Thursday, January 31, 2008

Obscene Profits?

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is facing renewed accusations of profiteering after reporting record profits of $27.6bn (£13.9bn) - the highest-ever figure reported by a British company.

The huge profits - equivalent to more than £1.5m an hour and a 9% increase on last year - will cause anger amongst Britain's motorists who are paying over £1 a litre for petrol after the huge increase in oil prices in recent months.

The Shell figures were immediately branded "obscene" by Unite, Britain's biggest union, which called on the government to levy a windfall tax on the oil industry.

Joint general secretary Tony Woodley said the union had no problem with profits but that consumers should question the "excessive, mega-profits" of the oil companies.

(The Guardian, here.)

The simple truth is there is nothing "obscene" about profits. It's the whole motor of capitalism. Profits derive from the surplus value us workers create, so if you accept the system (as Woodley does) then why moan about companies making profits, record or otherwise, at all?


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The last time the police went on strike

What we said in 1919 about the police unrest and strikes of that time. Ironically today’s demonstrations are organised by the Police Federation, the company union set up in 1919 to stop a real union being organised.

Bobby’s discretion

So, the bobbies have funked it. We are not, for the present, at all events, to be treated to the comic spectacle of strike processions of bluebottles being shepherded through the streets by their own blacklegs, the "specials." The world has lost an entertainment.

Of course, we are not blind to the difficulties of the policemen's situation. Their bosses had got the strangle-hold on them. By the simple expedient of stopping sixpence in the pound of their wages, confiscating their fees for the service of summons, and in other dubious ways, the capitalists provide a pensions fund at poor Looby's expense. The loss of this pension, together with the "sack," is the first threat the bosses hold over the bobbies' heads. Bobby is a man with no other trade in his hands in the vast majority of cases. So the threat of losing a regular job has special terrors for him. In addition, the loss of his pension—a pension designed, as most pensions are, to get a disciplinary grip upon the subject which probably no other expedient possible in a "free country" could afford, is a prospect requiring a quite uncommon type of mind to withstand.

The bosses, of course, played the game for all it was worth. They said they were flooded with applications from soldiers and ex-soldiers to take the policemen's jobs. They also talked loudly but vaguely about the arrangements that were being made to meet Buttons’ grievances. It was the old game of bribe some and threaten others—the game played from the beginning to the end of the recruiting for the war—the game played to kill the demobilisation trouble after the Armistice. As, in the earlier case, the single and the young were promised jobs and preferment if they enlisted, and the married and the older ones were threatened that they would have to go if they did shove the others in; as, later, the older men were promised early demobilisation if they kept quiet, and detention till the last if they did not, while the younger men were soothed with extra money, so the older policemen were threatened more particularly with the loss of all that was so nearly won, while the younger men were soothed with promised improvements in the longer road before them.

Meanwhile the policemen played their cards just about as badly as they could. They hare have climbed down under threats—than which hardly anything could more completely have exposed their weakness and fear. Added to this they have climbed down before their bosses had committed themselves to the vaguely talked-of concessions, and in face of this confession of funk and weakness those concessions are going to shrivel up considerably. The bosses have found out all they wanted to know—that the reward they are offering their bulldogs is sufficient to secure their allegiance to their odious duties. If they dare not decline those duties for themselves they can never dare to decline to perform them for others. So, when labour troubles come Bobby will not, the masters are assured, be a trade unionist, and they have secured this, thanks to their cunning, at about the lowest possible price.

The Daily Chronicle in its issue of June 2 tries to point out to the policemen why the Government can never recognise the Police Union, and, as usual, it reveals only half the truth. "The police exist," our contemporary says, "to support the State. That is what they are for. . . They cannot strike and agitate, or even become public politicians, without ceasing ,to be policemen." Which is true enough as far as it goes, but does not dispose of the not unimportant fact that the policeman is so essentially a member of the exploited class that he cannot get his admitted grievances redressed until he threatens to cease to be a policeman.

The more important matter, however, is the statement that a policeman is only such to support the State. The complement of this half truth is, of course, that the State is only an instrument for keeping the workers in subjection. Directly this position is realised it becomes obvious how far the police are from getting recognition for any police union that could possibly link them with the unions of the industrial world. The position of police force affiliated with the industrial trade unions would indeed be a tragic one in a time of strife. This the bosses have sense enough to perceive, if the underlings have not. And it is for this reason rather than that they are afraid of being dictated to by the men that the Government will never recognise the Police Union.

