Wednesday, December 6, 2023

SPGB Meetings (1961)

Party News from the December 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blogger's Notes: 
The content of Gilbert McClatchie's talk to Hackney Branch about his North American Journey probably overlapped with his American Tour article in this issue of the Socialist Standard.

Interesting to see Ealing Branch doing a meeting on Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 classic film  Strike

A bit of a milestone . . . .

 Wow, that's a lot of bots over the years.

Now, if only a bot farm would adopt the blog . . .  and then we'd be laughing. 

Voice From The Back: Our unelected bosses (2003)

The Voice From The Back Column from the December 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our unelected bosses

We are often told that we live in an egalitarian, democratic society, where we can tell our leaders what to do, and if they don’t do it, sack them. In a political sense there is some truth to that, but, when it comes to wealth and control, capitalism leaves us all powerless. A good example of this was recently supplied by a survey conducted by the Times (15 October). They analysed the personnel of the FTSE 100 boardrooms and showed the immense power that these unelected men and women have over our lives.
“None of the people included in the Power 100 is a household name. Few are all that well known among close followers of business and stock market affairs. The most powerful man, Sir Robert Wilson, is more likely to elicit a response of ‘who he?’ than sage nods of familiarity.”
Here are some of the entities under his control (with his salaries in brackets). Chairman of Rio Tinto (£1,410,000), non-executive director Diageo (£68,000), BG Group (£35,000). Such people decide where factories and offices are built and where they are closed. They decide whether you work or not and inside capitalism you are powerless to do anything about it. Some democracy. Some equality.

The killer system

In 2000 the UN pledged to cut the death rate for the under five year olds by two-thirds and halve the number of people suffering from hunger, but now concede that these targets are unlikely to be realised because of the import of subsidised Western food with the consequent ruin of under-developed countries’ farmers and cuts in aid programmes. In the most scientific survey held to date Unicef have revealed a heart breaking picture.
“More than one billion young people in the developing world are now living in conditions of severe deprivation, according to a report for the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef). Tens of millions of children in developing countries still do not have access to basic human needs such as food, water and sanitation, the study found. …. Professor Dave Gordon from the University of Bristol (one of the repor’ts authors) said: ‘Many of the children surveyed who were living in absolute poverty will have died or had their health profoundly damaged by the time this report is published, as a direct consequence of their appalling living conditions’” (Independent, 22 October).
One billion reasons for getting rid of capitalism. One billion reasons for organising for socialism.

Market in misery

The misery that is capitalism is summed up by the desperate plight of workers in Moldovia selling their kidney in order to survive.
“’Every month someone walks into my office begging to sell an organ,’ says Dr Adrian Tanase, of the Renal Transplant Section in the City Hospital of Chisinau. ‘This has not been done for a long time in developed countries but here you buy or sell everything.’ …. The demand for kidneys is as strong as ever and the poverty in this virtually lawless main donor country is deepening” (Times, 25 October).

A rotten system

Capitalism is a system based on exploitation so it is hardly surprising that those respectable men in suits on Wall Street are up to their elbows in fraud and deception; but don’t take our word for it here is one of their top dogs on the subject.
“Mutual-fund managers have suddenly joined the long parade of suits in handcuffs that began with Enron two years ago and has led to monster fines, complex trials and a video of at least one multimillion-dollar toga party. It was bad enough when mutual-fund returns were pummeled by a two-year-long bear market that started to thaw only this spring. Then, in September, a few funds came under fire from New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer for allowing big, sophisticated investors to game the system. The abuses are turning out to be so prevalent that regulatory officials predict a big shake-out. ‘There are going to be criminal cases brought in considerable number down the road’, Spitzer told Time. ‘It’s not one or two bad apples. The whole crate seems to have gone rotten’”(Time, 17 November).

High anxiety

We all have to face the problems of mortgage payments, credit card debt, fear of redundancy and just the day to day grind of working inside capitalism; so the following is probably no great surprise.
“Britain is becoming a nation kept artificially happy by pills, with doctors handing out eight million more prescriptions for depression, anxiety and stress than five years ago. About two million people are estimated to be taking anti-depressants every year, costing the NHS more than £380 million, according to government figures” (Times, 20 October).
Capitalism seems to be driving an awful lot of us round the bend.

Danger: pills for profit (2003)

From the December 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

One would have to be remarkably unaware of what is happening in the world today not to know that society was facing a drug problem. A drug problem on a scale which is costing thousands of lives and untold millions of pounds to control. This is not a question of Chinese opium rings in Soho – it is a social menace which affects society as a whole across age and class.

The government is worried, the police are pretty much baffled but nobody really knows what to do. We hear of spectacular police ‘busts’ where they come across huge amounts of drugs with a street value of millions of pounds but it doesn’t seem to make much difference to the overall picture. Apparently this is a problem that has no solution. In a probably futile attempt to control it the government in Britain is considering making some drugs such as cannabis, legal or rather partially legal. One question that never seems to get asked though is – why?

“Why?” of course is a question spectacularly lacking in politics, and the reason for this is simple – they dare not ask it because the answer would lie in the nature of capitalist society. And of course there is the point that a very workable diversion exists to keep workers’ minds off their real problems. Capitalism is content, or has to be content, with a good many expensive circuses to maintain itself in existence.

