Thursday, March 2, 2023

Voice From The Back: Bad Day, good day (2001)

The Voice From The Back Column from the March 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bad Day, good day

It was 1 February when the news broke. Corus, the Anglo-Dutch steel giant, announced that there would be more than 6,000 redundancies at five main sites across the country. An example of how devastating this could be is summed up by Vernon Lewis who worked in Ebbw Vale steel plant for 22 years: “Corus hasn’t just ripped the heart out of a steel works, it has ripped the heart out of [the] community.” Times, 2 February. So widespread gloom throughout the country? Well, no, not quite: “Meanwhile, the city was happy at events with shares in Corus shooting ahead on news of the restructuring. By midday, shares had jumped 10 percent, up 7.75p at 82.5p before closing at 82 percent, Herald, 2 February.


Blairing a new tune

Four years ago our TV screens were filled with a smiling Tony Blair being worshipped by devout Labour supporters to the accompaniment of loudspeakers blaring, “Things Can Only Get Better.” But that was four years ago. Elderly people are waiting for up to 25 hours on trolleys in hospital accident and emergency departments, according to the soon-to-be-abolished Community Health Councils. Nigel Crisp, NHS chief executive, admitted that there was still a “problem” with waiting times. Times, 1 February.


Breakthroughs and heartbreaks

“The principle was accepted last November that insurers would be able to make use of some kinds of genetic testing information. If such tests become more widespread and insurers are given greater access to the results, a lot of the insurance market could disappear altogether in the long run. If building insurers jack up premiums in houses on floodplains, you can bet the same will happen to vulnerable people’s medical cover, permanent health insurance, critical illness, life cover and long-term care plans.” Observer, 21 January. Inside capitalism even scientific breakthroughs turn out nasty for the poor and vulnerable.


Business as usual

Their followers may hate each other and shout about 1690 and 1916, but the leaders of the Unionists and SDLP are co-operative when it comes to the really important issues to Irish capitalism—business and profits. “David Trimble and his Catholic counterpart, SDLP leader Seamus Mallon, are flying into Paris this morning in a bid to drum up investment by French firms in Northern Ireland. They will meet Medef, the French employers’ association, and then head off to the Elysée Palace to see Jacques Chirac, the President.” Times, 31 January.


Drowning not waving

“Government scientists from 99 countries, including major oil producers, have agreed that the earth’s atmosphere is warming faster than expected. In an unprecedented display of unanimity, their evidence points to human activity as the culprit. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now projects the earth’s average surface temperature will rise 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius between 1990 and 2100, higher than its 1995 estimate of a one to 3.5 degree rise . . . Sea levels are predicted to rise between nine and 88 cm (3.54 and 36.64 inches) from 1990 to 2100, potentially displacing tens of millions of people in low-lying areas such as the Pearl River Delta, Bangladesh and Egypt.” Herald, 23 January. Capitalism in its drive for profits is ruining the planet. Only socialism with production solely for use can save it.


Economy Class Syndrome

“Even though the Observer first warned of the dangers of economy class syndrome two years ago, airlines have refused to act. Now fresh research to be published in the British Medical Journal reveals that a tenth of blood clots treated at one London hospital were caused by sitting immobile on flights. If these figures were represented nationally it would point to 3,000 cases a year and 300 deaths, making death from a blood clot a greater risk than a plane crash.” Observer, 21 January. In their efforts to increase profits airlines are cramming as many people as possible into their aeroplanes. If that means reduced leg room leading to fatal risk—tough.



Letters: Marx and/or Freud? (2001)

Letters to the Editors from the March 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx and/or Freud?

Dear Editors,

I found the articles and discussion in the January and February issues on ads, capitalist art, psychology and Amos’s letter interesting; indeed one can make a synthesis of all this, which I would like to try and do, basing my discussion on Amos’s confused critique.

Your reply (Letters, January) was one way of answering him: socialism will be able to expand production of useful things in an ecologically defensive manner. There is another approach, and that is to point out how we see socialism being established. We have always stressed the need for majority, working class political action, based on understanding of and desire for socialism.

Capitalism shapes our needs through ads–you are what you own! Socialist society will certainly not be one of massive consumption since we will develop a new ethos; ideas become material forces when they lay hold of the masses, I believe Marx noted. Amos is judging consumption in socialist society through the eyes of a pro-capitalist when he says that everyone should, or would, be on a par with Western workers. Whoever said the lifestyle of Western workers is desirable? Also we certainly agree with Marx’s idea that humans make their own history, but only within the realms of what is materially possible. This is historical materialism, not utopian thinking of post-modernist idealism.

Seen in this light Amos’s view that social democratic parties are the best bet against fascism and barbarism is ludicrous. Concepts like fascism and democracy do not exist in vacuo. Democracy can only be safeguarded and expanded with the growth of socialist consciousness. That is the lesson Germany 1933-45.

That period does, though, raise troubling questions for Marxists. Class consciousness does not arise entirely spontaneously, it would seem. Some irrational factor is at work. Wilhelm Reich saw this as a result of sexual repression and the patriarchal family structure. Reich, however, was an unrepentant Leninist, and if his theory has any credibility it must be applicable to the truly fascist period of Stalinism as well.

A more credible approach is that taken by Erich Fromm (even though he made the mistake of equating nationalisation with socialism). Fromm is a good antidote to the idealist, psychological nonsense being peddled now, despite his works being some 30-50 years old. He took the concept of alienation, to be found in Marx’s philosophical worldview, and attempted to give it a Freudo-style twist. His Fear of Freedom, The Sane Society, and The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness are great books.

