Monday, July 31, 2023

Voice From The Back: Pay up or die (2002)

The Voice From The Back Column from the July 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pay up or die

“The National Institute for Clinical Excellence, which authorises drugs for prescription in England and Wales, is set to reject Glivec, which was developed to combat chronic myeloid leukaemia. Data presented to the American Society for Clinical Oncology show that it is three times more effective than existing therapies . . . The drug is expensive costing between £19,000 and £28,500 per patient per year, depending on dose. But the results on first chronic myeloid leukaemia and now gastro-intestinal stromal tumours suggest it is a life-saver” Times (28 May). A life-saver perhaps, but only if you have the cash.

Marx and the Observer

In an article entitled “Life’s good. Why do we feel bad?” in the Observer (19 May) by Richard Reeves we find a rare reference to Marx. The article is the usual bleat about how despite rising living standards everybody seems to be less happy, but it has the merit of quoting Marx on the subject. “Karl Marx, who for all his faults knew a bit about capitalism, captured the keeping-up-with-the-Jones dynamic of market economics perfectly: ‘A house may be large or small; as long as the neighbouring houses are likewise small, it satisfies all the social requirements of a residence. But let there arise next to the little house a palace and the little house shrinks to a hut.’ With mass media, the palace doesn’t need to be next door – it can be beamed into our living rooms. And the competition doesn’t stop with the three-bed semi; it applies to our car, our children’s clothes, even our bodies.”

The height of nonsense

An obvious example of how capitalism is totally anti-human is how it makes you feel bad about having a small wage, a small car, or a small house but now, even just being small. In the New York Times (5 May) it is reported that some members of the working class in Japan in order to get a job or a spouse are subjecting themselves to a painful operation where their shinbones are cut in two, a brace is applied and they are taught to turn a screw so that metal pins can pull their bones apart a millimetre a day. As Ms Zhang of Beijing said from her hospital bed, “ I’ll have a better job, a better boyfriend and eventually a better husband. It’s a long term investment.”

Industrial scrapheap

The Channel 4 programme Old (23 May) gave some horrendous statistics about the elderly poor in Britain today. “Almost 2.5 million old people in the UK live below the poverty line. More than 180,000 old people are physically abused in their homes every year. Every 24 seconds an old person falls victim to crime. The decomposing bodies of 1,000 old people are found in their homes every month. More than 21,000 old people are living in hotels for the homeless.” Capitalism is a harsh competitive system and reserves its most callous treatment for the impoverished elderly, an aspect of capitalism that young workers today would do well to consider when contemplating their futures.

Shady Deals Inc

When attending primary school young workers are indoctrinated with the ideas of hard work, thrift and honesty. But from some of the stories that we hear about “our betters” they must have skipped those lessons. In Chris Ayres’s Wall Street Diary in the Times (6 June) we read about some of the antics of the owning class. “The Vice-President of the United States is facing an investigation for dubious accounting practices at his former firm. One of America’s richest business leaders has been indicted for orchestrating an international art scam. Two top finance executives at two separate energy companies have died from self-inflicted bullet wounds – amid an industry-wide trading scandal. Then there is the investment research scandal being played out on Wall Street; the widespread fraud in the telecommunications industry; the shaming and ultimate destruction of the Andersen accounting firm; and, of course, the collapse of Enron, the energy company that triggered the whole sorry story.”

Shady Deals plc

“Fee-greedy investment bankers, duplicitous analysts, shifty accountants and fat-cat executives may have perpetrated a share-bubble conspiracy lapped up by gullible investors that has brought corporate America into disrepute. But as the British economy loses its sheen, the self-preservation society that is the Square Mile is itself becoming tainted by sleaze. From alleged spread-betting insider-dealing rings to false accounting scandals, corporate Britain has witnessed a string of dubious transactions and dodgy practices. Corporate investigators have told the Observer that scams which were under wraps during the good times are now coming to light. In recent months, there’s been a significant increase in the number of fraud cases they have been asked to investigate” Observer (9 June).

Thatcher and the left

Peter Mandelson, the Labour MP and close adviser to Tony Blair has written an article in the Times (10 June) where he tells us that the Labour Party is now Thatcherite. “No serious challenge on the Left exists to Third Way thinking anywhere in the world. This is hardly surprising as globalisation punishes hard any country that tries to run its economy by ignoring the realities of the market or prudent public finance. In this strictly narrow sense, and in the urgent need to remove rigidities and incorporate flexibility in capital, product and labour markets, we are all ‘Thatcherite’ now”. This is the Labour Party that the SWP, SA and various other leftists will urge workers to vote for at the next election!

Editorial: A dangerous world (2002)

Editorial from the July 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

On all sorts of levels, capitalism is a society that breeds violence and danger on a daily basis. The last month has been as good an illustration of this as any. In addition to the twenty-odd full-scale wars that have been raging across the planet, the news has been filled with all sorts of other violent phenomenon. Rioting in Belfast. Rampaging soccer hooligans on the streets of Moscow. Suicide bombers in the Middle East. More terrorists on aeroplanes. Not to mention the simmering nuclear tension between Pakistan and India.

Capitalism is so violent many people take it for granted. And it is so ingrained in some, like the soccer thugs, that controlled violence is even an outlet – a release – for them. But how has this situation come about?

Many contend that it is “human nature” to be violent and that the violence we see daily within capitalism is merely a reflection of our own inevitably darker side. In fact this is probably the popular view, fuelled by the excesses of the popular press, who push this interpretation at every turn.

But if it is human nature to be violent, then there is very little that can be done about it apart from locking people up, shooting them or putting them in the electric chair. If violence is a genetic trait amongst humans that finds expression in everything from wars to street muggings, then there is no point reasoning with the perpetrators. Violent offenders just can’t help it – it’s “in their genes”.

Not that any of this stops proponents of this view from advocating retributive justice, like the cabbie drivers of lore, yelling “it’s the only language they understand” to anyone who’ll listen. But if violence is only human nature (i.e. natural to all humans) then what good does retributive justice do, perhaps apart from satisfying the equal blood lust of those otherwise railing against the perpetrators of violence? Presumably– from the editor of the Daily Mail to the Home Secretary himself—they must all have the same naturally violent tendencies.

That is the odd thing though. The advocates of violence as the only response to violence have a marked tendency to see themselves as absolved of the precise failings of “human nature” they identify in others. And this is as good a clue as any that what we are dealing with is not “human nature” at all.

If the kind of violence we see around us was natural, then it would tend to be exhibited by all people and in all societies – but it hasn’t been. For instance, it certainly didn’t happen in early tribal societies of primitive communism, a few examples of which still exist in Africa, Australasia and South America. Even people in modern capitalism (very often the kind of people railing against “human nature”, ironically enough) see earlier periods in capitalism itself as having been more tolerant, less violent and more community-spirited than they are today. All of which does tend to suggest than the overriding factor in all this is not the natural urges that homo sapiens are supposed to have, but the influences on us from babyhood of our social environment.

People who grow up in veritable war-zones (whether it be the Middle East or the concrete jungles of the inner-cities of the sink council housing estates) learn to live on their wits in a 24-hour a day battle for survival – a battle for survival where almost anything goes. They are not somehow “pre-programmed” to behave that way from conception and there is no evidence to suggest it. What they are, pre-eminently, is a product of their circumstances.

A recognition of this doesn’t make the lot of the victim of violent crime – or of outright warfare – any better. But it certainly is a precondition for changing things for the better.

No problem is ever solved by just dealing with its effects. This applies just as much to international terrorism as it does to soccer hooliganism. The fight against such things in modern capitalism is a good illustration of this as these “fights” become just another “war” to be perennially fought, but never won.

