Posts Tagged ‘Working Class’

Score! Football Marcus Rashford Gets Government to Provide Free School Meals During Holidays

June 19, 2020

Kudos and respect to Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United and England footballer, for managing to get Boris Johnson to supply free school meals during the summer holidays. Rashford had written an open letter to our comedy Prime Minister urging him not to end the current scheme of supplying vouchers for school meals to families, who otherwise could not afford to feed them at lunch time. Rashford was interviewed on BBC news, where he remembered having used food banks and free school meals when he was a child. He also raised £20 million to help poor families avoid starvation and other problems with the charity FareShare.

Johnson, as your typical Tory, initially refused. He said instead that he was going to make £63 million available to local authorities to help the poor obtain food and other necessities. But this is only a fraction of the £115 million that would be spent on free school dinners. Robert Halfon, a senior Tory, also broke ranks to argue that, under Johnson’s scheme, the money would never reach those who needed it because it was too bureaucratic. Johnson also tried palming Rashford and his supporters off with another scheme, in which the government would spend £9 million on holiday activities and feeding 50,000 needy sprogs. This is 1.67 per cent of the three million or so children going hungry thanks to the government’s wages freeze and destruction of the welfare state.

Mike one of his articles about this has put up a number of Tweets from people decrying Johnson’s miserly, spiteful attempts to stop children continuing to receive school meals. One of them is from Damo, who pointed out that the government can find £150 billion to help out big business, but can’t find £115 million for hungry children.

Ghoul Johnson spits on footballer’s school meals plea – he wants millions of children to STARVE

Finally, after realizing just what a public relations disaster this was, Johnson gave in. Rashford duly Tweeted his appreciation of the support he had received from the British public. But as Mike reminds us, Johnson only finally conceded to grant the meal because the campaign was led by a celebrity. Mike concluded

England in 2020 is a place where the government deliberately tries to harm its citizens…

… and where it only gives anything back in fear of harmful publicity from a campaign by a highly-visible public figure. If Joe Bloggs from a small village had run this campaign, your children would be skin and bone by September.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/06/16/tories-cave-in-to-rashfords-school-meals-campaign-with-scheme-for-holidays/

And where was Starmer during all this? 

As far as I am aware, Starmer said and did precious little. I think he might have made some approving, supportive comment after Rashford won his victory, but that’s it. And it’s not good enough from the head of the Labour Party.

But what do you expect? Starmer’s a Blairite, and Tony Blair’s entire strategy was to take over Tory policies in an attempt to appeal to their voters, while assuring them and the Tory media that he could do it better than they could. Meanwhile the British working class was expected to continue to support him out of traditional tribal loyalty and the fact that they had nowhere else to go. This resulted in Labour losing many of its members, to the point where even though he lost the elections, Corbyn had far more people voting for him than Blair did.

The result is that Starmer is dragging us back to the situation of the late 90s and first years of this century, when a genuine left-wing opposition fighting for working people and traditional Labour issues, was left to organisations outside the political parties. Organisations like Disabled People Against Cuts, who fight for proper welfare support for the disabled, anti-austerity groups and campaigns to save the NHS from privatisation. They’re doing what Starmer should be doing and conspicuously isn’t, afraid he might offend all those Tory voters he wants to support him. As against a real Labour leader like Jeremy Corbyn.

Marcus Rashford deserves full plaudits for his work to get deprived kids proper meals.

And Johnson and Starmer, for their initial lack of support for the scheme, are nothing but a disgrace.

 

After Slavery, the West Indies Had Black Politicians

June 19, 2020

Following the Black Lives Matter protests in Britain has come the debate about the teaching of Black history in schools. There was an item about this on BBC news earlier this week. Some schools already teach it, including the Black British experience but also the Black kingdoms in Africa, which is taught before going on to slavery. There were comments from Black students, who said that it had boosted their self-esteem. However, not all schools teach it and there have been calls from Black politicos to make it compulsory.

But Caribbean history may also provide useful role models and inspiration for Black Britons. What isn’t really appreciated is that shortly after the abolition of slavery in 1837, Black West Indians elected Black and biracial ‘coloured’ politicians to protect them from the planters’ attempts to force them back into servitude. Gad Heuvelmans mentions this development in The Caribbean: A Brief History, 2nd edition (London: Bloomsbury 2014). He writes

Strikes and riots were one form of response of the ex-slaves to emancipation; another was challenging the political domination of the planters. This took the form of electing black and brown representatives to the local Assemblies. Although not forming a single political bloc, black and brown Assemblymen generally supported government policies. Moreover, they could be significant: in Dominica, for example, coloured representatives formed a majority in the Assembly. Their presence prevented the passage of harsh legislation against the ex-slaves which characterized many other West Indian colonies.