Homo sapiens is not in control of the products of sinew and brain, relations to each other, has lost himself and his connection to nature. (It is also factually incorrect of Amos to state Marx wasn’t green—he was, and he need only read Marx to find out.) The impersonal forces can leave the individual truly crushed; open to neurosis and inclined to let someone else solve problems. Only by establishing democratic structures and common ownership (socialism) can the individual and society progress. In this respect can Reich’s idea of human emancipation (necessarily involving sexual emancipation) be defensible.

Capitalism creates the material grounding for socialism, but a society of alienated people. The dialectic, socialisation of production but not in society’s interest, will be solved in socialist revolution. As will be the dialectic of mind: rationality and irrationality. This concept answers those who wonder about anti-social behaviour in socialist society; it will regress.

I realise Freudo-Marxism isn’t held as being tenable by fellow comrades, so it is prudent you comment on it.

Yours for a sane society
G.C. Taylor, 
Brabrand, Denmark


Reply: 
It is true that we are Marxians rather than Freudians, historical materialists rather than believers in psychoanalysis. Freud himself of course was not a socialist, but in fact embraced the “human nature objection” in an extreme form. He was a pessimist who believed that without morality and government to channel human sexual energies constructively utter chaos would result. To their credit, some of his followers—Wilhelm Reich, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm—did not go along with him on this and modified his theory to make the existence of a free, socialist society compatible with the Freudian view of human nature.

Reich’s The Sexual Revolution, written in the 1930s, has always been popular because it advocates a more relaxed attitude to sex—which Socialists share—but this message can be accepted without accepting the particular theory Reich put forward to justify it (which was very dubious and eventually led him to claim to have identified and to be able to measure “sexual energy” or “orgone” as he called it). Incidentally, although Reich was a member of the German Communist Party when he wrote it, he was soon expelled, partly because of it. In one of his later works, the pamphlet Listen, Little Man! he uses the term “state capitalism” in relation to Russia.

Marcuse’s Eros and Civilzation, like all his writings, is heavy going but his argument that abundance meant that sexual repression was no longer necessary found an echo amongst some socialists when it appeared in 1955.

You’re probably right about Fromm being the best of them, no doubt because (to the annoyance of the orthodox Freudians and even of Marcuse) he abandoned Freud’s explanations in terms of individual biology for social ones. The books of his you mention have always been popular amongst Socialist Party members—Editors.


Spying on the Trotskyists

Dear Editors,

In the article, “Chatham House and spies” (Socialist Standard, December 2000), I stated that the Security Service (MI5) has monitored, and heavily infiltrated Trotskyist organisations in this country, since 1943. In fact, the government’s Security Executive under the chairmanship of Viscount Swinton, using information obtained from MI5, reported under the heading of “subversive activities” on the British Union of Fascists, the Communist Party, pacifist and conscientious objectors; organisations, as well as Trotskyists, as early as 1941 (PRO: FO 371 32583).

In particular, the Security Executive considered the activities of Trotskyists in Britain, and concluded that nothing should be done to lessen their embarrassment to the Communist Party (PRO: FO 371 344 34416), and (PRO: FO 371 29523). Three years later, when the Trotskyists formed the Revolutionary Communist Party, Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary, submitted a memorandum to the War Cabinet, in which he concluded that the Trotskyists had had little success in penetrating the Trade Unions. Among the leaders named was Ted Grant, the future leader of Militant Tendency, later ousted by the present leader, Peter Taaffe.
Peter E. Newell, 
Colchester, Essex

The socialist position on Kosovo vindicated (2001)

From the March 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Very occasionally, the bourgeois media serve socialists tasy snacks which cut to the reality of how capitalism operates. Hidden away on the comment pages of the Guardian, arch greeny liberal George Monbiot provides a compelling case for how Caspian Sea oil was a major factor in the Kosovan war after all. With one eye on an article by fellow liberal Jonathon Freedland (written at the time of the bombing), which mocked the idea that oil had anything to do with the war effort, Monbiot quotes from various prominent sources to demonstrate the opposite.

The Trans-Balkan oil pipeline (which is coming up for approval) will transport Caspian Sea oil from the Black Sea port of Burgas to the Adriatic, passing through Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania. According to a paper by the US Trade and Development agency, the pipeline will “provide American companies with a key role in developing the vital east-west corridor” and “facilitate rapid integration” of the “Balkans with western Europe”. Monbiot says that there is “no question” that this featured prominently in Balkan war politics. The then US energy secretary said: “This is about America’s energy security . . . We’ve made a substantial political investment in the Caspian, and it’s very important to us that both the pipeline map and the politics come out right.” The pipeline does not pass through the former Yugoslavia, but as the Albanian president said: “no solution confined within Serbian borders will bring lasting peace”. Monbiot adds that “the message could scarcely have been blunter: if you want Albanian consent for the Trans-Balkan pipeline, you had better wrest Kosovo out of the hands of the Serbs”. Subsequently, we can now fully understand the strategic need for “stability” in the Balkans.

The May 1999 Socialist Standard said that “wars are fought over markets, investment outlets, raw material sources and trade routes and strategic points to control them”. Liberals mocked us at the time. Now, after their support for the slaughter of our class in Kosovo, they will have to concede that we were right all along. Thanks George!

