Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fascists all

What have the British National Party, David Irving, 'equality watchdog chief' Trevor Philips, Dr Julian Lewis (not to mention a large number of other MPs) and groups such as Unite Against Fascism in common? It is not simply that all are would-be dictators; they uphold capitalism, each aiming to run in a particular way. A safeguard against them is needed, but it cannot come from force. The only safeguard is Socialist understanding. So, against the wishes of Lewis, Philips et al., let odious characters such as Nick Griffin and David Irving appear at at tomorrow's planned Oxford Union's Free Speech Forum, state their case, and have its worthless stupidity publicly demolished.

That is what these 'defenders of freedom' fear. The Socialist Party has a long tradition of offering the platform of debate to everyone. We have on occasion, for example, debated the National Front only to find members of the International Socialists (now known as the Socialist Workers Party) attempting to shout down both speakers. Why? They simply did not want the fascist claptrap exposed - because it would have exposed theirs too. To them, a brawl in the street is preferable to argument, and the support of hooligans acceptable because they cannot get that of enlightened men and women. One further example should help clarify the Socialist position. On the 8th May 1973 a Professor Eysenck, infamous for his views about the 'intellectual abilities of American negroes', was forcibly prevented from expressing his views at the London School of Economics. The World Socialist Society at LSE made the following statement on the importance of free speech.

"As members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, we are opposed to all censorship, whether it be through the legalized violence as enforced by the courts of the capitalist state or by the violence of self-appointed moral or political guardians. Let there be no misunderstanding of the meaning of what happened last week. A body of people decided that the rest of us should not be allowed to hear certain views they considered objectionable; they took it upon themselves to use physical violence to achieve this end - and succeeded. In other words, they successfully censored what we should hear. But will they stop here? Will they now proceed to prevent Eysenck expressing his views in writing? And, after that, will they burn the books he has already written? And what are the prospects for those of us who disagree with them if ever they win control of political power? Will we be shot or just put into concentration camps? These are serious questions since they are the logical extensions of the policy pursued by last week's political censors.

There is a further point: all censorship - especially censorship of this kind, allegedly exercised for the benefit of the working class - is an insult to the intelligence of ordinary working men and women since it implies that they cannot be trusted to hear or read certain ideas and are incapable of making rational judgements on the merits of rival ideas. Those who favour censorship always assume that they are somehow superior to ordinary people and have the right to decide what ordinary people should or should not hear. Censorship is an elitist policy - but those who favour it here at the LSE such as the Maoists and Trotskyists have nothing but contempt for the ability of the working class to understand Socialist ideas and to establish Socialism by and for themselves.

The classic case for allowing unpopular minority views to be expressed - including those with openly anti-democratic ones like fascism AND Maoism - has never been refuted: if they are wrong then their case will perish in the course of free, rational discussion; if they are right then censorship delays discovering this. As our resolution passed by the Union last Thursday puts: "only in the healthy atmosphere of free expression can ideas be debated, false ideas debunked and sound ideas developed". We are always prepared at all our meetings to give opponents of Socialism a chance to express their views. For we are convinced that our views are right and this will be shown in any free debate - and if we are wrong we wish to know so that we can stop wasting our time. WE STATE unambiguously that ALL censorship is anti-Socialist and anti-working class.

Last week's incident has done one thing, if nothing else. It has brought into the open those who favour censorship of political ideas: the Maoists and Trotskyists. They have placed themselves in the same camp as the fascists themselves and stand exposed as the dangerous enemies of the working class prostituting the good name of Socialism.

We stand for the common ownership of the means of production, without distinction of race or sex, organised democratically." (Socialist Standard, June 1973)


Thursday, November 22, 2007

The demise of Thatcher

On this day in 1990 Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, an event which prompted the following 'So What?' Socialist Standard editorial:

Who the hell cares which political dinosaur will lead the Conservative Party? What possible difference does the conclusion to this thieves' quarrel make to the vast majority of people living in Britain?