In Jamaica, the coloured and black members of the Assembly united to form the Town Party, a faction which opposed the predominately planters’ Country Party. The coloureds favoured funds being spent on education, resisted expensive immigration schemes, and sought to counter planter attempts to restrict the franchise. Moreover, the coloureds also voted against measures to shift the burden of taxation almost entirely onto small settlers. Brown and black representatives did remain a minority in the Jamaican House of Assembly, but as tehir numbers increased, the planters became increasingly alarmed about the possibility of being outnumbered. (p.113).

I’ve known Black educators and historians get frustrated about the lack of awareness of this aspect of West Indian history. One of the experts, who also worked at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was a Black historian from the West Indies. He used to give talks regularly to Bristol’s Black community was active in several Black improvement programmes. I remember him telling me how exasperated he got when he was talking to a young man, who blamed the problems of the Black community on slavery. He told the young man that that was no explanation as they had Black politicians immediately after slavery.

I think this is right. You can’t put all of the problems of the western Black communities down to slavery. Some of it is also due general racism, and the oppressive measures the planter elites imposed to try and force Black West Indians back onto the plantation under their control. But just as they had strongly resisted slavery, so the newly emancipated Black population turned to politics and got themselves and their representatives elected to resist attempts to disenfranchise them. No small achievement! I don’t want to be accused of telling Black people what they should or shouldn’t do to improve their condition, but perhaps it would give more Black Britons hope and inspiration if they knew more about this.

Another nation that might also provide useful role models might be Ghana. As the former Gold Coast, in the 1920s this had a remarkably enlightened governor for the time. It was the first British colony to appoint indigenous people as members of its governing council. I think its governor also wrote a book on racism in the 1940s, with the title of ‘Colour Prejudice’ or ‘Colour Issue’ or something like it. This included not only examples of White racism, but also Blacks against Whites. He quotes the 14th century Arab traveler ibn Battuta on the racism towards Whites of the people of the Black African kingdom of Mali.  This was something like ‘They would be great Muslims, if they didn’t treat Whites with such contempt’.

And regardless of skin colour, I wish there was more of the spirit of the Town Party today. We need more spent on education, just as we need more spent on welfare and the NHS. We need to stop the Tories shifting the tax burden onto the poor instead of the rich.

And the Tories are doing what they can to disenfranchise and force into servitude Britain’s working people, all while trying to preserve a facade of freedom.

 

 

Fabian Blueprint for a Socialist Britain

June 11, 2020

Sidney and Beatrice Webb, with an introduction by Samuel H. Beer, A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain (Cambridge: London School of Economics/ Cambridge University Press 1975).

I got this through the post yesterday, having ordered it a month or so ago. The Webbs were two of the founding members of the Fabian Society, the others including George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. The idea of the NHS goes back to their minority report on the nation’s health published in the years before or round about the First World War. First published in 1920, this is their proposal for a socialist Britain.

The blurb for it on the front flap runs

The Constitution for a Socialist Commonwealth is a book that helps us understand the ‘mind of the Webbs’. Of all their works, it is the most general in scope – Beatrice called it a ‘summing up’ – and it does much to reveal the ideology of the great partnership. And since the mind of the Webbs was also the mind (though not the heart) of British socialism, an appreciation of this ideology, considered not only with regard to its confusions and blinds spots, but also its insights and intellectual sensitivities, helps one understand the Labour Party and what is still sometimes called ‘the Movement’.

But the book also has a broader importance. The problems that prompted the Webbs to write it still plague Great Britain and other, advanced societies. In 1920, the year of its publication, the modern democratic state was being sharply confronted by a syndicalist challenge based on the rising economic power of organised producers’ groups. Hardly less serious were the political difficulties of giving substance to parliamentary and popular control int eh face of growing bureaucratisation and a mass electorate. With regard to both sorts of problems, the Webbs were often prescient in their perceptions and sensible in their proposals. They concentrate on economic and political problems that are still only imperfectly understood by students of society and have by no means been mastered by the institutions of the welfare state and managed economy.

After Beer’s introduction, the book has the following chapters, which deal with the topics below.

Introduction

The Dictatorship of the Capitalist – The Manifold Character of Democracy.

The book is split into two sections. Part 1, ‘A Survey of the Ground’, contains

Chapter 1 – Democracies of Consumers

Voluntary Democracies of Consumers – Obligatory Associations of Consumers – The Relative Advantages of Voluntary and Obligatory Associations of Consumers – The Economic and Social Functions of Associations of Consumers.

Chapter 2 – Democracies of Producers

The Trade Union Movement – Professional Associations of Brain Workers – The Relative Advantages and Disadvantages of Obligatory and Voluntary Associations of Producers – The Economic and Social Functions of Associations of Producers: (i) Trade Unions; (ii) Professional Associations.

