Monday, October 16, 2023

Sting in the Tail: Money-grubbing Olympics (1996)

The Sting in the Tail column from the October 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Money-grubbing Olympics

Some people who watched the recent Olympic Games were interested less in the prowess of the athletes than in their potential for advertising endorsements.

Advertisers are looking for athletes with sales-appeal—no charisma, no contract, and one ad-man predicted that Carl Lewis’s ninth gold medal wouldn’t help him because “He's won before and no one liked him ’’(New York Post, 31 July).

And athletes should know when and when not to shed a tear:
“They're allowed to cry for joy when they win, but any athlete who cries because they've lost can forget about endorsements. ”
But patriotic tears could be more rewarding than mere tears of joy:
“The guy who won the high jump came close to crying during the National Anthem, but he held back, one tear could have been worth tens of thousands of dollars. ”
Maybe the next Olympics will see medals for those athletes who land the most lucrative advertising contracts.


Marriage of convenience

The decision by Boeing, the world’s biggest maker of civilian aircraft, to buy Rockwell, the aerospace and "defence” company, for three billion dollars, is more bad news for America's European competitors.

A spate of similar take-overs in America has produced a handful of industry giants and put European rivals at a competitive disadvantage because they have remained independent—and relatively small.
“But this attitude may be changing—Efforts to create a pan-European aerospace industry capable of matching US rivals gathered pace yesterday when the new chairman of Aerospatiale called on his fellow industrialists to “regroup” their interests ” (Guardian, 9 August).
For any industry' to survive in today’s capitalism it must “regroup” into bigger but fewer economic units—witness what’s happening in banking, insurance, car manufacturing, brewing, retailing, etc., and Europe’s fragmented aerospace and defence industry is belatedly catching on.


Hard Times Down-Under

We have received a pile of newspaper cuttings from a sympathiser in New Zealand which tell some familiar stories.

They tell of strikes involving teachers, telecom workers, air-traffic controllers, and many others, the health service is collapsing, one-fifth of the population lives below the poverty line, pay and benefits have been cut, etc.

A less familiar story concerns an employer who has ordered his workers to have their “bowel movements ” in their own time only:
“It's a completely reasonable request. It's a personal discipline" (Sunday Star Times, 7 July).
Presumably, this superman has disciplined himself to crap on cue, but for mere mortals it’s a case of “When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go!”

Workers in New Zealand are clearly having a tough time, but for some the screw has been turned just that little bit tighter.


Orwell’s “Lesser Evil”

The revelation that George Orwell named “crypto-communists” and “fellow travellers” to the British secret service drew noteworthy comments form some prominent left-wingers.

For example, Christopher Hill, the communist historian, claimed that Orwell’s writing was always ambiguous, and added that “Animal Farm was precisely an attack on communism. ” How an “ambiguous” writer could write “precisely” Hill didn’t say, but presumably he still defends the “communism” which Orwell so brilliantly attacked.

And Tony Benn curiously excused Orwell’s act on the grounds that “the biggest terrorists in the world are states”, possibly forgetting that he had been part of the British state when he was a Labour cabinet minister.

Orwell’s denunciation of the Russian dictatorship was wholly admirable, but in naming names he sided with one bunch of exploiters in its sordid quarrel with another, and that was utterly deplorable.


Big-time con-artists

A vicar at the C of E’s General Synod speaking on Camelot’s running of the National Lottery, described the lottery as evil, and added that “Punters are being deceived on a grand scale. ”

Yes, this is the same C of E which has for centuries been telling folk that after they die they will live on in one place or another., that once upon a time a luckless Israelite got himself done-in as payment-in-advance for their sins, that the meek shall inherit the earth, etc., etc.

When it comes to deceiving punters “on a grand scale” then Camelot has got nothing on the C of E.


Naive Greens

Anyone who wonders why we are so critical of the “Greens” should consider the following.

The United Nations commissioned a group of international economists to advise on the best way of achieving a sharp reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (Big Issue, 4 August).

Aubrey Meyer, a Green activist, discovered that the economists are working only on the cheapest way of tackling global warming:
"Their task was to work out the slowest rate of increase in emissions that the world could afford. It was putting economics before lives."
And yet Greens remain convinced that this problem can be solved within the capitalist system which creates it.

The Jarrow March (1996)

From the October 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
Criticising the Jarrow March of the 1930s is considered almost a crime amongst left-wingers yet the facts are that working class men tramped hundreds of miles simply to beg with the political representatives of the capitalist class that something be done about unemployment in a particular area (an impossibility anyway) only to be treated with contempt by them
The economic slump that plunged Britain and many other countries into depression in the 1930s was felt in few places harder than in Jarrow', where unemployment soared above 80 percent, where people lived in overcrowded and vermin-infested houses and where poverty was unimaginable.

In 1933 J. B. Priestley, having visited Jarrow, wrote about the town in his book English Journey.
"Wherever we went there were men hanging about, not scores of them but hundreds and thousands of them. The whole town looked as if it had entered a perpetual penniless bleak sabbath. The men wore the masks of prisoners of war. A stranger from a distant civilisation, observing the condition of the place and its people, would have arrived at once at the conclusion that Jarrow had deeply offended some celestial emperor of the island and was now being punished. He would never believe us if we told him that in theory this town was as good as any other and that its inhabitants were not criminals, but citizens with a vote. ”
Not long after the publication of English Journey, in January 1934, a delegation of 300 people from Jarrow, Hebburn and Felling travelled to Seaham to argue their case with the town’s MP and leader of a largely Conservative National government, Ramsay MacDonald.