However there are other aspects to drugs that never get mentioned. These are the problems of the other sorts of drugs – the legal ones. One may come across an odd mention of a particular drug that is having “side effects” (an outrageous euphemism if ever there was one). Scandals such as Thalidomide made the headlines, but there is no sustained coverage in the media such as is given to Ecstasy where one death will make the headlines, especially if it happens to a young girl. Legal drugs, that is drugs prescribed by doctors to treat disease are never described as a problem. Yet problem it is, because legal drugs kill far more people than the illegal ones.

This is a shocking statement. Yet it is true, as records published in the USA and the UK show. According to the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association at least 106,000 Americans die every year as a result of some adverse reaction to a prescription drug. A further 7,000 die from an error relating to a drug such as a wrong dosage or a wrong mix (drugs which do not combine). This finding was only for drugs administered in hospital. The Institute of Medicine, which carried out this survey, admitted that its findings did not include drugs consumed outside of hospital as a result of GP or consultant prescription.

In the UK, according to a study by University College London, estimated medical errors, which include unwanted drug reactions, kill 40,000 people every year. This again only applied to hospitals, and did not take into account the many more fatalities that occur at home. Figures taken from Secrets of the Drugs Industry, by Bryan Hubbard, suggest that the monitoring system used to test new drugs for efficacy and “adverse reactions” (the name given to unwanted effects) is far from foolproof, and can be pretty sketchy. Children and the elderly are not often included in the tests though many drugs may be aimed at just such people. The real test comes when they are put on the market.

To cover this, doctors are expected to report the side effects that they come across, that is, that are reported to them by patients. In the UK adverse reactions to prescription drugs should be monitored by the Yellow Card system, whereby if a doctor suspects a drug has caused a reaction not intended by the manufacturer, he or she notes it down and sends it to the Medicines Control Agency. They oversee the safety of drugs once they are licensed but the system has many loopholes. It is estimated by Dr Bill Inman, the man who initiated the system, that only about ten percent of all reactions are ever reported, either because a link is not suspected or because GPs are overburdened with paperwork. In France researchers estimated that doctors report only one in 24,000 adverse reactions. And if the adverse reaction is not already noted, many doctors will tend not to believe the patient.

So far one could conclude that all of these are unfortunate results due to human error from over-worked doctors under a lot of pressure. The true picture is far more sinister than that and has to do with drug companies, profits and the nature of the social system we are all living under, capitalism.

Drugs, as with all else that is produced in this world today, are produced for one reason only – to make a profit. Not a profit for the producers, the workers who actually make the stuff of course – they are the source of profit. The owners of capital in the drugs industry make the profit. And what profits! The drugs industry is one of, if not the most, profitable industry in the world today.

The ten top drug companies are so large primarily due to a series of mergers that have consolidated their position. The largest single company is Pfizer closely followed by the British Glaxo-Wellcome-Smith-Kline-Beecham, now calling themselves GSK. Other major pharmaceuticals are Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers–Squib, and Merck. For the ten leading drug companies their profits topped the Fortune 500 companies in the US by a large margin. In the UK GSK alone had sales of £20.5 billion in 2001, and a pre-tax profit of £6.2 billion.

Why is this? Most drug companies admit to making massive profits but seek to explain this away by pointing at the costs of research, which, they claim, is necessary to put new drugs on the market and keep up with the increasing demands of modern medicine. New research is very costly and does seem at first glance a valid justification. A closer look at the marketing habits of drug companies will reveal a very different story. While the money required for completely new formulations is indeed massive, there are not as many completely new research discoveries as they would like us to think. Whilst the cost of producing an entirely new drug can rise to £350 million and can take from ten to fifteen years to bring on to the market, the reality is not quite so clear cut. Many “new” drugs are not new as far as involving new chemicals but are re-formulations of existing drugs. A study in America discovered that, of all the drugs approved during the 1990s, only 15 per cent contained new active ingredients.

But for the drug companies launching a new product on the market is a matter of vital importance because that’s where they make their money. Prices charged for a new product are substantially higher. In America in 2000 the average price per prescription for the most innovative new drug was $91.20 compared to an average price of $37.20 for older drugs that were approved before 1995.

Share prices
The launch of a new drug can also have remarkable affects on the share price. For example, shares in Cambridge-based drugs firm Alizyme rocketed from 34.5p to 114.5p after second-stage trials of the anti-obesity drug ATL-962 dramatically aided weight loss without the damaging side effects of its rivals. “This will definitely be a blockbuster drug” said Finance Director Tim McCarthy. “We would anticipate sales of at least $1bn a year once it is fully approved.” The Daily Mail commented: “The £110 million company’s future is virtually guaranteed. On top of a hefty one off fee, it is likely to secure a double digit percentage of any future royalties” (20 September 2003.)

Once a “new” drug is approved pharmaceutical companies can usually look forward to a rosy future. They have a patent, which usually extends to 20 years, and no other drug firms may produce that drug. However other companies may produce what is called a generic drug, given permission from the parent company. That is a drug containing the same ingredients but not entitled to use the same name. These can be produced much more cheaply and there is, for example, a long-running dispute between companies producing anti-aids drugs and governments in Third World countries over permission to produce generic drugs. The nascent drug industry of Pakistan would like to build on the production of generic drugs but a big demand from South Africa is being blocked by the parent companies, who see their profits threatened. Needless to say both parties are on their moral high horse. In this connection it is worth noting that most drug companies spend twice as much on marketing and advertising as they do on research.