Chapter 3 – Political Democracy

The Structure of British Political Democracy: (a) the King; (b) the House of Lords; (c) the House of Commons and the Cabinet – Cabinet Dictatorship – Hypertrophy – A Vicious Mixture of Functions – the Task of the M.P. – the Failure of the Elector – The Warping of Political Democracy by a Capitalist Environment – Political Parties – The Labour Party – The Success of Political Democracy in general, and of British democracy in particular – The Need for Constitutional Reform.

Part II, ‘The Cooperative Commonwealth of Tomorrow’, begins with another introduction, and then the following chapters.

1 – The National Government

The King – the House of Lords – The National Parliament – the Political Parliament and its Executive – the Social Parliament and its Executive – the Relation between the Political and the Social Parliaments – Devolution as an Alternative Scheme of Reform – The Argument summarised – the Political Complex – The Social Complex – The Protection of the Individual against the Government.

2 – Some Leading Considerations in the Socialisation of Industries and Services

Three Separate Aspects of Economic Man – The Relative Functions of Democracies of Consumers and Democracies of Producers – Democracies of Citizen-Consumers – Democracies of Producers – ownership and Direction – The Participation in Management by the Producers.

3 – The Nationalised Industries and Services

The Abandonment of Ministerial Responsibility – The Differentiation of Control from Administration – The Administrative Machine – District Councils – Works Committees – the Recruitment of the Staff – Discipline Boards – Collective Bargaining – Advisory Committees – The Sphere of the Social Parliament – How the Administration will work – Initiative and Publicity – The Transformation of Authority – Coordinated instead of Chaotic Complexity – The Price of Liberty.

4 – The Reorganisation of Local Government

The Decay of Civic Patriotism – The Chaos in the Constitution and Powers of existing Local Authorities – Areas – The Inefficiency of the ‘Great Unpaid’ – The Principles on which Reconstruction should proceed – The Principle of Neighbourhood – The principle of Differentiation of Neighbourhoods – The principle of Direct Election – The Principle of the General Representatives – The Correspondence of Area and Functions – The Local Government of Tomorrow – The Representation of the Citizen-Consumer – The Local Councillor – Vocational Representation – Committees of Management – Machinery for Collective Bargaining – The Practicability of Vocational Self-Government in Municipal Government – The Industries and Services of Local Authorities – Emulation among Local Authorities – The Federation of Local Authorities – The Relation of Municipal Institutions to the Social and Political Parliaments.

5 – the Sphere of Voluntary Associations of Consumers in the Socialist Commonwealth

The Co-operative Movement – The Limitations of the Cooperative Movement – Constitutional Changes in the Cooperative Movement – Other Voluntary Associations of Consumers – Adult Education – The Future of the Country House – The Extension of Personality – The Problem of the Press – The Safeguarding of the Public Interest.

6 – The Reorganisation of the Vocational World

The Trade Union Movemewnt as the Organ of Revolt against the Capitalist System – The Right of Self-Determination for each Vocation – What Constitutes a Vocation – The Right of Free Enterprise for Socialised Administrations – Vocational Organisation as a Stratified Democracy; (a) How will each Vocation be recruited? (d) The Relative Position of Obligatory and Voluntary Organisation in a Vocation; (e) The Function of Vocational Organisation; (f) Subject Associations; (g) The Development of Professional Ethic; (h) Vocational Administration of Industries and Services; (i) Is there any Place for a National Assembly of Vocational Representatives?

7 – The Transitional Control of Profit-Making Enterprise

The Policy of the National Minimum – The Promotion of Efficiency and the Prevention of Extortion – The Standing Committee on Productivity – The Fixing of Prices – The Method of Expropriation – Taxation – The Relation of Prices to the National Revenue – The continuous Increase in a Socialist Commonwealth of Private Property in Individual Ownership – How Capital will be provided – The Transition and its Dangers- The Spirit of Service – The Need for Knowledge.

I’ve been interested in reading it for a little while, but finally decided to order it after reading in Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism that the Webb’s included an industrial parliament in their proposed constitution. I’d advocated something similar in a pamphlet I’d produced arguing that parliament was dominated by millionaires and managing directors – over 70 per cent of MPs have company directorships – working people should have their own parliamentary chamber.

The book is a century old, and doubtless very dated. It was republished in the 1970s during that decades’ acute trade union unrest and popular dissatisfaction with the corporative system of the management of the economy by the government, private industry and the trade unions. These problems were all supposed to have been swept away with the new, private-enterprise, free market economy introduced by Maggie Thatcher. But the problem of poverty has become more acute. The privatisation of gas, electricity and water has not produced the benefits and investment the Tories believed. In fact electricity bills would be cheaper if they’d remained in state hands. Ditto for the railways. And the continuing privatisation of the NHS is slowly destroying it for the sake of expensive, insurance-financed private medical care that will be disastrous for ordinary working people.

And the growing poverty through stagnant wages and welfare cuts, seen in the growth of food banks, is also partly due to the destruction of trade union power and the exclusion of working people from the management of their companies and industries.

