Friday, February 2, 2024

Halo Halo! (2024)

The Halo Halo Column from the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

Religions, well some anyway, amongst other things, preach tolerance don’t they? Not in Kansas, USA, apparently. A new after-school club is causing such a kerfuffle that a petition has been raised against it. The petition says: ‘Satanism has a strong history of persecution and violence towards the church and those who believe in God.’ And goes on ‘Whether you believe in God, are a Christian, Catholic, Mormon, Hindu, Buddhist or even atheist you should see that ending this club is not just because it opposes Christianity but because what they stand for and the actions they will make are wrong and immoral. This isn’t an argument over religion and Christianity but of right and wrong.’ (Newsweek 27 December). It’s a Satan Club. Are young folk setting out to wind up their parents and authority?

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In Iowa, ‘the Satanic Temple of Iowa placed with state permission a small altar on the first floor of the Iowa State Capitol. It displays what are described online as the seven fundamental tenets” of Satanism, including the statement that “the freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend”’ (YahooNews 13 December). The incensed State Representative wants to bring in a law to display ‘the Ten Commandments in all state buildings, including the Capitol, and in Iowa public schools’, but admits ‘few people think there is much that can be legally done about it because of free speech and freedom of religion.’

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Richard Dawkins in his 2009 book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, notes that in 2008, a Gallup poll, in response to three questions regarding the origin and development of humans on this planet, found that 36 percent of Americans thought that evolution had taken place over millions of years but that God had kick-started it; 14 percent thought yes, millions of years of evolution but definitely no god: and a staggering 44 per cent thought (rather believed because thought implies rationality) that God was responsible for the creation of humans within the last ten thousand years. The percentage of the latter who favoured October or some other month is not known.

A Gallup poll along similar lines in 2019 appears to show that the 44 percent is down to 40; the 36 is down to 33, and the 14 has seen a large jump to 22 percent. A 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that 60 percent of Protestants consider themselves ‘born-again or evangelical Christian.’ Opiates are hard to kick.

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Now the stepmother of US House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson has called out his extremist Christian beliefs (LBTQNation 13 December, quoting a Guardian interview). She says that Johnson, who is a creationist, has an indifference to environmental issues because he believes that ‘God will take care of you.’ So stuff the environment. An ideal capitalist politician given the damage capitalism causes.

Besides refusing to fight climate change, Johnson’s religion has fuelled his virulent anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs.

Tiny Tips (2024)

The Tiny Tips column from the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

A billionaire bungalow boss is bankrupt months after boasting about his bursting bank account. Entrepreneur Bob Bull, at No.88 in The Sunday Times Rich List, owes £725million,

Over 1 in 5 children live in poverty in 40 of world’s richest countries, 

In a recent interview, Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-LA). own stepmother called out his extremist Christian beliefs and blasted the House speaker for using religion to justify his indifference to environmental issues. ‘It speaks to those religious beliefs’, Janis Gabriel told The Guardian. ‘Don’t take care of the environment because we have a finite amount of time here and God will take care of you. It’s crazy.’ 

Scientists Warn That the Dubai Climate Conference Is Full of Crap.

Communist China survivor blasts UN ‘eco-socialists’ for hypocrisy on eating meat: ‘From the Marxist playbook’.

122 killed by a fire in a wedding hall. 82 killed by a fire in a Covid-19 hospital. Three months later, another hospital fire claimed the lives of 92 more. Though they may seem to be freak accidents, these fires were preventable tragedies sharing one common theme: gross negligence. Government investigations into these fires found that local authorities were negligent in their failure to enforce safety regulations and conduct inspections. Contractors used cheap, highly flammable construction materials to cut cost. 

‘There is no democracy in Gaza when you want to speak against Hamas or its de facto government. We fear they will arrest us during the war, or after the war if we spoke against them. They can easily kill us even, and tell the world we are spies’, said Hasan Ahmed, 39, who was in the hospital with his injured brother.

