Friday, April 7, 2023

A Framework of Deceit (1995)

From the April 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the wake of the republican and loyalist ceasefires in Northern 
Ireland the British and Irish governments finally produced their
 long awaited Framework document. The buzz phrase contained in the document is “parity of esteem” — but they don’t
mean between the rich and the poor!
Some years ago, when the so-called constitutional parties in Northern Ireland failed yet again to work out a formula for their participation in the government of the province, some of the parties invited the British government, in concert with the government of the Republic of Ireland, to offer guidelines for a system of acceptable government.

The period since then has seen a number of summit meetings between the Prime Ministers of both countries and between the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Patrick Mayhew, and Dick Spring, the Irish Deputy Prime Minister. In the background, advising, and being advised by their chiefs, a bevy of senior civil servants, constitutional lawyers and experts in political draughtsmanship laboured away over a very hot potato.

In early February, against the encouraging background of months of relative peace following the republican and loyalist cease-fires, the public waited expectantly for the promised Framework document. Peace, or at least the ending of slaughter on the streets, had created an atmosphere which younger people in places like Belfast had never experienced before, a marked drop in tension and fear brought people out at night; news was about a new-hoped-for prosperity as money appeared on the commercial horizon to underwrite the “peace dividend”.

Most surprising of all was the apparent transformation in the attitudes of the paramilitaries. Being the harbingers of peace, the republican and loyalist paramilitaries were given centre stage and, remarkably, the apologists for yesterday’s killers showed more understanding of the situation, and more tolerance of their opponents, than the allegedly pragmatic politicians had ever displayed. The big names in local politics, the political ratbags whose words built barricades, were pushed into the wings as it seemed yesterday’s hard-men could make the dream of peace a reality. Impatiently, people waited while the media speculated on the date for the eagerly-awaited Framework document.

It was at that point that the Murdoch newspaper, the Times (which, in pursuit of Murdoch's devious ambitions, has, over the least few years, played a sinister role in trying to undermine what passes for democracy in Britain) threw a bomb into the peace process.

Low-grade bible-basher
This took the form of selective leakings of the Framework document and was calculated to ensure that the latter was stillborn. That it was a malicious act of treachery against the British government by a well-placed Unionist in Britain became quickly clear, as did the identity of the person concerned. What was not commented on was the recklessness of the act which, if the less-pragmatic mob had acted predictably, could have resulted in an explosion of loyalist violence. But the streets in loyalist Ulster remained quiet while Paisley vied with his competitor colleague, Trimble, in an orgy of ignorance and bigotry that clearly repudiated their claim that they could work out a formula for coexistence with the nationalists.

Ironically, loyalism’s erstwhile hard-men urged reflection and restraint and the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Hugh Smyth, politically associated with the hard-men, displayed more dignity in his overtly working class demeanour and more realism in his comments than the respectable scions of Ulster Unionism and the holy hypocrites of the misnamed “Democratic” Unionist Party.

The Unionists had to make a rapid deployment into rank bigotry to avoid being outflanked by “Doctor” Paisley. He, of course, was bellowing “No!” and “Never!” at John Major and the Irish Prime Minister without leaving Belfast. With the purblind aggression and violent bigotry that has marked his rise from low-grade bible-bashing to gauleiter of his own Ku Klux Klan, he again backed himself into a corner of immovable intransigence, dragging the competing Unionist Party with him. The media had a field day and Gerry Adams probably dusted his portrait of Paisley, who has done more for Republicanism than a dozen IRA battalions.

When the Framework document finally did appear it wrapped a morsel of political comfort for everyone in complex but conciliatory prose. It did, however, spell out in clear and unequivocal language what the British government called “various political realities”. These include: 
" the present reality, in fact and in international law, of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, affirmed in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. It is the clear position, as set out in the 1973 Act and the Anglo-Irish Agreement, that the current constitutional status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom will not change, save with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland clearly expressed. This guarantee is reaffirmed in the Joint Declaration ” (Frameworks for the Future, page 14).
Further guarantees from the British government and from the government of the Republic regarding Northern Ireland’s future as part of the United Kingdom are to be found throughout the document—indeed, the undertaking is repeated over and over again as it has been ad nauseam by successive British governments over the past quarter of a century—a guarantee accepted by the Irish government, the SDLP and even now, albeit indirectly and grudgingly, by Sinn Fein. But even as the British Prime Minister was handing out the document to the press. Paisley’s “democratic” Unionist Party was condemning it and challenging the probity of yet another British government. After quite a remarkable bout of speed reading, spokespersons for the Unionist Party were boxing themselves into the same corner as the DUP and, as the day wore on, the character of John Major was diminishing by the minute.