The Tories represent the interests of the parasite class which lives on the profits which are legally robbed from the wealth-producing majority. The workers, who are the overwhelming majority, have nothing to be gained by supporting the sordid ambitions of politicians. The Prime Minister is not the workers' representative, but the chief mouthpiece of the profit-protecting government.

The function of government is to rule over those who are the productive majority. The system in which the majority allows itself to be ruled - governed - oppressed by leaders is not democracy. Democracy means the rule of the people by the people. It means the administration of things, not the government over people. In a democracy there can be no leaders or led, for all people will co-operate to make the decisions which affect the life of the human community.

The irrelevant leadership battle is a sordid fight between the defenders of capitalism who think that it is their role to govern and ours to be governed. We are not invited to vote in their election; all we are asked to do is sit in front of our TV screens and gaze at the cynical tactics of a gang of political tricksters.

The Tory contestants were united by one policy; their complete and unequivocal support for world capitalism. In this they are at one with Kinnock and Ashdown. All of the politicians and parties of the profit system are solid in their rejection of any alternative to the way the world is run now. We live in a society where needs come second to profit and where those who possess do not produce while those who produce all goods and services do not possess the resources of the earth.

The real political contest is not about who will lead the Tory party and draw the prime ministerial salary. It is a battle of ideas about whether the working class majority will support and vote for production for profit or production for use. If workers vote for the profit system then it matters not a jot which of the con men leads which party of fakers. If workers opt for socialism, as historical necessity demands we should, the the question of leadership is irrelevant. No socialist would ever follow a leader; no socialist seeks to lead anyone else.

To the Tory tricksters we say "A plague on both your houses!" Socialists have better things to think about than the dirty fighting of those who run this dirty social system.

In 1979 Mrs Thatcher came to power heralded as the saviour of British capitalism. She now quits the stage with British capitalism in economic decline. Far from realising her boast "to bury socialism", her political career has been buried by capitalism. (Socialist Standard, December 1990)


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Who are the Litter Louts?

Official statistics from the Home Office’s Office of National Statistics show that there is a high level of concern about the problem of litter. Indeed, of all crime and anti-social behaviour litter has the second highest source of concern (33 percent of those surveyed felt “a high level of worry”). Vandalism comes top of the list (34 percent), both much higher than racial harassment (8 percent) and fear of burglary (14 percent). Hardly a week goes by without a letter sent to local papers on the subject. Now common or garden street litter is hardly one of the world’s major problems, but most people are primarily concerned with things that affect them - it is simply a human response to something right before the eyes. People clearly want and indeed should expect a decent local environment. What can be done about this problem? We examine a few solutions . . .