It was probably a lie that the police authorities are inundated with blackleg applications from soldiers, but the capitalists have a deep pocket, and, as long as their control of the instrument of the State lasts will have no serious difficulty in obtaining men who will carry out their behests. It is simply a question of the price.

The only thing that can deliver the policeman—as the rest of us— from the tyranny of his tormentors is for the working class to assume control of the State, and to use its forces, including the police, to abolish capitalism and establish the Socialist Commonwealth.

(editorial, Socialist Standard, June 1919)

The police v. the police

The capitalist Press has been busy explaining to Simple Simon that the action of the police in "breaking their oath" is not only mutiny, but "a crime." Of course, it is always a crime when the bulldog turns and rends its master's hand, notwithstanding that that hand was doing things with a stick. But there is another side to the question.

During the long period when the workers were more somnolent than they are now, and that condition was reflected in a far more incomplete organisation and a far greater trust in and submission to their union officials, the bosses were not so much afraid of the "labour unrest" as they are to-day. Consequently they did not attach the same importance to the bobby as they do now, and they made the mistake of paying him accordingly.

The result was inevitable. Notwithstanding his oath, the policeman was forced to struggle for a betterment of his miserable condition. More even than in other trades—if that were possible—this necessarily meant organisation. A union was formed, and as the aspect of industrial affairs became darker, a police trade union, affiliated possibly with other trade unions, deriving a certain amount of its strength from those unions, was regarded as an extremely sinister thing.

The bosses got a bit nervous. They made panic concessions, and then they started to cut out the "cancer"—in other words, to smash the union.

Now it is quite clear that the men owed every jot and tittle of the improvement in their condition to the union. Their oath availed them nothing. It was only intended to bind them to vile conditions of pay and tyrannical discipline. They might have stood meekly by it till doomsday, nothing would have been done for them. Only when they seriously threatened to commit the "crime" of leaving their oath to look after itself, as butcher Asquith did his registration and other pledges, and Lloyd George did his pledge concerning sending young boys to the "front," did the masters deign to give them some measure of alleviation.

It is quite plain, then, where the crime comes in. It is certainly not in breaking their oath, which they had been driven to do by the callous indifference of the bosses to their claims, but in their desertion of the instrument which had gained them so much. To allow that to be crushed out, and those who had undertaken the task of organising them for the struggle, to go down in the hour of victory is both a mean and cowardly crime.

Writers in this paper have previously pointed out how extremely unlikely it was that any sort of union that could be any good to the men would secure official recognition. The forecast seems to be pretty correct. Had the police, however, behaved with sufficient courage and intelligence as to force the question of recognition to a successful issue, the simple and inevitable result must have been the increased use of bayonets instead of batons in industrial disputes. The masters have more strings than one to their bow.

A. E. J.

(Socialist Standard, August 1919).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Abortion and 'The Right to Life'

