themselves against having a virgin birth. The insurance company only cancelled the policy because of religious pressure. “The Catholic Church was not happy about what we have been doing” (The Herald, 23 June). What was their objection we wonder? They don’t believe in virgin births? They could not accept the notion that the next Jesus might be a Jock? A second coming could lead to mass unemployment in the Vatican?.

Science And Profits

Sir Ian Chalmers writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine states that the scientific record of clinical trials is being distorted by drug companies in order to protect sales. “Patients’ lives are being put at risk because drug companies cannot be trusted to publish unbiased clinical research, according to a leading scientist” (Times, 29 June). We are dealing with capitalism, we are dealing with a multibillion dollar industry, why shouldn’t we have distortion? After all that is how capitalism operates.

Not Newsworthy?

Every evening editors of The Sun, The Daily Mirror and The Daily Mail have to make a decision about what to splash on their front pages the next day. Shall it be Pop Star Sniffs Cocaine, Soap Star Visits Brothel or maybe Politician’s Gay Secret? The senior policy officer for Water Aid, Henry Northover is hardly likely to make the tabloid’s headlines with the following. “Imagine 20 Jumbo jets filled with children – that’s the number who die every day owing to lack of clean water and sanitation” (Observer, 2 July). We are trying to imagine 20 Jumbo jets full of children crashing every day, and frankly it makes us ill, but of course it is not newsworthy in this mad society.

For The Good Times

The end of the World Cup has left many social observers scratching their heads in disbelief. No violence, no hooliganism and no mindless madness? Can this be the working class that the Daily Mail are always warning us about? Tens of thousands of working men and women from all over the world, enjoying each others’ company, laughing, joking, dancing and who knows what else. It would almost makes you believe that world socialism is possible, unless you read the Daily Mail of course.

And The Bad Times

Because of the proliferation of TV channels advertisers are concerned about their “lack of penetration”into profit-making areas. Even worse is the advent of VCR recorders, where people watch shows and delete the ads. The answers for these hucksters is to sponsor sports events. Unlike soaps, that workers can look at later, sports events are watched. While they occur. This explains why the TV rights for NFL (American football) is $3.7 billion, the World Cup $1.1 billion and why you had to watch those silly Budwieser ads. Worse is to follow. “Images like a giant Coca-Cola bottle emerging from the centre circle, can be projected onto the pitch” (Observer, 9 July). Perhaps they could arrange a penalty shoot between Pepsi and Coca Cola? Capitalism distorts everything, even our leisure time . . .

Pathfinders: Radioactive days (2006)

The Pathfinders Column from the August 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Radioactive days

Anyone who expressed shock, surprise, horror or helpless mirth at the government’s decision to give the go-ahead to a new round of nuclear power stations in the UK deserves a slap and a strong injunction to wake up and smell the plutonium. This was always going to happen, so get used to it. Some people may have thought, in the wake of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and the revelations of gross and grotesque safety infringements by nuclear companies in the 70’s and 80’s, that nuclear’s goose was cooked, and that public opinion was irreversibly set against its comeback. Such optimists underestimate the power of creeping propaganda by the state and overestimate the collective memory of the public. What, besides a lot of bilge about new safety procedures and new ideas about waste disposal, has really swung it for the nuclear lobby is the increasing fear that we, in the West, are either going to be hostages to the mullahs in Iran or those commies in Venezuela for oil, or hostages to the Russian mafia for gas (who have shown themselves quite capable of turning off the taps if they don’t get the price they want).