…I see a possible change coming through ‘the slow rise of solidarity between the Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Jews opposing the all-destructive war’. As a pragmatic realist, I am well aware that such a solidarity is difficult to imagine today. But it is here that we should resuscitate the famous motto of the May 1968 protests in Paris: Soyons réalistes, demandons l’impossible. Be realistic, demand the impossible. The truly dangerous utopia is the idea that the solution to the Middle East crisis can only be achieved through military force.

A progressive Thai MP has been sentenced to six years in prison for insulting the country’s powerful monarchy on social media.

Sex can be bought for as little as £30 before 9am and £10 after midnight on the streets of Leeds due to the cost-of-living crisis. 

This food was made by the People and it should fill the bellies of the People…Don’t fall prey to the myth of scarcity! 

‘It’s time for humans to become aware of the new reality and to collectively move where we want to as a species. We have the capability to do that and are already seeing signs of such movements. We can break out of dead ends’, concludes Søgaard.

New Year, old notions (2024)

From the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

As midnight chimed fireworks sparkled and people held hands, hugged and wished each other Happy New Year. Meanwhile in far too many places rather more dreadful pyrotechnics continued being unleashed.

Rockets erupted with fire and shrapnel in heavily populated built up areas, the deadly crackle of assault rifles continued to exact an inexorable toll of civilians and soldiers alike. The recently screened BBC series Vigil is being repeatedly realised in awful reality as military drones are launched by leaders utterly unconcerned about casualties, mere collateral damage.

While Russia and Ukraine continue their internecine conflict, their place in the headlines has been temporarily usurped by Israel’s determination to out-atrocity Hamas, apparently quite prepared to risk provoking Hezbollah into some futile act of bellicose response.

Two bombs in Iran have been exploded, amongst a crowd assembled to pay respects to a military man assassinated by an external power, seemingly by Islamic State. Muslims slaughtered by Muslims. The Middle East is demonstrating that the three Abrahamic religions, whatever they might profess otherwise, are no promoters of peace.

American evangelical Christians even claim the conflicts in and around Palestine have a divine purpose. Their government is seemingly prepared to continue supplying weaponry and support to those deemed politically righteous. Ukraine has even moved the birthday of Jesus, from their orthodox point of view, into line with their allies.

There is a common feature in all these conflicts; that is, the fundamental competitive nature of capitalism being expressed as nationalism. Zionist state, Palestinian two-states, Islamic State, or the states essentially created by the Bolsheviks now fighting it out.

In Britain, amongst those whose ‘socialism’ is in the Leninist tradition, there are arguments favouring one side or another in the conflicts. There are those who claim groups such as Hamas must not be criticised for their actions because they represent the oppressed.

How representative they actually are is debatable as there is no way of objectively assessing how many in Gaza actually lend Hamas their support. But even if they do it is hard to see how the seemingly random killing of a 1,000 plus Israelis advances Palestinian well-being. Especially as the response of Israel’s government was wholly predictable.

Political leaderships and their military ultimately will prioritise their nation’s state over the lives of the citizens. The common man, woman and child, are an expendable resource, self-replicating in the longer term, in the struggle for competitive advantage.

It is worth pointing out to those who profess their anti-imperialism through their partiality for this side or that in these armed conflicts that history is against them. A half century or so ago anti-American imperialism’s activists marched the streets chanting, ‘Ho! Ho! Ho Chi Minh, Vietcong are going the win’. They did, and fifty years later Vietnam is securely capitalist and well favoured by America.

However, in 1965, General Curtis E. LeMay, US Airforce Chief of staff, referring to North Vietnam said, ‘We’re going to bomb them back into the Stone Age’. Subsequently, an uncounted number of Vietnamese were killed by frequent bombing from altitudes so high there could be no pretence that military targets were identified, or that civilian casualties were unfortunate, but unintentional. There was also the widespread use of Agent Orange, a defoliant that caused widespread birth defects at the time and also in those conceived long after the war ended.

This campaign was conducted on behalf of the nation whose representatives are presently calling on Israel to moderate its action in Gaza, while continuing to supply the munitions.

Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Iraq subjected to ‘shock and awe’, Ukraine and Russia, Hamas and the IDF, all justified by national interests. It also raises the question of what constitutes terrorism. If it means inflicting terror on those on the receiving end, then terrorism is the default position of all nation states when pursuing their interests militarily, either actually or by threat.