Recurring problems can only ever be dealt with satisfactorily by addressing their causes. But that is why the beneficiaries of the current way we organise society in the ruling class are happy to rant about human nature and the war against its supposed effects while the problems get ever worse and not better. The alternative is to recognise that competitive, violent, “individualistic” cultures breed competitive, violent and “individualistic” people who will be competitive as a means of attaining wealth and status, violent in the pursuit of this (“by whatever means necessary”) and individualistic in refusing to accept the view – let alone the “authority’ – of others. Capitalism has bred precisely such a culture and there is no turning back the clock or bucking the system.

The only available conclusion is an unpalatable one for the ruling class, because it is the one identified by socialists. And it’s that the only way to end violence in society is to end the violent society that breeds it.

The Bilderberg Group (2002)

From the July 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
At the beginning of June the Bilderberg Group met for its 2002 conference in Chantilly, Virginia, USA. They met in secret, as always – but are they really ‘the secret rulers of the world’, as many contend?
The activities and meetings of the Bilderberg Group, or Bilderbergers as they have been called, are shrouded in mystery, not unlike the rituals of Masonic lodges. The lengths to which the organisers have gone to keep the press and public away, and their deliberations secret, are even by capitalist standards astounding. Very little has been reported even in the so-called quality newspapers. The political left has shown little real interest; indeed, about the only people interested in the Bilderbergers have been the “conspiracy theorists” of the far right, including the magazine The Spotlight in the United States and the journal of the Freedom Association Freedom Today in this country.

Who, then, are the Bilderberg Group, and do they really rule the world as the conspiracists assert?

Hôtel de Bilderberg
The Bilderberg Group takes its name from the Hôtel de Bilderberg in the small Dutch town of Oosterbeekat near Arnhem, owned by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, where in May 1954, the first formal meeting or conference was held. while the name has persisted, its meetings are held in different locations and countries.

The initiative for the first meeting came from Jozef Ritinger, a Polish émigré said to be “a compulsive intriguer and behind-the-scenes political wheeler-dealer”, Prince Bernhard and Paul Rijkens, President of the giant Anglo-Dutch corporation, Unilever, following a visit by Prince Bernhard to his friend, Bedell Smith, in America in 1952. Smith put the organisation in the US into the hands of Charles D Jackson, who was President of the Committee for a Free Europe. The first meeting was, however, a European initiative. Young Labour MP Denis Healey was invited to that meeting as convenor of the British delegation, which also included Hugh Gaitskell, Robert Boothy and Sir Colin Gubbins, whose expenses were covered by the British Foreign Office. Prince Bernhard was appointed chairman, a position he held until 1976, when he was forced to resign because of his involvement in the Lockheed bribery scandal. Representing France were Guy Mollet, the “socialist” leader, and Antoine Pinay the right-wing Prime Minister. The Americans included George Ball of Lehman Brothers, David Rockefeller and Dean Rusk, President of the Rockefeller Foundation and, later, US Secretary of State.

The participants at Bilderberg meetings are not elected by governments, corporations or, in fact, anyone. They are selected by a small core of administrators, constituted as a Steering Committee consisting of a permanent chair, European and North American secretaries and a treasurer. Invitations are only sent to “important and generally respected” businessmen, politicians and others, “through their special knowledge or experience”, and their personal contacts and influence in national and international circles.

Essentially, discussion and the names of participants are kept out of the public sphere. In 1967, for example, Cecil King, the then chair of the International Publishing Corporation, and also chair of the Newspaper Proprietors Association, formally requested fellow newspaper proprietors to see that “on no account should any report or even speculation about the content of the (Bilderberg) conferences be printed”. And on both sides of the Atlantic, for many years, they weren’t.

One journalists, Gordon Tether, the “Lombard” columnist of the Financial Times, wrote on 6 May 1975, “If the Bilderberg Group is not a conspiracy of some sort, it is conducted in such a way as to give a remarkably good imitation of one.” In an article he wrote for the paper on 3 March 1976 he returned to the subject of Bilderberg secrecy. It never appeared, and Tether was dismissed from the “Lombard” column August of that year.

In the last year or two, following stories about the Bilderbergers on the internet, the Group has been just a shade less secretive. In late 1999, for the first time in its existence, the minutes of that year’s meeting were leaked (presumably by someone within the Group), and extracts were published in the Big Issue and the whole document was posted on the Internet.

One of the participants at Bilderberg meetings who has attempted to conceal his attendances is the former Prime Minister, Edward Heath. Asked if he had attended any he replied vaguely that he may have “about 20 years ago”. In fact, US Congressional records reveal that he had attended meetings in 1963, 1964 and 1967 at least.

Asked in 1998 by the Conservative MP, Christopher Gill which members of the Labour government had attended meetings of the Bilderberg Group, Tony Blair replied in a written answer on 16 March 1998, “none”. In fact, Blair, Gordon Brown, George Robertson, Peter Mandelson and the late John Smith had all attended meetings at some time. Indeed, John Smith was said to have been on the Bilderberg Steering Group from 1989 to 1992. Another well-known figure to have attended a Bilderberg meeting, this time in Canada in 1996, and reported in the Toronto Star, was the General Secretary of the British TUC, John Monks.

Most participants, however, for instance at the 45th meeting held near Atlanta, Georgia, in the US in June 1997, appear to have been directors of large companies, corporations and international banks. They included: Conrad Black, the media tycoon, John Brown, chief executive of BP, Maarten A van der Bergh, managing director of Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies, Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands, William J McDonough, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller and Colin Powell. Will Hutton, editor of the Observer was also in attendance.

Rulers of the world?
Are the Bilderbergers the rulers of the world? No, not at least in the way the conspiracy theorists of the far right claim. The Bilderberg Group is not an all-embracing totalitarian organisation, imposing a World Order on all of its citizens. But many of its participants are, or may become, powerful nationally and/or internationally and they represent powerful interests even if some, like Peter Mandelson, may have fallen by the wayside.

The Bilderberg Group emerged, in the view of author Stephen Dorrill:
“In an effort to cement western co-operation in the midst of the Cold War . . . It was seen as an opportunity for shapers of opinion among elite groups in Europe to speak with one voice to their counterparts in the United States, who feared that differences over European integration and eastern Europe would create misunderstandings” (MI6: Fifty Years of Special Operations, p508).
The objective was to prevent divergences among the participants of the meetings “by working through consensus rather than any formal procedure”. Yet during the first conference “sparks flew” between the two main groups over the possible threat of “communist infiltration”. Again, during the Suez crisis, in 1956, “sparks flew” between the Europeans and the Americans, when the British and the French almost “came to blows” with the US participants.

Of the Bilderbergers, Mike Peters comments:
“. . . the membership comprises those individuals who would, on most definitions, be regarded as members of the ‘ruling class’ in Western Europe and North America. In particular, the conferences brought together important figures in most of the largest international corporations with leading politicians and prominent intellectuals” (“The Bilderberg Group and the project of European unifications”, Lobster, December 1996).
He adds that virtually all the European institutions we take for granted today were conceived, designed and brought into existence through the agency of people involved in Bilderberg.

Nevertheless, because of the anarchic, competitive and contradictory nature of capitalism in Europe, the United States and worldwide, and the fact that many capitalists and opinion-shapers in such countries as Japan and Russia have not participated in Bilderberg activities, a conflict-free “New World Order”, ruled by the Bilderbergers is practically impossible.
Peter E. Newell

Denis Healey on Bilderberg (2002)

From the July 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Of all these meetings, the most valuable to me while I was in opposition were the Bilderberg Conferences . . . They were the brain-child of Joseph Retinger, a Pole who had settled in England after the Great War . . . he organised the Congress of the Hague, which launched the European Movement. Convinced of the need for a similar forum to strengthen unity between Europe and North America, he approached Hugh Gaitskell, General Colin Gubbins, who had commanded SOE during the war, and several leading politicians and businessmen who were concerned to strengthen Atlantic cooperation. They asked Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands to act as Chairman, because they rightly thought it would be difficult to find a politician whose objectivity would be above suspicion, and who could call Cabinet ministers from any country without causing offence.