  • Solution no. 1: More bins. It might be suggested that more rubbish bins would solve the problem. Certainly this could have some effect. However my local area has plenty of bins (empty ones) and plenty of litter. Putting the rubbish in the bins is clearly something different from putting the bins up in the first place.
  • Solution no. 2: The strong arm of the law. A crackdown on ‘litter louts’- fines or imprisonment - can be a short term solution particularly in areas with a traditional respect of authority. Such a policy has been carried out very successfully, for example in Singapore. However, whether large and disparate societies have the resources to deal with what is basically a minor infraction of the law in such a heavy handed manner is doubtful.
  • Solution no. 3: Education. A rather cheaper method than a policeman on every corner would be a concerted campaign in the schools: “Naughty children: don’t throw things on the street.” However education (or what passes for it in these sad times) seems to be part of the problem. It is almost certainly the case that the majority of street litter is thrown by children or adolescents.
  • Solution no. 4: ‘Alternative’ education. If it really is the case that littering is a product of alienation in the schools it might be advisable to change the system of schooling to one more child-friendly. At the risk of us being deluged with letters from irate ‘alt-ed’ enthusiasts, the idea of ‘nice’ schooling is ridiculous in a world that is most definitely not nice. The modern system of education generally fits the bill required - that of producing (and reproducing) the ideal modern worker. Also again we hit the problem of resources - who will pay for this intensive, alternative approach?
  • Solution no. 5: A ‘green’ idea. Very popular in Germany, the Green ‘Law of Return’ means that councils are entitled to ship product wrappings back to the factory of origin. A ton of crisp packets dumped on the doorstep is a powerful argument for making biodegradable or recyclable packaging. This comes close to the problem and all credit here for identifying the real litter louts. But recycling uses resources – surely better, as far as is possible, not to produce potential litter in the first place; however, this cannot be expected from those whose business is to produce.
  • Solution no. 6: Socialism. Litter, like most other problems of the world, is a product of the current phase of capitalism. Consumption to the nth power (including snack foods, the main cause of street litter), within a background of built-in obsolescence determined chiefly by the great corporations, is the order of the day, all driven by the relentless quest for profit. Compounding the issue within capitalism is the sense of alienation, especially among young people, the result of the class ownership of society and the commodifying of everyday life – all of which helps produce the carelessness of littering. Powerless and voiceless – why should the ‘litter lout’ care? The streets really are not our own, nor can they be under capitalism.
  • KAZ

    Monday, November 19, 2007


    Wearing a 'Vegan You Can't Get Greener' T-shirt Heather Mills as the face of animal charity VIVA! said yesterday that "The startling truth is that animals farmed for meat and dairy are now one of the greatest threats to the planet." This is essentially a spin on a earlier fallacy in which VIVA! stated that meat causes starvation. (See the article, Meat, Money and Malnutrition, from the March 2005 Socialist Standard. )

    To use a phrase from the charity's latest campaign, Socialists would say that this group as well as the meat and dairy consuming "environmentalists" they are addressing 'haven't got a leg to stand on' when their green reformism is examined. Indeed, Socialists have since the 19th century been warning of the dire effects of capitalist production (see an earlier post from this blog, "Too late" to stop global catastrophe? ).

    What is essentially missing from Viva's analysis and that of other Greens is even the most basic understanding the way capitalism works. We would echo today what was pointed out buy William Morris as long ago as 1886:

    “a man can hardly be a sound Socialist who puts forward vegetarianism as a solution of the difficulties between labour and capital, as some people do” (Commonweal, 25 September 1886).


    Sunday, November 11, 2007


    The ribbons arrayed the honours displayed
    The medals jingling on parade
    Echo of battles long ago
    But they’re picking sides for another go.

    The martial air, the vacant stare
    The oft-repeated pointless prayer
    “Peace oh’ Lord on earth below”
    Yet they’re picking sides for another go.

    The clasped hands, the pious stance
    The hackneyed phrase “Somewhere in France”
    The eyes downcast as bugles blow
    Still they’re picking sides for another go.

    Symbol of death the cross-shaped wreath
    The sword is restless in the sheath
    As children pluck where poppies grow
    They’re picking sides for another go.

    Have not the slain but died in vain?
    The hoardings point, “Prepare again”
    The former friend a future foe?
    They’re picking sides for another go.

    I hear Mars laugh at the cenotaph
    Says he, as statesmen blow the gaff
    “Let the Unknown Warriors flame still glow”
    For they’re picking sides for another go.

    A socialist plan the world would span
    Then man would live in peace with man
    Then wealth to all would freely flow
    And want and war we would never know.

    (J. Boyle 1971)

    Saturday, November 10, 2007

    Letter from Pakistan

    A socialist from Pakistan writes: I am writing to inform you that the Swat district where I live and work has seen a wave of terror and militancy over the last few weeks. The militants claiming to be the local Taliban have captured major towns in the scenic Swat valley and hoisted their flags on police stations and government buildings, while preparing to advance to bring other regions under their control.