The Framework document does not, nor is it intended to, address any working class problems. When Thatcher and Fitzgerald signed the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, Thatcher said, with an honesty bordering on contempt for the people of Northern Ireland, that it was not concerned with facts but only with perceptions. Similarly, the complex and torturously repetitive language in this latest document is meant to soothe Unionist fears while assuring “parity of esteem” to nationalists.

Not indifferent
Normally, the day-to-day schemes for the political administration of capitalism are only of passing interest to socialists whose task remains the same in any nominally democratic organisation of the system. On the other hand, we can not be indifferent to the slaughter of our fellow-workers nor does political terrorism create the best climate for rational consideration of democratic change. Hence our interest in the Framework document and our hope that it will succeed in ending permanently the division and hatred which has plagued Northern Ireland since the inception of the state.

Clearly and unequivocally the Framework paper says its proposals are not going to be imposed on the province. It makes clear, also, that the local politicians are free to find among their own deliberations an alternative formula for government, always providing that such a formula meets the provisions for “parity of esteem” for all citizens set out in the Framework document. This latter provision is, in fact, the only matter that the document insists on and, in the light of this, the refusal of the Unionist parties even to discuss it implies that their objection is to this single inflexible obligation.

Even though its language is coaxing and reasonable, in its entirety, it seemed to us, there is a note of finality and Unionist politicians certainly have the right to feel apprehensive. It is their own behaviour, however, that could well trigger off the exasperation of the British government. We believe that whereas the Unionist political leaders seem to have learnt little, the small political parties that now speak for the loyalist paramilitaries are getting the message. Not only that but, unlike Paisley, Trimble and their political ilk, they see that message as the need to reach an acceptable accommodation with Nationalists and the southern government and they know that, if this is achieved, the northern state will endure for the foreseeable future and the concept of a unitary state will be overridden by reciprocal arrangements between north and south.

In such a situation it is easy to discern the possibility of those workers who support Ulster nationalism, as well as those who support Irish nationalism, coming to the realisation that nationalism does not offer any solution to our common working class problems and that, while you can have “parity of esteem” between catholics and protestants, or unionists and nationalists, there can be no parity of esteem between the capitalist class, who own wealth, and the wage workers who produce that wealth.
Richard Montague

France - Lutte Ouvrière (1995)

Party News from the April 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party plans to participate with a literature stall and possibly hold one or more meetings, at the Lutte Ouvrière Fête to be held at Presles. near the Forêt de Nile Adam, about 20 miles north of Paris, on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the 3rd, 4th and 5th of June

To make a success of this venture, and to introduce as many French workers as possible to Socialist ideas, we will need members and sympathisers to assist and, of course, enjoy themselves at the fête!

Would readers who are interested, and would like more details, please write to me c/o The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN
Peter E. Newell

These Foolish Things: “Scientific” research (1995)

The Scavenger column from the April 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
The basic contradictions in capitalism cause widespread death, destruction, pollution, poverty and waste. But this is to take the world view. Most of us experience day-to-day capitalism as a series of small stupidities, irritations and frustrations. Here are a few. If you encounter any worth a wry smile, please send them to The Scavenger who will publish the best.
“Scientific” research

Increasingly, large companies are shedding their own research departments and “buying in” research from specialists. The obvious advantage of this is that work does not have to be found for idle researchers.

But, more importantly, the external professionals can be assumed to be impartial in their findings. On the other hand, any findings they produce which are not to the liking of the commissioning firm can be referred back for “further confirmation”.

Gray Robertson, President of Healthy Buildings International, USA, a research company, did not wait for this. He personally altered the figures his researchers had established for cigarette smoke levels in buildings. He crossed out the figures and wrote in numbers half as high. This made it possible for the American Tobacco Company to deny knowledge of the addictive and damaging qualities of their products.

The annual budget for the US intelligence empire is S29 billion.