When I was a fetus
Sheltered in the womb,
The politicians cared for me
Or so I would assume.
But when I became a human
And they supported war,
I found myself a victim
Of capricious, bourgeois law.
The state's command transcended
The "Right to Life" its plea,
When King Capital demanded
A sacrifice by me.
Given that on this day thirty-five years ago the US Supreme Court legalised abortion, it seems appropriate to examine this issue from a socialist perspective. Samuel Leight in his book The Futility of Reformism - A Case For Peaceful, Democratic Social Revolution*
states that the "..well-being of the fetus and the whole question of abortion, which in the final analysis should be a personal matter between individuals, their physicians, and their conscience, will receive within socialism the protection, proper facilities and harmonious environment that will always remain an impossibility under capitalism. For example, in socialism the fetus and the mother will never be threatened by war or economic insecurity. Pregnant women will have complete free access to the finest medical services available without duress, social embarrassment or the infringement of 'the law.' .." He goes on to argue however that the long held principle of socialism and nothing but is correct: "..becoming entrapped in 'abortion' as a political issue unto itself constitutes a digression from working class interests."
Following an examination of Roe v Wade, the reaction of the Roman Catholic church and abortion leglislation in a selection of European countries, as well as Brazil, Israel and Kuwait (not failing here to note the irony of the all-male parliament deliberating the topic at the same time women were marching outside demanding the right to vote!) he goes on to conclude:
"...To those who are anti-abortion, it is a pity that they do not display as much concern for life after it leaves the womb as they do for when it is contained within it. To those who are pro-abortion, and have mis-directed the issue into a political one, absorbing energies, time and money, they would be well advised, together with their opponents, to re-examine all the social and economic aspects of the subject in relationship to capitalism. For if present society is unable to prevent 40,000 children from dying each day from hunger and disease, and if the underlying objective is to promote life and not to curtail it, the continuation of the present system, with all of its many evils,constitutes the direst of threats to all fetuses, women, men and children alike, especially those belonging to the working class.
It can be realistically assumed that unwanted pregnancies will continue to occur whether the system be capitalism or socialism; that some women will seek abortion, if they so desire, regardless of the law or the prevailing system. However, as both societies would possess a completely different economic base and social structure, the circumstances revolving around the problem would be completely different also..
Within the democratic environment of socialism, wherein poverty and insecurity have been eliminated, and where unbiased knowledge and information will be easily disseminated, all the various methods of birth control will also be made freely available. This factor alone will be instrumental in dramatically decreasing unwanted births and the necessity for contemplated abortion.
Further, and most important, the economic reasons for terminating pregnancies under capitalism will no longer exist in socialism - similarly, this would be applicable to the envisioned curtailment in suicides. Should a woman, in socialism, find herself with an unplanned or undesired pregnancy, she might still decide to abort for other reasons, but they obviously will not be financial ones. With this vital problem eliminated, pregnancies and child rearing should become far more pleasurable than they are today, and again the incidence of abortion considerably diminished.
Humans that have achieved socialism will also have the capabilities, technology and social insight to deal with the issues involved, bereft of the 'law' and aided by the genuine compassions and science of an advanced civilization."
* Copies of this book are available for £5:

Monday, January 21, 2008

What's wrong with prostitution?

Here in the UK against a background of a man standing trial for the murder of five sex workers, a possible change in legislation regarding prostitution and assorted reformist demands (eg."it should be a crime to pay for sex"), the socialist position needs to be heard.
"...Socialists are optimists. We insist that the mess that is human society to-day can be changed if we all decide to change it. We made it, no demented divine power ordered it from above, so we can think it out and get it right. We assert that all the problems which need resolving are part of the property society that began in a simple way 10,000 years ago with the agricultural revolution. This is too short a time for evolution by natural selection to have advanced at all. Before then, from the early hominids twelve million years ago to modern people (homo sapiens sapiens) 50,000 years ago, the human race was evolving genetically. The characteristics which made them successful, and which are part of our genetic code to-day, were the ability to organise into co-operating groups, dividing their labour to get sufficient for their groups, and deliberately sharing it out. It is probable that the females, being perpetually sexually receptive, helped to keep the protecting, hunting males in the group, making sex a vital aspect of social relationships them as now.
The human brain developed the capacity to react and respond to the complex demands of social organisation and co-operative hunting. There is no reason to suppose that a hunting animal has a single gene for aggression - implying a natural hostility even towards its own kind. Other co-operating hunters, like man's best friend in its wild state, direct their aggression only at their prey and are gentle towards all the members of their own group. Ten thousand years ago some of our own kind stopped wandering, settled and farmed, grew crops and herded animals. The notion of ownership and property began at this point with the need to build defences and keep out pilferers. The males, being larger and more mobile, did the protecting and the females became part of the property being protected, and thereby were reduced to the level of the ox and ass.
Consideration of our remote past has limited value - Socialists do not advocate a return to the simple life except for those who would like it. Learning from and building on others' experience is vitally necessary to our survival. We depend almost completely on other people's skills and knowledge, each of us contributes our little bit of effort and expertise to the joint endeavor. However, just as we are capable of learning and communicating, so we can analyse and criticise. We can probe to the root of the problems that beset us, below the network of daily irritations and frustrations until pattern of causation is discovered. The cause is ownership and control, property - the fence around the the settlement 10,000 years ago. A simple division between owners and "protected" exists today, but to no useful purpose. The owners have long since delegated even the protecting to workers and sit securely, fattened parasites, while we meekly teach our children that this is how life is and must inevitably be.
The suffering and abuse of women is inseparable the social system in which we live. Prostitution in, for example, Hulme in Manchester, is a product of the system that builds slums in the skies where vandalism and muggings , alcoholism and drug dependence are part of the tawdry and squalid lives of the poor. A girl who kept the favour of a violent by accepting his advances, leaving home for the big city to find work in hotels drifted naturally into prostitution. Though she is offensive to "respectable" conforming people, she provides a service which is human and valuable to emotional misfits who use her.
The rest of us, pushing pens and pressing buttons in our pointless, meaningless jobs, perpetuate our frustration, which we carry home and take out on our tired, boring, penny-pinching partners. Women, like some other groups in the working class, have a double struggle - to improve their position in relation to men, and with all workers, to hold their position in the quicksand of the wages system. There is a difference of degree only between the housewife and the prostitute. Both are victims of the cockeyed algebra of the market system - the more personal the service, the less pay and status.
There is little value in diagnosis without a cure, but the cure has to come from awareness of the cause of the disease. It has to come through growing dissatisfaction, leading to questioning and consciousness. The worker, the wife, the prostitute, all innocent but jointly responsible for their continuing exploitation, must resist and rebel. The cure is far simpler than the disease. We will dismiss all manifestations of poverty and control - wages, money, law and state - take down all the fences and establish one world where all the human race will share the good things that we have learned to make. Freed from the dictates of the law and the confines of convention, relationships between men and women will find harmony. Marriage and prostitution will have no meaning when people may work together, live together, love together in any way they choose." (Chris Marsh, Socialist Standard, August 1981)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