Enormous amounts are also spent on lobbying governments especially in the United States. “Overall, drug companies spent $78.1 million on lobbying in 2001 bringing the total lobbying bill for 1997-2001 to $403,071,467. The companies employed 623 different individual lobbyists in 2001 – or more than one lobbyist for every member of Congress”. (source. Public Citizen, 12 June 2002: The reason for this is that after such huge amounts have been paid out on research the costs have to be recouped by an aggressive selling campaign. Development of a new drug can take up to fifteen years after its initial licensing, leaving a mere five years before the patent runs out. And since these are prescription drugs that are dependent on doctors to administer, the main promotional target must be a doctor. Doctors, who, after all, we must believe have their patients’ interests at heart, have to be persuaded that a new drug will be more efficacious than one they have previously relied upon. It must be pointed out that development in drugs moves at such a rapid pace that within a few years from graduating the average doctor will be heavily dependent on outside sources for any knowledge of their usefulness. And the companies concerned do their level best to ensure that such knowledge comes from the producer.

How is this done? The short answer is bribery, but this is carried out in such subtle ways that doctors themselves are unaware that they are being wooed. Expense-paid ‘holidays’ to seminars in foreign locations are one such, but there are many other methods pursued to persuade doctors. Articles in medical journals are heavily influenced by biased reports from company funded research. Drug companies are very powerful entities and they use every method they can to sell their products. Remember, to them drugs are a commodity, and a commodity is something that is put on the market to make a profit for the shareholders.

That the pharmaceuticals industry is way up there as one of the more unpleasant features of capitalist society does not need much proving. To degrade what should be an honourable attempt to alleviate the ills suffered by humankind, (many of them caused by capitalist society itself) into a sordid scramble for wealth should be sufficient indictment of the capitalist system, but what is the solution? All those who consider that state regulation is an answer should look closely at other attempts by the state to regulate some of the ‘unacceptable faces of capitalism’ such as the arms trade. They should also perhaps reflect on the fact that in Britain up to one third of MPs receive some funding from drug companies to help pay for administrative expenses etc.

Will drugs be as big a menace in socialism? As far as legal drugs are concerned there should be no problem. Without the commercial pressures of today and the drive for profit it would be possible for researchers to behave in a responsible manner and pool their findings. What is now called the problem of illegal drugs might not be so easy to solve. One prime factor, however, would immediately disappear in a socialist system – the monetary incentive to produce such drugs. We believe that socialism would fill up the gaps in people’s lives making it less likely (if not completely unlikely) that they would turn to drugs to fill an empty life or escape from an intolerable one. One thing is for sure that there is no solution within capitalism. The consensus of opinion is that the problem is growing.

But the question has still to be asked – why is it that the terrible death toll from prescription drugs is so under-reported in the media?

The answer is that the powers that be are quite prepared to tolerate all manners of injustices and deceptions in the pursuit of profits, as long as they don’t rise to an uncontrollable level and get out of hand, and the drug companies are in a very powerful position in setting social and political agendas.
Cyril Evans

Out of the ground in Asia (2003)

From the December 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is plain that the invasion of Iraq was essentially caused by Western capitalism’s desire to control that country’s oil supplies. But the Middle East is not the only area with such resources, and other capitalist powers are keen to get their hands on whatever energy supplies they can.

China, for instance, used to pride itself on its oil industry, with “In industry, learn from Daqing”, referring to a celebrated oilfield, being part of a ubiquitous slogan in Maoist days. Since 1993, however, it has been a net importer of oil, and now imports 30 percent of its requirements. Existing fields are approaching depletion, and on one estimate, by 2020 at least half of the oil it needs will have to be imported. This is problematic for China’s rulers, in terms of both cost and security of supplies.

Hence the interest in exploring and exploiting the Tarim Basin, a vast area located in the extreme west of China, near the border with Kirghistan (see Beijing Review, 9 October). This has both oil and gas, possibly as much as 6 billion tons of the former and 8 trillion cubic meters of the latter. Oil production is already under way, but it is gas that is the current focus of interest. A pipeline, over 4000 kilometers long and costing untold billions of dollars, is being planned to carry natural gas from Tarim to the Shanghai area on China’s eastern coast. Even this, though, is only likely to provide thirty years’ worth of gas supplies.

Meanwhile, oil resources in Russia have also become a subject of dispute. The Angarsk area, near Irkutsk on the shore of Lake Baikal, is at the centre of a sizeable oilfield, and the Russian rulers, relatively strapped for cash as they are, see this as a resource they can sell in return for foreign exchange. However, the amount of oil there is unlikely to be enough to justify more than one pipeline to deliver it to prospective customers, so there is a scramble to see where that pipeline should go. China, of course, wants it to go to Daqing so that its own needs for oil can be met.

But Japan has another idea, a pipeline to Nakhodka, which is in Russia’s far east, just down the coast from Vladivostok and facing Japan. The Japanese Prime Minister visited Moscow in January this year, and the pipeline was one of the items on their agenda. And the United States, not content with getting hold of Iraq’s oil, has its own eyes on what is happening: a pipeline in the other direction to Murmansk, near Russia’s border with Finland, could lead to the oil being exported to the US instead.

Behind all this diplomacy lie two issues, apart from the general one of ensuring access to energy. One is diversification of supplies, so that problems in one area will not lead to a drastic cutback in availability of oil or gas. China, for instance, sees Kazakhstan as another potential supplier, and a Chinese company is already exploring there. Japan currently takes nearly 90 percent of its oil imports from the Persian Gulf area, and this is not a healthy situation as far as Japan’s capitalists are concerned. The other issue is seeking to prevent any one rival country from dominating oil supplies in a particular area. Japan, again, does not want China to control the lion’s share of oil in east Asia. Any country that was in such a situation of dominance would quite likely have the whip-hand over its competitors.