Transporting live cattle

The Transport Minister, Stephen Norris, has opposed the pressure for the government to spend large amounts of money on public transport systems to cut vehicle exhaust pollution. He said that the private car was: “extraordinarily convenient. You have you own company, your own temperature control, your own music and you don’t have to put up with dreadful human beings sitting alongside you.”

Know your place

This month, at the beginning of the new tax year, the government is abolishing the 120-year-old rate levied on field sports—or, more precisely, on the land used for shooting and fishing.

This should raise the market value of thousands of acres of wild, uncultivatable land in Scotland where the price has been depressed in the last few years. Estate agents calculate the value of such land by averaging the number of grouse shot, deer killed or salmon caught. The current value of a brace of grouse in this calculation is about £2,500, a stag at about £18,000 and a salmon in rich rivers at anything up to £10,000.

This is the main reason why Kristiansen (the Lego manufacturer) recently paid around £3 million for the Strathconon estate. The 20,000-acre Tulchan estate in Morayshire fetched £12 million and the rich 32,000-acre Yorkshire estate of Gunnerside was bought by Robert Miller, the American, for approximately £10 million. If you want to enjoy the same sort of freedom to slaughter wildlife, the 6,000-acre Lyon estate in Perthshire is on the market at £2.5 million. A bargain, by the look of it, because it has its own hydroelectric plant.

To be fair, not all such landowners buy the land for blood sports. For some, the objective is simply guaranteed privacy. They want to leave behind the places—and the people—that their wealth comes from. They want that essential quality of private property—to keep everyone else out

“The salary of the chief executive of the large corporation is not a market award for achievement. It is frequently in the nature of a warm personal gesture by the individual to himself ” John Kenneth Galbraith. .
The Scavenger

O. J. (1995)

The A Word in Your Ear column from the April 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Certain combinations of letters from the alphabet, without forming words, convey a curious symbolic significance. Phonetically meaningless letter-clusters like JFK, Plc, CP and PhD have entered our common discourse, turning us each into little Second World War codebreakers. We have only to see a Plc to know that They own more than Us (not to be confused with U.S.) and are probably crooked. JFK invokes tedious murder conspiracies and it is hard to think of a CP or an SWP without expecting a dead Russian to introduce himself to you. U.N. equals impotence, E.R. is for arrogance and GMTV is a password for ignorance.

CNN, CBS, NBC and ABC, closely followed by BBC 1, are in the midst of an obsession about O.J. Guilty or innocent? For a state which murdered over a hundred thousand people with two atomic bombs it is a somewhat belated shock at the news of a murder. Daytime soaps have vanished from US TV as millions tune in to the latest dramas of barking dogs and melting ice-creams which comprise the evidence in the O.J. trial. Never since J.R. was shot have so many Americans been so involved in a matter of such earth-shattering triviality.

The fact that O.J. is rich means that he can afford the best defence lawyers on the market. The fact that he is black means that he needs them badly. How many black workers are waiting on Death Row right now while the world holds its breath to see if O.J. will be O.K.? A Los Angeles Times survey conducted last month found that 65 percent of those polled knew the name of the Judge in the O.J. trial (Ito by name, which is possibly two letters in Korean: a man who looks permanently surprised that he is not a waiter in a fancy restaurant), whereas only 45 percent knew the name of Newt Gingrich, the reptilian Republican who makes Toad Clinton look vaguely sane.

Orwell’s horrible prediction that words would one day be so diminished that nobody would have anything left to say which the state did not want them to say is probably no more than a tax inspector’s fantasy. In fact, far from being dominated by Newspeak or suppressed into pitiful silence, the tendency is to let the chattering millions choke on their own babble. A people prattling about whether O.J. is an S.O.B. is unlikely to notice that a black American is more likely to be in prison than in university.

Babble has reached its nadir with the latest pollutant of the airwaves. Talk Radio UK. (Of course, U.K. is a coded euphemism for an enforced combination of countries; what Tory right-wingers would call a super-state when UK is replaced by EU.) You know' how advertisements for the Sun are shouted by loutish buffoons for whom salesmanship sounds like a kind of threat? Well, Talk Radio UK is like that all day; It is like a philosophy seminar conducted by the Mitchell Brothers from EastEnders, with callers who drone endlessly about O.J. and their sexual secrets (revealed to anyone bored enough to listen).