Peel away the publicly stated rationales offered in justification, then competing nationalisms are exposed. Putin can accurately point to NATO expansion, but it’s Russian interests opposed to Ukraine’s, which has its own self-identified national interests to defend, that have led, once more, to war.

In the Middle East, Iran and Saudi Arabia look on the present conflict with their own competing national interests in mind. One antithetical to Israel, the other perceiving benefit from a possible working relationship with Tel Aviv.

And so the behind the scenes discussions revolve around the one-state and the two-state solutions for Palestinians. As if by drawing more lines on maps nationalist divisions can be ameliorated if not wholly overcome.

Meanwhile British politicians continue to invoke Israel’s right to self-defence as if that mitigates somewhat the humanitarian tragedy being enacted. The moral high ground may seem an exalted place to stand, looking down on those seemingly too benighted to look up and see beyond their errors. But it is a cold, isolated place.

Not that the UK is exempt from nationalism, rather it is riddled with it. From coronations to Brexit to political divisions, its competitive nature all too apparent. This year’s general election will be promoted by the SNP as a de facto referendum on Scottish independence.

This demonstrates an essential feature of nationalism, which is that it is pitched against ‘the other’. The other in this case is England, as if there is something elemental to being Scottish that is fundamentally different to being English.

Surely, a denizen of Edinburgh has more in common with a Londoner than a crofter on Orkney, as the Londoner compared with a North Yorkshire hill farmer. Neighbours living next door to each other have similarities and differences. But their best interests are served by sharing their commonalities and their individual attributes.

Far better than killing each other over which flag should be saluted is ditching all the flags and working together to realise human potential throughout the world. A truly international commonwealth in which competition has been replaced by cooperation.

Gaza will be the present iteration of terror inflicted by the bellicose until the slaughter is put on pause before being unleashed elsewhere. Unless and until, that is, people decide, as we are well capable of doing, to abolish capitalism and its attendant nationalistic notions.
Dave Alton

What has capitalism ever done for us? (2024)

From the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some who read Marx’s seminal work Capital are quite surprised, or even shocked, to encounter the great revolutionary extolling the virtues of the capitalist mode of production. We even encounter reactionaries using this to somehow justify their faith in the contemporary version of capitalism and its corrupt and destructive nature. They seem to believe that this shows even capitalism’s greatest enemy to be complicit in their admiration for exploitation, inequality and injustice.

For socialists this merely illustrates their ignorance of the evolution of the productive forces and the historical context it creates. Just as the Left continually point to the promotion of the state ownership of industry in The Communist Manifesto as still being relevant as a policy today we see a complete misunderstanding of how history proceeds and how it decides what political strategies are relevant at a particular time and place and not the ideological needs of the radicals of either the Left or Right.

It goes even deeper than this because for many, and unfortunately this includes the great majority, it is inconceivable that although humanity has created the economic systems we cannot control them – they control us. Just as in nature the evolutionary forces are beyond the control of any particular species so the cultural and economic manifestations of human productive activity have been a matter of mystery and so elude those who seek to understand and so control them. Ironically, we only realise this now because economic evolution’s current historical context has made this possible. Marx wasn’t born with a specific genius to understand capitalism but capitalism created the possibility that someone like him could understand it. Everything depends on historical context – and here’s why.

The success of our species is entirely due to our technologies – from bone axes to nuclear power and from the invention of language to its abstraction called writing our frail bodies have been protected, to a great degree, from the murderous rigours of nature. The eventual symbiosis of humanity and its technologies evolved into a total synthesis where it became meaningless to speak of one without the other. An understanding of humanity and its cultural evolution became the study of modes of production and the specific classes that became politically dominant because of this.

Any dissection of the propaganda/ideology of these dominant groups always reveals an economic foundation. In this country in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries the struggle between capitalism and its representatives and the reactionary forces of feudal autocracy was bloody and without pity. The superficial religious ideologies of either side were promoted as the cause of the conflict but we see it now as the climax of a great class struggle created by emerging and old forms of production and their economic and political prerequisites. We also see that the attempted establishment of socialism by the True Levellers or Diggers was premature and only happened because of the political anarchy of the time. Not only were Cromwell and his bourgeois followers extremely successful at war but also at commerce, trade and exploitation. With the exception of a brief attempt at a counter-revolution in 1688, which was easily crushed, capitalism was established and the liberation of the productive forces was unleashed.