So, Kennedy Won

John F. Kennedy won the American presidential elections of 1960 and was inaugurated on this day in 1961. The reaction at the time in The Western Socialist was basically so what?
",,,there was nothing really important about the affair, nothing more vital than a heavyweight boxing match, nothing that should have caused some 60 million workers to be even interested, let alone excited, over the question of whether Mr. Nixon or Mr. Kennedy should lead American capitalism in the four years ahead. There could be no possible benefit for the great majority of the population, regardless of the outcome. Mr. Nixon proclaimed that conditions are really not bad and that he would guarantee more of the same; and that America is really strong vis-a-vis Russia and would continue to be. Mr. Kennedy countered that conditions are not as good as Mr. Nixon would have us believe and that he would see that they improved, i.e., provide more jobs for wage workers and a different type of old-age medical assistance plan than that advocated by Mr. Nixon. He further countered that America should be stronger than it is vis-a-vis Russia and that he would spend more money than Mr. Nixon on armaments.
So despite the "Yankee socialist" tag hung on Mr. Kennedy by certain opponents of Lyndon Johnson in Texas he, like Mr Nixon, had nothing to offer other than a continuation of wage-slavery with the offer of a juicier and bigger carrot for the working-class donkeys who labour for him and his fellow capitalists and a continuation of of the armaments race and the as yet cold war with Russia for the markets and trade routes of the world. There was not an iota of real difference between the two and, strangely enough, there seemed to be a general awareness of this fact.
Yet there was great excitement over issues of little if any importance. "I don't know why, but I do not like Mr. Nixon's face." "Mr. Nixon and Mr. Lodge have more real experience than Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Johnson." "I might be a bigot but I don't like Mr. Kennedy's religion." "If Kennedy gets elected his old man, or even maybe the pope will be running the country." And so forth. The very thought of slaves arguing over which group of masters should control the political machinery by means of which they are kept in slavery would be laughable if it were not tragic. A continuing acceptance of capitalism by the majority can only rest upon the continuing political immaturity of the workers, a failure to recognize their own subject status in society...." (The Western Socialist, No. 7 - 1960)
And as if, nearly fifty years later, socialists need any reminding of such immaturity, there is a new article titled How Voters Think:
But knowing that our members of our class are to be found working at every echelon of capitalist society, whether in the military or police, medicine or playschool, etc., and that emancipation requires majority understanding and action, socialists say WORKERS OF THE WORLD WAKE UP!,
PS The result of the current presidential campaign in the US is already known: they won, you lost.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Capitalism unleashes war