Given the job (assuming for a few paranoid moments that there is such a job) of ensuring the passivity of the working class there would be two potential strategies. One of them, which we may call the Iranian Solution, would be to torture the life out of anyone suspected of an independent thought. This approach is big in Teheran and Damascus and provides healthy profits for torture equipment manufacturers in Coventry, although it is costly on bullets and wages for the army, screws and secret police. The cheaper way can be thought of as the Talk Radio UK Solution. Let them eat cake; let them talk crap — same principle, different century.

Trying to hold a conversation with a fourteen-year-old about computers is an invitation to a world of alphabetical derangement. It is the nearest experience on a personal level to sitting day after day in the Stock Exchange where language has been reduced to figures, catchphrases and communications where buttons have relieved brains of the need for activity. It is a world of codes written by idiots to convey the rules of idiocy.

Talk Radio UK, the First national commercial radio in Britain, tells the story of a world where reality has become a lost cause. They don’t talk about life, they talk about talking about life. The U.S. legal pundits whose daily reflections about the O.J. case give some poor wretches something to wake up for, are not talking about truth or justice or evidence, but about how these things are being talked about—or, more often, not talked about. Blabbering about blabbering: the pastime of a society in which life is increasingly acted out rather than lived. The irony of O.J.’s limited acting talent which was employed to make profits for a movie called [Naked] Gun is only matched by the recent decision of the rock megastar, Prince, who, going one stage further than turning himself into an initialised rock code (U2, UB40, El7, INXS), is to be known in future by a shapeless squiggle. Surely a future presidential candidate in the making here. 
Steve Coleman

Letters: No opposition worth mentioning (1995)

Letters to the Editors from the April 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

No opposition worth mentioning

Dear Editors,

Politics is the art or science of administration of affairs; and not the art or science of government as most people think, because the whole concept of government is thrown overboard by all serious students of politics ever since the law of social change was discovered in the middle of the last century.

The concept of "unfolding of productive forces" stands today unchallenged and unassailable; that is: factories, mills, workshops and farms in every country in the world are waiting ready to produce all we need abundantly; in other words, we have a potential plenty today. This is not at all a controversial issue; but only a fact acknowledged by all experts in the field of science and technology.

But why can’t we unfold these productive forces and produce all we need abundantly, and then distribute all over the world?

The real barrier to the unfolding is the lack of knowledge of a new alternative on the part of working people all over the world, and not the opposition of the owners of those productive forces as most people think. That was an old idea held by many in the early stage of the present economic set-up. in the last century, because democracy as we see it today had not developed then, i.e. universal franchise, freedom of speech, and the separation of the executive and the judiciary. After the development of democracy in its full form, it was taken for granted that any minority will be compelled to leave the scene on the emergence of a new majority, with any new idea.

In those days some groups, here and there, held that even an armed conflict is likely between working people and those owners of productive forces in order to defeat them. Now we are in an entirely new situation where we tragically fail to realise the simple truth that there is an alternative to the present way of living. Once this alternative is widely grasped by people everywhere, there is no question of any opposition worth mentioning.

Each and every reader is cordially invited to think over this matter very deeply on the line of discovering any new concrete proposal, which can be implemented in present-day society, through which we can break new ground from where we shall straightaway drive into a new set-up without buying and selling. and producing only for use. 
M. J. Panikkar, 
Kerala, India

Cardboard cut-outs and“collateral damage”

Dear Editors,

Remember the bellicose drum-beating of the Tory cabinet in the Gulf War; or the cheapjack nationalism of their lackeys in the right-wing press; or the American general like some grotesque cardboard cutout from MASH, talking of "collateral damage” in the bombings of women and children?

Of course it was in the interests of all those people in the UN to show illiteracy of our historical culpability in this region. This war was all about oil and less about justice: the little Mussolini still remains, savaging his own people—the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs.

The early 1920s and the British Empire reigns supreme. My late father recalled as a boy, after the First World War, the maimed and blinded veterans of the trenches begging in the streets of Watford. As one of a poor family with eight children, he enlisted at 18 in the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment. That was in September 1923. Scores of young men in towns throughout the land would have done the same—to face a life of harsh discipline, gruelling 25-mile route marches and abysmal pay of two shillings a day. to escape the crippling unemployment of those times.

In November 1924, the Bedfords were despatched to Iraq, the men travelling like cattle for two days in open trucks, with the bitter desert cold, arriving at the largest British aerodrome east of Suez.