World View: Son of Star Wars (2001)

From the March 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rarely have Americans elected to office a president as impetuous, callous and as indifferent to the well-being of others as George W Bush, who even as a presidential candidate, signing more death warrants than any Governor in history, made no secret of his hawkish ambitions, determined to forge ahead with the “Son of Star Wars” National Missile Defence (NMB) system and to propel the world into another arms race and all the old cold war hostilities that accompany it and, indeed, perhaps signing the future death warrants of hundreds of millions.

The recent Pentagon report Proliferation: Threat and Response came as a godsend for the Bush camp, anxious to rationalise a planned $60 billion increase in defence spending, inclusive of investment in the NMD programme which would deploy thousands of air defence missiles to intercept intercontinental ballistic weapons fired by the proverbial “rogue states”.

The report would have it that the threat to mainland America is as great now as during the Cold War era and that apocalypse is just over the horizon, discerning a credible threat from North Korea within 10 years, Iran within 15 years and Iraq within 20 years. The report is critical of China for its continuing use of arms sales to “advance its strategic and economic interests”, but is silent on the US domination of the global arms market and its related hegemonic aspirations. Likewise, the amnesiacs who compiled the report lambast Iraq for its “pursuit of regional hegemony”, Syria for its excessive $1 billion defence budget (the US defence budget is currently $300 billion) and North Korea for its stockpiling of chemical weapons (when the US has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons on the planet). At every turn, it seems, there’s a rogue state just itching to lob a nuclear or biological weapon at the defender of global peace and democracy, and it is this warped logic that informs the hawkish stance in Washington. No mention is made of the fact that even without NMD, any state stupid enough to throw anything bigger than a grenade at the US would be bombed back into the Stone Age.

Nevertheless, it is talk that is demanding a $60 billion increase in US defence spending (which is actually China’s total military budget), and rhetoric that the cold warriors Bush has given cabinet posts to are more than familiar with. Once a critic of NMD, Colin Powell, of Gulf War fame (a man who came to prominence covering up the My Lai massacre and later up to his neck in the arms for hostages scandal and the illegal supplying of arms to the Contras) is now Secretary of State and the Pentagon’s top NMD salesperson. Other cabinet posts have gone to other Reaganite hawks such as Richard Armitage, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Candaleezza Rice. Bush’s choice for key cabinet posts alone should warn us there is some serious ass kicking is going to be done.

Whereas Bush sees NMD as a “constitutional and moral requisite” (he incidentally also believes humans and fish can coexist peacefully) US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld agrees that “it is in many respects a moral issue”, that NMD is essential to counter “the raw and random violence of the outlaw regime or the rogue state armed with missiles of mass destruction”, that NMD would make the US “less isolationist”, “less vulnerable and more prepared to help its allies”.

At a defence conference in Munich in early February, at which the implications of NMD were discussed, concern was raised that NMD would undoubtedly spark an arms race. Rumsfeld declared that NMD would not destroy arms control agreements including the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, but later suggested the 1972 treaty was “ancient history”.

Arms race
Sergei Ivanov, head of the Russian National Security Council told the conference that “the destruction of the 1972 ABM Treaty will result in annihilation of the whole structure of strategic stability and create prerequisites for a new arms race”. As much, and more, was hinted at back in late 1999 when Republican hawks celebrated a Senate vote not to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and announced their intention to scupper the 1972 ABM Treaty which outlawed Star Wars’ missiles systems capable of intercepting incoming missiles. For it was then that Russian Defence Minister Nikolai Mikolov, acknowledging Russia could not match US technology, declared Russia would simply deploy more warheads capable of overwhelming the US nuclear umbrella system.

In November last year the Kremlin announced plans to cut its number of men under arms by 360,000 and to shift the emphasis from nuclear weapons to conventional arms. This decision has since been shelved and will be reconsidered in March at the earliest. Meanwhile, in direct response to Washington’s announcement that the US intends to go through with the Son of Star Wars anti-missile programme, whatever shape this may be (air-based, sea-based, space-based) and regardless of any objections, Russia has announced it will seek an anti-US diplomatic alliance with China, North Korea and Iran.

As well as Russia, both India and China have expressed concern about the NMD, fearing it will very much provoke an arms race and force them to expand their own nuclear weapons programmes. Whist France and Germany are wholly opposed to NMD, the British government is currently playing its cards close to its chest. Though the MoD and the Foreign Office claim they are “not convinced of the merits” of NMD, Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon, asked if the US would be allowed to upgrade their early warning system at Fylingdales in Yorkshire replied: “We share of course US concerns about emerging threats. The US is our closest ally”.

For Tony Blair’s part, whilst it is felt he is bending towards the idea, keen to placate his US cronies, his government is under no pressure to make a decision for several months, which suits New Labour down to the ground. It should also be remembered that Blair is facing a general election this year so has no intentions of losing votes as a result of arguments with anti-nuclear protestors. It is, however, a safe bet that Blair will indeed see an election victory as his mandate to commit Britain to Bush’s wider game plan for global US domination.

It is a fair guess that there is more behind NMD than Washington lets on. For instance, the moment you begin installing a sophisticated missile defence shield is the moment your adversaries begin seeking ways around it. Whilst NMD may well take out the incoming missile, what of the biological or nuclear bomb in the suitcase or the suicide bomber?