    The government has moved paramilitary forces to the region and have stationed them at key points. There have been clashes, shelling, bomb blasts and even suicide bombing on government forces resulting in heavy casualties. The local people demand the government to restore peace in the valley but the government has failed so far to do anything worthwhile. Recently the government imposed emergency, a kind of mini martial law in the whole country, blaming militancy and terrorism have increased and need to be brought under control, but people are very reluctant to believe the government would ever do something. Many argue the government and intelligence agencies are deliberately stoking the fire in the frontier region so as to extract more fund and time from its paymasters like the US for its war on terror. The local people are suffering. Mass migration from areas under the control of the taliban has started, people fearing they might get caught up in cross fire. Schools and colleges have been closed down for a month now, first under the threat from taliban and now because of the tense situation.

    It is only a fortnight ago that the forces stationed in Swat and the militants who have been patrolling certain areas under their influence came eye to eye and started firing at each other. That has continued and their are sporadic clashes, shelling from helicopters, kidnappings, abductions of the security personnel and even beheading of those who are captured. FC men (frontier constabulary) in hundreds, unable to put up a fight or overpowered by the militants laid down their arms and surrendered to the talibans. The overall situation is very tense now and that the government has decided to launch a comprehensive military operation in order to flush out these militants from areas captured by them and a semblance of peace restored in the area.

    Meanwhile all the NGOs, working for the uplift of the area have wound up their activities and left the area; projects incomplete and that there is a complete chaos all around. In such a situation people are now fleeing the area and have taken shelters down in the country. At the moment the militants have brought some 59 villages under their control and are now advancing to capture more. They have appointed administrators for each area and plan to set up their own shariat courts and execute justice. The worst sufferers are the students and their parents. This unnatural break in the studies of the students has disturbed them and they are suffering psychologically, fearing their schools might be bombed or the vehicles carrying them to schools might be hit by suicide bombers as the militants have threatened girls schools to close down or face bombing.


    Friday, November 09, 2007

    Society does exist, admits Tory leader

    Almost twenty years later to the week after she made it, the current Tory leader, David Cameron, has repudiated one of Madame Thatcher's more notorious remarks that "there is no such thing as society". In a speech in Manchester yesterday (8 November) he declared: "there is such a thing as society -- it's just not the same thing as the state"" (Actually, this is something that we ourselves have always insisted on.)

    Cameron's whole speech was in fact a repudiation of the ideology of "free market liberalism" embraced by Thatcher and the Tories in the 1980s. No doubt his media advisers and focus groups had told him that this sort of thing no longer down very well these days and that, if he wants to have chance of winning the next election, he is going to have to come up with some other, less harsh message.

    He was in Manchester to launch the Conservative Co-operative Movement. "The co-op movement", he said, "has generally been associated with the political left. I think that's a shame", explaining:

    "because there have always been people on the centre-right concerned about the effects of capitalism on the social fabric. Men like Carlyle and Disraeli, following the tradition of Edmund Burke and Adam Smith himself, who recognised at the outset of the industrial revolution that profit was not the only organising principle of a healthy society".

    The free-marketers at the Adam Smith Institute must be cringing and "to the right of Genghis Khan" might be a more accurate description of the views of Thomas Carlyle than "centre right".

    Carlyle (who invented the term "the cash nexus") and Disraeli (who wrote a novel about there being "two nations" in England) were prominent members in the 1840s of a group of Tories who called themselves "Young England". They got a mention in the Communist Manifesto:

    "Owing to their historical position, it became the vocation of the aristocracies of France and England to write pamphlets against modern bourgeois society . . . In order to arouse sympathy, the aristocracy were obliged to lose sight, apparently, of their own interests, and to formulate their indictment against the bourgeoisie in the interest of the exploited working class alone. Thus the aristocracy took their revenge by singing lampoons on their new master, and whispering in his ears sinister prophecies of coming catastrophe . . . The aristocracy, in order to rally the people to them, waved the proletarian alms-bag in front for a banner. But the people, so often as it joined them, saw on their hindquarters the old feudal coats of arms, and deserted with loud and irreverent laughter. One section of the French Legitimists and 'Young England' exhibited this spectacle".