Oil was being discovered in large quantities in Iraq and British military operations were being carried out with a planned and ruthless precision. Patrols of 60 men would guard the huge airfield and Rolls Royce armoured cars would race though villages, with rocks being hurled by the angry local people. In 1925 a Company of the Bedfords (2nd Battalion) became the world’s first airborne troops, when they were flown up to Kurdistan in Vickers Victoria bombers. Here they occupied a ruined fort captured from the Turks in World War One.

One day an order came to despatch a platoon of 36 men into the hills to punish a remote Kurdish village. The Desert Police who dressed like arabs and were a sort of archetypal SAS had alleged that the villagers had shot down a small bi-plane and tortured its geologist pilot to death. My late father was a heliograph signaller in this small punitive force, which by dawn on the third day’s march from the fort surrounded the village. No real resistance was made: yet the village was burned to the ground, hidden underground stores of grain and water destroyed, some men in the village were hung and women, children and old men were driven out into the hills. It was October 1925, with winter coming on. Back at the fort, a brigadier had been flown up from his safe office job and congratulated the platoon on their return, ending with the words: "in three months, that village will cease to exist”.

Those who dispute the authenticity of this engagement will doubtless find it documented in the archive material of the "Bedfords" regiment. More importantly, those who boast about the Gulf War might digest and reflect on with a little humility the incidents described here. As our historical stupidity in Ireland formed a security platform for the IRA, so former arrogance and greed in Iraq, aided by subsequent collusion in arms sales, sowed the seeds for the bullying rise of Saddam.

The incident described here is an extreme and nasty example of the sort of militarism which must have been commonplace enough throughout the colonial Empire—an unwholesome collusion between the thuggery of emerging multi-nationals and right-wing politicians—with the soldiers "at the sharp end" doing their dirty work for them. It is this same rapacious greed— fuelled by "market forces" thinking—which is allowing the extermination of indigenous peoples and millions of acres of rain forest. treasure houses of irreplaceable bio-diversity beyond mere price, which must be checked by sane people at the present day. 
John Sears, 
Egremont, Cumbria

One point. It was not us workers who were responsible for bombing the Kurds. It was our ruling class. So it's their "historical culpability" not "ours".

Ernie rides again?

Dear Editors,

In reply to the Scavenger’s “Bimbos for Christ's sake!”, (February Socialist Standard) please would you print the following: "Scavengers for Christ’s sake!

Beer bellies and bald heads are currently the fashion for those men who give slobs a bad name. But now sexism is becoming fashionable too.

Men like Benny Hill and "The Scavenger" (still reactionary after all these years) have embraced a few dodgy assumptions and bared a few prejudices in their time. But now, apparently, they are embracing misogyny and baring their ignorance as well. Let's face it, it’s got to be true if the bigots believe it.
Veronica Clanchy, Kate Rigby, Ann Rigby,
Poole, Dorset

We can assure you that The Scavenger is not a Benny Hill loving misogynist.

In a Tiswas over Blue Peter (1995)

TV Review from the April 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

How capitalism moulds the minds of children should be of concern to any socialist. For it is in childhood that most people develop a value system which is, to a greater or lesser extent, that of the prevailing system of society. As anyone who has observed children in the playground or on the street will testify, acquisitiveness. competition, selfishness and aggressive behaviour are developed within the first few years of a human’s existence by capitalism in distinction to, and at the expense of. co-operation, mutual self-respect and community solidarity. It is in the formative years that a child learns what "human nature" is supposed to be and what "common sense" is. This is because capitalism requires unaccepting, competitive thoughts and behaviour traits— it is, by its very nature, a competitive. aggressive and ruthless system with little room either for "sentimentality" or critical thinking. It is the "I’m all right. Jack" society, with the moronic “sod you!” philosophy and value system, and children soon learn this well enough.

Commodities aimed at the children’s market reflect this process very obviously. The life of a child in capitalism now seems to be one of never-ending competition; not just in exams, but to kill the most aliens, collect the most pots of gold, be the toughest warrior or the prettiest and thinnest girl in the class.

Before television, it was comics that played a vitally important socialisation role in childhood development, and to a lesser extent they still do. Today, though, the Victoriana of Jackie and Bunty has been replaced with the competitive society's Just Seventeen (aimed at those nearer seventeen months than seventeen years) and the adventurism of the Eagle by the sci-fi horror of Judge Dredd and 2000AD.