I haven’t yet read it, but look forward to doing so because I feel that, despite Tory lies and propaganda and no matter how dated, the Webbs’ proposals and solutions are still acutely relevant and necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Historian Edson Burnett: White Working Class Did Not Benefit from Bristol Slave Trade

June 10, 2020

Tonight on the local news programme for the Bristol region, Points West, the historian Dr. Edson Burnett said something very interesting about who did and did not benefit from the city’s slave trade. He was being interviewed as part of an item about the response of Bristol’s elected mayor, Marvin Rees, to the toppling of Colston’s statue on Sunday. Rees is Black, and has said during interviews on the past few days that while he understood that a number of Bristolians didn’t want to see the statue removed, and respected their feelings, he himself hated the statue and what it stood for. Now he has decided to set up a commission of historians and others to look into monuments and places in Bristol with connections to the slave trade, and decide what to do about them.

It isn’t just about the statue, but also about the names of streets and buildings like Colston Street, Colston Girls’ School, the Colston Hall and so on. Some of these are already distancing themselves from Colston and changing their names. Rees stated it was all about setting up a conversation with the public over the issue. The measures taken might include changing the names of places with offensive connections, but he left that open as just one option.

One of those appointed to the commission is Dr. Madge Dresser of the University of the West of England. She’s an historian, teaching the 18th century and specialising in the slave trade. She has written a couple of books about Bristol and the slave trade, one of which is Slavery Obscured. This is about how the city carried on financing and reaping the profits of the slave trade after its official abolition. She used to take her students on a field expedition to the slave fort in Gambia. She was also one of those involved in the expedition A Respectable Trade about Bristol and the slave trade at the City Museum in 1995. She’s an excellent choice.

Another expert, who has been selected for it is Dr. Edson Burnett. Burnett’s Black, and has researched and written extensively about Bristol and the slave trade. And he said something very interesting indeed. I thought he would keep himself to commenting on the effect of slavery on Black people. But he didn’t. He also wanted to include the White working class as those affected by it. He said that the White working class did not benefit from the trade, and said that many sailors were so afraid of slavery voyages that they had to be duped.

This is brilliant! I wish someone had made this point 25 years ago when the City Museum opened its superb exhibition.

I have absolutely no doubt that Dr. Burnett is right. A paper published by Black American students of the slave trade found that mortality among the crew of slave ships in the Middle Passage was slightly higher than those of the slaves themselves. One crewman wrote a pamphlet angrily attacking his captain, as he had contracted a disease during the voyage that robbed him of his sight. He was angry as he had no sympathy from his captain, who had refused him treatment. Historians have rightly commented on the sailor’s own callousness, as he had no sympathy for the poor slaves the ship carried. as for the attitude of contemporary Bristolians towards the trade, a famous visitor to the city commented that everyone hated it, but they could see no way of doing without it. And so the city carried on its bloody business.

Edson’s inclusion of the White working class among those excluded from the trade’s benefits is very interesting. The Tories are able to muster popular support for their policies, including their view of history, by presenting it as a matter of angry, racist Blacks against all Whites. The whole ‘Southern Strategy’ of the Republican party in America is based on them posing as the defender of poor Whites, who feel unfairly discriminated against by pro-Black affirmative action campaigns. This is also how they manage to persuade dirt poor Whites to vote against the introduction of welfare benefits. Because they manipulate the situation to seem that such benefits would only go to profligate, undeserving Blacks. It’s a classic case of ‘divide and rule’.

I’m assuming that the Tories are gearing up to do something similar about this attack on traditional British history and the monuments left by the slave trade and imperialism. They and the Tory press will present it as evil Commies and Blacks working to erase proper history and White identity. They will claim that those liberal elites are going to benefit Blacks at the expense of the White working class. The same White working class they themselves cordially despise and patronise.

But Burnett seems to have dodged that by excluding them as those who benefited from the trade.

This is going to be a very interesting discussion indeed.

Expect more Tory anger soon!

 

BLM Protests – Brillo Retweets Far Right Conspiracy Theorist

June 3, 2020

Remember when Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neil had Alex Jones on his programme years ago? This resulted in farce when Neil asked the right-wing, Libertarian Jones about guns and the high rate of shootings in America. I think it came in the wake of yet another crazed gunman going into a school, shopping mall, church, synagogue or mosque or somewhere and shooting innocents. The right to bear arms is sacrosanct to Republicans and Libertarians, and so Jones responded with a long rant about how Americans will never give their firearms up and that there’d be another 1776 if anyone like Britain tried. He then started screaming nonsense, including ‘metal shark!’ at one point. The camera pulled away from Jones to show Brillo making the ‘nutter’ sign behind his head.