Leading the delegation was “Red” Ellen Wilkinson, Labour MP for Jarrow, hoping to impress upon the PM the plight of the people along the Tyne and their desperation for work.

No doubt MacDonald was all too aware of the pathos of the situation and the inevitability of the 1930s’ slump and capitalism’s inability to solve it. The advice he gave the member from Jarrow was later described by her as “sham sympathy”:
"Ellen, why don't you go and preach socialism, which is the only remedy for this?”
This reply from a supporter of capitalism was as cold and smacked of the same indifference as a similar delegation received when they visited Walter Runciman, President of the Board of Trade, regarding the opening of a steelworks in Jarrow. Said Runciman: “Jarrow must work out its own problems”.

Jarrow, it seemed, was indeed left to sort out its own problems. To a town whose ship industry had closed down and whose much-anticipated steelworks had failed to materialise, Runciman’s words were received as icily as they had been uttered and sent a shiver down the collective spine of the borough.

Distressed area
At a time when the entire country seemed to be taking part in hunger marches and protest rallies, Councillor David Riley’s suggestion in July 1936 that the unemployed of Jarrow should march to London hardly seemed original or serious in light of the fact that many previous marches had been dismissed as “communist demonstrations”.

However, the idea was discussed at length with the town’s MP and the Jarrow Labour Party executive. Eventually it was decided that any march should be the town’s march, only to go ahead with the full support of the citizens. The town council sanctioned the march and above the signature of the mayor went appeals for support. This was followed by the sending-out of letters requesting the use of services and halls in towns along the proposed route to London. As the pace of events hotted up the organisation of the march was done from the town hall and under the supervision of the town clerk. At the same time, men were also marching to London from South Wales, Cumberland, Durham and Yorkshire, all bent on expressing their grievances against the means test and the Unemployment Assistance Board regulations, which was for the Jarrow men "a welcome sign that other men felt the same as they did and were kicking, too” (Wilkinson, The Town that was Murdered, 1939).

So on a cold morning, Monday 5 October 1936, 200 marchers set out from Jarrow, ahead of them representatives from the Labour and Conservative parties to arrange meetings en route to London. Even the Inter-Hospital Socialist Society came to their assistance, sending out relays of helpers performing dentistry and medical necessities.

The marchers had hardly time to get blistered feet when their organisers were condemned by a Labour Party meeting in Edinburgh for “sending hungry' and ill-clad men across the country on a march to London”. Incensed, Ellen Wilkinson left the marchers and travelled to the Conference in Edinburgh in an attempt to rally support. Her efforts were in vain for the conference had more important matters to discuss, such as their attitude to the Spanish question and the re-armament issue—a time-honoured and typical response from the Labour Party to requests for help from the working class. Neither was support to be found with the TUC, who similarly blacked the march and advised trade councils against giving help. Wilkinson had this to say: “I went from the warm comradeship of the road to an atmosphere of official disapproval . . . Had the Labour Party put its power behind the marchers, sent out the call for solidarity with them, then by the time these men reached London, not only from Jarrow, but from all parts of the country', the support that would have been aroused . . . would have been enough to shake the complacency of the Baldwin government” (The Town that was Murdered, p. 204-5). There was, however, no shortage of support for and working-class approval, of the march After all, 47 percent of the industrial population of the country at that time resided in areas scheduled as “distressed” or in need
of being so scheduled.

The brainwashed Trades and Labour Council at Chesterfield might have obeyed the TUC circular denouncing the march, but this did not stop the local Conservative Party from rallying to the aid of the marchers, providing hot meals and a place to sleep. The Labour Party rationalised their apathy by asserting that if they gave support to one march, then support would have been demanded of them all. This from an allegedly working-class party!

Along the route to London, members of the working class, and indeed the capitalist class, were all too ready to support the march. By the time the marchers reached Leicester their boots were falling apart. In response, the Co-operative Society’s own cobblers took it upon themselves to work all through the night without pay to repair the boots of the Jarrow men, the Co-op donating the necessary material free.

One cobbler almost anticipated socialism, saying:
“It seems sort of queer, doing your own job just because you want to do it, and for something you want to help, instead of doing it because you’d starve if you didn't. ” (p. 207).
Elsewhere, at Leeds, a newspaper proprietor laid on free food and beer (no doubt providing his own newspaper with a story) and at Barnsley, Joe Jones, a miners’ leader had the municipal baths specially opened and heated in time for the arrival of the marchers. A group of journalists, following the march, even clubbed together and purchased a dozen mouth organs in an attempt to boost the morale of the marchers.

The march continued and gained support and sympathy the entire 291 miles of its journey. The men marched between 10 and 21 miles every' day and held meetings every night. After three-and-a-half weeks on the road, they reached Marble Arch tired and rain-soaked, perturbed that only a small crowd had braved the October weather to greet them.

The following day they were given permission to hold a meeting at Hyde Park. The Communist Party was already there, holding a mass demonstration to protest against unemployment. Realising the Jarrow men were in the area, they suspended their rally for an hour and asked their audience to swell the Jarrow Crusade meeting.