I was invited to the first meeting and later acted as convenor of the British who attended . . . The Bilderberg conferences inevitably aroused jealousy because they were exclusive, and suspicion, because they were private . . . I wrote a paper for most conferences . . .

My years at the Bilderberg meetings also brought me many contacts in the financial world which now proved of great value. David Rockefeller, whom I had known since the very first Bilderberg meeting at Arnhem, was now head of the Chase Manhattan Bank, and particularly active in the international field . . . I still managed to get to several Bilderberg meetings as Chancellor. At Mégève in April, 1974, I met Helmut Schmidt, who was now once again my colleague, as Germany’s Finance Minister.

(The Time of My Life, 1989, pp195-6, 414-5)

Our enemies’ friends (2002)

From the July 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

As the demonstrators on the pro-Palestinian march of 18 May entered Trafalgar Square they were confronted by a lone socialist, bawling “Banish gods from the heavens, and rulers from the Earth!” over the assorted chants of Islamists and leftists. The same socialist had been told, in no uncertain terms, to go to Hell, by the Islamists, as he had tried to promote socialism as the solution to the Middle East question at the Hyde Park mustering point for the beginning of the march.

The various flavours of leftists on the march resolutely declined to confront the band of Islamists, despite the latter’s open insistence of their inimical opposition to them. Desperately holding to the principle of my enemy’s enemy is my ally the leftists held their noses and kept quiet. This in the face of the most reactionary ideas being pronounced by the Islamists: the separate nations of the Earth exist by the will of Allah, and they refuse to support the workers’ cause because they work for Allah. “Peace, Go to Hell” they shouted (and most things should go to Hell, it seemed, so far as they were concerned), and not one of the leftists who had been at the previous “peace” marches against the Afghan war, raised a word against their bellicose cry.

This is, perhaps, unsurprising, because this was in fact a pro-war march. The SWP, through their so-called Socialist Alliance front organisation, were promoting the slogan “Victory to the Intifada”. Some people on the march were chanting “No peace without justice” making clear their view that the Palestinian cause was “just”. Indeed, both slogans have little to do with a sensible materialist analysis of the situation, instead taking up a moralistic line on the “rights” of the Palestinians.

Impossible victory
This is so on two counts, on the military and class factors involved. The Palestinians have no chance whatsoever of militarily overcoming Israel. Modern war is waged by economic might, and Israel with its GDP of around $110 billion (in 2000), whereas the Palestinian territories have a GDP of $4.2 billion (in 2000): the former has the capacity to routinely outgun the latter – this leaving aside the greater Israeli population of available for fighting, some 1.5 million. Further, Israel has a much better developed transportation and communications system, vital ingredients of modern war (CIA World Fact Book There being no special conditions for fighting (as the Vietnamese jungles), nor any economic leverage for the Palestinians to apply, the sheer weight of power is on the Israeli side.

It becomes clear from this that the Intifada could only succeed with outside military intervention. Unsurprisingly, this is already happening. It is widely acknowledged that the Palestinian guerrilla organisations Hamas and Mujahadeen are financed and controlled by Syria and Iran. Perhaps less reported, is the Palestinian Authority’s dependence on European aid: for example, according to the British Consulate in Jerusalem’s website, the UK gave £1.12 million in aid for a “Modernisation and Unification of Legislation Project”, and £1.13 million “Assistance to the Palestinian Legislative Council” ( That is, the UK paid for the basic administrative infrastructure for a Palestinian political entity. This is out of a total of $121 million in aid received by the PA (2000, CIA WorldFact Book). By contrast, according to the same US source, the Israeli state receives $1.1 billion in aid from the US.

The basis for this struggle is, as has been noted many times in this journal, the struggle for control of the oil resources of the Middle East. Historically, the US relied on the “Twin Pillar” policy of using Israel and Iran as regional clients to secure their interest in the oil regions. With Iran going over to religious nationalists, Israel became the focus of continued US interest in the region, and the main target for their rivals to try to damage their capacity to control the region.

These different interests are entering into the situation to pursue their own antagonistic interests. It is interesting to note, for example, that the earlier stage of the conflict involved the Israeli army targeting the physical infrastructure of the Palestinian authority, the infrastructure paid for by the UK and EU. Given these competing interests, the various world powers intervening in the Israel/Palestine conflict will only seek for resolutions compatible with their own interests and against those of their foes. As such, it is clear that the slogan of “Victory to the Intifada” has zero content even within the usual risible terms of leftist “anti-imperialism’”. The only possible resolution within capitalism is an imperialist resolution benefiting one or other of the “imperialist” powers struggling for influence in the area.

Asked by another socialist at the demo why they were calling for “Victory to the Intifada”, the leftists replied that the Palestinians are oppressed. It would be interesting to ask them whether the workers of Syria or Iran are oppressed, and, since they clearly are, why the leftists are pursuing a policy of giving support to the foreign policies of those oppressive regimes: policies, the success of which could only strengthen their grip at home. The leftists would doubtless reply that they support the struggles of Arab workers, but that the Palestinians are oppressed as a people, and their right to self-determination must be fought for. This illustrates the romantic/moralistic approach of the leftists – the oppression of Palestinian workers is made qualitatively worse by the denial of national rights, that is, the denial to the Palestinian capitalists of a free hand in exploiting their workers and conning them into believing that they share a common interest in defending a patch of land.

Who owns, rules
Nationalism, is the political form of property consciousness. It asserts that a group of people cannot exist as such unless defined by their ownership of a particular quarter of the world – the relations between “peoples” are actually the relations between patches of land, rather than the people upon them. It was the predominate form of ideology for the rising capitalist class in the 19th century, a way of understanding the world in terms of conflicting properties, and is now a tool for conning the working class into believing that there is some communal interest between themselves and their capitalist masters in where the boundaries of their state are drawn.

This illustrates the second aspect the material situation that belies the leftist sloganeering, its class content. It is essentially a problem of property. Were the Palestinians to win, they would still be oppressed as workers, and the land would belong to a new set of owners. They would still be subject to poverty, to the tyranny of their rulers and to the chaos of capitalist existence. In fact, they could only lose out, as the sacrifice in life, freedom and material goods necessary to win such a war were made. The same would go for the Israeli working class as well. Modern war is inherently antithetical to the interests of the working class, involving, as it does, disruption to the complex and integrated system of production we depend on for our existence, and necessitating the imposition of the tyrannous political structures needed to govern a society in a period of total war.

Given, then, that the leftist position is one based on abstract ideals and morals, rather than a materialist analysis of the situation, it becomes clear how they can tolerate marching alongside the religious without opposing them. Their march was an expression of who they wanted to see win, regardless of real world material factors, and was an expression of their adherence to the ideal of national self-determination. As such, their position is essentially an idealist one, a desire to see the world conform with an idea, simply by professing it.

The socialist case against religion is a simple one. We understand that, as ideas are the result of the historical movement of society, and the premises of religion thus concur with specific forms of society, religion is a social matter and not, as protestant sectarians would have it, a matter of individual conscience. Religion as we know it today is a part of a social process of acquiring and understanding knowledge left over from a bygone age, one in which the imagination of humanity outstripped its capacity to understand and control the world. Knowledge is inextricably linked with the process of acquiring it, with the practise of thinking. Since we, as workers, live in a world that has acquired the capacity to control its own material environment, we must reject those guides to behaviour and analysis based upon premises of human powerlessness, and the practises of thinking that go along with them.