It’s a debatable but fair question whether Jones is mad. He’s promoted some immensely stupid theories, like the Democrat Party operating a paedophile ring out of a Boston pizza parlour, that Obama was the Antichrist, Hillary Clinton a Satanist cyborg, and that the world is being run by ‘the Globalists’ intent on enslaving humanity and turning us all into dehumanised cyborgs to serve demons or malevolent aliens. He is most notorious for ranting about how ‘they’ were putting chemicals in the water ‘to turn the frickin’ frogs gay’. He’s been widely ridiculed for that, but as Blissex, one of the great commenters on this blog reminded me on another post about Jones, he does have a point. Frogs and other amphibians are suffering from industrial pollutants that mimic female hormones and so cause reproductive abnormalities in males. Jones pushes all manner of outlandish theories, but some people have said that off-air he’s calm and rational, and his bizarre antics on camera may just be to garner viewers.

Whatever the real state of Jones’ mind, Brillo is now no longer in a position to sneer at Jones for pushing whacky and dangerous conspiracy theories. Because now he’s done it himself. Yesterday Zelo Street reported that Neil had taken exception to criticism of his comments on a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Colorado, and retweeted the bonkers comments by Spectator USA contributor Andy Ngo. Nadine Batchelor-Hunt had responded to his approving comments about the demonstration in Colorado by telling him that as a White guy, he shouldn’t be telling Black people how to protest. This is essentially the same point some Black Civil rights leaders in America in the 1960s told their White supporters when they said they should ‘be in their own space’. The result was the formation of a radical, White, working-class identity movement, which was crucially anti-racist as some of the White poor turned to their own situation and demanded change. I can’t see Brillo, former editor of the Sunday Times, the Economist and head of the Spectator board, wanting to see that develop. He replied “Looks like most of the folks protesting are white. I’m not telling anybody what they should do; just approving of a particular form of protest. Why make an issue of my colour. I don’t take kindly to what people tell me I should or should not do”.

Zelo Street commented that this was a remark from his privileged perspective. I think however, that Neil has the right to make whatever comment he likes about the protest. It might seem condescending, but people have the right to their own opinions whatever colour they are. But then the great newsman went overboard, and retweeted this from the Speccie’s sister paper.

‘We are witnessing glimmers of the full insurrection the far-left has been working toward for decades. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis was merely a pre-text for radicals to push their ambitious insurgency,’ writes [Andy Ngo]”.

Ngo is a member of the American far right, despite being Asian. He wrote a farcical piece about Islam in Britain, ‘A Visit to Islamic Britain’ for Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, and has hosted the infamous Carl Benjamin, the man who broke UKIP, on his podcast. Zelo Street commented that it was shameful for the Speccie to give Ngo a platform, and even more so for Brillo to retweet him. They also wondered if BBC News and Current Affairs would take a dim view of being linked with Ngo through Neil. And this is apart from some of the deeply unpleasant characters who write for the British Spectator, like the anti-Semitic supporter of the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, Taki.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/06/brillo-boosts-far-right.html

The American far right is riddled with bizarre conspiracy theories. When Obama was ensconced in the Oval Office there were any number of loons proclaiming that he was an anti-White racist who would immediately launch a genocide of Whites. Or that he was closet Muslim, who would impose the Shariah. Or a Nazi, Communist or militant atheist. Jones ranted that Obama would become absolute dictator by declaring a state of emergency, suspending the rule of law and forcing Americans into FEMA camps. It didn’t happen. There are also loony conspiracy theories going around the American and British right about ‘cultural Marxists’ trying to create a new Communist dictatorship through destroying traditional, Christian morality and replacing it with multiculturalism and gay and trans rights. It’s a garbled misreading of Gramsci’s theories of hegemony, and ultimately has its roots in the Nazis’ denunciation of ‘cultural Bolshevism’.

But I’ve got a feeling that the Spectator USA always was a haven for demented conspiracy theories. Way back in the 1990s a magazine with a very similar name, The American Spectator, and a group of Sunday Times journos, got it into their heads that Bill Clinton was at the heart of a vast criminal conspiracy. They believed that Slick Willy was importing drugs from Latin America through a secret airbase in Arizona. Anyone who crossed or otherwise displeased him was then executed by his gangsters. This theory was partly based on the real fact that about 19 of his aides had died, but investigations had shown that their demise had absolutely nothing to do with Clinton. The conspiracy theories were even later denounced and ridiculed by a former believer, one of the ‘Clinton Crazies’. Adam Curtis has discussed this bizarre affair in one of his excellent documentaries.

It looks to me that The American Spectator was a previous incarnation of The Spectator USA, and that, despite the Clinton Crazies having come and gone, there still is a paranoid mentality out there. And Brillo, as former editor of the Sunday Times, and head of the Spectator’s board, shares it.

You don’t have to invoke non-existent conspiracies to explain the protests and riots in America. They come from endemic racism, poverty and lack of opportunity, quite apart from the casual killing of Black Americans by the police. This has been simmering away for several years. Now it’s exploded again. What is needed is calm, rationality and justice.