Humble petitioners
When Parliament re-assembled two days later, the men marched to the Houses of Parliament and handed in two petitions, one containing 68,500 signatures from towns along the Tyne. The petition presented the case for Jarrow in simple language, pointing out how Jarrow was experiencing a stage of industrial depression unprecedented in the town’s history. Shipyards had closed and the steelworks had been denied a lifeline. Once 8,000 workers were in employment. Now the figure stood at 100 with others on temporary schemes. The petition continued:
“The Town cannot be left derelict, and therefore your petitioners humbly pray that His Majesty's Government and this honourable House will realise the urgent need that work should be provided without delay. ”
But there was no debate. As Wilkinson points out: “A few questions were asked .. . and the house passed on to consideration of other things.”

The marchers took it all in their stride. Wilkinson describes them as being “rather sporting about it” and how they were afterwards entertained to tea in the House. Demoralised to the point that they could not care less would have been a more fitting description of the marchers’ sentiments—men pushed and crushed until they could only accept their lot.

When the marchers arrived home they did so to a hero’s welcome. Tens of thousands turned out to greet them and bonfires burned long into the night. For many they had achieved something, even if it meant no change to their meagre existence.

Wilkinson writes of the marchers: “Many were politically educated men, who through the long, bitter struggles, knew who and what was the real enemy.” But to be honest, and not to disparage such a monumental event in working-class history', did they? Were they so educated as to think marching could better their lot and did they really think it possible that capitalism can be bargained with? Did they realise that, in truth, they were marching for the right to be exploited by a system that cared not a jot had the marchers perished to a man en route to London?

Three years later, work did come to Jarrow (more would follow as the capitalist war machine revved up) in the form of a new rolling mill. Walking through the site when the men were laying the concrete foundations, Wilkinson was greeted with: “This is what we marched to get.”

Wilkinson could only find a strange pathos in the statement. She commented:
“The grim thing is that the workers have no share in these mills. When the works are built they will still be subject to the toll of profit, the exigencies of a system where they can be closed at the will of people far away to suit a financial policy. "
Seemingly, as with the cobbler at Leicester, the stark reality of the madness, the insane logic of capitalism, had become apparent to the future Labour Cabinet Minister. But did she actually realise that the internal mechanisms of capitalism run on with a will of their own, oblivious of logic and men with Geordie accents and sore feet?
John Bissett

Harder times for the unemployed (1996)

From the October 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
There is nothing governments can do to solve the capitalist problem of unemployment. Indeed, there is little talk these days about 'solving' it, the emphasis is simply on what to do with the 'culprits'
From October Unemployment Benefit—the Dole—will be known as the “Job Seekers Allowance”. Along with this will come targeting agreements, directives, responsibilities, job plans, prescribed programmes, reviews and flexibility. Buried under the tarnished gloss of this jargon lie compulsion, regimentation, sanctions and hardship for those who challenge the myth of exploitation by an employer as a “choice”. It means that the Tory government have finally recognised that the exercise of continually massaging the jobless figures is a worn-out facade and that the use of coercion is the only alternative in an effort to reduce the cost of maintaining the jobless white at the same time this will provide an opportunity for employers to take full advantage of short-term orders and low stocks for which cheap casual labour is ideally suited.

Austerity measures
The JSA should be viewed in the context of a long list of austerity measures affecting Social Security payments over many years. With the cost of Social Security a burden on the capitalist class all changes have been implemented with a view to reducing this financial bill. But paradoxically government intentions have not been matched by the reality. For despite the efforts to deter claimants by increasing the complexity and size of the benefit forms, along with tougher criteria on claimants' entitlement, the working class under the pressure of circumstances have in increasing numbers applied resourcefulness to find loopholes in the DSS minefield. Hence, the total bill for running the DSS has escalated to £93 billion. Whilst actual payments have decreased in relative value the total number of claimants has actually increased—along with fraud and the take-up rate for different benefits. Yet fortunately for the capitalists the take-up rate still falls far short of that estimated, resulting in a surplus of £3.2 billion returned to the Treasury in 1995/96, the difference between expected claimants and actual payments.

The government hope that the full enforcement of the sanctions contained within the JSA will make substantial savings and reductions in the unemployment register. Firstly by deterring registration, and secondly by placing the onus of finding a job on the individual claimant irrespective of the state of the labour market. By ignoring the fact that labour market demand is virtually stagnant and that the unemployed reserve are on hold until more production becomes profitable, it is a short step to asserting that the non-existent jobs are really there and that it only needs the unemployed to become “Jobseekers” to winkle them out or even to create them.

Workers who disagree with their Job Agreement (which is in fact a contractual obligation backed up by penalty reductions in benefit if not carried out) and its clauses of Job Plan, Jobseekers Directives, Review Procedure, regular attendance at Job Centres for “active signing” and are unable to prove they are “actively seeking work”, can expect a withdrawal of benefit for 1 to 26 weeks, or at least be faced with the misery of applying for hardship payments for their dependants only.

When these measures are combined with the changes that have already taken place in limiting Unemployment Benefit, Housing Benefit and Mortgage Interest payments and the action taken to align accommodation with the circumstances of unemployment through a notional “Relevant Rent” —take your choice, bedsit or doorway—they amount to increasing oppression and frustration for the unemployed.