On this day in 1991 another round of mass slaughter started with Operation Desert Storm. The February Socialist Standard of that year carried the following editorial and its message is, if possible, even more vital today.
"So capitalism has again unleashed the horrors of war. The Socialist attitude is clear. Wars are never justified from a working class point of view. They are fought by capitalist states over sources of raw materials, trade routes, markets and investments. None of these are issues of concern to wage and salary workers, the majority in society.
The present war in is a particularly blatant example of the sort of issue wars are fought over under capitalism. What is at stake for both sides is quite clearly control over oil supplies and trade routes. Everybody knows this, and the propaganda machines of the Western powers are having great difficulty in portraying it as a war for "democracy" and "our way of life". With the official war aim being to restore the filthy-rich Al Sabah dynasty to rule over and exploit the the people in the puppet-state of Kuwait and with mediaeval and religious fundamentalist Saudi Arabia where women are not even allowed to drive cars as the main local ally, this is hardly surprising.
Iraq is being attacked, under the flag of convenience of the United Nations, because its emergence as a strong regional power with expansionist ambitions represents a threat to Western domination of the area and a challenge to the security and free flow of Western oil supplies "at market prices".
This gives the Iraqi ruling class a propaganda advantage. They can truthfully present the war as one waged by Western powers to protect and further their imperialist interests. But Iraqi workers should not be fooled. They are members of the international working class who have been conscripted by a particularly brutal local ruling fight for its interest in having a secure trade outlet to the sea and in building itself up as the dominant regional power. Issues, once again, that are not ones of concern to them as wage and salary workers. Iraqi workers, like those of the Western countries and their local allies, will be dying for interests which are not theirs.
The outbreak of any war is an unmitigated disaster for the working class. It is the workers who are hired or conscripted to do the fighting, the destroying, the killing - and the dying. It is workers and their families who suffer from the bombings, the destruction, the restrictions, the famines and the epidemics that accompany all wars. War brings nothing but suffering and misery.
This is why, as Socialists representing the working class interest, we are opposed to all wars. always. We are not prepared to support under any circumstances the killing and maiming of our fellow workers in the pursuit of capitalist profits. Ideally, from the point of view of the working class within capitalism, it would have been better if the capitalists had settled this conflict peacefully and, now that the war has started, it should stop immediately. Unfortunately this can only be wishful thinking. Capitalism does not work that way. War will always be a policy option invoked by capitalist states from time to time.
We denounce the war as yet another example of the barbarous nature of the capitalist system and call upon our fellow workers in all countries to unite even more urgently to bring the war-causing capitalist system to a speedy end by establishing in its place a world socialist society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the Earth's resources by all the people of the Earth."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Andrew Glyn

Andrew Glyn who died last month at the young age of 64 was described in one obituary as a "leading Marxist economist".

Apparently he once told a student that “the three greatest men who ever lived were Lenin, Trotsky and Charlie Parker. Not necessarily in that order.” Well, Socialists worthy of the name would dispute the first two and regard the third as a question of personal taste. He was first sounded out in the Socialist Standard (February 1973) on the publication of British Capitalism, Workers and the Profits Squeeze , which he co-authored with Bob Sutcliffe. His last book, Capitalism Unleashed, was reviewed here.

In the 1973 review the authors' Marxist credentials were seen to be betrayed as they showed " knowledge of the basic cause of inflation". They also were seen to "grossly over exaggerate the effectiveness of trade unions in raising wages." By 2006, Glynn had come to realise that he had erred in thinking that capitalism could be overthrown by such activity. The review concluded by stating that to "..overthrow capitalism a conscious political movement for Socialists must arise (and not just in one country either). Otherwise, and until it does, capitalism will indeed "muddle on for ever".


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Cages for animals - boxes for workers

Mary Riddell is just one of many journalists who have passed comment of late on the 'nasty, short and brutish life' of the factory farmed chicken. She is certain that Jamie Oliver's and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's related tv programmes will convince people to pay an extra £1 for the 'high-welfare' variety. Jim Plumley, head of sales and marketing for the Channel Islands Co-operative Society, disagrees:

"There are people who are less fortunate than others and are concerned about the price of free range chickens,’ he said. ‘People who are perhaps more fortunate will have a better choice."