What we don’t need is more stupid, inflammatory rhetoric by Trump, Ngo or Brillo.

80s Space Comedy From Two of the Goodies

May 26, 2020

Astronauts, written by Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, 13 episodes of 25 minutes in length. First Broadcast ITV 1981 and 1983.

I hope everyone had a great Bank Holiday Monday yesterday, and Dominic Cummings’ hypocritical refusal to resign after repeatedly and flagrantly breaking the lockdown rules aren’t getting everyone too down. And now, for the SF fans, is something completely different as Monty Python used to say.

Astronauts was a low budget ITV sitcom from the very early ’80s. It was written by the two Goodies responsible for writing the scripts for their show, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, and based on the personal conflicts and squabbling of the American astronauts on the Skylab programme six years earlier. It was about three British astronauts, RAF officer, mission commander and pilot Malcolm Mattocks, chippy, left-wing working-class engineer David Ackroyd, coolly intellectual biologist Gentian Fraser,and their dog, Bimbo,  who are launched into space as the crew of the first all-British space station. Overseeing the mission is their American ground controller Lloyd Beadle. Although now largely forgotten, the show lasted two seasons, and there must have been some continuing demand for it, because it’s been released nearly forty years later as a DVD. Though not in such demand that I didn’t find it in DVD/CD bargain catalogue.

Low Budget

The show’s very low budget. Lower than the Beeb’s Blake’s 7, which often cited as an example of low budget British science fiction. There’s only one model used, that of their space station, which is very much like the factual Skylab. The shots of their spacecraft taking off are stock footage of a Saturn V launch, the giant rockets used in the Moon landings and for Skylab. There also seems to be only one special effects sequence in the show’s entire run, apart from outside shots. That’s when an accident causes the station to move disastrously out of its orbit, losing gravity as it does so. Cheap matte/ Chromakey effects are used to show Mattocks rising horizontally from his bunk, where he’s been lying, while Bimbo floats through the bedroom door.

Class in Astronauts and Red Dwarf

It’s hard not to compare it with the later, rather more spectacular Red Dwarf, which appeared in 1986, three years after Astronaut’s last season. Both shows centre around a restricted regular cast. In Red Dwarf this was initially just Lister, Holly and the Cat before the appearance of Kryten. Much of the comedy in Red Dwarf is also driven by their similar situation to their counterparts in Astronauts – personality clashes in the cramped, isolated environment of a spacecraft. The two shows are also similar in that part of this conflict from class and a Conservative military type versus working class cynic/ liberal. In Red Dwarf it’s Rimmer as the Conservative militarist, while Lister is the working class rebel. In Astronauts the military man is Mattocks, a patriotic RAF pilot, while Ackroyd, the engineer, is left-wing, Green, and affects to be working class. The three Astronauts also debate the class issue, accusing each other of being posh before establishing each other’s place in the class hierarchy. Mattocks is posh, but not as posh as Foster. Foster’s working class credentials are, however, destroyed during an on-air phone call with his mother, who is very definitely middle or upper class, and talks about going to the Conservative club. In this conflict, it’s hard not to see a similarity with the Goodies and the conflict there between the Conservative screen persona of Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie’s left-wing, working class character.

Class, however, plays a much smaller role in Red Dwarf. Lister is more underclass than working class, and the show, set further in the future, has less overt references to contemporary class divisions and politics. The humour in Red Dwarf is also somewhat bleaker. The crew are alone three million years in the future, with the human race vanished or extinct with the exception of Lister. Rimmer is an ambitious failure. For all he dreams of being an officer, he has failed the exam multiple times and the B.Sc he claims is Batchelor of Science is really BSC – Bronze Swimming Certificate. Both he and Lister are at the lowest peg of the ship’s hierarchy in Red Dwarf. They’re maintenance engineers, whose chief duties is unblocking the nozzles of vending machines. Lister’s background is rough. Very rough. While others went scrumping for apples, he and his friends went scrumping for cars. The only famous person in his class was a man who ate his wife. The three heroes of Astronauts, however, are all competent, intelligent professionals despite their bickering. Another difference is that while both series have characters riddled with self-loathing, in Red Dwarf it’s the would-be officer Rimmer, while in Astronauts is working class engineer Ackroyd.

Britain Lagging Behind in Space

Other issues in Astronauts include Britain’s low status as a space power. In a speech in the first episode, the crew express their pride at being the first British mission, while paying tribute to their American predecessors in the Apollo missions. The Ealing comedy The Mouse on the Moon did something similar. And yet Britain at the time had been the third space power. Only a few years before, the British rocket Black Arrow had been successfully launched from Woomera in Australia, successfully taking a British satellite into orbit.