Job Centre chaos
It is not only the claimants who are going to suffer the consequences of implementing the sanctions contained in the JSA. On the other side of the counters are another group of workers who have to deal with the short fuses generated by capitalism in a panic. On them falls the burden of being the paid enforcers when it comes to applying the sanctions. To help them in their endeavours they will be computer-linked with other Job Centres nation-wide and with the local labour Market System so they can ensure claimants are targeted and doing the rounds and that the Job Centres are also expected to reach the target demanded by Peter Lilley of 25 percent efficiency savings over the next three years. On top of this they will have received training in counselling skills to persuade claimants that the various options (which they have no choice on), contained within their Job Plan—retraining, employment placement; voluntary-work; signing up with employment agencies etc. are all in the claimants’ short-term interests, provided that is that they are happy to ignore the low wages, part-time and casual one-hour contracts and adverse working conditions which are not even acceptable to the low standards of the Health and Safety Executive. In order to protect Job Centre staff from the expected fallout from the outraged claimants who have sussed they have been classified as forced labour, the staff will be enclosed in booths protected by hardened shatterproof Perspex with security guards patrolling the floor.

Such a volatile situation with workers blaming each other instead of the system of wage slavery can only be expected from capitalism. Indeed as long as capitalism lasts the workers’ relative misery', destitution and deprivation will continue to fluctuate with the sway of boom and crisis.

This continuing uncertainty will find no relief by supporting the Labour Party. They have made it quite clear they agree with Peter Lilley that some form of sanctions are necessary for the unemployed. Their total agreement with letting the market set its own level of compulsion is sufficient testimony to the fact that they will end up doing much the same as the Tory ratbags are now applying. In any event it is not which party is in government but the compulsion built-in to the wages system that is detrimental to human relationships and the obstacle to our social well-being.
Gravedigger

Greasy Pole: New wives’ tales (1996)

The Greasy Pole column from the October 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Spare a thought, if you will, for the spin doctors. These shadowy figures labour without pause, shovelling up their platitudes, evasions and lies to divert our attention from the truth about the politicians they spin for. On one side they tell us that John Major is doing a marvellous job of running British capitalism and making us all healthier, richer and happier. Those who are enough in touch with reality to doubt that this is true may be unimpressed by the spin doctors on the other side, who want to convince us that Tony Blair is the man we can trust to clean up the mess which John Major is making— except that anyone who believes that is obviously not as much in touch with reality as they should be.

But spare a thought for the spin doctors, whose work is so often exposed and despised. For example, at the moment the Tones' campaign to convince us that Tony Blair, who was once derided as Bambi, is not a wimpish fawn but an evil-eyed devil, is not having the effect they hoped. Labour’s spin doctors are struggling with the confusion over the party's plans for devolution in Scotland. These things, they may reflect, are sent to try them. It never seems to occur to them to give it all up and begin dealing in facts and the real experience of an inhuman social system. Instead they go on shovelling, in the hope that they will throw up a positive nugget of deception.

Wives
An example of this may be the current contest over Norma Major and Cherie Blair, and its connection with Hilary Clinton. The American President’s wife is not known as the First Lady for nothing because she is a very powerful person who knows how to mix it politically. The Republicans have seized on this to promote the suspicion that Hilary Clinton is really the President, the person who actually decides all sorts of important issues like whether to press the button and blow the world to pieces. In making this propaganda the Republicans are obviously hoping that the American voters have forgotten all about Nancy Reagan and how she interfered in her husband’s presidency.

The wives of British prime ministers are not supposed to behave like Hilary Clinton and Nancy Reagan; their profile is supposed to be kept much lower. They can be their husband’s long-suffering and openly disapproving chauffeur, like Attlee’s wife. They can be background supports like Clemendine Churchill and Dorothy Macmillan. They can write insomnia-curing poetry like Mary Wilson. They can tell all to the women’s magazines about the prime minister’s dietary preferences. That is as far as they have been expected to go.

But none of that fits in with Cherie Blair, who overcame whatever problems may have stemmed from a wayward father who was famously the Liverpudlian butt of Alf Garnett’s abuse in Till Death Us Do Part to become a highly-paid barrister and a QC. Now she is starting to practice as a judge, overpowering the lives of people who transgress against capitalism’s laws. She once had ambitions to be a parliamentary candidate.

Cherie and Norma 
The sort of woman, in other words, to make her parents proud. And it may have stayed like that had the man she married not had ambitions to be prime minister. A clever and ruthless election- winning machine like the Conservative Party could not have overlooked the obvious comparison with Hilary Clinton. What if, their spin doctors asked themselves, the voters of both sexes were uneasy about powerful women? What if they had doubts about a female with Cherie Blair’s abilities and qualifications being so near the seat of power? Of course a campaign to undermine Cherie Blair would rely on the voters forgetting all about Margaret Thatcher, who was also a barrister and a lawyer as well as female, but no self-respecting spin doctor would allow so minor a detail to put them off.

So the work began—like the appeal by a Daily Express journalist for details of any embarrassingly radical political stances in Cherie Blair’s past. At the same time there has been an effort to put a little colour into the image of Major’s wife, Norma, who so far has been shoved into the background as an everyday housewife and mother who just happens to be married to the man in Number Ten and who may even have been happier if he had not failed, long ago. that test to be a bus conductor.