    No doubt, him being a Tory Toff that went to Eton, there is a feudal coat of arms on Cameron's hindquarters, but much more prominently displayed will be the words "Opportunist Professional Politician" -- which workers should equally greet with loud and irreverent laughter.


    Sunday, November 04, 2007

    1848,1956 and all that

    On this day in 1956 state capitalist Russia sought to reassert its authority in Hungary. Thousands of people were killed or injured as the world looked on. The UN belatedly and impotently asked the troops and tanks to be withdrawn in September 1957. Those crying for the right to self-determination then (as now) failed to heed history, and learn the lesson that this 'right' means no more than supporting an alternative ruling class.

    Indeed, nearly 160 years ago there was a revolt in Hungry to secure independence from Austria, one which was eventually crushed with the aid of Russian troops. There was too a resolution which, like those of the UN, was merely an expression of sympathy:

    "That in their present glorious struggle for liberty, the Hungarians command our highest admiration and have our warmest sympathy; that they have our prayers for their speedy triumph and final success; that the government of the United States should acknowledge the independence of Hungary as a nation of free men at the very earliest moment against which they are contending; that in the opinion of this meeting, the immediate acknowledgment of the independence of Hungary by our government is due from free men to their struggling brethren, to the general cause for republican liberty, and not violative of the just rights of any nation or people."

    The September 1849 meeting at which this resolution was passed had one Abraham Lincoln as chairman. He met Louis Kossuth, the exiled Hungarian leader, several times and in January 1852 wrote more on the right of national independence. Lincoln was of the opinion that " . . . it is the right of any people, sufficiently numerous for national independence, to throw off, to revolutionize, their existing form of government, and to establish such other in its stead as they may choose."

    The Socialist Standard of October 1957 continues this important history lesson:

    "As often happens, the leader of the Opposition, when he gets into power, can hardly recognise the things he has been saying. In 1861 Abraham Lincoln became President and then refused to acknowledge the right of the Southern States to secede (notwithstanding clause one of his 1852 resolution on Hungary). He waged the bloodiest war of a 100 years to prevent secession. Lincoln did not pretend, as his admirers sometimes pretend, that the war was being fought to destroy slavery. He saw, however, that in the world as it really is admission of the right of any American State to go its own way would have reduced powerful united America to a disunited medley of small and weak States. This is true of the world today, and will remain true so long as capitalism is allowed to continue. Capitalist trade and the maintenance of private property demand central government with powerful military forces and defensible frontiers, and against this the so-called "natural right" and "international principle" of self-determination are merely fanciful; along with UN protests, they have no deterrent effect on the world. The nationalist movements organized to gain independence are not striving for abstract principle, but for the power of a propertied class to operate capitalism within territory under their own control. High-flown talk about "principles of self-determination" may be an incidental aid in the struggle, but has no bearing on the conduct of affairs once independence has been won. There is, therefore, no real inconsistency in the action of one group achieving independence and then forcibly suppressing movement for independence on the part of another minority within the country. Britain, America, India, Pakistan, Ghana, Russia, and all the other national capitalist groups which flout it whenever important economic or strategic interests are involved, are all being true to the vital belief they have in common, belief in the necessities of capitalism."

    Friday, November 02, 2007

    Holocaust 2

    Ninety years ago today the British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour declared his government's support for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.