A more likely explanation lies in the fears of the Republican right that the only discernible threat to US hegemony in the 21st Century will come from China as it develops into the economic giant many think it capable of—a serious challenger for US profits. What better way to curtail China’s economic ambitions than to compel it to channel more money into defence and away from other social programmes, economically hamstringing it? A similar tactic had been employed against the former Soviet Union during the Reagan administration in the late eighties, forcing state capitalism into an early grave as it found itself unable to meet the costly demands of an escalating arms race weighted heavily in the favour of the US.

It is poignantly ironic that George W Bush is preparing to raise the global security stakes when just over ten years ago his father George Bush, as president, announced to the world the benefits of the coming “peace dividend” in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the “collapse of communism”; a world in which there would no longer be the need for countries to invest heavily in military hardware now the bogeyman had been exorcised—that money was now to be used for health, education and other social programmes. But there again, George senior did announce at his inauguration that the 20th Century had been the “American Century” and that he’d be doing his damnedest to ensure the 21st was also an American century. So maybe George junior is simply following out his father’s promises. Ensuring the 21st century will also be ruled by force and woe betides any one silly enough to mess with US interests.

One thing is sure. The US is deadly serious about possible threats to its strategic and economic interests in the 21st century and has already toyed with a future confrontation with a possible rising superpower. In January, the US air force, along with 250 military and civilian “experts”, completed its first major war games in space at the Space Warfare Centre in Colorado, rehearsing a conflict set in 2017 between China and the US. It is no great leap of the imagination to envisage the projected winner.

As we have announced several times in the past year, if we are to prevent the 21st century becoming a more violent re-run of the 20th, that witnessed two world wars, the first use of nuclear weapons and many hundreds of smaller conflicts—all in the name of profit—it is essential we, the victims, the cannon fodder, the class that has the biggest price to pay to satisfy the whims of the mighty, begin to organise now; not tomorrow when NMD is in place, nor in years to come when the sirens are screaming. We as a class have suffered too much and have too much to lose to leave decisions regarding the future of our planet in the hands of group of arrogant, conceited and profit-crazed individuals. Let’s really organise to take their power away, before it is too late.
John Bissett

In the news (2001)

From the March 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

More devastation for the working class

Almost immediately after the latest UK/US air strikes on Iraq, it was perhaps quite strange to read in a Guardian headline: “Allies ready to ease Iraq sanctions.” According to Whitehall sources, “Britain and the US have agreed to rethink their policy towards Iraq in the face of mounting hostility from the Arab world, inflamed by airstrikes.”

Was this the final throw of the dice—going out with a bang rather than with a whimper? Perhaps it was a show of strength by the new president, cementing relations with Tony Blair to assure everyone that the special relationship is still intact. This said, the strategic timing could not have been worse given current Arab-Israeli relations (with the remote possibility of a wider regional conflict). We also have to consider the potentially damaging relations with OPEC, which could react by squeezing oil production—thus pushing up oil prices—as Arab opinion becomes ever more hostile to Western interests.

Of course, with it being an open secret that the oil sanctions are already being routinely flouted (especially via the new Iraqi-Syrian pipeline)—combined with the fact that the major players such as France, Russia and China want sanctions to be lifted—it could well be that the US/UK are about to bow to the inevitable and bring Iraqi oil back on tap. The rehabilitation process may have already begun with a new proposal to move towards “smart sanctions”. These sanctions would be predominantly concerned with arms control and controlling the freedom of movement for leading members of the Iraqi regime. However, as the Guardian further points out: “Imports for rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure and oil industry would be allowed.”

We have previously documented the murderous and hypocritical policies of the US/UK towards Iraq with the resulting mass slaughter of the working class and we condemn it once again.

It now appears that the US/UK hegemonic policy is slowly giving way to what the other major powers wanted all along—the rehabilitation of Iraq. But this does not mean that the US/UK strategy has been in vain. On the contrary, it has kept a brutal dictator in power, Iraq’s borders intact (thus also containing Iran) and it has devastated the working class.


Screened for profit

Insurance firms were questioned by members of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee on genetic testing on 7 February. The spokesman for Norwich Union said that only tests for Huntingdon’s disease had been carried out by his firm, as agreed by the insurance companies’ self-regulating body.

“But during questioning Mike Urmston, chief actuary at Norwich Union, was forced to explain that breast and ovarian cancer tests were also being used,” says the Times.

Shock, horror and gasps of amazement from the committee. Could this be a capitalist firm putting profits before human wellbeing? Surely not?
“Dr. Ian Gibson, a member of the committee, accused Norwich Union of trying to set up a ‘genetic ghetto’. He called on the Government to stem the tide of genetic testing by insurance companies. Self-regulation is clearly not working. These companies are attempting to identify a genetic underclass which can only lead to them profiting and individuals being discriminated against.”
The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine has also carried a report that such screening was putting people’s lives at risk. “The risk, the authors say, is that people will be discouraged from taking tests with potential medical benefits because they fear insurance companies will discriminate against them.”

The mapping of the human gene code, with its possibilities of a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, breast and ovarian cancers, should be celebrated as a great triumph for humanity. However, we live in a capitalist world where profit is paramount and where human health and happiness count for very little.


The snows of Kilimanjaro and the drive for profit

At least one-third of the massive ice field atop Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa has disappeared or melted in the last dozen years, according to Lonnie Thompson, professor of geological sciences at Ohio University, speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. About 82 per cent of the ice field has been lost since it was first mapped in 1912.

A similar picture emerges from his research for South America, China, Tibet and for glaciers around the world. “These glaciers are very much like the canaries once used in coal mines,” Thompson said. “They’re an indicator of massive changes taking place and a response to the changes in climate in the tropics.”