We have been allowed to know such fascinating details about Norma as to make any discerning voter desperate to get out and vote for her husband. She got A-levels in English and needlework. She prudently grates and freezes odd bits of cheese and uses tea bags more than once. She wears clothes that are comfy, perhaps because she does not think of herself as attractive. Anyone who thinks this is boring enough to be voter unfriendly is missing the point. Norma’s " . . . very ordinariness", said the Daily Telegraph, “makes her a huge electoral asset".

Fatuous
We don’t know what Cherie Blair thinks about all this except that she has made some sort of an effort at imitation. While Norma has been completing a book on Chequers, which may or may not include chapters on frozen cheese and second-hand tea bags, Cherie has been invited to the more glamorous job of guest editor for an edition of the magazine Prima. She took this opportunity to, apart from anything else, reassure us that she is almost as ordinary as Norma, whose A-level in needlework she can match by being keen on knitting. Norma and her tea bags? Cherie concerns herself with the techniques of producing interesting and nutritious meals in a short time.

Fatuous guff though this is it should be taken seriously because it reveals how the political parties regard the people who vote them into power. It illustrates the parties' contemptuous confidence that no matter how badly capitalism treats us, no matter how obvious their failure to control the system, they will be supported by millions of people on election day, with votes based on nothing more considerable than Norma Major's tea bags and Cherie Blair's knitting. That kind of propaganda may be sickening but it is no more fatuous and meaningless than the other kind, which is supposed to be weightier. Like Tony Blair, spouting his platitudes in Southwark Cathedral last January:
"To recover national purpose we need to start thinking and acting as one nation, one community again . . . Above all, we must create a society based on a notion of mutual rights and responsibilities."
And so on. And so on.
Ivan

Why is Iraq Singled Out? (1996)

From the October 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
“When you abuse your people and threaten your neighbours you must pay the price”
This pearl of wisdom was uttered by President Bill Clinton after the US had fired 27 Cruise missiles during the first of two attacks on Iraq by US B-52 bombers in early September.

You don’t need to be an expert in international affairs to realise how pathetic and hypocritical his statement is.

Clinton was attempting to justify the US attack on Iraq because Saddam Hussein had ordered his troops into Kurdish-held northern Iraq. He seemed totally unaware that Turkey, a NATO ally has been bombing the Kurds in northern Turkey on a regular basis for years — Kurds, like those in Irbil, attacked by Saddam, who demand autonomy — and from the same air base used by the US to attack the Iraqi army.

We might well ask why such logic is not used as a pretext to bomb Indonesia, whose government ruthlessly suppresses the people there and has murdered 200,000 since the invasion of East Timor some twenty years ago. Or why the US is not currently intervening in the present 25 ongoing conflicts in which people are “abused” and neighbours “threatened”.

One would think, judging by the number of separate occasions on which the US has bombed Iraq, that it would be easier for the US to oust Saddam, as they have done to countless other world leaders in the past. Bombing raids are, after all, expensive. The Cruise missiles alone that were fired at Iraq in early September cost $42 million.

However, what should have become apparent by now is that the US does not want Saddam toppled. He is, in fact, invaluable to the furtherance of US interests for a number of reasons,

Firstly, and most obviously, Saddam, as has been the case in the past, acts as a buffer to the spread of militant Islam from Iran, which itself regards the US as the “Great Satan” and is feared by the pro-US regimes in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Secondly, if Saddam is toppled, there is a strong chance that Iraq will break up into warring factions that will result in further regional instability.

Thirdly, so long as Saddam, the world’s number one “monster”, remains in power, he remains unpredictable and thus frightens his neighbours, who are only too willing to buy western arms and defence systems. Since 1990, the countries bordering Iraq have spent $75 billion on such hardware.

Furthermore, Saddam provides the US President and his cohorts with a timely vote-catcher. Unless you’ve been on a desert island or in a coma these past few months, you will know that the US presidential elections take place this November – elections already dragged down to gutter level by sex scandals and the like. The attack on Iraq can also be seen as a piece of electioneering aimed at a gullible and jingoistic electorate. Indeed, an ABC News poll, carried out after the first attack on Iraq, found that 81 percent of those questioned were in favour of it.

Big Game
Perhaps most importantly the US attack on Iraq should be seen as part of a larger game plan, with Saddam’s aggression not the issue at all.

By far the biggest threat to US interests in the Middle East is Iran, a country of 60 million ruled by Islamic fundamentalists who detest the US; a country with a huge army and arsenal to match and a probable nuclear capability.

The US has for years made every attempt to castigate the “mad mullahs” of Iran and turn world opinion against them, blaming them for every explosion from Saudi Arabia to the downing of an airliner 8 miles east of New York two months ago.

August had in fact brought much pressure on the US government to bomb Iran. “US prepares air strikes against I ran” ran a headline in the Sunday Telegraph (4 August) while a day later the Times reported: “Pressure grows for US raids on Iran” (5 August).

However, the Pentagon is fully aware that any attack on Iran would result in a far greater response than anything elicited from Iraq. Most certainly the bombing of the American heartland by Iranian terrorists.

With this in mind the attack on Iraq was also a message intended for Iran “mess with our interests and this is what you’ll get” — ‘a message far less costlier than any attack on Iran would be.

Again, with the US still looking for its hegemonic raison d’ĂȘtre, the anti-Communist passport now expired, the Middle East is still as good a place as any for the US to assert its presence on the world stage, and Saddam is as good a target as any to bully and to show anyone watching you’re still policeman of the world.