    The reason for this position and the Labour government's opposition thirty years later was the safeguarding of British Capitalists' commercial and industrial interests. Such interests sowed the seeds of future conflict long before the creation of Israel:

    ". . . In 1936 the Arab landowners inspired a revolt against the continued immigration of Jews into Palestine, foreseeing a threat to their interests in the existence of the highly industrial and commercial community that was growing up in their midst. Since then Britain, which had secured a mandate over Palestine in 1922, has been exercising a virtual reign of terror . . . " (Socialist Standard, June 1948)

    Zionism then as now added nothing positive:

    "We shall go to Palestine in order to become a majority there. If need be we shall take the country by force. If Palestine proves to be too small . . . her frontiers will have to be extended." (David Ben-Gurion as quoted in the Manchester Guardian, 3 July 1946)

    American capitalism's support took some by surprise and commentators at the time saw recognition of Israel as an election ploy by President Truman. But, the Socialist Standard (June 1948) regarded such reasoning as superficial:

    ". . . there is far more behind the action than electioneering propaganda. Jews and Arabs in Palestine, like the Greeks, the Italians and the Jugo-slavs, are pawns in a much greater game which involves oil and the struggle between Russia and Western Powers for economic domination . . . "

    The trail of death and destruction left by the state of Israel in its struggle for domination is nearly sixty years old. Such mass murder alongside an endless series of peace talks not to mention nauseating displays of nationalism and religious cant reveal all too clearly that the workers have yet to understand that capitalism causes war and so many other 'problems'. But what you may ask is the socialist solution to the ongoing Middle east conflict? An article titled 'Holocaust 2' from the Socialist Standard of September 1982 answers this question and others:

    "The campaign of genocide which is the current military policy of the State of Israel is a tragic reflection on the real face of nationalism. The mythical image of Zionism as a movement of pioneering, progressive, pious, peace-loving nation building has been more than exposed by the ruthless attempt to liquidate the city of Beirut "for reasons of national security".

    In early August the Canadian ambassador surveyed fifty-five separate areas of Beirut and declared that "this would make Berlin of 1944 look like a tea party". The International Red Cross has declared that "at least 80 per cent of the casualties are civilians." (Sunday Times, 8 August 1982). Our TV screens abound with pictures of families which have lost fathers, mothers and children, - victims of a senseless struggle against national ambition. In early August a block of flats in West Beirut was destroyed and nearly all of its civilian inhabitants died. Not for a long time has the horror of capitalist war been quiet so evident as in the Lebanon.

    As ever, when there is killing to be done, God's rep on earth is to be found sanctifying it. Just as God's Anglicans were blessing the British killers as they set off for the Falklands, so the British Chief Rabbi, in a interview in the Guardian on August 7, had to say that "to the extent that the only principle governing this action is one of self defence, or that of the security of the State, yes, Biblical or divine sanction can be claimed for it". One might as God's spokesman precisely how a soldier carrying a gun or a pilot dropping a bomb can be engaging in self-defence against unarmed children, but then, one might as well engage in such a seminar with the fairies at the bottom of the garden.

    The curse of nationalism is not new. Let it be clear that unlike certain anti-Zionists, socialists do not oppose the tunnel-vision mentality of nationalism only when it is Jewish. To us, the flag-waving, trigger-happy Zionists are no more ignorant and abhorrent than those who have swallowed the diversionary, nationalist message of the PLO. Socialists do not take sides in national conflicts because it is not our aim to support one or more competing capitalist or would-be capitalist factions, each of which seeks its own territories and exploitable populations. No socialist will ever fight to defend a border - we want to do away with the divisiveness of countries and states.

    But there is a bitter irony about Zionist nationalism. In Dachau, the site of the old Nazi murder camp, a permanent exhibition stands as testimony to the atrocities committed in modern times against millions of Jews. That the survivors of such persecution sought refuge in a nation of their own - a country which would never persecute or exterminate anyone and would be free from the perverse national chauvinism on which Nazism was based - is not difficult to understand. In Israel, and here in Britain, not a few Zionists are now beginning to ask themselves the question: "How can it be that the country created by the holocaust is now inflicting similar misery on the people who are just as defenceless as the Jews in Europe had been?" Some of them are blaming Begin. Others say that the PLO has pushed the Israeli government to such measures. The truth is that those who saw a solution in Zionist nationalism - in having their own laws, prisons, borders, army and weapons of destruction - were naive. Their form of nationalism is no less aggressive or bigoted than is ever the case under a system of society where the laws of the jungle are presented as being the rules of civilised conduct. Every nation's flag is dripping with the blood of its enemies; every ruling class pays for its power in other people's lives.