This is why the comrade present at the Palestinian march became the lone voice in confrontation with the reactionary confusionists of religion; arguing against ideas that can only lead the workers away from the practical issues at hand, and essentially hide the property character of the question. If the workers of the world are to be able to obtain and apply the control of the world of which they are capable, they need to throw aside such slogans as “Palestine for the Palestinians” and instead affirm the need for a struggle against the system of minority rule which underpins all the world’s wars, and proclaim “The world for the workers!”
Pik Smeet

World View: Kashmir and the threat of nuclear war (2002)

From the July 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

In recent weeks, the eyes of the world have once again turned to Kashmir and the ongoing antagonism between India and Pakistan over who should control it. Though the two countries have three times gone to war (1945, 1961 and 1971) without much western interest, this time round the sabre-rattling is attracting wider attention, not least because it could very rapidly result in a nuclear exchange with the loss of an estimated 25 million lives.
The Kashmir situation is a hangover from the age of Empire and British colonialism, when India was ruled by Britain and Kashmir was a principality ruled on behalf of Britain by the repressive Hindu Dogras dynasty. 

For the British, the Kashmir region was a strategic asset, of paramount geo-political significance. It could serve as a listening post for the tracking of Soviet-Sino ambitions in the region and be militarily important should Russia or China decide to attack. Indeed, even the US now views Kashmir as part of their on-going plan to circle China with their military bases.

In 1947, however, Britain’s rule of India was coming to an end and the region was being plunged into an orgy of religious bloodshed. As had been the case with some 580 other Indian principalities and states, Hari Singh, Kashmir’s maharajah, was given the choice either to join India or Pakistan or of remaining independent. Although the majority of the people of Kashmir were Moslem, he chose to surrender the territory to India. The “official” initial intention of Lord Mountbatten – the British governor-general – was that a plebiscite of the Kashmiri people be held. This has never happened, in spite of numerous UN resolutions on the issue,

One common view is that Lord Mountbatten was really the architect of the handover, believing India to be far more capable than Pakistan of repulsing any Russian and Chinese advances in the subcontinent, acting as a proxy army on behalf of western interests in the area.

Whilst Islamabad insists Kashmir should belong to Pakistan, citing UN resolutions on the issue and pointing to the Moslem majority in Kashmir, India is insistent that under the terms of the 1972 Simla Agreement both countries decided to settle the dispute through bilateral negotiations and minus UN Interference. And whilst India insists that the accession of Kashmir to India in 1947 is complete and that Kashmir is an integral part of India, Pakistan contests this and insists that the region is in fact disputed territory and that it has the right to provide moral and diplomatic support for an indigenous freedom struggle there.

At the moment one and a half million soldiers face each other across their respective borders and there have been regular artillery exchanges. Though tensions are high, the situation is not considered as threatening as it was weeks ago, when western governments were asking their nationals to return home. Since then, both countries have been involved in diplomatic talks with the US, Britain and Russia. None of which, however, has helped remove Indian forces from the Kashmir border or lessened the likelihood that renegade anti-Musharraf groups in Pakistan could take matters into their own hands. Analysts in Washington still maintain that any terrorist attack from Pakistan’s militants could easily result in a swift Indian nuclear response. And as Musharraf may sue for peace, he is mindful that he needs the support of the army and its hawkish generals, many of who see the Kashmir cause as a religious duty.

For Britain’s part, whilst Blair is playing his trite role as global peace-maker, this can only be considered an act of hypocrisy. It has been after all a Labour government these past two years that has helped up the ante there. In 2000 alone, the peace-loving Blair government granted India and Pakistan some 700 military export licences (just as Britain armed both sides during the Iran-Iraq war). Moreover, India is currently under licence to build the British-designed Jaguar bomber – the type of bomber that could deliver atomic bombs to Islamabad and other Pakistani cities

In January this year, Tony Blair travelled to India on a “peace mission”, intent on lending the Kashmir crisis his diplomatic skills. He did just that, returning a week later with a £1 billion order for 66 Hawk fighters. Three weeks later the British High Commission there organised a party for British arms salesmen attending the Defexpo arms fair – dealers who openly acknowledged that they were hoping to cash in on the crisis. The same old excuse applied – “if we didn’t, somebody else would” (the kind of defence you could use for kicking Blair up the arse).

The US and Britain may well be critical of either side in this conflict threatening the use of the “first strike”, but George W Bush has already intimated that he would use the “first strike” option against seven countries in four different scenarios, with British Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon suggesting Britain would do the same.

Although the US has resisted selling arms to India and Pakistan, it must be remembered that both India and Pakistan’s nuclear programme was initiated by the US “Atoms for Peace” programme, that India’s first nuclear device was produced in plant built with US assistance and that Pakistan’s first research reactor came from the US.

So, while there is much evidence for the continuance of the war industry, the peace industry seems to be pretty limp. The United Nations, set up to prevent conflicts, is all but lame. The Security Council is yet to invoke Article 34, which calls for investigations of disputes “likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security.” The UN Charter further allows any country or even the Secretary General (Articles 35 and 99) to place any threat to global peace before the Security Council.

The impact of a nuclear exchange between two impoverished countries and the knock-on effect for the rest of the globe is unimaginable. The death toll would be in the tens of millions, with many more dying months and years later. Millions of acres of land would be uninhabitable and the fallout would contaminate many neighbouring countries for centuries. The humanitarian mission to treat the survivors would have to be the biggest rescue mission in history – perhaps as big as all previous rescue missions combined. That such a scenario is possible is a damning indictment of capitalism. We stepped out of the 20th century – a century of bloodshed in the name of profit – into the 21st dragging every social ill behind us, with even more global problems abounding than 100 years previously. What a barbaric age we live in. Still, borders are to be fought over. Still, gods to be avenged and, still, that age-old cursed prize – profit – to be sought in every stinking orifice. And were the mushroom clouds to start rising over Islamabad and New Delhi, western capitalists would still ponder how they could cash in on this hell, this hell of their system’s making.
John Bissett

New words, old tunes, same dance (2002)

From the July 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once again the ever gullible African “leaders”, intellectually bankrupt as they always are, have allowed themselves to be ridiculed by their local and Western economic advisers. This time around they have been hoodwinked into adopting a 201-point nonsensical package of a so-called African Renaissance project christened the “New Partnership For Africa’s Development”. (NEPAD). Foremost among the shameless stooges dishonestly claiming authorship of the bogus document are Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade, Nigeria’s Obasanjo, and South Africa’s Mbeki. Adopted in 2001 at Abuja, Nigeria. NEPAD is now gathering momentum with conference upon conference being organised to extol its virtues. It is therefore our duty to expose this cankerworm that it is.
The architects of this programme claim that they are inspired by what they see as an increasing number of African countries with “good governance”. In their words “the number of democratically elected leaders are on the increase” (No. 44) and “across the continent democracy is spreading” (No. 45). This view of theirs leaves conscious people wondering what “democracy” stands for here since the state and its institutions all over Africa still remain fundamentally as elitist as when the colonialists introduced them here. Political parties are still the personal organisations of a few wealthy individuals who always employ all sorts of dirty tricks to win elections. To assume, therefore, that there is a democracy in Africa (or even in George W. Bush’s USA) which serves as a basis for development is to daydream.

They go further to talk (in No. 8 and 27) of consolidating and celebrating the “gains” that Africans have achieved through the years. Nothing could be more preposterous and an insult to the suffering masses. The ordinary people of Africa have seen their living conditions jump from the frying pan into the fire all these years – which in fact is even why the NEPAD came into being. What then are the economic gains to consolidate? Is it the increasing poverty, illiteracy, disease, starvation, squalor, etc? Or maybe the leaders are thinking their five-star hotels and beautiful beaches which are exclusively reserved for the wealthy Western tourists and World Bank and IMF “experts”.

Not unexpectedly, and like all other previous theories and strategies for development (which woefully failed), the document claims that NEPAD differs in approach and strategy from the earlier plans and initiatives in that it is an African-owned and African-led programme (Nos. 59 and 60). But this argument comes up against a two-pronged snag. In the first place Africa is not a homogenous unit. The continent comprises a mass of hewers of wood and drawers of water on the one hand and a few privileged fat cats sitting on Africa’s wealth on the other hand. These two groups have interests which are miles apart. The idea that NEPAD “is based on the agenda set by African peoples through their own initiatives and of their own volition to shape their own destiny” (No. 48) and that “we are, therefore, asking the African peoples to take up the challenge of mobilising in support of the implementation of this initiative” is sheer nonsense.