Hate and War
For a bigoted white American, the average Middle Easterner is an ideal target of hate and one that confirms the average prejudice. They are generally of a different hue. They have strange cultures and customs. They have a different religion and speak a funny language and are always staging wars. What other motives do you need to convince an already brainwashed audience (Clinton fans) that they (the Iraqis) have no place in the civilised world and that it is okay to bomb them?

It can well be argued that the Iraqi working class has more than paid the price for Iraq’s brief incursion into Kuwait back in August of 1989.

Six years of sanctions have not only crippled the economy, but have also, the World Health Organisation argues, resulted in 500,000 deaths from want of decent food and medicine. The sewage system has collapsed, disease is every-where and there are 5,000 new cases of malnutrition every month.

A plan to allow Iraq to sell $2 millions-worth of oil to buy food and medical supplies (as if this is sufficient for a population of 17 million) was supposed to come into operation at the end of September. This has currently been suspended. One thing is certain, the future looks bleak for the average Iraqi.

All of this is not to say that Saddam deserves a break and should not incur the wrath of the world, even though, he argued, he had been invited into Kurdish–held territory by Kurdish leaders. And neither do we care to imply that the US were wrong insofar as they “misinterpreted” Resolution 688 of 5 April 1991, which made no mention of justifiable attacks on Iraq or of no-fly zones.

The entire episode should reveal the desperate lengths the world’s ruling capitalist elite will go to secure their own interests and that all conflicts, when properly analysed, are the result of the desire of a minority to make a profit at the expense of the majority — whether through trade routes, areas of influence, foreign markets or mineral wealth. The crisis in the Middle East actually fits all these criteria.
John Bissett

William Morris: Pioneer Socialist (1996)

From the October 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
A recent article in the Sunday Times bearing the heading "Left or Right, all have designs on Morris" gave a good description of how all and sundry are claiming Morris as their mentor. In fact, it's a matter of historical record that, in all essentials, Morris's ideas mirrored those of the Socialist Party more than any other political organisation.
At the present time “Socialism” is a dirty word. It is something that is supposed to have failed in Russia and East Europe and something that the Labour Party is said to have rejected as archaic. The word has become a turn-off associated with bureaucratic control, regimentation and lack of freedom.

Some positive associations remain, however, and one of them is William Morris who died a hundred year’s ago this year. Morris’s positive image stems from the fact that he was someone concerned about the ugliness of capitalism and about arts and crafts, which are two themes that people are concerned about today.

Revolutionary socialist
Morris was indeed a Socialist, but not just some moderate or milk-and-water social reformer. He was a revolutionary socialist who got many of his ideas from Karl Marx. He was also someone who stood for something quite different from the things which the word “socialism” has come to be associated with thanks to the activities of the Labour Party and Russia. Things such as state control and lack of freedom.

As a matter of fact Morris stood for a society in which there would be no coercive state machine, and in which people would work voluntarily to produce what was needed and would then have free access to it without having to hand over money or any other means of exchange. In other words, he stood for what we in the Socialist Party have always meant by socialism. Indeed what, at the end of the 19th century, the vast majority of those calling themselves Socialists meant by it.

Morris’s main contribution to socialist literature is undoubtedly his “utopian romance” (as he called it) News from Nowhere, though he was also the author of a number of Socialist pamphlets such as Useful Work versus Useful Toil, How We Live and How We Might Live and Monopoly, or How Labour is Robbed which are still worth reading.

News from Nowhere describes social relationships in a society of “pure Communism” from which private property, buying and selling, money, government over people, armies, prisons and police forces have disappeared. This is the exact opposite of the state capitalism which the Labour Party and Russia used to stand for and would be described by them as some form of anarchism. In so far as an anarchist society is a society without a coercive central government that can impose its will on the population, this is true. But then this is what socialism always meant to people like Marx and Engels too. For them socialism was necessarily an anarchist, i.e. a non-state society, though not of the kind advocated by most anarchists in that it was to be based on common ownership and democratic control rather than on rampant individualism.

So by “socialism” Morris meant a moneyless, wageless, stateless society based on common ownership, a classless society of free and equal men and women where social affairs are conducted through voluntary cooperation.

What about the lazy man?
Those who advocate such a society are faced with objections which occur again and again. “It’s against Human Nature”. “What about the Lazy Man”, “What would be the incentive to work?”, “What about the Greedy Man?”, “If things were free wouldn’t people take too much?”, “How would you deal with violent behaviour?”

All of these questions – which Morris encountered as an outdoor speaker and indoor lecturer during his period of intense socialist activity from 1884 to 1890 – are dealt with in News from Nowhere either in the narrative or in question-and-answer sessions with an old socialist.

Morris’s answers didn’t differ from those we ourselves would give. That human behaviour was not something fixed by our biological make-up but something that depends on the kind of society we live in. Why should people take more than they need when they would know that the stores would always be stocked with what they needed for them to take as and when they wanted them? But Morris’s major contribution here lay in his answer to the Lazy Man objection. A whole chapter (XV) is devoted to this entitled “On the Lack of Incentive to Labour in a Communist Society”. In fact all his socialist talks and writings revolve around this theme.

Morris regarded work – the exercise of a person’s physical and mental faculties – as a basic, natural human need. His main criticism of capitalism – what made him become a socialist, in fact – was that it denied the vast majority of humans satisfying and enjoyable work.