The availability and sensible use of energy is an issue for any society. But under capitalism, questions of strategy and inter-nation rivalry far outweigh environmental and other concerns. We cannot predict whether there will be an Oil War in central or eastern Asia in the near future, but there is no doubt that this is one area of the world to watch very closely.
Paul Bennett

Guerrilla war in Iraq (2003)

From the December 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

During a recent visit to Baghdad, US hawk Paul Wolfowitz, the brains behind the US invasion of Iraq, told a press conference that the “main problem was that there were too many foreigners in Iraq”. For many in Iraq there are indeed “too many foreigners”. Over 134,000 of them are wearing US combat uniforms and their casualty rate is growing in the world’s newest guerrilla war.

The US is keen to put down the idea that this is in fact a guerrilla war, that there is real resistance to the US occupation. However, according to Iraqi sources there are some 40 plus organisations resisting US occupation, from Baathists and “Communists” to out-and-out nationalists and religious factions. Moreover it is not the work of Islamic jihadists crossing the borders of Syria and Iran in the name of Allah, but appears to be largely indigenous, comes from all levels and sections of society and is very much de-centralised – and this, military experts tell us, is the first stage of a guerrilla war

One military intelligence spokesman in Iraq has suggested there are 50,000 insurgents in Iraq. Another Washington military analyst, having received a copy of the recent internal CIA document ‘Appraisal of the Situation’, described it as a “bleak assessment that the resistance is broad, strong and getting stronger.” The report, he claims, suggests “we are going to lose the situation unless there is a rapid and dramatic change of course. There are thousands in the resistance – not just a core of Baathists. Not all those people are actually firing, but providing support, shelter and all that.” (Guardian, 13 November).

In early November, guerrilla forces brought down a Chinook helicopter, killing sixteen soldiers and two weeks before that successfully destroyed two M1 Abram tanks. On 12 November a suicide bombing of a military base in Nasariya left 25 dead, including 18 Italian troops. Classic ingredients of your run–of-the-mill guerrilla war.

Oil pipelines are beings sabotaged almost on a daily basis and it is becoming a full time job for the authorities in Baghdad to massage the statistics and hide the reality of the oil pipeline attacks from the outside world. Apparently it is only when a camera crew actually captures such sabotage on film that it is reported.

Robert Fisk, commented in the Independent on 7 October on the serious concerns the US has for dwindling revenues from oil flowing north, said:
“The cost of making it flow could produce an economic crisis in the US. And it is this – rather than the daily killing of young American soldiers – that lies behind the Bush administration’s growing panic. Washington has got its hands on the biggest treasure chest in the world – but it can’t open the lid. No wonder they are cooking the books in Baghdad”.
The Bush administration promised this would be a quick war and that Iraqis would be dancing in the streets celebrating their liberation. In truth, there have been far more US troops killed since the since the war “officially” ended than were killed during the combat phase itself, and those Iraqis dancing in the streets do so around smouldering US helicopters and tanks.

In recent weeks there has been a move in the US to focus attention away from the Iraqi quagmire and onto domestic affairs – whilst the latter is also a dire cause for concern, it is less a disaster than the operation to “liberate” Iraq.

Chief US civilian administrator, Paul Bremer, who heads the Coalition Provisional Authority, remarked at the beginning of November, rather pathetically it would seem, that life in Baghdad is back to normal. By all accounts life under US occupation is is at least as bad as under Saddam. There is little, if any, tangible reconstruction and mass unemployment except for the re-recruitment of Iraq’s previous Baathist security forces to help maintain law and order. According to the Ministry of Labour out of a population of 25 million, 12 million are now looking for work.

There were initially plans to bring in Indian and Pakistani troops to help police Iraq and speed up the “liberation” process, but those countries then expressed doubts and declined. Turkish troops were proposed, but the Turkish government, faced with domestic resistance to the idea, also demurred. Poland may send troops, but it is to be bore in mind that opinion polls (no pun intended) show there is much opposition to the idea. Even Italy may even reconsider its position now in light of the recent attack upon its own forces.

A present Washington strategy for the malaise is “Iraqification” (after Vietnamisation), or in other words the training of 170,000 Iraqi soldiers, police and border guards and dropping the sorry mess in their laps. But even this has its problems as such forces have already been attacked as “collaborators” and there is a tendency for guerrillas to recruit from within such security forces, making them extremely vulnerable. Furthermore, would Iraqi soldiers shoot, or detain their fellow Iraqis on behalf of US capitalism plc?

Of course invading armies have met such resistance throughout history – whether it be the British, French or Americans. The attacks upon US troops in Fallujah in recent weeks are no different to those suffered by the French at the hands of Algerian guerrillas and the US conscripts in the jungles of Korea and Vietnam. The US response at the moment is to retaliate with heavy air strikes and armoured assaults on suspected guerrilla targets, a move that some fear will only heighten support for the insurgency and further destabilise the region.

If anything, these past seven months since Bush announced his victory in Iraq have revealed that oil is not priced in US dollars, but in human blood. It casts its shadow of death indiscriminately, sparing none – women and children, UN worker and Red Cross worker, Iraqi policeman or US soldier alike. Washington believed the US take-over of Iraq would be easy and that the petro-profits would soon be flowing stateside. What they did not count on was having to fight a drawn out guerrilla war to secure Iraq’s black gold.
John Bissett

An insignificant happening: Labour in Northern Ireland (2003)

From the December 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

For some people in Northern Ireland, this year’s British Labour Party Conference was a momentous event. For those present at the Conference, or the numerous Labour Party branches throughout the UK whose pious resolutions might get an airing before being thrown into the Blair wastepaper basket, the event was utterly inconsequential. On the other hand, for some, not too many, in Northern Ireland, it was the culmination of a whole life’s political effort.