The mere existence of leaders and the led; the privileged and the unfortunate ; or the “smart” and the “dull” is itself a reflection of the class-divided society that is ours. It is therefore not strange that the small fry fat cats who have by mere stroke of luck seen themselves in comfortable seats will present to us such a programme as NEPAD. It is meant to perpetuate their privileged class interests.

The other problem of this idea of African-owned and African-led program lies in the fundamental issue of funding. All the garbage about the Africanness is completely negated by their No. 181 which merits quoting in full: “the various partnerships between Africa and the industrialised countries on the one hand and multi-lateral institutions on the other will be maintained”. The “partnerships” in question include among others: the UN New Agenda for the Development of Africa in the 1990s; the African-Europe summit’s Cairo Plan of Action; the World Bank-led Strategic Partnership with Africa; the IMF-led Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers; the Japan-led Tokyo Agenda for Action; the African Growth and Opportunity Act of the USA; and the Economic Commission for Africa-led Global Compact for Africa. The objective will be to rationalise these “partnerships” and to ensure that real benefits flow to the “donors” who put up the money.

But perhaps the most ludicrous aspect of this mammoth illusion relates to its modus operandi. A good lot of ink was sunk into the usual rhetoric of “capacity building”; “a safe African environment”; “empowerment”; “ensuring competitiveness”; “enforcing inalienable rights”; “eradicating female genital mutilation”; “providing education, health care, shelter, and food for all”; etc. Each item is exhaustively described but nothing resembling how they would implement the lofty goals is mentioned. The nearest the document ever goes by way of how they would achieve their aims is found in No. 49 which states inter alia that “to achieve these objectives African leaders will take joint responsibility for . . . strengthening mechanisms for conflict prevention, management, and resolution at regional and continental levels”.

Clearly, those who drew up this farce of an agenda did not have any illusions on the continued presence of conflicts and war. They therefore did not hesitate to include the setting-aside of large sums to beef up the military strength of their respective countries to enable them deal with conflicts. Now considering the fact the armaments industry is one of the most lucrative of all capitalist ventures, one can not fail to see through the evil designs of the “partnership” to lubricate this enviable avenue of amassing ill-gotten wealth.

On the other hand, these leaders being dreamers felt that “it is with in the capacity of the international community to create fair and just conditions in which Africa can participate effectively in the global economy and body politic” (No. 41), unaware, due to their warped ideological inclination, that the profit-oriented system has no room for fair play and justice; that profit-seeking knows no morals. And consequently, the leaders’ conviction that “what is required . . . is bold and imaginative leadership . . . as well as a new global partnership” is pathetically naïve.

To cut a long story short, there is no way that the disadvantaged masses of Africa and indeed of the whole world can be salvaged through any design that is shaped by so-called “leaders” and which design operate along the lines of the present money-dominated system. Democracy and development demand the exclusion of leadership; people must organise and relate to each other as equals if progress is to be made. An Arab proverb states that “there are two people who never get satisfied; the one seeking money and the one looking for knowledge”. And since money is known to be the root of all evil, the money seekers (capitalists who control the means of production and distribution of wealth) will unscrupulously stop at nothing to make their profits. But as knowledge is enlightenment it leads to truth and justice. So, our first step in correcting the ills of human society through truth and justice is to understand the capitalist system and how it can never work to the advantage of the dispossessed masses of Africa and everywhere else.
Suhuyini Nbang-Ba

Greasy Pole: Mandelson – Coming Up For The Third Time? (2002)

The Greasy Pole column from the July 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

With a little help from his friend in Number Ten, Stephen Byers kept afloat for as long as he could but in the end he was dragged down by the sheer weight of his exposure. This was an opportunity for Blair to re-arrange his ministers, unexpectedly promoting Paul Boateng to the influential, money-filtering job of Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Boateng does not have a reputation for being sympathetic but he is the first black Cabinet minister, which ensured that his appointment dominated the media. On the following day the front pages were given over to huge photographs of him and the inside pages were lavished on profiles of him. There was hardly a mention of Alistair Darling, the new minister in the hot seat of Transport and even less of the discredited and embarrassing Byers, who had now sunk almost without trace.

We have become accustomed to the Blair government’s aptitude for this kind of media manipulation. At one time it was the speciality of Peter Mandelson, who like Byers is now fallen from grace but who does not consent so easily to being airbrushed out of the reckoning. In fact Mandelson, although he was twice forced to resign from the government when he was blamed for some particularly blatant sleaze, rather fancied himself as a successor to Byers. In a recent interview he discussed his possible response if Blair were to offer him the Transport job: “ I love being a minister. I love being in government, it’s what I was put on earth to do.” This wistful musing was a change from his vengeful, tub-thumping reaction to being re-elected for Hartlepool in the election of 2001:
Before this campaign started, it was said that I was facing political oblivion, my career in tatters, apparently never to be part of political life again. Well they underestimated Hartlepool and they underestimated me, because I am a fighter and not a quitter.
Rewriting History 
Has Mandelson changed, then? Is he no longer the Prince of Darkness, the presence in the background who plotted his party’s rise to power with such diabolical skill – and then applied the same talents to undermine anyone who was less than ardent in their admiration for blessed Tony Blair? Is he re-assessing his essential role in politics, so that he is not a fighter or a quitter but a joiner? One step in this direction is the publication of an up-to-date version of his 1996 book The Blair Revolution, of which there were extracts in the Guardian on 17 and 18 May. When Mandelson originally wrote that book Labour had been out of government long enough to make it safe for Blair to spout meaningless promises about “. . . a new social order in Britain, a genuine modern civic society for our time, based on merit, commitment and inclusion”. A lot has happened since then, a lot of reality has penetrated the verbiage of Labour leaders; two landslide election victories for them, Mandelson twice in and twice out of government, the comprehensive exposure of New Labour as not significantly different to the Tories – even in the matter of sleaze, which in 1996 seemed to be exclusively Conservative territory.

And now we have him, perhaps because he sees it as the only way back into favour with the leadership, re-assessing the government’s record in a manner which must have demanded all his guile and talent for obfuscation. Too carping an approach would have made him seem to be sulking. Too obsequious and he would have been included in that contemptible bunch of lapdogs on the Labour benches. Something better mannered, more constructive was needed. Like this:
  • In acquiring skills to deal with the media, we created spin
  • In winning business to our side, we lost some workforce confidence
  • . . . having promised less than we thought we could do, we started hyping more than we were actually achieving…
  • . . . too many of the worst estates and deprived communities remain unchanged – bleak ghettos depressing the sprits of all who live in them . . . too often becoming centres of danger and desperation
  • New Labour government mark one has been too controlling in the way it tries to run the country and Whitehall
Communist Party 
These comments will be recognised by many people whose reservations about New Labour in government have often provoked a dangerous hostility from Mandelson. So the apparent conversion of the man who, more than almost everyone else in politics was notorious for creating spin, control-freakery and “losing workforce confidence” must provoke a few questions. Should we take what he says at all seriously? Has he ever given us any reason to believe him? The evidence against him is overwhelming.

To begin with, Mandelson was once an active member of the Young Communist League. Nothing much wrong with that, it might be argued; we all have the right to change our minds if we have reason to and there are plenty of ardent Blairites in the government who cut their political teeth as left-wing hell-raisers. In Mandelson’s case that argument is weakened by his attempts to conceal this murky bit of his past, saying that he “. . . wasn’t sure whether I was technically a member” of the Communist Party.