This ‘Industrial Revolution’ is what Marx refers to in his praise of capitalism. To him the creation of an educated working class together with the explosion of production (which made such education necessary) were the requisites of socialism. Capitalism was, for him, just a stepping stone towards socialism. Those who thought that socialism could be imposed without going through this capitalist stage have only to look to the tragedy of Bolshevik Russia to find their answer.

Today after unprecedented acceleration and change we find that capitalism has developed to a stage where automation, computerisation and organisation have the potential to liberate humanity from hunger, disease, ignorance, superstition and cultural isolation but instead we see food destroyed because it cannot be sold at a profit, medicine being priced beyond the means of those who need it most, systematic subversion of education into ideological conditioning, rising religious intolerance and the turning of information into fake news on the internet. Why? Because capitalism, like feudalism before it, has become a fetter on production. Production for profit necessitates buying power to create viable markets but also partly negates this consumerism by continually seeking to hold back the wages of those who produce the commodities that they are obliged to buy back! Today’s historical context renders capitalism irrational and anachronistic.

In the movie Kingdom of Heaven the character Balian asks Saladin: ‘What’s Jerusalem worth?’ The Saracen leader turns and says ‘Nothing’ but after a pause he turns again and says, with a smile, ‘Everything’. The same reply would be relevant to the question that is the title of this article. Capitalism and socialism are not involved in an eternal struggle resembling positions of ‘right or wrong’ or ‘good or evil’ but rather one of the recognition or otherwise of historical inevitability. The tiny parasite class and their ideological lickspittles of the mass media would still have us believe that in the midst of economic crises, war, pandemics, poverty, racism, genocide and crime that capitalism is still ‘the best of all possible worlds’.

Proper Gander: Lights . . . Camera . . . Political Action? (2024)

The Proper Gander TV column from the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

The response to Mr Bates vs The Post Office was a surprise reminder that TV programmes can still have an impact, even with so much else on our screens competing for our attention. The four-part series shown on ITV dramatised the campaign by ex-Post Office staff against their convictions for theft, fraud and false accounting. Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of sub-postmasters were prosecuted, with thousands more suspected of fiddling their accounts. Consequently, many lost their homes as well as their jobs, fell into debt and some ended their own lives because of the pressure. Their convictions were based on discrepancies and shortfalls recorded on their Post Office branch’s accounting software, Horizon. When some sub-postmasters realised there was a pattern of innocent people being convicted, they grouped together and formed The Justice For Sub-postmasters Alliance to co-ordinate their campaign. In 2019, England’s High Court ruled that the Horizon system was faulty, acknowledging the real source of the accounting discrepancies. So far, only 93 sub-postmasters have had their convictions overturned. In 2020 the government established a public inquiry which was ongoing while Mr Bates vs The Post Office was being broadcast.

Toby Jones portrays Alan Bates, who founded the campaign group and persistently worked to persuade lawyers and MPs that the convictions were unjust. The story is one of ‘skint, little people’ as Alan says, who found themselves victimised by the rules, procedures and economic prerogatives of powerful institutions, and who are fighting back. The Post Office is represented and defended by then-Chief Executive Paula Vennells and Head of Partnerships Angela van den Bogerd, both played as shifty and conspiratorial. The IT company behind Horizon, Fujitsu, is depicted as a cold, shadowy institution, but perhaps with less emphasis than might be expected. While the drama ends with a call for the government to take more responsibility, it puts Conservatives such as James Arbuthnot and Nadhim Zahawi (who appears as himself) in a very good light. Blame is placed on the Post Office rather than the economic and legal framework which allowed for the whole situation.