Now for pragmatic people who believe in the immediacy of schemes for conning the workers into the belief that Labour capitalism is better than Tory capitalism, the great event itself was something of a damp squib. It was hardly noticed in the mainstream British media and got no headlines even in Northern Ireland. A neighbour of this writer, not known for socialist sympathies, summed it up rather succinctly when he said, “Both Taigs and Prods here are at least agreed on one thing: Tony Blair and his cohorts are unprincipled, fucking liars; what difference will the addition of some local political stooges make?”

Oh yes, the event? Well, the British Labour Party had at last conceded the right of UK citizens who live in Northern Ireland to become members of the Labour Party. Neither the party leadership, nor the members-at-large had shown any great enthusiasm for the move. It was the big unions, making a meaningless gesture to vociferous elements in Northern Ireland, who engineered the change of attitude. Essentially, as my colourful neighbour significantly hinted, the justification for the move had to do with Taigs and Prods—which is Ulsterspeak for Catholics and Protestants respectively.

Labour, went the argument of the local enthusiasts, will provide a non-sectarian base for both Catholics and Protestants. That nonsense is founded on the notion that sectarianism in Northern Ireland is based on theological differences and it is made by people who either have convenient memories or little knowledge of Labour history in the province. While religion has an input into the problem, tribal sectarianism here is a complex politico-religious mix historically promoted to serve the economic interests of different sections of the propertied class in both Great Britain and Ireland. It is a long and convoluted story that this journal has dealt with many times and here we are concerned only with contemporary effects.

After the formation of the northern statelet in 1921, the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) was formed. Like Labour parties everywhere, the NILP adhered to the simplistic notion that capitalism would serve a universal interest if conservative politicians were replaced with Labour politicians. Unable to offer a class analysis of the historic “Irish Question”, the NILP simply sat on the fence on the ‘Border’ issue. Until 1948, it is probable that Catholic nationalists proportionately outnumbered Protestant unionists in their support of Labour. Labour strategists were inclined to take the support of the former for granted; the problem, as they saw it, was the deep-rooted “Britishness” of workers who were Protestants and these outnumbered their Catholic class brethren by some two to one.

So, in 1948, the NILP got off the fence; “Ulster Labour is British Labour!” they cried. Out came the Union flags and the red, white and blue trappings as Labour went head-to-head with Ulster Unionism in a squalid contest of Britishness. Nothing was said about religion but what Catholic nationalists of the Connolly tradition saw as a rabid rejection of their culture resulted in the great majority of Catholics leaving Labour. Some of these formed an Irish Labour Association and effectively there were two Labour organisations; one for Catholics and one for Protestants.

The NILP did make temporary inroads into Ulster Unionism, having four born-again Christians returned to the Stormont Parliament where they cosied up to the Unionist Government who accepted their proclamations of loyalty enough to make one of them a Minister. When serious political disturbances commenced in the late Sixties, Labour elements of both camps scurried back to their traditional loyalties.

The irony of this latest attempt to raise the standard of British Labour in Northern Ireland is that it is promoted by Labourites who cannot find a political home in the Social and Democratic Labour Party (SDLP). This latter organisation is regarded as a sister party of the British Labour Party and operates within the EU under the same ersatz “socialist” umbrella as both the British and the Irish Labour parties. The policies of all these Labour organisations is essentially the same: they wholly accept capitalism and their essential “practical” strategy is to get career politicians jobs in the governments of capitalism.

Ah, yes, that is all very good but the anti-sectarians who want British Labour here to sort out the problem of sectarianism would have difficulty in associating with the SDLP. Why? Because it is a largely Catholic and pro-nationalist Labour Party!

But the people who have spent lifetimes trying to persuade British Labour to accept them as members were always spoilt for choice. The number of parties and groups that claim affinity with the Left are numerous. Sinn Fein, claims to act in the Connolly tradition; Gerry Adams and his political playmates would welcome Protestants into their organisation, but they are indelibly branded, and correctly so, as sectarians.

The Workers’ Party, on the other hand, are pukka Lefties without religious baggage and, like British Labour, the WP has shown an enthusiasm for espousing any pettifogging reform of capitalism that it thinks might get votes. On the other hand, they have a distant connection, rather like the British Labour Party, with the concept of a united Ireland.

Of course there is Socialism itself. No careers there, no jobs for the boys or the girls, no place whatsoever for aspiring politicians, no nonsense about different religions or flags or patriotism or any of the other crap that is the basis of all sectarianism. All of which make genuine Socialism worth the consideration of the working class.
Richard Montague

Ideology and censorship in capitalist society (2003)

From the December 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard
The ideas of the ruling class are, in every age, the ruling ideas; i.e., the class which is the dominant material force in society is at the same time its dominant intellectual force (Karl Marx).
Censors were magistrates in ancient Rome, usually two in number, who were elected every five years but held office for eighteen months only, in order to take the census of the official list of citizens and carry out the solemn lustrum (purification and protection from evil influences). The censors exercised a general supervision over the conduct of citizens, their power and prestige deriving from the senators, the ruling force in society. The censor worked to protect the Roman social order. In recent times, we have seen this tradition carry on in the commissar, McCarthy, and still today with the Pope and other Ayatollahs. Now this function has more or less been privatised to the media, editors of TV, radio and the national press, where authorities seem confident it will be administered sagaciously. Here the punishment and jailing, once frequent in a more ruthless age, has now been replaced by disregard, barring and ostracism—keeping the political airwaves sanitised from evil influences—though the Internet is beyond their ability to control easily.