Luckily, by the time he was in the government in 1998 he had transformed himself into a mature politician, assuring an audience of business executives, in case they had any qualms about New Labour having silly ideas about equality of access, that the government was “. . . intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”. (The word “relaxed” was a favourite with New Labour just then – it was a handy euphemism for breaking promises and acting against what they had claimed were their sacred principles.) In fact Mandelson had been relaxed about getting into the Commons in the first place because, in June 1989, just before he sought out the nomination for the rock safe seat at Hartlepool, he “categorically” denied having any intention of standing for parliament.

Hartlepool is not famous as a place where the rich have discreet villas and keep their yachts – which may have caused a few problems to its new Member of Parliament. During a visit there Mandelson was persuaded to enter a fish and chip shop. Blanketing any possible disdain at where he found himself, with a show of gourmet enthusiasm he asked for “some of that guacamole” – meaning a portion of good old working class mushy peas. (Guacamole, for those who do not frequent the same exalted circles as Mandelson, is made from avocado, tomatoes, mayonnaise and seasoning. It is a popular dish in the kind of trendy restaurants favoured by left-wingers). Rather than slumming it in a chippy Mandelson was more at home in another class of company. Like the ministers in the first Labour governments in the 1920s, he wallowed in the attentions of the filthy rich. His first parliamentary assistant, Derek Draper (who was no mean social climber himself) wrote that Mandelson “. . . loved mixing with rich, glamorous, exciting people. He seems to go ga-ga when he has anything to do with them”. His eagerness to have a home appropriate to his ambitions tempted him into borrowing all that money from Geoffrey Robinson (for the same price he could have bought something like a whole street in Hartlepool) and his reactive tendency to conceal the truth led him into the attempted cover up, which in the end cost him his ministry.

A readiness to double-cross made a bitter, implacable enemy of Gordon Brown. In the leadership election after the death of John Smith in 1994 Mandelson seemed to be assuring Brown of his support at a time when he was actually committed to Blair. Of course that’s politics – and so are the dark arts of lies and manipulation. Where does Mandelson stand on this? In 1986, when he was Labour’s Director of Campaigns and Communications, he wanted to get rid of his deputy, John Booth. It may have been that Booth was becoming a bit of an embarrassment to Mandelson; for one thing he had found out that his boss was in regular contact with the Times, in spite of a Labour Party executive decision to break contact with Murdoch’s papers over the sacking of hundreds of printers during the move to Wapping. Booth contested the matter, whereupon Mandelson assured him that if he had to be sacked “I will make any fabrication of the truth and stick by it faithfully”. To make the point clear to a wider audience, in August 1997 he informed us of the function and uses of spin doctoring: “to create the truth”.

These matters are the tip of the very nasty Mandelson iceberg. But we should not lose sight of the fact that whatever he did was not briefly experimental. It was done with the collusion of his party’s leadership, because they saw it as an essential contribution to their victory. He fawned on the rich and socially parasitic while Blair told us that New Labour was on the side of “ordinary people, against privilege”. He specialised in underhand trickery to serve the interests of a party which promised “open government” (as if there can be such a thing). He did all this when he was a member of a government which was committed to turning its back on the years of Tory sleaze. It was at one time convenient to punish him so that New Labour could claim he was an isolated case. The truth – the uncreated, undoctored truth is that the politics of capitalism, like the system itself, must be founded in deceit.

Letters: Punk rock (2002)

Letters to the Editors from the July 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Punk rock

Dear Editors,

When I began reading the article on Punk rock in the June issue, I wondered if I had got the date wrong and it was one of those April 1st spoofs beloved of the Guardian. I was surprised to see so much valuable space devoted to so much pretentious twaddle. It’s bad enough to read this sort of pseudo intellectual rubbish in the Daily Telegraph, least of all in the Socialist Standard.
Denham Ford, 
Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex

We can understand that punk music can’t be everybody’s cup of tea but it was a significant social phenomenon in its time and its jubilee was certainly worth commenting on more than the other one—Editors.

Capitalism defined

Dear Editors,

Capitalism has been defined as a political economy based on commodity exchange and surplus value. Thus under capitalism economic production portrays the implicit class interests of the bourgeoisie and not the satisfaction of general social needs as such.

Commodity production alienates the working class from the physical objects of their labour. Their social essence as members of civil society comes to be determined by the money wages obtaining under existing conditions. The working class’s engagement in economic production ends in the creation of commodities.

The realisation of surplus value thus becomes the major factor motivating economic production under capitalism. Commodities and social goods are created not for unrestricted consumption but for sale.

The nature of the working class social deprivation under capitalism warrants no further elaboration other than the sanctification of unemployment, inflation and social poverty in every capitalist society. Because economic production is undertaken in order to realise surplus value the full satisfaction of the basic social needs shall always remain unrealised under capitalism.

Scientific socialism aims to change the fetishistic economic framework of capitalism. The eradication of capitalism will entail a class war between the state and civil society that can only be realised through a working class inspired socialist revolution.

The illusory projection of political and economic freedoms under abstract and fictitious entities abstracted from the immediate reality of civil society has led to the blind acceptance of the political state as a universalisation of human freedoms. The political and economic interests of civil society come to depend upon the arbitrary whims and fancies of political elites. The political state illuminates the unrealised political and economic freedoms that cannot be realised under the intrinsic economic relations based on competition.

The division of labour has suppressed labour’s potentialities for individualised self-realisation by subjecting its mental and physical potentialities to the limiting conditions of the commodity market. The division of labour is a fetter upon labour’s physical and mental potentialities and limits its self-realisation. Thus the eradication of capitalism will liberate labour from its restricted social conditions under the division of labour.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels developed and formulated their systematic and dialectical premises of dialectical materialism while domiciled in England. Their critical analysis of capitalism was heavily influenced by political and economic transformations taking place in the 19th century. Thus the scientific and dialectical assumptions of Marxism are open to further historical development that may transcend the predictions of Marx’s own theories.
Kephas Mulenga, 
Kitwe, Zambia

50 Years Ago: Crime and Capitalism (2002)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the end of the war a great many speeches have been delivered and a great many articles written on the growth of “crime” and especially of juvenile “crime.” The makers of these speeches and writers of the articles have based their views upon an acceptance of the social rules of Capitalism and, in general, have failed to see that what they accept as crimes can only be explained by the capitalist environment in which we live, and cannot be abolished as long as this system continues.

What comes under the heading of crime came into existence with the development of property. Crime did not appear in early communistic communities because property relations had not developed and sex relations were free. Crime consists of infringements of social rules. With the growth of property the owners of property became the rulers and law makers, and when they later delegated their functions to henchmen the laws continued to be laws based upon propertied society. Infringement of these laws were classified as crimes. But there was a certain elasticity about the laws to harmonise with the interests of property owners at different times. For instance, piracy was a crime, but not when, as in Elizabethan times, it was practised by English sailors and brought maritime wealth to the English ruling class; stealing was a crime, but not when English landowners stole millions of acres of common land; killing is a crime except, as then years ago, when millions of men were trained to strangle, blow to pieces, shoot and maim their fellows. Even to-day, whilst men are brought before the courts accused of the crime of killing, millions of their fellows are being trained and equipped to kill on a mass scale. Again, if a woman is caught selling the use of her body to a man under a contract – marriage – it is quite all right, but if she is caught selling the use of her body without this contract she is guilty of the crime of prostitution. Of course she can sell the use of her brains with perfect freedom.

(From front page article, Socialist Standard, July 1952)

Walking with Beasts (2002)

Book Review from the July 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Walking with Beasts’ by Tim Haines. BBC Worldwide, 2001

The Walking with Beasts television series was one of the BBC’s success stories towards the end of last year. The accompanying book is equally as visually impressive. In particular the section on Pliocene Africa (relating to Australopithecines) provides a useful and easily digestible summary of the current knowledge of very early human ancestors. Such knowledge is particularly important when we consider “human nature” and its being an alleged barrier to achieving socialism. The section on chimpanzees is rather useful in this respect. Socialists are familiar with the old chimp argument: chimpanzees having an aggressive, male-dominated society, therefore such behaviour must be innate in humans too, the “evolved chimpanzees”. As Haines rightly points out, the bonobo (so-called “pygmy” chimp”) is equally closely related, yet has a completely different social structure – a matriarchy based on promiscuous sex. There are several other useful little snippets of a similar nature. It also makes a good bit of light-hearted entertainment.