Indeed. People starve while food rots. But what is interesting about Riddell's position in the reformist quagmire is that she goes on to compare the cramped living conditions of the 855 million meat chickens reared in the UK every year with those often suicidal unfortunates in that country's overcrowded prisons. This is, alas, as far as it goes. She does not come close to recognizing that the profit system is the cause of such animal and human suffering. As D.H.Lawrence said, earning a wage is a prison occupation. She does not, therefore, make the more pertinent comparison: cages for animals - boxes for workers:

"...But bad living conditions are not suffered by animals only. Look around the world and see the shanty towns, tenements, back-to-back slums, tower blocks and jerry built council and private estates. The majority of the working class live and die in cramped, overcrowded, unhealthy conditions, lacking privacy or quiet, and often in an environment of depressing ugliness. There are some workers who can negotiate a set of wages that allows them to live in some degree of comfort, rather as the race-horse or pedigree breeding animal may be housed in special quarters. More than a century agitation and legislation have not however eradicated cramped and inadequate living conditions for the majority of humans.

"Yet it would seem a simple matter to provide comfortable living conditions for people - and for animals. The arguments against doing so are couched in accountant's jargon -alternative methods are dismissed as 'uneconomic', 'too labour intensive', 'not viable', 'unprofitable'. Members of the working class hardly need reminding that resistance to higher wages is the first principle in the code of every employer. Economic self-interest and competition override all finer feelings.

". . . The human race and society are not superior to,or apart from, nature but a product of of the universal process of evolution. As the only living creatures on this planet capable of consciously changing the environment and with an insight into the laws of nature we have a special interest in protecting and conserving the earth which is our means of life. Such an outlook will permeate socialist society - a true respect for our environment and fellow living creatures." (From the article, 'Livestock Liberation', Socialist Standard, June 1979)


Saturday, January 12, 2008

The People of the Abyss

Jack London who was born on this day in 1876 is the subject of an article in this month's Socialist Standard. Older editions of our journal have also examined London's oeuvre, including The Iron Heel. This book was reviewed in February 1975 and from the introduction we learn that "Jack London wrote over fifty books in a short life. The majority were written in haste; they include childish trash, four or five first-rate novels, and a number of outstanding short stories. In most of his writing the chief idea in one form or another comes from a crude form of Darwinism. It is either the survival of the fittest under savage conditions, or the depiction of a physical and intellectual superman who overshadows his fellows...The place of The Iron Heel in the literature of the the working-class movement is due mainly to the early chapters in which the need to overthrow capitalism is vigorously stated and exemplified, with Everhard expounding Marx's theory of value. But in all the ensuing action, what should be understood is that London was consciously rejecting ideas of Socialism when he wrote it. Much of it was intended to express his disillusionment with political activity and his disbelief that the masses were capable of helping themselves..."
London's The People of the Abyss is perhaps one of his first-rate novels and provides a description of his seven week-long stay in the East End of London during 1902. An outline of his experiences is to be found in the Socialist Standard from August 1974:
"...He slept and ate in the spike, the casual ward ("I must beg forgiveness of my body for the vileness through which I have dragged it, and forgiveness of my stomach for the vileness which I have thrust into it"). He tramped the streets wet to the skin and went to the Salvation Army barracks, where the crowd of paupers were made to stand four hours and listen to speeches and prayers before being given a skinflint breakfast. He went to the hop-fields in Kent, and watched Edward VII's coronation Parade in Trafalgar Square. To what he saw, he added copiously from official statistics, newspaper items, trade unions' and social workers' reports. A census of the alleys in Spitalfields:
In one alley there are ten houses - fifty-one rooms, nearly all about 8 feet by 9 feet - and 254 people...In another court with six houses and twenty-two rooms were 84 people - again 6,7,8 and 9 being the number living in one room in several instances.
A report on the factory workers in "dangerous trades":
The children of the white-lead worker enter the world, as a rule, only to die from the convulsions of lead poisoning - they are either born prematurely, or die within the first year.
No wonder that Jack London wrote to Anna Strunsky: "I am made sick by this human hell-hole called the East End."..."
Interestingly, when submitting The People of the Abyss to the publishers he described it as a report "from the field of industrial war" and that it "proposed no remidies and devoted no space to theorizing - it is merely a narrative of things as they are." Furthermore, after consultation with the publishers he submitted a revised manuscript along with a letter which noted:
"I have wholly cut out the reference to the King of England in the Coronation chapter, have softened in a number of places, made it more presentable in many ways, and added a preface and concluding chapter."
Imagine that: London's powerful, provocative account of poverty " the heart of the greatest, wealthiest and most powerful empire the world has ever seen" was pasteurized prior to publication! But it must not be forgotten that London was a racist nor that he supported the mass murder of our class during the First World War.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Blood on their hands

On this day in 1979 Pol Pot was overthrown. The article below gives a contemporary, socialist perspective.