Dealing with the dramatic loss of glaciers in the Andes, he said: 
“The loss of these frozen reserves threaten water resources for hydroelectric power production in the region, and for crop irrigation and municipal water supplies. What they’re really doing now is cashing in on a bank account that was built over thousands of years but isn’t being replenished. Once it’s gone, it will be diffficult to reform.”
“In such cases, the countries will probably have to switch to burning fossil fuels to meet their power needs. And by doing so, they’ll add more carbon dioxide and water vapour to the atmosphere—two gases that are known to enhance the greenhouse effect and intensify global warming.”
This is typical of capitalist society which, in its drive for profit, uses cheap fossil fuels to deal with the effects of global warming, and thereby causes more global warming. See www.acs.ohio-state.edu/units/research/archive/glasgone.htm.

TV Review: Who wants to be a millionaire? (2001)

TV Review from the March 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

I have just witnessed what I can only describe as a truly sickening TV spectacle. No, not the Queen’s Christmas speech but an edition of the “couples” version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Now, normally I enjoy quiz shows (provided they are genuinely based on general knowledge, rather than the truly inane “game shows” which are such a staple of prime-time TV)—indeed, I have been a contestant on Fifteen-to-One. Not because I expected to win it, but because I enjoyed the challenge of seeing how far I could go (not that far, as it happened).

I generally find Millionaire to be an enjoyably tense programme—cynics may sneer at the absurdity of becoming so improbably rich simply by answering quiz questions, but is this really any more absurd than being rich simply because of an accident of birth? Yes, it’s escapism but it offers a route whereby some may escape poverty—although, of course, a socialist society would have no need of such escape routes.

I sat down to watch the “couples” show tonight, naïvely not realising how much conflict might be caused if a couple reached the higher-ranked prizes. Silly me . . .

On two occasions, couples reached £125,000, knowing that a correct answer to the next question would win them £250,000, whilst an incorrect answer would drop them back to £32,000. In both cases, the wife was fairly sure (but not certain) of the answer to the relevant question; in both cases the husband was uncertain and counselled caution. In both cases, the husband got his way, and they took the existing prize money rather than gamble it. (One could speculate on what this may mean about the “normal” balance of power between men and women in contemporary capitalism . . .) However, in neither case was the decision reached smoothly between the couple. Given the potentially life-changing nature of such prize money for the contestants, it was clearly not an easy decision too make, but the almost unbearable tension between the couples was shamelessly played upon by Chris Tarrant as a source of cheap entertainment.

Of course the programme demonstrated quite graphically how the money system can poison human relationships. Knowing how Chris Tarrant enjoys teasing the contestants before giving them the answer, it was naïve of me not to anticipate that he would revel in the couples’ disagreements. However the sight of his grinning face (normally only a minor irritation to me) as he predicted “storms over Birmingham” (the home of one of the couples), or that “she will never forgive him for the rest of his life”, was, quite frankly, nauseating and disgusting.

No doubt Tarrant himself has long since left behind any economic situation where such an amount of money would be significant to him (as shown in a recent programme in which he was incredibly patronising towards a contestant who admitted to never having seen £1,000 before), but is it really unreasonable to expect him to act sympathetically towards couples who disagreed? Sadly, given the perversity of “entertainment” within capitalism, and ITV’s desire for ratings, the answer is probably yes.
Shane Roberts

Socialist? Feminist? (2001)

Pamphlet Review from the March 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

From the Ashes of the Old Century, A Better World’s in Birth . By Andrea Bauer. (64 pp. $4.50 from Red Letter Press, 409 Maynard Ave. S., Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98104, USA.)

This is the Political Resolution adopted by the 1999 convention of a US trotskyist organisation called the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP).

I’m not sure which “better world” the title of this pamphlet is referring to, but it is certainly not planet Earth. This is a world where the state capitalist dictatorships of the Soviet bloc were “workers states” and “. . . societies in which the profit system had been overthrown and production and distribution were organized essentially in the interest of working people”. A world where “nationalization of the credit system” is a socialist demand. A world where the working class must be led and directed by “trained, dedicated revolutionaries” rather than rely on our own conscious actions. Most unbelievably of all, a world where workers “. . . respond with anger and pressure, not cynicism and apathy, when the Second Internationalists (Labour and Social Democratic parties) fail to act as their representatives”.

Its somewhat upsetting that the FSP styles itself as a “socialist, feminist” organisation. An organisation which regards itself as feminist while defending state capitalist regimes as “workers states” should ask itself some questions. As a system of society in which the FSP claim the profit system had been overthrown we should expect women to have liberated themselves from the shit capitalism throws (disproportionately) on them. Was this really the case though? Not quite:
“. . . women in Eastern Europe lived under a system of formal, legislated equality. Women had the legal right to work, and most barriers to women’s employment were lifted. Mandated equality, however, is not the same as freedom. Women were not given a choice of lifestyle, but were obligated to work. Since “equality” was imposed by the state, there was no public dialogue about the changes in women’s roles, and sexism and discrimination persisted, both in the public and domestic spheres. Women were still expected to do all of the child rearing and housework, for example, while working the same hours as men.”
In Romania, women were required to bear four, and then later five, children; many died from illegal abortions, or were allowed to bleed to death if they refused to reveal the names of illegal abortionists. (http://civnet.org/journal/issue3/cfbeco.htm)

Life for working class women in the state capitalist/”communist” states was a life not a million miles away from that of a working class woman in the openly capitalist “west”. What sort of liberation is offered by the “workers states” which the FSP see as a model for socialism if we are just going to continue being wage slaves and women are going to continue to be crushed by the burdens of a patriarchal class society?