While Mr Bates vs The Post Office has raised awareness of the scandal beyond its 10 million viewers, it has been reported extensively before. Problems with the Horizon system were first highlighted in 2009 by Computer Weekly magazine, which has since published hundreds more articles, alongside investigations by Private Eye, Panorama (see Proper Gander June 2022) and journalist Nick Wallis, whose 2021 book The Great Post Office Scandal was serialised in the Daily Mail. The issue has been in the background for years, but Mr Bates vs The Post Office has managed to give it unprecedented attention. After its episodes were first screened in early January, a different angle on the topic was reported on news media each day: the way that suspects were interrogated, the millions paid to Fujitsu, the petition to strip Paula Vennells of her CBE, new legislation to quash the convictions, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak supporting a knighthood for Alan Bates.

Why has it taken Mr Bates vs The Post Office, rather than any of the previous exposés, to galvanise this action? As Marshall McLuhan said, ‘the medium is the message’, and the docudrama format of Mr Bates vs The Post Office enables it to have more of an impact than a straightforward documentary or written article. All these formats are interpretations of research into what happened, with the difference between them being in how this research is presented. In re-enacting what happened, a docudrama can employ the techniques used in filmed drama to engage the viewer. Dialogue is carefully chosen by the writer and rehearsed by the actor, often working with the real people being portrayed. Scenes are lit, filmed, scored and edited in ways intended to draw in the viewer to how the producers want the story to be told. When this is done proficiently, the re-creation of an event can have more of an emotional impact than being told about those events or even watching real footage. This gives docudramas an advantage in making the viewer feel emotionally invested in an issue, which is needed to fuel any political action. Only knowing that something is wrong or needs changing isn’t enough.

Previous docudramas have succeeded in shaping prevailing attitudes to events. The most well-known remains 1966’s Cathy Come Home, which showed a family becoming homeless and then being further persecuted by the state machinery and lack of adequate support services. The script was based on thorough research and largely filmed on location (a rarity at the time) with hand-held cameras and improvisation, giving additional authenticity. While Cathy Come Home drew attention to homelessness and led to the formation of the charity Crisis, the only reform to legislation it prompted was to allow husbands to stay with their wives and children in homeless hostels. As for wider change, director Ken Loach said that the film hasn’t achieved this: ‘it all gets smothered in this bear-hug of approbation, so that the energy of it is dissipated’ ( A docudrama which had a particular impact on policy was The Day After, broadcast in America during 1983. This prediction of what a third world war would be like convinced then-president Ronald Reagan to pull back on nuclear proliferation. Hillsborough, shown on ITV in 1996, took a different approach to these by portraying real people, as does Mr Bates vs The Post Office. Hillsborough dramatised the campaign by the families of those who died during the Sheffield Wednesday football disaster to overturn the official verdicts of accidental death. When the deaths were instead ruled unlawful in 2016, MP Steve Rotheram stated the docudrama was ‘massively influential’ in the outcome (

The momentum generated for a couple of weeks in January by Mr Bates vs The Post Office looks like it will speed up a resolution for the sub-postmasters which will hopefully improve their situations. However, the government’s apparent enthusiasm for the convictions to be overturned is perhaps due more to them wanting to attract support in a general election year than to them being concerned that the campaign will develop further if they don’t take action. Still, Mr Bates vs The Post Office has reminded us that TV has some strength, especially in the format of a docudrama, and the programme also optimistically shows how people driven by a common cause can self-organise and co-operate.
Mike Foster

Blogger's Note:
Correction from the March 2024 Socialist Standard

February's Proper Gander (print version) stated that Shelter was founded as a result of Cathy Come Home. The programme in fact inspired the creation of the charity Crisis. Apologies.

Vague and Vacuous (2024)

Book Review from the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

Values, Voice and Virtue: the New British Politics. By Matthew Goodwin. Penguin £10.99.

Goodwin was co-author of National Populism, reviewed in the March 2019 Socialist Standard, which was largely an unconvincing and unpleasant defence of a xenophobic form of nationalism. His latest book is no better.