"On 7 January this year Pol Pot was toppled from power, and a few days later the founding of the People's Republic of Kampuchea was announced, the president being Heng Samrin. The new government was installed in power with the help of Vietnamese troops, and was very much a Vietnamese creation. The Heng Samrin regime was immediately recognised by the Russian-bloc states, but most countries still regard the Khmers Rouges as the "legitimate" rulers, in spite of the horrors they inflicted on the country and manifest fact that they control no more than a small part of its territory. Norodom Sihanouk, who has distinguished himself solely by often and abruptly changing sides. has prostrated himself before the United Nations, begging for international assistance and support for the barbarians who helped destroy his country. Kampuchea and its people have become entangled in a web of hypocrisy, deceit and suffering which is remarkable even by capitalism's gruesome standards.

China supported and supports the Khmers Rouges, hence those western capitalist states which are becoming increasingly friendly with China and forsee better trade opportunities there are unwilling to upset them by supporting Heng Samrin. The Americans, having done their best to "bomb Vietnam back into the Stone Age", as one of their more candid generals put it, raise their hands in horror at the sudden discovery that wars kill people. Meanwhile the Vietnamese rulers have taken a leaf out of Uncle Sam's book and installed a puppet regime in Kampuhea. A treaty signed in March allows Vietnamese troops to be stationed in Laos and Kampuchea, enabling Vietnam (and its Russian mentor) to dominate Indo-China. This is basically what the dispute is about: over the last thirty years a succession of ruling classes have striven for control of Southeast Asia. After the defeat of the French and then of the Americans, the region was up for grabs between Russia and China. In spite of the Chinese attempt to force a Vietnamese withdrawal from Kampuchea by invading Vietnam, the Russians and their satellites have, for the moment at least, won the contest.

The losers, as ever, are the ordinary people, the peasants and workers of Kampuchea. Out of a 1975 population of around seven million, about three million are now believed to have died under Pol Pot. A further two million are currently starving as a result of the disruptions caused by evacuation and fighting. Only five per cent of the the country's arable land is under cultivation, and the food situation is likely to be even worse next year. Millions of pounds' worth of aid has been sitting around unused while presidents and prime ministers play their deadly games. Heng Samrin's regime has refused to allow the Red Cross to distribute aid to the Kampuchean population, on the grounds that this would mean sharing it with the Khmers Rouges and their supporters. And all the while, countless human beings die and suffer horribly, with their safest place the overcrowded and insanitary refugee camps in Thailand.

Anyone who thought that the defeat of American imperialism would lead to peace and prosperity for Southeast Asia has now been disillusioned. Post-"liberation" Vietnam has turned into such a paradise that hundreds have been prepared to risk drowning in order to escape, after the government has thoughtfully reduced the weight of the ships by relieving them of large sums of gold. Capitalist states like Vietnam and China are now exposed, to all but the willfully blind, as hypocritical murderers and oppressors no more deserving of support than Britain or the United States.

An "independent" country is simply one where a home-grown ruling class lord it over their subjects, to whom the nationality of their exploiters should be of no concern at all. Under capitalism, all countries are forced to behave like predators, including those that have but recently thrown off the "imperialist yoke".

No one who has seen, on their television, or in newspapers, the walking skeletons of Kampuchean could fail to be moved. The instinctive response may be to dig into one's pocket, but charity will not prevent such horrors happening again and again. Starvation may be rare in industrialised countries nowadays, but for a large proportion of humanity it is it is either an everyday experience or an ever-present threat. It is capitalism, with its inequalities and its wars and its artificial shortages, that is responsible for this situation. (PB, From the December 1979, Socialist Standard)