This conditioning process is now dominated by television, with computer games catching up fast in the outside lane. Children's television is actually an object lesson in conditioning and socialisation. This is not to say it is all bad—indeed, some of it is rather interesting. It has to be of some meagre standard today if it is to attract the attention of children at all because they have so many other potential distractions. There is no overt conspiracy to indoctrinate—at least probably not—it is just that the values and prejudices picked up by the programmes’ makers throughout their lives in capitalism tend to be uncritically repeated or reinvented for the youngsters of today.

Milk bottle tops
Blue Peter has always been a good example of this. Though it has always been on the "safe" side by capitalism's standards, with comparatively little encouragement of competition and aggressiveness, it has nonetheless tended to reinforce prevalent political attitudes in society without ever stopping to really think about it. This is most transparently the case with its obsession with charity. No-one can deny that there is not a well meaning veneer to the work of Blue Peter on this front, but its activities never really go beyond youthful training for the Rotary Club, a sanitised guilt-trip for those who know that poverty, deprivation and starvation exist, but do not know why.

Blue Peter, like virtually all children's programmes. does not encourage its audience to ask questions. Let the kids collect their milk-bottle tops for Somalia, or Bangladesh, or for the poverty-stricken disabled in Britain, but don't encourage them to ask why they have to do it. Just run the jumble sales, send the parcels and money off and collect your Blue Peter badge before you go to heaven. Blue Peter's attempts at conditioning go well beyond its charity campaigning, however. If you doubt this, examine closely its portrayal of historical events in its potted-documentary slots. If the Great Man theory of history lives on. it is surely here. Blue Peter's inordinate preoccupation with Kings. Queens and great military leaders is such as to shame the most conformist primary school in the land.

Of course, these days the programme has gone a bit "trendy”, at least in outward appearance, and is in many respects a shadow of its former self, but the essential formula of charity work and ruling class propaganda disguised as knowledge is still very much intact.

Other children's programmes are even less subtle. The ever-growing list of cartoon programmes demonstrates this. Today Scooby Doo has been replaced by Power Rangers and woe betide anyone who gets in the way of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The common threads in these type of programmes are aggressiveness and competition with a hint of gang-warfare. Indeed, just as comics have become more violent and belligerent in tone, so have the cartoons. Is a preoccupation with maiming, death and destruction entirely healthy in those so young? Even some of the more worthy apologists for capitalism argue not. For some, pornography could hardly be a worse influence.

Unlike most of the cartoons, some children’s TV programmes are well worth watching for entertainment value and give a reasonable child’s eye-view of our insane world. Unfortunately, there are not many of them. Probably the best, ever since its inception in the late 1970s. is Grange Hill, the drama about life in a North London comprehensive. Created by Phil Redmond, the man who created Brookside, Grange Hill is an object lesson in how to write, direct and produce a realistic drama series— those working on EastEnders should certainly take note.

Among the most entertaining TV programmes for children are the ones shown on a Saturday morning. There is a definite end-of-term feel about these which makes them particularly engaging for those cooped up in a classroom all week, or for that matter, an office—which is the same thing without the playtime. Currently BBC I is running Live and Kicking while ITV counters with What’s Up Doc?, a cartoon-orientated programme which at its best has mirrored the never-to-be-forgotten Tiswas of the late 70s and early 80s. Live and Kicking hosted by Emma Forbes and Andi Peters is the latest descendant in the line stretching from Noel Edmonds's Multi-Coloured Swap Shop (remember that?) to Phillip Schofield and Sarah Green’s Going Live! Both are excellent examples of the mix of anarchic humour and pop star infatuation that has long characterised TV on Saturday mornings in Britain. They appear to be great fun to make—the camera operators rarely stop laughing—but they are invariably led by the values and concerns that infect the other kids’ programmes, merely doing it with more style, vigour and humour. This is something perhaps, but it’s not a great compensation.

One would have thought that television programmes aimed at the most junior members of society would try and cultivate their better natures and desire to exist peacefully and co-operatively, kindling inquisitive minds as much as possible. Despite the few exceptions that have been mentioned. this is generally very far from being the case. Realistic drama invariably takes second place to cartoon violence, and quality investigative programming to indoctrination and lowest-common denominator TV. We can probably expect little better from the market economy.