Under capitalism work, instead of being the enjoyable activity of creating or doing something useful, became a boring and often unhealthy and dangerous burden imposed on those who were forced to get a living by selling their mental and physical energies for a wage or salary.

This criticism of capitalism followed from Morris’s concept of “art”. Which he defined, not as some specialised activity engaged in by some fringe group of “artists”, but as ”the expression of a person’s joy in their work”; people who enjoyed their work would produce beautiful things. He had inherited this definition which is that of John Ruskin from his pre-socialist days. And when he realised that the nature of capitalism meant that most producers were denied any enjoyment in their work – or, put another way, that it meant the “death of art” – he became a socialist.

No hope under capitalism
His theory of what capitalism did to work shaped his idea of what tactics socialists –indeed anyone concerned about the fate of “art” – should pursue. For in saying that capitalism, as a competitive system of production for sale on a market with a view to profit, necessarily meant the death of art because it had to put the pursuit of profits before the enjoyment of the producers, he was saying that nothing could be done to revive “art” until capitalism had been overthrown. In other words, that what was called for was root-and-branch change not piecemeal reform.

This point has been lost by most of his successors and admirers in the “arts and crafts” movement. Morris was involved in this, but was under no illusions as to what he really doing: training others to provide beautiful things for the “swinish rich” as he described the work of his furniture-making and wallpaper firm. Art, being the expression of the producers’ enjoyment in their work, could never be revived under capitalism. This could come only after a social revolution had abolished the tyranny of seeking ever cheaper and quicker ways of production imposed by the profit system.

Morris’s radical criticism of capitalism also led him to take the side of Revolution in the “Reform or Revolution?” controversy within the socialist movement. When he became a socialist in 1884 he joined the Social Democratic Federation, the first organisation in Britain to publicise Marx’s ideas. But he soon left, in large part over the issue of whether or not a socialist organisation should seek reforms within capitalism. Morris thought it shouldn’t and the new organisation he helped found, the Socialist League, pursued a policy of “Education for Revolution” and “Making Socialists” rather then advocating reforms.
Adam Buick

New Zealand: Socialist stands in election (1996)

World Socialist Movement News from the October 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

For the first time the World Socialist Party (New Zealand) is standings candidate in the Wairarapa Electorate in the New Zealand general election on 12 October. These are the first elections to be held under the MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) system where you have two votes, one for the party and the other for the electorate (vote for the person in your electorate).

Two referendums were held on the electoral system in September 1992, first to decide on whether to retain the existing first-past-the-post electoral system or to change to a form of proportional representation, and secondly on which such system they preferred. An overwhelming number of voters wanted change, having become disillusioned and tired of broken promises by National and Labour governments. The type of electoral system was finally decided in conjunction with the 1993 election.

The WSP (NZ) will be putting forward a candidate for the electorate vote. We are excluded from standing for the party vote as you must have 500 members to be eligible to stand for this.

The campaign to date has consisted of a leaflet drop; some publicity on Wellington Access Radio, involvement in a political forum in a community newspaper where the public send in questions for the parties to answer and participation in a coming spring festival.

Our chief aim is to heighten awareness of the need for socialism as the only alternative to capitalism and increase our membership through the political campaign.

Further details: Chris Fackney, 4 Vivian Street, Masterton, NZ
 (e-mail: ck@actrix.gcn.nz)

50 Years Ago: Mr Thurtle misfires (1996)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Ernest Thurtle, Labour M.P. for Shoreditch, sometime member of the Fabian Society and I.L.P., and sometime belligerent war-supporter turned pacifist turned war supporter, writes a weekly column of pontifical political comment and behind-the-scenes chit-chat for Beaverbrook’s Sunday Express under the title “ Labour Point of View.” On Sunday, September 1st, he wrote the following: —
"Sympathy for the little fellow struggling against the big one is natural, but in the present dispute between the little and big unions of the transport workers common sense appears to be on the side of the big battalion.

Mr. Frank Snelling, the national organiser of the little union, which is fighting so spiritedly, is what is known in Labour circles as an S.P.G.B’er. Decoded, this means a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, a strict Marxist sect of microscopic membership.

Because the little party had so few members, who oozed Socialist self-righteousness, the larger movement was wont to refer to them derisively as the Small Party of Good Boys.”
That is all Mr. Thurtle has to say. He gives no facts about the dispute and no reasons why he believes that all the common sense is on one side. He does not mention that the S.P.G.B. has members in the T. & G.W.U. as well as in the N.U.P.W., and it is evident that his sole object in. referring to the dispute was to provide a peg on which to hang the unoriginal remarks about the S.P.G.B.

[From Socialist Standard, October 1946.]

These Foolish Things: They call it efficiency (1996)

The Scavenger column from the October 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

They call it efficiency

Railtrack, the owner of the track the country's trains run on, is busily getting into the privatised spirit by closing 62 signal boxes and axing 217 jobs. The jobs will go through natural wastage, as if that does not really count. Naturally the company is anxious to assure travellers that the cuts will not affect safety, implying that the surplus boxes were merely ornaments among the trackside furniture. Having fewer signal boxes, we are told, will give signalmen ‘a broader picture of the traffic on their line’. Financial Mail on Sunday, 4 August.