Thursday, January 03, 2008

Women walk in fear

Within days of the January 1981 Socialist Standard being published Peter Sutcliffe, the man responsible for killing thirteen women, was finally caught (2 January). Pure coincidence of course, but the related Standard article is more than just of historical interest. The longer Guardian quotation, for example, beggars belief: as Marx put it, prostitution is only the specific form of the universal prostitution of the working class.
Everyone, whatever their political views, will have been disturbed by press reports of the brutal killings performed by the man the media have labelled "The Yorkshire Ripper". Since the murder of student Jacqueline Hill on 18 November "the 4,000 women students at Leeds University were coming to terms with fact that they must not walk alone at night" (The Guardian 21.11.80.) ...
What has this insecurity go to do with socialists? Is it simply an inevitable result of an inherent male urge to have their way with women? Should we not leave such cases to the police and confine ourselves to discussion of political economy? And aren't attacks on women an issue for feminists rather than socialists? We are obliged to respond to all these questions and the only answer we can give is that the problems facing approximately one half of the working class are very much the concern of the working class as a whole. The insecurity which women face cannot be solved within capitalism.
Capitalism has historically created a role for working class women as the attendants of wage slaves. Not all working class women conform to this role, but most still do. This position has been sanctified by religion (it is the women's holy duty to be a wife and mother); by morality (the unmarried woman is seen as promiscuous or incomplete); by the education system (girls are still segregated in terms of what they learn at school and what opportunities they have when they leave school); and by law.
The conditioning of male and female attitudes to womanhood goes on all the time. The adverts state what the ideal woman should look like; the fashion and cosmetic industry tell her what to wear; the cinema helps influence her speech and her style; women's magazines trivialise her experience; problem page hacks inform her as to whether or not she is a 'proper' woman. Men's attitudes to women are similarly conditioned. Young boys soon learn to talk about females as sources of satisfaction. Notions of virility traditionally imply dominance, aggressiveness and ruthlessness - the very characteristics which, if frustrated in conventional social contact, can produce the brutality of a vicious attacker. Porn magazines and sex movies teach men to idealise a submissive, consumable womanhood. Women are to be won, bought or coerced: - married, hired or raped. In a society where pleasure is a commodity to be bought and sold what else can be expected than what Marx rightly called "a system of prostitution both public and private"? (The Communist Manifesto) The private prostitution referred to was discussed in an article in the January 1980 Socialist Standard entitled, "No More Family Life":
"The present social system is based upon the ownership of private property, and the marriage contract is in essence a property contract. The single sentence from the Marriage Service, "with all my worldly goods I thee endow" is indicative of this, especially as the recipient of this cornucopean shower immediately surrenders all control over it by promising to "love, honour and obey" the benevolent "bestower"."
The Guardian, reporting the recent murder of Jacqueline Hill, who was a religious Sunday School teacher, made an indicative comment:
"The killing points to a worrying change in the Ripper's victims. He first murdered a Leeds prostitute in October 1975, but the last time he murdered a known prostitute was two and a half years ago. His last two victims...were both respectable girls." (20.10.80)
The assumption here is that if women are not "respectable" it is less "worrying" for them to be murdered. Respectability through the editorial eyes of The Guardian, which supported two world wars in which millions of people were killed, is not the best criterion for the right to be free from sexual assault.
We would do better to think about the kind of sick society which produces men like the "Ripper". He has been driven to his perversely anti-social behaviour by a system of living which on the one hand treats sexual activity as a social taboo and on the other trivialises and sensationalises the sexual act, so producing neuroses in those who do not conform to the image. If you have a social order which glorifies war there is no point in crying out in indignation at the violence of modern youth; if you have a society which turns sex into a commodity, don't be surprised if some take without paying.
Feminists are mistaken if they believe the need for social change is a women's issue. Not all women are in a position of social inferiority: capitalist women who travel about in chauffeur driven cars have no need to go on marches to "reclaim the night". The problems facing working class women are rooted in their class position. The basis of their insecurity is their alienation from the means of wealth production and distribution. Wage slavery is not in the interest of either male or female workers although admittedly, for some women being the slave of a wage slave amounts to even greater insecurity and powerlessness than faced by working class men.
To demand that the male and female workers stand in equality as wage slaves is an impoverished and futile reform because wage slaves can never attain real social dignity. even if men and women workers are treated the same by their employers. It may be utopian to want a society in which people never offend against one another, but it is not utopian for socialists to want a society which does not give rise to the brutal behaviour which is an everyday feature of capitalism. In a society where all men and women stand in equal relationship to the means of life, where norms will not be dictated from above, where there will be sexual freedom and diversity, such cases as the Yorkshire Ripper will be a nightmarish reminder of an uncivilised past.
S Coleman