The approach to censorship from media editors is two-fold. First, there might well be blatant political acts to censor alternatives to the present order of society which provides for them, and their masters, a comfortable life. Second, and much more common, there is a censorship of a more subtle kind. Gone are the days when the direct Victorian approach, “you are not allowed to have books to corrupt your mind”, would be acceptable for most. Editors themselves are a product of society, and, with others who would influence society, come to their work and their social gatherings with a worldview, a set of preconceptions that may provide the framework for their analysis of, and actions in, the world. A worldview constructed by influences gathered from a lifetime exposed to bourgeois ideology—this we can call their “ideological baggage”. This consists of anything from their views on genetics, abortion or testing on animals to the wider political scene, on economics, ethics etc. These preconceptions enter at both an explicit and implicit level, but even when they are invoked explicitly, unexamined and unexpected assumptions underlie them. Alternate opinions and philosophies lacking in popularity which seem at odds with general thinking are destined to remain off the mainstream media, for fear readers and viewers will either object or simply not understand the points being made—as might not the editors themselves. Where once conspiracy or direct force would be used to hold a political line, now “ideology” carries out the daily lustrum.

Unlike propaganda, ideologies are systems of thought and belief by which dominant classes explain “to themselves” how their social system operates and what principles it exemplifies. Ideology is the deeply and unselfconsciously held views of the dominant class in any social order. We distinguish these beliefs from views held in a more pietistic or even cynical fashion to manipulate or form the opinions of those who are not members of the ruling classes. Ideological systems therefore exist not as fictions but as “truths”, and not only evidential truths but moral truths.

A given society with a particular mode of production and accompanying social relations requires a certain mode of thought, leading to a certain conduct among individuals operating or living in that society if it is to function. Here in the struggle for our ear, the ruling authorities have an advantage in that they appeal to cultures and traditions, which since our earliest schooling have been put to work on us. Wherever we are in the world, we’ll hear the same old appeals to words and phrases from our leaders, and the rich and their media tools operating there. Appeals to nationalism—“win for your country”; law and order—“punish the criminals”; private property—“you can’t have…”; competition and contest—“the world would die without it”; foreigners—“asylum seekers go home”; work ethic—“no money no life”; leadership—“we’d be lost without the men of ideas”; etc, etc.

A Socialist Outlook
It is not the individuals who hold official power, or indeed those in whose interests they hold that power—their rich paymasters—but the overarching ideology of the bourgeois epoch that must be exposed and censured. Ideology here, like the rules of a game which all players must obey, or where in a drama production the storyline, script actors and costume, etc, must conform to the constraints of the theme, demands that we conform to its strictures, which are often also prescribed in law to ensure that we do.

The wings of the capitalist party, left, right and centre, take up various positions within a narrow spectrum of opinion and debate, giving a superficial appearance of differences, adding to the semblance of a thriving democracy in line with bourgeois ideology. So close are their remedies for society’s ills that they would be almost indistinguishable but for their talent for exposing the shortcomings of individuals. Indeed this has become the stock-in-trade of the body politic within the capitalist parties. “A very nice turns of events to blame individuals and let the system ideology off scot-free”, might say some.

Non-socialist readers will perhaps join socialists and feel “disgust” at the poverty, hunger and sickness and early death among us workers; “anger” at the strangeness, enmity, competition and violence between us; “sadness” with the coldness, childishness, wickedness, treachery and greed from many of us; and “apprehension” at the ignorance, hopelessness and ambivalence displayed by others. Then think nothing of a society split into, countries, races, cultures, religions, sexes, ages, classes, sectarianism and criminals; of human production organised around wage-labour, unions, bosses, money, trade and exchange commodities, and private property; of the need to protect society with law and order, punishmen, and war. Non-socialists think of all these “structures” with “elements”, “philosophies”, “standpoints”, “practices” as normal and necessary for humans in a modern society.

Socialists see that bourgeois ideology illustrates a characteristic where pictures of how things actually happen in society appear back to front. God creates Man instead of the reverse. In ethics, people are said to derive judgements from an absolute moral principle of some sort, whereas it is their judgements, reflecting their class conditions and interests that have constructed over time (and through generations) this principle. The belief that in politics the state grants its citizens certain rights, where in reality the people using their vote have abnegated their social power to the state. The view that the government represents the people, where actually it governs in the interest of our masters. In history, we are lead to believe that “great men” and ideas decide the course of events, where in reality, events, combined with their underlying conditions, establish the limitations and opportunities which determine in broad outline who shall be “great men” and which ideas will triumph.

In economics, people think that they decide where they work and what they buy, but really, the jobs and commodities available determine both. Also that businesses serve the community by their investment in the production and jobs where really it is the community which serves the businesses by giving them the lion’s share of what is produced, including the right to decide on questions of further investment into goods and jobs. Lastly and most crucial in the principles for this society, the most pernicious piece of ideology is where workers believe, with their “hourly rate” in their mind, that this represents payment for all the hour of their labour.