Even the high percentage of women in national legislatures and public office in eastern bloc countries relative to the west is deceptive when comparison is made with percentages of women in the Party bureaucracy:
“In the bodies which did have real power—the communist parties’ central committees, for instance—there were almost no women” (http://www.oska.org.pl/english/womeninpoland/perpectives/2.html).
Just like the western states these “workers’ states” were systems of minority-class economic, political and social domination, with male authority figures at the top. That women are suffering disproportionately in the changeover period following the collapse of the eastern state capitalist bloc and losing many of what gains were won under state capitalism is an argument for abolishing the capitalist system altogether, not going “back to the future” to a “workers’ paradise” that never existed.
Ben Malcolm

Material World: Too old to work, too young to die (2023)

The Material World column from the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are all getting older and we will be older for longer. People living longer sounds good. But not for capitalism.

Improvements in healthcare have brought extended longevity and longer lifespans mean there are more older people. The population aged 65 and older is growing faster than all other age groups, especially as the global birth and fertility rates have been dropping. Over the past 50 years, the median age of the world’s population has increased by 10 years, i.e, from 20 years in 1970 to 30 years in 2020. Many countries have attained median ages well above 35 years, such as France at 41 years, South Korea at 43 years, Italy at 46 years and Japan at 48 years. The median ages of the world’s populations are expected to continue to rise, reaching 40 years by 2070. In 1970 China’s population had a median age of 18 years, i.e, half of their population were children. By 2070 the median age of China’s population is projected to triple to 55 with the proportion of children declining to 12. By 2070 the world’s average life expectancy at age 65 will be 21 more years with many developed countries having life expectancies at age 65 of 25 years or more, i.e, people surviving on average to age 90. There is less need for paediatricians and gynaecologists and much more requirement for specialists in geriatrics and care-working. There are not enough nursing home beds to cater for elderly people who need long-stay residential care.

Governments have concerns about the prospect of their populations possessing more grandparents than grandchildren and the burden on pension and healthcare budgets of their ageing populations. An ageing society is viewed as damaging to a state’s economy since it decreases the workforce numbers and increases the costs on social services and health. The need for pensions arises from the fact that as workers get older, they become surplus to requirements for the capitalists. State pensions take up a vast proportion of public spending. The capitalist class has to pay to keep workers alive upon retirement and it is one of the non-productive activities that the State has to undertake.

Within the next few decades, working-age adults will need to support a higher number of elderly people than they do now, putting pressure on welfare systems and taking up much of the future economic growth and output unless offset by increased technology delivering gains in productivity. There is also a need for greater immigration to boost the labour supply to alleviate the adverse effects of an ageing population as new migrants lower the average age of the host nation’s population. The changes in the demographic structure of various societies and the need to replenish the workforce will not be addressed by more older workers (as the evidence is that chronic ill-health is higher with advancing years) and will require a rethink on immigration policies encouraging newcomers from other regions of the world such as Africa.

Government options are to reduce benefits, increase tax revenue or raise the retirement age. Pensions are essentially a tax on the profits of the capitalists, even if ultimately these profits come from what workers produce, and increasing taxes will not be welcomed by businesses. Meanwhile cutting state benefits would only worsen the already existing poverty of old age. So the preferred choice is to make people work for longer by postponing the official retirement age and the payment of state pensions. Similarly, due to mounting costs, employers are currently scaling back their own occupational pension schemes. Pensions and the retirement age are under assault. It has happened in the UK and is taking place nearly everywhere else, despite widespread opposition from working people

Under capitalism the elderly and frail are seen as superfluous, and of little use to employers. Possessing money as consumers in our capitalist society is the only way to maintain any status in one’s old age because money has power no matter what age you are. We are seeing an increasingly unequal society with the elderly among those bearing the brunt. Capitalism leaves its senior citizens unwanted, isolated and invisible.

Growing old is inevitable but the way we get old is not. Although we are living far longer, a significant and increasing proportion of people are managing multiple health conditions and mobility problems from mid-life onwards. Current rates of chronic illness, mental health conditions, disability and frailty could be greatly reduced. The extra golden years of longer life are a gift to enjoy. Socialism will bring forth more social and community networks to build creative relationships, enhancing the quality of life for everyone, both young and old. The contributions of older persons to society are invaluable and cannot be measured in mere material terms. They offer care-sharing and the passing on of knowledge to new generations. The progress of civilisation from our increased lifespan is being squandered by capitalism.

Gulliver’s Travels features the Struldbruggs, a people who appear normal in all respects except one – they don’t die. But their immortality, instead of being a blessing, is a curse because they continue to age:
‘At 90, they lose their teeth and hair; they have at that age no distinction of taste, but eat and drink whatever they can get, without relish or appetite. The diseases they were subject to still continue…’
Socialism will not bestow immortality nor eternal youth but it will permit us all to age with dignity.
ALJO

50 Years Ago: Northern Ireland: unite for socialism! (2023)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Northern Ireland — with its street riots, its shootings, its bombings, its political prisoners — is but one of world capitalism’s trouble spots. What has been happening there is only exceptional compared with life in capitalist Britain. On a world scale it is normal. Somewhere, sometime innocent people are always being killed by the forces of Law and Order or by the terrorist activities of their self-appointed “liberators”. If it’s not Northern Ireland, it’s Cyprus. If it’s not Cyprus, it’s Algeria. If it’s not Algeria, it’s Palestine … or India or Vietnam or South Africa. The only difference is that Northern Ireland is a lot nearer home.