Personal Conflicts

There are also conflicts over the cleaning and ship maintenance duties, personal taste in music – Mattocks irritates Ackroyd by playing Tubular Bells, publicity or lack of it – in one episode, the crew are annoyed because it seems the media back on Earth have forgotten them – and disgust at the limited menu. Mattocks is also shocked to find that Foster has been killing and dissecting the mice he’s been playing with, and is afraid that she’ll do it to the dog. Sexism and sexual tension also rear their heads. Mattocks fancies Foster, but Ackroyd doesn’t, leading to further conflict between them and her. Foster, who naturally wants to be seen as an equal and ‘one of the boys’ tries to stop this by embarrassing them. She cuts her crew uniform into a bikini and then dances erotically in front of the two men, before jumping on them both crying ‘I’ll have both of you!’ This does the job, and shames them, but Beadle, watching them gets a bit too taken with the display, shouting ‘Work it! Work it! Boy! I wish I was up there with you boys!’ Foster also objects to Mattocks because he doesn’t help his wife, Valerie, out with the domestic chores at home. Mattocks also suspects that his wife is having an affair, which she is, in a sort-of relationship with Beadle. There’s also a dig at the attitudes of some magazines. In the press conference before the three go on their mission, Foster is asked by Woman’s Own if she’s going to do any cooking and cleaning in space. Beadle and his team reply that she’s a highly trained specialist no different from the men. The joke’s interesting because in this case the butt of the humour is the sexism in a certain type of women’s magazine, rather than chauvinist male attitudes.

Cold War Espionage

Other subjects include the tense geopolitical situation of the time. Mattocks is revealed to have been running a secret espionage programme, photographing Russian bases as the station flies over them in its orbit. The others object, and Ackroyd is finally able to persuade Beadle to allow them to use the technology to photograph illegal Russian whaling in the Pacific. This is used to embarrass the Russians at an international summit, but the questions about the origin of the photos leads to the espionage programme being abandoned. The crew also catch sight of a mysterious spacecraft in the same orbit, and start receiving communications in a strange language. After initially considering that it just might be UFOs, it’s revealed that they do, in fact, come from a lonely Russian cosmonaut. Foster speaks Russian, and starts up a friendship. When Mattocks finds out, he is first very suspicious, but then after speaking to the Russian in English, he too becomes friends. He’s the most affected when the Russian is killed after his craft’s orbit decays and burns up re-entering the atmosphere.

Soft Drink Sponsorship

There are also digs at commercial sponsorship. The mission is sponsored by Ribozade, whose name is a portmanteau of the British drinks Ribeena and Lucozade. Ribozade tastes foul, but the crew nevertheless have it on board and must keep drinking it. This is not Science Fiction. One of the American missions was sponsored by Coca Cola, I believe, and so one of the space stations had a Coke machine on board. And when Helen Sharman went into space later in the decade aboard a Russian rocket to the space station Mir, she was originally to be sponsored by Mars and other British companies.

God, Philosophy and Nicholas Parsons

The show also includes arguments over the existence or not of the Almighty. Mattocks believes He exists, and has shown His special favour to them by guiding his hand in an earlier crisis. Mattocks was able to save them, despite having no idea what he was doing. Ackroyd, the sceptic, replies that he can’t say the Lord doesn’t exist, but can’t see how God could possibly create Nicholas Parsons and Sale of the Century, one of the popular game shows on ITV at the time, if He did. As Mattocks is supposed to be guiding them down from orbit, his admission that he really didn’t know what he was doing to rescue the station naturally alarms Foster and Ackroyd so that they don’t trust his ability to get them down intact.

Red Dwarf also has its jokes about contemporary issues and politics. Two of the most memorable are about the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer being covered with a gigantic toupee, and the despair squid, whose ink causes its prey to become suicidal and which has thus destroyed all other life on its world in the episode ‘Back to Reality’. Other jokes include everyone knowing where they were when Cliff Richard got shot. Red Dwarf, however, is much more fantastic and goes further in dealing with philosophical issues, such as when Rimmer is incarcerated in a space prison where justice is definitely retributive. If you do something illegal, it comes back to happen to you. This is demonstrated when Lister follows Rimmer’s instruction and tries to set his sheets alight. He shortly finds that his own black leather jacket has caught fire.

Conclusion

Red Dwarf is able to go much further in exploring these and other bizarre scenarios as it’s definitely Science Fiction. Astronauts is, I would argue, space fiction without the SF. It’s fictional, but based solidly on fact, including generating gravity through centrifugal force. But critically for any comedy is the question whether its funny. Everyone’s taste is different, but in my opinion, yes, Astronauts is. It’s dated and very much of its time, but the humour still stands up four decades later. It had me laughing at any rate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Four

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Conclusion

While this a great book I immensely enjoyed, it also very much the product of its time. Shaw is unrealistic and more than a little sectarian himself in his advocacy of the equalization of incomes. He regards it as the real, fundamental goal of socialism and that unless they too believe in it, others advocating nationalisation aren’t real socialists. But the Soviets and various other socialist groups have tried the equalisation of incomes, and it didn’t work. But nevertheless, even if wages shouldn’t be exactly the same, the differences in wealth should very definitely be far less than they are now.