Capitalist ideas dominate the political economic and social scene for the capitalist own and control the means of propagation, education, information and news. Thus, all discussion and debate is undertaken on their terms. It should be clear, then, that bourgeois ideology serves capitalist interests not only when it provides pro-capitalist solutions to pressing social problems but also when it confuses people, or makes them overly pessimistic and resigned, or makes it difficult for them to formulate criticisms or imagine alternative systems.
William Dunn

Greasy Pole: Howard’s Beginning (2003)

The Greasy Pole column from the December 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Among what is politely called the cut and thrust of politics the Tory Party has always taken comfort from the notion that, when all is said and done, they have the priceless asset of loyalty as their secret weapon. Anyway that is the kind of nonsense they dish out to the grass roots party members, presumably because they alone are crazy enough to believe it. Consider, for a start, the case of Iain Duncan Smith. As it became more and more obvious that the Quiet Man of Chingford could not survive much longer in the hot seat into which those same grass roots had thrust him, he tried again and again to put off the inevitable by appeals to party loyalty. In this he was supported by the majority of MPs, including some of the more prominent in the Shadow Cabinet. At that stage only a few were ready to put their heads above the parapet. And among those most loudly protesting their unswerving loyalty to their doomed boss were Oliver Letwin – and Michael Howard.

So strongly were these two driven by the passion of their loyalty that shortly before IDS was shown the door by the parliamentary party they allowed themselves to be photographed standing in support of him outside Conservative headquarters. The question is, was anyone really impressed by this? The body language and facial composure of both men did not suggest that loyalty was in the forefront of their minds. And that was how it really was because directly IDS had been deposed Howard announced that he was ready to offer himself, with all due modesty, as a candidate for the leadership. But he did this with a speed not to be expected in someone still grieving loyally for the lost leader. At the same time Letwin was busily negotiating a deal between Howard and his only real rival – David Davis – to ensure that Howard would be the only candidate. It was, as you might say, political business as usual.

If either of these men was troubled by feelings of guilt at their double standards (and there is no evidence whatsoever that politicians are ever vulnerable to such distractions) they could have consoled themselves with the memory that in his day IDS himself was not famous for being loyal to his leader. He was, in fact, one of John Major’s “bastards” – a group of swivel-eyed Tories who plotted relentlessly against Major and his policies. In fact there is a case that when the leadership was being contested in 2001 it was the very fact that IDS had been one of the “bastards” which persuaded the grass roots to vote for him. Then there is the fact that, in the previous leadership election in 1997, Howard was outmaneuvered (a rare occurrence for him) by William Hague going back on an agreement between them not to stand. And what about the disloyalty of the parliamentary party towards the grass roots membership – all those patient, unfulfilled blockheads who stuff envelopes and organise coffee mornings but who were denied their chance to vote for a new leader? It seems clear that the underhand operations to get Howard as the only candidate were designed to avoid giving the membership a chance to elect another IDS. So much for party unity. So much for trusting the party members. So much for democratic elections. Well, we did say it was cut and thrust.

One reason the Tories were so keen on Howard was that he was about the only one with a public image; the others, like Letwin, Fox and Davis, are hardly known outside the party rubber chicken circuit. Howard was different; after all he had been a Home Secretary. Which was part of the problem because if anything he was rather too well known in an undesirable way. If he is remembered for anything it is for the cruelty with which he pursued anyone caught breaking the laws which protect capitalism’s right to legalized theft. This made him hugely popular with the grass roots in their conferences but it had the opposite effect on anyone at the sharp end of crime and the legal system. “Michael, stand and deliver” was how Jeffrey Archer (before he began his personal experience of the punishment which Howard was responsible for) introduced him at one conference. In response to which Howard brought the faithful to their feet with a rousing stimulation of their most hardened prejudices and delusions on the theme of “Prison works… I know what causes crime: criminals”. And in case there was any doubt about his opinions he chose as his minister for prisons that strange woman Anne Widdecombe, who justified his confidence in her by overseeing the shackling of women prisoners while they were giving birth.

Whatever protest was aroused by incidents like these left Howard unmoved, his oily smirk undisturbed. In the view of a fellow minister he was a Home Secretary whose policies were “largely determined by the Conservative Party Conference…may have been the worst Home Secretary in the two centuries the office has been in existence”. (Since then we have had experience of Jack Straw and David Blunkett, who have put in a strong bid for that distinction). The fact that Howard’s family came to England in 1939 as refugees from the intensifying repression of Jews in Romania did not persuade him to speak out against the anti-immigration policies of the Thatcher government; nor did it make him protest against Thatcher’s raging about the country being “swamped” by immigrants. In the 1997 Conservative leader election Campaign he said that “Tories should not believe in ‘one nation’ policies but in ‘one British nation’ policies. All of this was in the cause of helping his bid to be leader of his party, eventually Prime Minister.

Then came the New Beginning. The prospect of leading the Tories, with the golden dream of upsetting precedent and winning power at the next election, wonderfully concentrated Howard’s mind. Something drastic was needed to get rid of that unfortunate image as the slippery darling of the Tory grassroots. The first priority was to embrace the concept of renewal: “Of course we have got to change” he announced, “The world has changed, the country has changed and we have to change”. A few days later he was giving his party the bad news of what that change entailed: henceforth they “…must be a party broad in appeal and generous in outlook”. He might have put it more simply: “Trust me, elect me”. This all provoked unhappy memories of Thatcher and her reference to St Francis: “Where there is discord may we bring harmony” and John Major drooling about presenting us with “a nation at ease with itself”. History will record that Thatcher’s government did not set out to introduce us to social harmony, or any other kind of it and Major became infamous for presiding over a nation so disturbed with itself that they blamed him enough to eject him emphatically from office at the first opportunity so that his party could then eject him from the leadership.