According to audience research figures, a hefty dose of those brought up on a diet of children's television and cartoons go on to become fodder for Blind Date (currently on its final warning from the Independent Television Commission) and The Word (ditto). There are no Blue Peter's badges on offer for guessing why.
Dave Perrin

SPGB Meetings (1995)

Party News from the April 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism and ultimate origins. (1913)

From the April 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard

How science is prostituted to capitalist interests. 
Every scientific discovery that helps us to understand Nature is of interest to the Socialist. Socialism is grounded in science, and being a comparatively new philosophy is forced to be complete because, when, by means of the Materialist Conception of History, the Socialist has explained the growth and development of Society, he is called upon to explain every physical and natural phenomenon, even to the existence of life itself. Biology has its materialist conception in the “struggle for existence” ; life and the resulting struggle being engendered by the conditions existing previously, that can also be explained from a materialist basis. In one sense the Socialist is only concerned with the “class struggle,” but the scientist, as well as the priest and politician, is in the pay of the capitalist, and is expected to perform his share of the general work of mystifying the working class.

For centuries the only explanation of life and nature has been provided by religion, but religion has lost its hold on the majority of the workers. Nevertheless, nature’s methods and laws still remain unexplained to them. The discoveries of scientists and the generalisations that follow them are filtered through the capitalist Press and cheap magazines with criticism and comment calculated to discredit them if they conflict with orthodox dogma.

To keep the workers ignorant on all questions is obviously to the interest of the capitalist class and those who serve them. For that reason the worker who seeks information should go to the actual authorities themselves. Darwin can only be understood from his own works ; those who have tried to improve on them, either through design or through incompetency, have invariably failed. Marx and Engels, the founders of scientific Socialism, have never been improved upon, because the working-class position as laid down by them was, and still is, complete. The S.P.G.B. is organised on that position, and up to the present has discovered no reason for the slightest deviation.

The scientist—for a consideration—endeavours to reconcile opposites : science with religion, The B.S.P., I.L.P , and Fabian Society attempt the same reconciliation with regard to Socialism and religion, and with the same object in view—a place in the sun, a seat in the House, or a soft job in some Government department. But in spite of their attempts at reconciliation, the original works still remain irreconcilable.

Scientific discoveries invariably go to strengthen materialist conceptions ; they sometimes bring the whole question of ultimate origins under discussion. At first the scientists range themselves on either side, some favouring while others oppose the materialist concept ; but what the worker is finally asked to believe (chiefly on trust) is that the discovery does not clash with original superstitions, but in reality strengthens and makes them more clear.

The supposed discovery by Sir W. Ramsey is an instance. He claims to have created matter out of “immaterial ether.” The “London Budget” published an account of the supposed discovery under the heading: “Turning Energies into Matter,” and summed up the whole question in the following paragraph.
“Rather the greater effect of results of researches in this direction would be from a pschycical and ethical standpoint, confirming what has been urged by small bands of advanced thinkers. That the materialist conception of not only science, but of the whole world is a fallacy. Mrs. Eddy’s contention that the material world about us is merely apparent and non-existent seems to be a long way vindicated.”
In other words, scientists have succeeded in creating matter; the existence of matter is a fallacy.

The pseudo, newspaper scientist, with an apparent and non-existent tongue in an unreal cheek, propounds theories on the origin of matter while discrediting its actual existence. No doubt his salary is just as unreal. His employer would certainly be justified in ignoring his existence when it was due, if he did not know that such piffle is written in his class interest.

The scientist accepts matter as he finds it; he never thinks of questioning its reality in the laboratory. To him matter is an aggregation of atoms. He knows the relative weights of the atoms that make up the different elements. Dalton was the first to observe that elements combine with each other only in certain fixed proportions by weight, and he concluded that their ultimate atoms must bear to one another the same relationship of weight. The atom of hydrogen gas is the lightest known, and is taken as the unit by which to measure the rest. The scientist utilises that standard of measurement and the results always justify its adoption.

Although disagreeing as to the nature of the atom, no scientist denies its existence. Professor Thomson affirms the existence of atoms when he says : “Within the last few years improvement in methods/giving more direct information of the atom was almost entirely due to the fact that we had electrified it.”