Blair’s government have played a clever game of buttering up the public with so-called energy reviews, which were really about acclimatizing public opinion to the inevitable. The greens have been effectively neutralized, being unable to find a way out of the environmental frying pan of fossil fuels without hitting the fire of nuclear fission, while emerging research into wind power has set back alarmingly the time necessary for this technology  to start being a net carbon saver, from an estimate of 18 months by the wind turbine industry itself to between 8 and 16 years by independent researchers, on a projected 25 year turbine life span (New Scientist, July 8).
And could there be another and darker reason why nuclear is back on the agenda and the same money is not going to be spent either on renewables, or even more sensibly, insulating houses and finding ways to reduce consumption? The original reason for the nuclear programme was that not only could you run steam turbines with the resulting water vapour but you could also build bombs to vaporize your political and economic rivals, and the reasoning still holds good, in a world of ageing nuclear arsenals and an emergent superpower, China, whose expected ruthlessness in suppressing global competitors may be judged by its ruthlessness in suppressing its own people.

But the bitterest pill for environmentalists to swallow is that the government’s case on nuclear is actually pretty hard to fault. Renewables provide about 4 per cent of the UK’s energy supply and the most massive expansion programme imaginable is not going to increase that amount to a significant level for decades, whereas the threat of strangulation from global suppliers of oil and gas is immediate and stark, as are the spiralling price rises.

While the USA and the UK may with impunity invade Iraq when its chieftain starts monkeying around with oil supplies, the same tactic is hardly going to work in Venezuela, heavily backed by China, or in Russia, which nobody has ever invaded without immediately and solemnly wishing they hadn’t. There are no other emergent technologies. Fusion is still decades away, and always will be, according to the old joke. Cold fusion is, according to the accepted wisdom, just a joke. As hydro goes bigger, the cracks in the dams start to appear, much to the embarrassment of Chinese engineers, and the energy of wind appears to be best harnessed by building on, and effectively destroying, millions of tons of peat bog, itself a massive carbon sink.

If socialism were established tomorrow, the question of nuclear energy would take a back-seat, behind more pressing questions of food production. But it would re-emerge, amid a hotly disputed debate over energy consumption and reduction. A socialist society which had to find energy out of nowhere and with no time to develop renewables, might conceivably go nuclear, at least for a time. But it is not a racing certainty, or even an ambling probability.

If one were to take away the factors of capitalist competitive production which so completely influence the present controversy one would be left with a more rational basis for planning, which would take into account global minimum energy requirements, both domestic and industrial, rather than global optimum industrial performance to outdo business rivals. If Europe, for example, didn’t have to stay one jump ahead of South East Asia and China in manufacturing stakes, and if China wasn’t in such an all-fired rush to industrialise simply to compete on global markets, the question of energy might be approached in an altogether calmer and more globally sustainable way. But in capitalism, the energy question is really one of global dominance. The power at stake is really political and economic. Whether the source of that power is from nuclear fission, fossil fuels, or farting Friesians, is entirely beside the point.

The Sting

The ongoing war between mainstream scientists and the homeopathic community, which recently saw the Royal Veterinary Society obliged to withdraw a list of homeopathic vets from its website after a storm of protests from the scientific community, has begun to assume farcical proportions. Now holiday makers are returning home with malaria after refusing conventional anti-malarial drugs in favour of homeopathic ‘alternatives’ (BBC Online, July 13).

An undercover investigation by the group Sense About  Science and BBC’s Newsnight programme revealed that homeopathic consultants were telling people they didn’t need the ‘horrible’ conventional drugs and could safely use homeopathic medications, which on analysis turned out to be 99.99 per cent water with a virtually undetectable level of quinine. When challenged by Newsnight, the clinics claimed this was a mistake, and that clients were told to consult their doctors, a claim not supported by the secretly recorded interview transcripts.

However, all this doesn’t seem quite fair on the hardworking homeopaths. Being in a sympathetic mood, Pathfinders offers the following explanation: what the clinics really meant to say was that their remedies were indeed perfectly effective, but only against homeopathic mosquitoes. The fact that mosquitoes are usually in the habit of delivering large and potentially deadly doses of malaria is a disappointing reflection on their unchristian natures but this can hardly be blamed on homeopathic clinics, who are only trying to help.
Paddy Shannon