Charm Offensive
A lot of work, some of it in unexpected quarters, is being put into recasting Howard, to persuade us to forget the memorable description of him by Anne Widdecombe – who should have known – that there was “ something of the night” about him. We are being informed that we have cruelly misjudged the poor man. We thought he was a slimy, manipulative conspirator – just the kind of person to survive in the adversarial world of barristers which he inhabited – when all along he was, as one of his admirers put it, “Warm, charming and witty”. Even worse, in the Daily Telegraph of 1 November Anne Robinson took time out from being – well, Anne Robinson – to reassure us that when he was at Cambridge Howard was “a very fine lover” and that he has now grown up into someone who is “shy, witty and clever”.

The Labour Party are banking on the voters being resistant to this charm offensive and preferring to live with, and to vote on, their memories of the Michael Howard of old. But this may not be the wisest tactics for them. Every capitalist party has a murky past, populated by leaders whose responsibility for asserting the primacy of the ruling class has made them widely hated. If the workers had voted in the 1997 election with proper recall of the experience of previous Labour governments they would never have put Tony Blair into Number Ten. In 1979, if they had remembered what their life had been like under past Tory governments they would not have put themselves up for another dose of it. The leaders of capitalism personify the fact that it is a vicious, murderous, repressive way of organising human affairs. And capitalism relies for its continued existence on the defective memories and responses of the very people who suffer under it. There is no reason for Michael Howard not to benefit from this; we might yet see him realising his all-consuming dream of going through the front door at Downing Street.

The World Socialist Movement . . . (2003)

From the December 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

The World Socialist Movement . . . 

. . . says that socialism will, and must, be a wageless, moneyless, worldwide society of common (not state) ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production and distribution;

. . . says that socialism will be a sharp break with capitalism with no "transition period" or gradual implementation of socialism (although socialism will be a dynamic, changing society once it is established);

. . .  says that there can be no state in a socialist society;

. . .  says that there can be no classes in a socialist society;

. . .  promotes only socialism, and as an immediate goal;

. . .  says that only the vast majority, acting consciously in its own interests, for itself, by itself, can create socialism;

. . . opposes any vanguardist approach, minority-led movements, and leadership, as inherently undemocratic (among other negative things);

. . .  promotes a peaceful democratic revolution, achieved through force of numbers and understanding;

. . .  neither promotes, nor opposes, reforms to capitalism;

. . .  says that there is one working class, worldwide;

. . .  lays out the fundamentals of what a socialist society must be, but does not presume to tell the future socialist society how to go about its business;

. . .  promotes an historical materialist approach-real understanding;

. . . says that religion is a social, not personal, matter and that religion is incompatible with socialist understanding;

. . .  proposes electoral action by a socialist majority to facilitate the elimination of capitalism, not to govern capitalism;

. . .  says that Leninism is a distortion of Marxian analysis;

. . . opposes all war and says that socialism will inherently end war, including the "war" between classes;

. . .  noted, in 1918, that the Bolshevik Revolution was not socialist and that that Russia was not ready for a socialist revolution;

. . .  was the first to recognize that the former USSR, China, Cuba and other so-called "socialist countries" were not socialist, but instead, state capitalist.

(From the World Socialism website)

Party News: Uganda (2003)

Party News from the December 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 26 October the Kabale Socialist Club in Uganda held a meeting with people who had been reading socialist literature. They have sent the following report on the meeting :
Ariiho Geoffrey thanked the visitors, who had been reading Socialist literature lent to them by members of the club, for such an attendance. Mwebaze Jimmy as one of the old members of the club explained to the visitors how the club was formed, its objectives and activities - which most of the visitors agreed to have knowledge of. The discussion was mainly otherwise based on exchange of views including participation of the visitors. However almost all the visitors expressed the confusion and not understanding the "Religious Issue/question". All the visitors come from religious families and at most of them still show a lot of religious tendencies and beliefs. Comrades Mwebaze.Weijagye and Ariiho each explained the religious issue at length. However still most of the visitors showed dissatisfaction with the explanations in relation to how capitalism operates and how socialism will work. A leaflet 'Questions and Answers about Socialism* were distributed to the visitors. Also given out were the October-December African Socialist magazine (which had arrived a few days before) to all including the members present. Those who had not yet come across the July-September Issue also got from what had arrived. Weijagye informed the visitors that we have books, although some not written by Socialists, which explained the issue of Religion. The books include : Three photocopies of the Age of Reason (two of which were lent out). The Jesus Mysteries, The World without Wages, The Evolution of the Idea of God and Gibbon on Christianity. He also explained that we are expecting a pamphlet (which was presently out of stock): How the Gods were made.

Corrections (2003)

From the December 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our apologies for the number of annoying errors that crept into last month's issue which rendered some passages incomprehensible or made them say the opposite of what was intended:

In the article "Another World" on page 4. the sentence in the paragraph at the top of the second column-should have read "so that it does not operate to the undue - in capitalist terms - benefit of the big boys".

In the article on "Justice" on page 6. at the end of the first paragraph the word "This" should have appeared before the last sentence beginning "might just include".

In the review of the book on the "First Darwinian Left" on page 16. the passage in brackets at the top of the third column should have read "though he does seem to have anticipated Stephen Jay Gould's theory of 'punctuated equilibrium'".

Finally, in the first item in "Voice from the Back”, the word "for" was omitted between "Bad pews" and "the shareholders?".

Once again, our apologies. 
Editorial Committee.