We call it murder

The collision on Thursday killed one woman passenger and injured 68 others . . . Despite concerns among senior staff, neither BR nor the network’s current owner, Railtrack, attempted to deal with the risk at the track junction on the line between London and Milton Keynes . . . Despite concerns, the potential risk was increased when the signalling was updated to a more sophisticated computer- controlled system four years ago .. . The enquiry into the Clapham rail disaster in December 1988, which killed 35, recommended the [Automatic Train Protection] device be installed all trains. But the scheme was shelved on cost grounds. Mail on Sunday, 11 August.


You pays your money . . .

One in eight buses and coaches examined by the Vehicle Inspectorate in roadside checks over the past year were defective. Some were so dangerous they were impounded, while in other cases the operators were given deadlines for repairs. Figures released by the Vehicle Inspectorate reveal an increase of 600 faulty buses and coaches over the year, bringing the annual nation-wide total to 4,338. Mail on Sunday, 4 August.


Real education!

Such is the importance of taking responsibility for one’s own financial future that the [Weinberg Committee) report is asking the government to consider making personal finance a core subject on the National Curriculum. Besides the stock market, Sir Mark envisages teaching in the use of credit cards, handling debt and using a bank account. This, the committee argues, is the only way of educating youngsters to cope with the steady whittling away of the welfare state.


Lacking education?

Jailing fine defaulters:
  • Unpaid fines [in Britain) total £200 million, £31 million is written off each year.
  • In 1994, 22,469 men and 1,454 women were jailed for non-payment—the highest number for ten years and accounting for more than a quarter of all new prison receptions. Each was inside for an average of seven days.
  • Three quarters are unemployed and half had other outstanding debts, usually electricity, gas, telephone or council, tax. Two thirds had been in prison before.
  • Most men had been convicted of motoring offences. A third of the women had been convicted of prostitution. Guardian, 11 July.

That’s the spirit!

“As managing director at Tarmac during the 1980s I used to dream about doing my competitors in. And as MD of British Telecom I dreamed of doing Bryan Carlsberg in. I will not describe the methods used.” Graeme Odgers, Chairman of Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

The Scavenger

Losers, this way (1996)

The A Word in Your Ear column from the October 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nothing is amusing about amusement arcades. Rename them Depression Arcades. Distraction Arcades. Escape Retreats for the desperate. Losers’ loitering places.

Only this mad system can assume that there is amusement in pushing coins into a slot and hoping that more will come out than you put in. There is nothing amusing about money. Only when we don’t need to pay to become happy will there be true amusement.

There is a smelly tackiness about these arcades where flashing neon lights illuminating pound signs and ceaseless bleeps and pings contaminate already dingy streets. Boys who might just be men push and pull on the lever of the machines with the ferocity of warriors fighting not for gold but brass. They fight for their coins with the deranged rage of people who have a repressed awareness that they are competing for the loser's medal. Anyone who needs to bet with small change has lost before they start. Menacing-looking louts who look like they failed the audition for a home in Albert Square patrol the aisles of amusement and stare at the losers with the look of prison guards attending serial killers. Rent boys mingle with dribbling old drunks and prematurely old women who drag on fags, not sure whether their purses will be empty before their stomachs are. Nobody looks remotely amused. They look so unamused that they could be in church.

And in a sense they are. They are in the Temple of Mammon, pursuing the ultimate amusement of the jingle-jangle money system. Rules of the game: no money and you’re out—down and out.

Sitting in one of these stinking places—the smell is either urine or sweat, but not a sniff of happiness—it is tempting to defy the rules and insist on amusing yourself. Take out a good novel and read it; pull out a whistle and play a tune; tell a joke. “You trying to take the piss?”, the menacing oafs would ask. “I thought this was an amusement arcade,” you say, “and I’m amusing myself. Yes, I must say I feel decidedly amused.” The amusement guard turns out to be a black belt in random street violence.

Of course, in the good old days workers used to sit round the old piano and sing songs. What a load of old tripe people come out with; the foolish illusions of nostalgia. Most wage-slaves never had pianos—and those who did tormented themselves with hymns about Jesus and damnation and silly ditties about being happy. “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile!” Hardly a prophetic overture for being sent down a trench to kill other poor stuck-in-the-mud mugs singing German songs of distraction. The past was much like the present, only they were less sophisticated at building the amusement machines.

Not that many years ago fruit machines were straightforward. You put in your sixpence, pulled the handle, waited for three plums to appear, they didn’t and you either put in another sixpence or went away feeling miserable. Two cherries meant you got your sixpence back— only to lose it with the next pull of the handle. At least you knew where you stood.

These days losing money is an elaborate business. The game screens are like modern battlefields and the would-be loser is faced with an array of buttons requiring at least three hands to operate with any skill. My father used to lose ha’pennies pushing marbles into one another. I was a child of the one-pull fruit machine. Kids today watch their coins orbit the galaxies and commune with other life forms before they finally see them disappear into the magical sphere of the arcade owner’s bank account. The thieving coin-collector-state-licensed gaming operator, no less—is well amused. As ever, our loss is their gain. The poor man in his amusement arcade, the rich man (or his errand boy) in the Stock Exchange. We’re urged to gamble for pound coins. They’re gambling on the wealth which we produce. Their jackpot is announced in small print on the share pages of the newspapers every day. The compensation prizes are in the £3-an-hour Jobs-Vacant column. Which might just leave a few quid over at the weekend for a trip to feed the amusement meter. 
Steve Coleman