The basic argument is that, since the 1970s, there has been a revolution or re-alignment in British society and politics. Thatcher supposedly emphasised family values and individual responsibility, but also ‘ushered in the new era of hyper-globalization’, as if this was government policy rather than part of the way that capitalism works; this involved, for instance, selling off ‘many of Britain’s assets’. The former ruling class of industrialists and landowners was replaced by ‘a new middle-class graduate elite’. The latter attended top universities, and were not just journalists, politicians and broadcasters, but also academics, doctors and architects. They have allegedly made it much harder for white boys from a manual working-class background to get into university. They control Britain’s main institutions, and a third of MPs have postgraduate degrees. Many of the elite are radical ‘woke’ progressives, a group that apparently constitutes about one in six of the population.

It is noted that Britain has become more unequal, and there are some passing references to very wealthy people, such as the ‘international jet-setting elites’ who have homes in London but also in New York and so on. Yet overall the author has not the slightest idea of how capitalism operates, of the division between a tiny minority who own and control the planet’s resources, and the rest, who have to work for them. The decline in manual jobs is noted, and much is made of the geographical divide between London and the rest of the country. But in London a quarter of the population live in poverty and one in fifty are homeless, though the reader would not gather this from Goodwin’s treatment.

It is correct to say that choice was reduced in politics as Tories and Labour grew closer together. However, the book’s focus is very much on England, with no discussion of parties such as Plaid Cymru or the SNP. The claimed counter-revolution against the new rulers involved three revolts: populism, Brexit and Boris Johnson. Brexit, we are told, was intended to reduce immigration and ‘restore Britain’s national sovereignty’ (whatever that is). Despite his privileged background, Johnson was ‘a renegade member of the elite’ and became leader of the non-graduate majority who supported the counter-revolution. But Partygate derailed this, and Truss’s ‘small-state, low-tax’ vision of Brexit failed as it had little popular support (nothing to do with market reactions, then).

The whole book is a fantasy, with no arguments to show how the supposed former ruling class have been replaced by the graduate elite, and no understanding of how politics under capitalism is driven by economic interests and the need for profit.
Paul Bennett

Clubbable (2024)

Book Review from the February 2024 issue of the Socialist Standard

Clubland: How the Working Men’s Club Shaped Britain. By Pete Brown. Harper North £10.99.

The author describes working men’s clubs as ‘the biggest ever working-class social movement’. He provides an entertaining description of their history, enlivened by accounts of visits to specific clubs. One of these is the Red Shed in Wakefield, where the Wakefield Socialist History Group has hosted talks by Socialist Party speakers.

Clubs originated under paternalistic attitudes of people who wanted to provide male workers (industrial workers, originally) with an alternative to the pub. The Club and Institute Union (CIU) was established in 1862, and had a number of rich and often aristocratic patrons. Gradually, though, clubs became more democratic, run by committees of their own members, and in many cases it was the members who maintained and refurbished the buildings, without being paid for this work.

Clubs benefited from the licensing laws that applied to pubs but not to private clubs. They were not just about serving beer, as they also provided facilities such as snooker tables, reading rooms, concerts and lectures by invited speakers. In 1887 William Morris spoke on ‘Monopoly’ at the Borough of Hackney Club, but was taken aback at all the coming and going in the audience, waiters serving food and so on. Brown describes the Bloody Sunday demonstration that year, which was attacked by the police, as being held by ‘the London radical clubs’ (though some accounts mention others that contributed to organising it). Political activity gradually shifted to other locations, however. Many well-known names began their careers performing in clubs, such as singer Tom Jones, racist ‘comedian’ Bernard Manning and snooker-player Steve Davis.

An obvious question is the status of and attitudes to women in these working men’s clubs. Women were originally not allowed to join, but gradually things began to change and by the 1950s most clubs had ‘lady members’. The clubs could hardly survive without the income from and practical contributions by women, but it was only in 2007 that women achieved equal rights in clubs, after various campaigns and shortly before the 2010 Equalities Act. Bingo made clubs even more appealing to women.

The clubs have of course had their ups and downs over the years. The breathalyser and the smoking ban hit attendance and bar takings. Musical styles such as glam rock and punk were hardly suitable for them. In 1922 there were 1,150,000 members in over two thousand clubs. Nowadays 1500 clubs are affiliated to the CIU, with around a million members, though there are also clubs which are unaffiliated. The north-east of England is ‘the undisputed heart of clubland’.

An informative account of an institution that figures little in most social histories.
Paul Bennett