Violence is never far below the surface of capitalism, even in comparatively peaceful areas like Britain. The institutionalised violence of the State exists to protect the class monopoly of a minority over the means of wealth production and its agents have continually to contain the frustrations caused by the insecure and deprived existence of the working class under capitalism. But the scarcity the working class the world over have to endure is artificial. The world means of production are quite capable of producing an abundance of wealth from which everybody could freely take according to their needs. Capitalism holds back production because it operates, and has to operate, according to the rule “No profit, no production” and it restricts the consumption of the vast majority to what is needed to keep them efficient wealth — and profit — producers.(…)

Understandably, at the moment, ordinary people in Northern Ireland want peace, an end to the pointless shootings and bombings and the added insecurity they bring. We too want an immediate end to this senseless sacrifice of working-class life to no useful purpose (not even now the interests of their masters, as was once the case). But, over and above this, we want Socialism, a far more worthwhile objective than a mere return to “normal” capitalism with its boring jobs, its dole queues, its slums and its general poverty and exploitation minus only the extra violence.

We urge workers in Ireland to join with us, and their fellow workers in all other countries, in working to establish as quickly as possible Socialism, a world of peace and plenty.

[Socialist Standard, February 1973]

Humans and Nature (2023)

Book Review from the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Life As We Made It. How 50,000 Years of Human Innovation Refined – and Redefined – Nature. By Beth Shapiro. Oneworld, 2021. 341pp.

The author of this book is an evolutionary biologist with a special interest in the uses of ancient DNA and genetic engineering. She attempts to trace – and to characterise – the ways in which homo sapiens has used and manipulated nature over its history and, with modern biotechnology, can continue, for good or for bad, to do so more than ever. Profound understanding of how humanity has fashioned the natural environment since earliest times coupled with dazzling technical knowledge and experience in a variety of scientific fields allows her to paint a picture of human social evolution that is as extraordinary at it is often horrifying and to project into the future ways in which the careful use of what she calls synthetic biology can help to fashion what she sees as positive social developments for humanity.

One part of the history of humanity in its relationship with other species is dramatically summed up by the author when she writes: ‘Within the last 50,000 years, our ancestors hunted, polluted, and outcompeted hundreds of species into extinction’. A reasonable qualification to this, however, should be that they did most of this in the last 10,000 years or so, that is once settled agriculture took over from nomadic hunter gathering. And whether this move to farming was meant, as she says, ‘to improve the reliability of their next meal’ is also a matter of debate. A number of recent studies suggest that this transition, very gradual as it was, happened more by serendipity than by deliberate decision, especially as the effect of it was to make the majority of people actually worse off in very many ways than they had been as hunter gatherers. This was then made even worse when the new agricultural societies led to fixed hierarchies and then states with a small number of wealthy and powerful at the top and the vast majority forced to work at their behest and under conditions not of their choosing. This kind of set up remained as agricultural living was transcended by competitive industrial societies leading to colonial rule for millions in the less economically developed parts of the world and the factory system and wage labour as a means of survival for the vast majority elsewhere.

But, if we return to the time, 10,000 years ago, when settled agriculture in its various forms took over, the process of mass extinctions of both people and flora and fauna accelerated to a massive extent. Beth Shapiro, in a highly compelling and readable style, documents much of this history, striking examples of which in recent times are the demise of the bison in North America (from 60 million in the mid 18th century to fewer than 1,000 in 1884), the complete destruction by the end of the 19th century of the billions of passenger pigeons whose ancestors went back 10 million years, and the virtual elimination from the whole of the Americas by the mid 20th century of the pumas and panthers which had once been widespread throughout the continent.

But the author’s main purpose in writing this book is not so much to lament the loss of species or human carelessness in conserving the environment in the past as to propose ways in which humanity can make a better fist of things going forward. As she puts it: ‘We must use our increasingly advanced technologies to shape the future into one in which people can thrive alongside other species.’ She talks about the need to ‘restore ecosystem health and save species from extinction’. These are obviously laudable objectives, but the way she sees them being most effectively advanced is via massive changes – often laid out in enthralling scientific detail – she sees as possible by the use of genetic engineering and synthetic biology. She recognises that many people question this but is not sympathetic to their objections, brushing them aside as either ill-informed or based on conspiracy theories (‘cacophony of lies and distorted half-truths’).

While she may be right about this, what she does however fail to recognise (or at least nowhere mentions) is that, in the society we live in, neither the massive impact human activity is having on ecosystems nor the inability to decently feed, clothe and house many millions of people is caused by a failure to use the most up-to-date well-researched techniques of production to their best potential but is much more to do with production needing to take place with a view to cost-saving and profit rather than human welfare. This means that all attempts to ‘green’ the environment and benefit flora and fauna in any form face the formidable obstacle of a profit needing to be turned and that feeding people the world over is not a question of our inability to produce sufficient food but rather of people not having sufficient money to buy that food.