And then the roof fell in! (1958)

From the July 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

The American Slump
The beginning of a recession is like intoxication: the patient gets worse—but he feels better. British and American capitalism has been looking and feeling better for two years, but now the symptoms are beginning to show. Business has been booming, problems of shortages have been overcome, and for the consumer—with the end of the “sellers’” market, inducements to buy in the form of better quality, better service, better packaging or even lower price: all these have made life seem better and easier.

Buy now and pay later
Since the War the credit buying was expanded greatly in this country, but it has never reached United States proportions. The legal restriction on hire purchase trading that we have here (minimum deposits, etc.) does not apply in the U.S., and consequently, as selling became more difficult, “easier and easier” credit terms were offend. Not only is credit buying respectable in America, but almost a national custom. Whatever the income range—from the lowest paid to those executives whose blood pressure would suffer considerably at the thought that they wen “workers’’—all buy houses, cars (a new one every year if possible), refrigerators, holidays, and all the gimmicks of the American Way of Life, on credit.

Then is also a growing inability and reluctance to repair anything. When that brand new car—or fridge— or house—starts giving trouble, well then, just throw it away and buy another one. Last year Time magazine, which usually has on its cover the effigy of a Great Man (or film star), featured “The American Repair Man.” and the article dealing with the cover story showed in amusing detail the situation of the American worker, surrounded by mechanical appliances which would save him a lot of labour if only he could get them to work again. 

Throw it away!
But, of course, the advertisers have the answer: buy another one. Buy this year’s model: be in the fashion: your old green refrigerator is out of date—red is the colour this year1

In fact, there is only one thing wrong with buying on credit, and that is that you have to pay for it even if it is later rather than sooner, and this is rapidly being brought home to those millions of Americans who are now unemployed.

The present situation in America is that there are over three million drawing unemployment benefit. The actual number of unemployed exceeds this figure, since the benefit only lasts for a maximum period of 39 weeks and many have been out of work long enough to be now disqualified. This puts them “on relief,” paid for by their city, and they come out of the statistics of “ unemployed.” Arising from this lack of work (and consequently, lack of pay) the furniture and other items bought on credit are being repossessed by the sellers, mortgages are in many cases being held over temporarily and stealing of food from self-service stores has increased noticeably in those towns that have been forcibly hit by unemployment. 

The “land of opportunity” is receding for the unemployed worker whose home and way of life is in danger. Suddenly, the insecurity of capitalism is made real.

This problem will be aggravated since we learnt recently that the American car factories are shortly to shut down production of 1958 models for several months to give dealers time to sell 760,000 1958 cars now unsold. The industry always shuts down every year in order to retool for the next year’s cars, but this year the closure has been brought forward many months.

Too Much
Everywhere the terrible cry goes up—surpluses. Too much food, bumper crops; too much oil; too many cars and other goods on the market: too much production of raw materials from South America and Asia, causing world prices of raw materials to drop drastically: too many unemployed, not able on the benefit to buy more of these commodities and seeing those that they have “ bought ” taken back by the finance companies.

Add to this catalogue the statement by Mr. Khrushchev last November: "We declare war on you in the peaceful field of trade.” Thus Russia, a new competitor, enters world capitalism on a large scale as a rival to the older established powers.

Capitalism's Answer
What is the answer? In May there was a meeting of the National Industrial Conference Board in New York at which economic and business experts gave their remedies. Cut taxes to encourage business they say: but the man on relief does not pay taxes and has not business been “encouraged” too much? Produce better values, they say; but the man on relief (or in danger of it) will be unable to buy anything other than necessities, good or bad value. Bring back the lost art of selling, they say: but again, if you haven’t got the money you can’t buy, no matter how slick the salesman. Introduce high tariffs against foreign imports? but that will only aggravate the bankruptcy of countries like Bolivia, Chile, Indonesia and others, and will have a profound effect on countries like Britain, which depends largely on car exports to the U.S. It has been estimated that a 4 per cent. drop in key prices in undeveloped lands cancels out all the funds supplied by the United States in economic aid. In many cases the drop has already exceeded that amount.

It may seem strange that those who support capitalism most volubly—including those workers now unemployed—are those who understand its workings least. Or perhaps it is not so surprising since if they did understand it, would they still support it? See the great surprise of the American worker who finds it hard to realise that all that bustling prosperity founded upon these great factories—such permanent things—all this should suddenly collapse into what is now politely called a “recession.” A recession, mark you, that shows no signs of getting better yet. The National Industrial Conference Board which met in New York this month (referred to above) received a “report from businessmen pointing to a further decline in spending for plant expansion that will last into 1959.” And recently a top building-industry economist, speaking to the New York Society of Security Analysts said that the recession will last “through I960"

Our Criticism
Socialists are opposed to capitalism and we are opposed because we do understand the basic workings of the system. The broad cycle of slump and boom will continue due to the basis on which production rests. This basis, this “ incentive ” that is thought so admirable by anti-Socialists, is the competitive urge to profit. But this incentive can work both ways—if the production of a commodity does not appear profitable, then it will not normally be produced. On the other hand, distribution has no relation to the needs of people but only to the ability or otherwise to pay the price.

Generally the picture of the world commodity market today—of which America is only a more dramatic example—is of too many goods unsold, in store, production being restricted. And, at the same time, too many people needing those goods and without the money to buy them.

It's Falling
This is always the picture in capitalism and is only brought out more clearly when, as at the present time, there is a growing world recession. To those who support capitalism, this system of fake individualism, financial enterprise and dog-eat-dog competition, we say. this world as you see it now is the society that you perpetuate.

We say further that this is not necessary. The energy and enterprise that goes into attempts to solve insoluble problems and to stabilise an unstable system, and the techniques of production that produced these vast crisis-making surpluses—all these could be used perfectly well for the benefit of the whole community, in a society where goods were made to satisfy peoples’ needs and not for the profit of the producers.

With Socialism, economic security would be a reality.

As one of the unemployed said, in Bristol, Connecticut, where now nearly one worker in four is unemployed: “ It seemed set to last for ever, and then the roof fell in.”
L. B.

The Mind in Chains: Censorship and Society (1958)

From the July 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Perhaps the commonest of all traditions in a parliamentary democracy is that a law can be passed to put anything right. “It ought to be stopped” is the expression of most people's belief that somehow a statute can be got up that will check greed, prevent cruelty, or end any of a thousand kinds of nastiness. There is remarkably little evidence for this; only a few months ago Sir John Wolfenden’s committee reported the impossibility of making laws to deal with prostitution, and modern history is full of unsuccessful attempts to put down social problems by law.

Even where laws do seem to have succeeded, usually the real factor has been something quite different. The decline of gangsterism in America was due less to legislation than to a change from the social climate which produced so many gangsters; similarly, the probable suppression-of fox- and stag-hunting in this country will barely anticipate the death from natural causes of what have ceased to be the upper-class sports.

In the last few years, attention has been repeatedly drawn to the censorship laws. They were in fact extended three years ago by the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act—the “Horror Comics” Act; now there is the report of the Select Committee on Obscene Publications, making recommendations for the consolidation and extension of existing laws.

Most of the Committee's proposals reiterate those of the draft Obscene Publications Bill which had its first reading in Parliament in 1955 and now awaits further presentation. Briefly, they aim at clarifying the law and removing anomalies so that first, "serious" works may be better distinguished from others, and second, things may be made hotter for the others. Because the emphasis has been on the possible benefit to works of art, the proposals have been viewed favourably all round; the fact remains that they are for an extension, not a relaxation, of the censorship.