    Nationalism can never be a solution to the problems of oppression: it was not for the Jews; it would not be for the Palestinians. The problem is class, not national, racial or religious origins. As a class, workers have no country. The British do not own Britain, the majority of Israelis have no significant economic stake in Israel, the impoversished Arabs do not share their exploiters' national wealth. There are two classes in society: those who possess without producing and those who produce without possessing. Wars are fought over the interests of the capitalists. In the 1940's an aspirant Israeli ruling class, represented by such vicious thugs as the Stern gang (of which the present Israeli Foreign Minister was a member), used terrorist tactics to secure their goal. Having obtained power violently, who could have expected the the Israeli ruling class to have maintained power except through the continued use of violence? Israeli workers identify with the aims of their rulers - they see national identity as more important than their class identity with Arab and other workers. In this they are dangerously mistaken.

    The socialist solution to the Middle East conflict is not a piecemeal policy. We do not advocate re-drawing the border or political deals or the exchange of one (American-backed) ruling class for another (Russian-backed one). These amount to mere rearrangements of the capitalist furniture. Only when Israeli and Arab workers join the worldwide movement for a society without class ownership, nations or armies will the war finally cease.

    This is not a pious hope for the future. Workers are dying in Beirut and there is every sign that more will be killed. What is now a local war could turn into something rather bigger. Who will stop the killing once and for all - Habib, Begin or Arafat? To expect this to happen is like hoping for Brezhnev and Reagan to shake hands, make up and disarm. We leave such dreams to the Utopians who are fond of calling themselves Realists. For socialists, it is clear that if there is ever to be peace it is those who are the sitting targets of war who must actively pursue it."

    Thursday, November 01, 2007

    The American Patient

    Sicko. Written and directed by Michael Moore.

    What a devastating indictment of the US health care system this film is! Fifty million Americans have no health insurance, and eighteen thousand die because of this each year. The focus of the film, however, is on those who do have such insurance - and are therefore not the most badly off - but find it of little use when they need it most.

    The insurance is with health maintenance organisations or HMOs, though they should really be called wealth maintenance organisations, as they are most concerned about the wealth of their owners and top executives. People pay for health insurance or have it provided by their employer but, when it comes to the crunch and they fall ill or have an accident, the HMO will try every trick in the book to avoid paying up. Surgical procedures may be categorised as experimental and therefore not covered, or people may be denied treatment because they did not disclose some prior medical condition or even failed to diagnose it themselves.

    It is the individual cases Moore presents that give the film its impact. One child died because the HMO insisted she be treated in one of their own establishments rather than the hospital that the ambulance had taken her to. A man who had lost the tips of two fingers in an accident with a saw had to choose which one should be replaced, as he could not afford both. A sick and disoriented woman was dumped in the street by the hospital when she could not pay her bills.

    Moore contrasts the American system with those in Canada, Cuba, France and the UK. He makes great play with the fact that the cashier in an NHS hospital doesn't receive payments from patients but instead pays out, reimbursing some of them for their travel expenses. The original NHS idea of free treatment is trotted out, courtesy of Tony Benn, but disappointingly there is no discussion of the extent to which it no longer applies. Further, there's little if any investigation of the real quality of health treatment in these countries.

    All in all, though, this is a forceful attack on the idea that medical treatment should be based on considerations of profit. And just before the end comes a refreshing thought, that society should be more concerned with 'we' than with 'me'.