So, in referring to the need to develop biotechnologies such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer of animals to increase food production and deal with what she calls ‘global food shortages’, she surprisingly fails to take account of the wealth of information available showing that enough food is already produced to feed the world but that, in a world system based on the market and buying and selling, food is not available to the millions who need it. She shows no signs of being aware that, even in the USA, the most economically advanced country in the world and the one she lives in, the top 0.1 percent of the population hold as much wealth as the bottom 90 per cent put together and some 47 million people live in poverty. She refers to ‘United Nations estimates that farming production will need to increase by 50 percent to feed the projected 9 billion people that will inhabit the planet in 2050’, yet this flies in the face of a large swathe of studies estimating that, using current knowledge and techniques, the world can be fed many times over, up to 23 according to one estimate. So it’s not more advanced biotechnology that’s needed, nor more industrial agriculture, nor the continuous and increasing use of animal experimentation to improve biotechnology (something the author clearly sees as essential), but rather, and quite simply, a more advanced social system that does away with the market and buying and selling and produces for human need not economic profit.
Howard Moss

Inside the System (2023)

Book Review from the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

States of Incarceration: Rebellion, Reform, and America’s Punishment System. Jarrod Shanahan and Zhandarka Kurti. Reaktion Books, £15.95.

The US is characterised here as a carceral state (where ‘carceral’ is connected to words such as ‘incarcerate’ and means ‘related to prison’). More specifically, it is ‘a particular form of capitalist social order managed by a state which prioritizes punishment and repressive social control to safeguard and reproduce itself.’ The US prison system is the largest on the planet, mass incarceration having increased massively since the 1970s (as it has in other countries too). This is not a response to any increase in crime rates, and it is mostly aimed at young black men. It is not just a matter of imprisonment but also covers probation, house arrest, mandatory drug treatment and so on.

Of the many killings by police officers in the US, the best known is the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. This and other deaths led to what the authors refer to as the George Floyd Rebellion, which involved attacking and burning police stations and police cars. It was, they say, not just an attack on the carceral state but ‘the proactive rejection of an entire way of life’, as the carceral state ‘is inextricable from the capitalist division of labor’. The Rebellion died out, partly because of violent state response, but also, it is suggested here, because it became co-opted into ‘the framework of liberal democratic participation’ (though the claims on this point are not very clear).

There have been various attempts to reform the US criminal ‘justice’ system, though many of these just involve making mass incarceration cheaper. In addition there have been moves that the authors regard as more revolutionary, such as defunding or abolishing the police. One activist is quoted as saying, ‘You’re not going to be able to end policing without ending capitalism’, while another argues that defunding campaigns point towards a post-capitalist society, and another refers to the abolition of class society. Sadly, such remarks do not give rise to fuller discussion.

The book’s conclusion points to the alleged advantages of combining abolitionism’s critique of the carceral state with the militant tactics of the George Floyd Rebellion. But it is not clear how setting fire to police stations makes any kind of contribution to the establishment of a democratic world based on co-operation. This volume gives an informative and depressing account of the vicious punishment system in the US but, apart from a few passing references, says little about how to put an end to it.
Paul Bennett

Climate understanding (2023)

Book Review from the February 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Climate Book. By Greta Thunberg (author and narrator), Nicholas Khan (narrator), Olivia Forrest (narrator), Amelia Stubberfield (narrator). Penguin Audio . 2022

It has been five years since a shy 15-year-old Greta Thunberg stepped on to the global stage by spending her Fridays holding up a sign reading ‘Skolstrejk för klimatet’ (School Strike for Climate) outside the Swedish Parliament, calling for stronger action on climate change and battling the forces of climate inaction and denial. During this time, she has written three books including this, her most recent offering, which she has produced and narrated alongside other activists such as Nicholas Khan, Olivia Forrest, and Amelia Stubberfield. With contributions from over one hundred experts, including geophysicists, oceanographers, and meteorologists; engineers, economists, and mathematicians; historians, philosophers, and indigenous leaders, to equip us all with the knowledge we need to combat climate disaster. Alongside them, she shares her own stories of demonstrating and uncovering greenwashing around the world, revealing how much we have been kept in the dark and frequently misled by the powers that be.

For some time now I have been looking for the type of environmental book that could give me a reasonably good and broad understanding of climate change, including its causes, effects, and what needs to be done to stabilise and hopefully one day reverse it. A book that is factual, easily understood and not too demanding on my mental health in terms of the emotions and melancholy that are all too often triggered by the crazy social system in which we live. Well, I am pleased to say that The Climate Book pretty much delivered in all the above. Beautifully written and narrated with great passion and emphasis when needed (a particular advantage of an audio book) it really brought home all the chaos and destruction that has been inflicted upon the environment and Planet Earth, which the author blames squarely on the productive processes that created the industrial revolution and modern-day capitalism. A common denominator that brings out the overall theme of the book, with every one of the 100+ contributors arriving at virtually identical conclusions is the insatiable appetite for profit taking precedence over the welfare of the planet and its inhabitants, including flora and fauna.

My only criticism is when she describes how every ‘ism’ including conservatism, liberalism, labourism and – you guessed it – communism and socialism has failed to offer any proper solution to mitigate the ongoing challenges of pollution and its effects on the climate. Meaning that this otherwise intelligent and admirable young woman still has a little bit to learn about the politics of the subject matter. Nothing wrong, though, with her closing statement … ‘Once we are given the full picture, how can we not act? And if a schoolchild’s strike could ignite a global protest, what could we do collectively if we tried? We are alive at the most decisive time in the history of humanity. Together, we can do the seemingly impossible. But it has to be us, and it has to be now.’
Paul Edwards