Is there any harm in that? The "considerable and lucrative trade in pornography" of which the Committee speaks is a pretty squalid business, and few people would be sorry for its disappearance. The basis of censorship lies much deeper than that. Its function is to suppress anything which seems potentially harmful to the established order. In our society, it concerns itself with three main threats to the régime: subversion of the state, of religion, and of the monogamous sex pattern.

Apart from the legal prohibitions imposed directly by the state, there are a number of subsidiary censorships to the same end: for example, the exclusion of non-régime views by the broadcasting and television monopolies, the film censorship, and the with-holding of news by the press. There is, too, the simple censorship of price: statutes are scarcely needed to restrict the circulation of five-guinea books.

State censorship in this country dates from the granting of the Stationers' Company's charter in 1556, giving the Company a monopoly of printing and charging them with the suppression of seditious and heretical works. Under this and the various other licensing acts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the censorship was concerned with religion and the state, and hardly at all with sexual morals.

"Obscenity” did not enter the Common Law until the eighteenth century; even the attack on the Restoration comedies was political much more than it was moral. The first moves towards censorship in this direction were made as the middle-class reading public grew, and its real establishment came with the Industrial Revolution and the puritanical religious movements which followed the new-born industrial working class into the towns.

The big drive was promoted by the Society for the Suppression of Vice, an offshoot of the Evangelical Movement founded in 1802 (Sydney Smith called it "a society for suppressing the vices of persons whose incomes do not exceed £500 p.a.”). Among its members were Shakespeare’s "collaborator" John Bowdler, Hannah More, Dr. Wilberforce, and Keate, the flogging head of Eton. Its chief concerns were profanation of the Lord’s Day, blasphemy, disorderly houses, fortune-telling and obscene books.

The pornography trade did rise and thrive in the nineteenth century. Its centre in London was Holywell Street—then by the Strand, now demolished—where, according to contemporary accounts, the sale of all kinds of pornography flourished openly. Apart from the flood of books and pictures there were several magazines explicitly given to homosexuality, flagellation, and so on: some with such innocent titles as the Rambler's Magazine and The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine.

The first major legislation on the subject was Lord Campbell's Obscene Publications Act of 1857; this, in fact, together with supplementary items from various other statutes, is the law under which the censorship works today. On its introduction it was vigorously opposed in Parliament by members of the upper class who believed „ enough in laissez-faire to hold that morals were a personal matter (including some who had erotic libraries of their own: see Cyril Pearl’s Girl With the Swansdown Seat).

The legal application of Campbell's Act was given eleven years later by Chief Justice Cockburn. In his judgment of an over-zealous anti-Catholic pamphlet called The Confessional Unmasked he uttered the famous definition of obscenity which has been accepted by judges ever since: “The test of obscenity is whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall.'' 

In this century'a number of factors have given novelists reason to assume a wider scope than they had before. The spread of psychological teachings that emphasise sex as a mainspring of behaviour; the decline of the family from the Victorian ideal; the effects of two world wars (war novels, indeed, seem to enjoy impunity in laying on the sex and the swear-words). The result has been a series of prosecutions extending from Wells's Ann Veronica in 1909 to the recent crop involving Julia, The Philanderer, September in Quinze, The Image and the Search and The Man in Control.

The lawmakers' dilemma now is to re-frame censorship so as to admit the changes in morality and, at the same time, keep out the undesirable. The difficulty of doing this is obvious. It means, in effect, that some kinds of frankness and even obscenity are useful to our society (both The Philanderer and The Image and the Search are, in fact, heavily moral books) and some harmful: the trouble is finding a yardstick.

Several people pointed out the same thing in the “horror comics" agitation—a Daily Mail editorial, for example, remarked that the news pictures of Mussolini hanging rivalled anything Dr. Wertheim had found. And on the point of obscenity, the News of the World on May 25th had an interesting paragraph in the report of a photographer's case: “Asked . . . if he had ever taken an improper photograph, he replied : ‘ Yes—once during the war for the Foreign Office. I believe it was for propaganda purposes'.”

An enormous amount of pornography, and stuff that is very near to it, does serve the interests of Capitalism. How about the nasty dreams of sexual irresponsibility that have been the films’ great stock-in-trade for thirty years, and have helped replace religion as the opium of the people? Or the dirty fantasies that are provoked to sell anything from sedatives to soap? Or the pornography of wartime, sanctified because it spurs on our gallant boys and shows what beasts the other side are?

That does not condone the back-street pornography trade, of course. Apart from the stuff detailed in the police statement to the Select Committee—a good deal of which is sold openly at shop counters, despite what the police say about the difficulty of obtaining evidence of sale—there is a considerable trade in near-pornographic books and pictures. The vital part of the near-pornographer’s art is to accurately assess the changing wind, and much of his business is done by post and advertized in likely magazines: “Young Lady Photographer can supply unusual studies to private collectors, send s.a.e.", etc.

What all this shows is the need, not for more censorship, but for something to be done about the world in which these stupid trades can flourish. Most of the matter in question is miserable rubbish, but its real authors are the people to whom Capitalism must be doing something bad: how frustrated must one be to pay the pomographer's price for a second-hand sexual thrill? Here is the condemnation of censorship—that it aims to protect and perpetuate the social order which causes so much of frustration and unsatisfied need.

There is little to show, as the Home Office officials had to tell the Committee, that anyone is “depraved and corrupted" by pornography. Indeed, it becomes harmful when it is legalized and used for economic and political ends like fomenting hatred in wartime. The censors, the magistrates, the policemen and the members of the Public Morality Council do not seem to be transformed into satyrs by all that they see. This is one case, in fact, where those who do not care need not be affected. Most people go through life without ever seeing a dirty book or picture, and the common effect on those who see involuntarily is not corruption but revulsion.

On the other hand, the everyday world is full of well-established means to “deprave and corrupt" on which there are no prohibitions. Few things deprave more than the sight of money, or corrupt more than a little power over others. Empires and businesses are built on depravity, and exposing the young to its influence is a statutory requirement under the Education Act.

Whatever one thinks about obscenity, the extension of laws against it means the extension of the State's domination over what people may read and think. And, always, the concern is to secure conformity in the working class. In a prosecution in 1935, a main question which helped lead to suppression was whether the book was “fit and decent for people of the working class to read." The proposed new Obscene Publications Bill has the same regard in asking for, as evidence of obscenity, “ evidence, if any, as to the persons to or among whom the said matter was, or was intended, or was likely to be distributed, sold, or offered for sale." And N. St. John-Stevas, in his Obscenity and the Law—largely an advocacy of the new Bill—is explicit on the point:
“Publishers certainly act on the presumption that a high-priced book will not be prosecuted, and sometimes produce editions of the same book, one bowdlerised at a low price, and the other unexpurgated at a high one . . . the protection of the mass of the people from the corrupting effects of pornography is not so much class prejudice as a realistic recognition that the present educational level leaves them open to victimisation."
In other words, the mass of the people don't know what is good for them: an argument which is unfailingly used to support taking away any freedom of choice or expression. Incidentally, Mr. St. John-Stevas devotes six pages immediately following this passage to showing that pornography has no "corrupting effects," and so leaves one to wonder if it isn't “class prejudice" after all.

All censorship should be opposed. Bernard Shaw called it “the intolerance of the community," but he mistaken: it is the necessary intolerance of rulers towards any apparent threat to the security or stability of the society they rule. It is not expressed like that, of course —it does not have to be, because while the ideas of the ruling class are dominant most people see them as the "natural” ones.

Nevertheless, it is a weapon against knowledge and thought. In a free and sensible society it could have no place; in the meantime, censorship can be nothing but an impediment to progress towards such a society.
Robert Barlrop