The students of Nature in the Grecian period came to the conclusion that all matter was the same matter, the difference in the elements being due to the difference in size, weight, and formation of the atoms that composed them. They arrived at this conclusion merely by common observation, without the methods and appliances of modern science. They saw that a garment soaked with water parted with it gradually when exposed to wind and sun, that a ring worn on the finger was reduced in weight, by friction, the particles lost being so small that they were unable to detect them. They found this process common to all substances and concluded that matter was composed of atoms. More than 2,000 years afterwards Dalton verified their conclusions by discovering a method of weighing atoms. To-day scientists are electrifying them. Both these performances have confirmed the truth of what was postulated by the Greeks—a glowing testimony to their powers of observation and deduction.

It does not in the least detract from their intelligence that the modern scientist claims to split up the atom itself into still smaller particles and suggests that they are merely centres of energy. For he only rings the changes and tries to prove that matter is a manifestation of force instead of force being a manifestation or property of matter. The existence of both matter and force is never called in question, on the contrary, it is affirmed, even by those who deny its reality.

The capitalist class, owning an apparent world, real or not, do not value it the less because pseudo-scientists and faith healers say its material existence is a fallacy. They know it is better to be capitalists than wage slaves. There is no fallacy about possessing a share in the means of wealth production and living by exploitation. It matters nothing to the capitalist whether the universe was created by a supreme being or whether Gustave Le Bon says that “the ether of the universe is apparent to us as matter when it is whirled and pulsated into vortex rings.” The essential point is always admitted—that matter is apparent and not “merely apparent,” whatever difference or distinction there may be.

Mrs. Eddy’s contention that matter is nonexistent is destructive of her particular religion, for there is nothing miraculous about “the faith that moves mountains” if the mountains are not real. The everyday actions of faith healers and pseudo-scientists are a direct contradiction to the doctrines they profess to believe and teach. They continue to act exactly as other human beings do, in adapting themselves to their material surroundings—material interests dominate all their actions.

From another quarter comes the assertion that mind is the only thing of which we are certain, of which we know anything at all; and with it also comes the admission that all we do know about mind are the impressions received by it of a material world. Thus is confirmed what Frederick Engels so ably recorded : we know a thing by its properties. The mind manifests itself by its peculiar property, conception. That conception is a materialist conception, and answers the test by results everywhere within our experience.

We are seriously told that “the scientist of to-day knows a million times more than the ordinary “human.” The same old tale ; the same priestly gag on the common sense of the workers. We know ; put your trust in us ; have faith, was their cry and is still their cry. Yet with all their knowledge, with all their ability and intellect, they cannot make out an intelligible case to the “ordinary human.” Whatever they know of ultimate origins, they trip and splutter like babies over their mother tongue. Their columns of trash are as worthless as polar expeditions. They assert and re-assert with provisos that are flat contradictions of their premises. Their own statements contain their own refutation. The “ordinary human,” gifted merely with common sense, would never contradict himself in one breath so obviously as did Dr. Alfred Wallace when he said that “he and Sir William Crooks knew of the existence of phenomena which proved the existence of life without matter, as it were, certainly without ordinary matter.” As if matter could be more or less matter because it was not ordinary matter !

The scientist’s concern may be with molecules, atoms, or electrons. Ours is with the necessaries of life. Theirs with the elements, the ultimate origins ; ours with substance and social arrangements and relationships. Their wants are supplied, their position secure. The working class are merely receptacles more or less filled with energy, to be emptied into the mills of the capitalists, piling up wealth to be used by them in luxury, vice, charity, suppression, what they will; in a word, for everything that is degrading to humanity—the senile decay of an idle class and the perpetuation of the most abject form of slavery the world has ever known.

Genuine scientific discoveries clear up the mysteries of nature. Those who understand nature know best how to conform to her laws and make the most of life. The working class are kept in ignorance of the significance of scientific discoveries ; numbed and bewildered by social forces they do not understand, they submit tamely to the yoke of capitalism. Though they are in the majority, and can snap their chains more easily and with less suffering than they experience by continuing their submission, they prefer the latter course.

Once the working class understand the real mature of capitalist society, they will realise how their lives are being wasted. Their united strength would become manifest to them, and the class that has to hire all its champions, from the policeman to the scientist, would shake with fear as revolution became, not “merely apparent,” but inevitable.
F. Foan