Similarly, I don’t entirely agree with his views on the unions. Now other socialists also struggled with the problems they posed for working class power. Trade unions by themselves aren’t socialist organisations. Their role is to fight for better wages and conditions for the workers, not to replace capitalism, and Lenin himself pondered how workers could go from ‘trade union consciousness’ to socialism. In the 1980s it was found that trade unionists often voted Tory, because of the improved quality of life they enjoyed. But the unions are nevertheless vital working class organisations and are rightly at the heart of the Labour party, and have provided countless working class leaders and politicians.

Shaw was right about the coal mines, and his description of the results of the great differences in viability between them and the comparative poverty or wealth of the mining companies was one of the reasons they were nationalised by Labour under Clement Attlee.  He’s also right about nationalising the banks. They don’t provide proper loans for the small businessman, and their financial shenanigans have resulted, as Shaw noted in his own day, in colossal crashes like that of 2008. He is also right about the rich sending their money abroad rather than contributing to the British economy. In his time it was due to imperialism, and there is still a hangover from this in that the London financial sector is still geared to overseas rather than domestic investment. It’s why Neil Kinnock advocated the establishment of a British investment bank in 1987. Now, in the early 21st century, they’re also saving their money in offshore tax havens, and British manufacturers have been undercut and ruined through free trade carried out in the name of globalisation.

His arguments about not nationalising industries before everything has been properly prepared, and the failures of general strikes and revolutions are good and commonsense. So is his recommendation that capitalism can drive innovation. On the other hand, it frequently doesn’t and expects the state to bail it out or support it before it does. I also agreed with Shaw when he said that companies asking for government subsidies shouldn’t get them unless the gave the government a part share in them. That would solve a lot of problems, especially with the outsourcing companies. They should be either nationalised or abolished.

I can’t recommend the book without qualifications because of his anti-religious views. Shaw also shows himself something of a crank when it comes to vaccination. As well as being a vegetarian and anti-vivisectionist, which aren’t now anywhere near as remarkable as they once were, he’s against vaccination. There are parts of the book which are just anti-vaxxer rants, where he attacks the medical profession as some kind of pseudo-scientific priesthood with sneers at the religion of Jenner. He clearly believes that vaccination is the cause of disease, instead of its prevention. I don’t know if some of the primitive vaccinations used in his time caused disease and death, but it is clear that their absence now certainly can. Children and adults should be vaccinated because the dangers of disease are far, far worse.

Shaw also has an unsentimental view of the poor. He doesn’t idealise them, as poor, ill-used people can be terrible themselves, which is why poverty itself needs to be eradicated. In his peroration he says he looks forward to the poor being exterminated along with the rich, although he has a little more sympathy for them. He then denies he is a misanthrope, and goes on to explain how he likes people, and really wants to see people growing up in a new, better, classless socialist future.

While I have strong reservations about the book, it is still well-worth reading, not least because of Shaw’s witty turns of phrase and ability to lampoon of capitalism’s flagrant absurdities. While I strongly reject his anti-religious views, his socialist ideas, with a few qualifications, still hold force. I wish there were more classic books on socialism like this in print, and widely available so that everyone can read them.

Because today’s capitalism is very much like the predatory capitalism of Shaw’s age, and becoming more so all the time.

 

 

 

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Three

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Socialism and Marriage, Children, Liberty and Religion

Shaw also discusses what socialism would mean for marriage, liberty, children and the churches, and these are the most problematic sections of the book. He looks forward to marriage being a purely voluntary commitment, where people people can marry for love instead of financial advancement. This will produce biologically better children, because people will be able to choose the best partners, rather than be limited to only those from their class. At the same time incompatible partners will be able to divorce each other free of stigma.

He defines liberty in terms of personal freedom. Under socialism, people will be freer because the amount of time they will have for their personal amusement and recreation will be greater. Legislation might go down, because the laws currently needed to protect people will become unnecessary as socialism is established and society advances. Shaw also believes that greater free time would be enough to attract the top brains to management positions in the absence of the usual inducement of greater pay. Shaw realised that not everyone could run industries, and that it was necessary to hire the very best people, who would be a small minority. Giving them greater leisure time was the best way to do this, and he later criticises the Soviet government for not equalising incomes.

But this is sheer utopianism. The Bolsheviks had tried to equalise incomes, and it didn’t work, which is why they went back to higher rates of pay for managers and so on. And as we’ve seen, socialism doesn’t necessarily lead to greater free time and certainly not less legislation. The better argument is that socialism leads to greater liberty because under socialism people have better opportunities available to them for careers, sport, entertainment and personal improvement than they would if they were mere capitalist wage slaves.

Religious people will also object to his views on religion and the churches. While earlier in the book Shaw addressed the reader as a fellow Christian, his attitude in this section is one of a religious sceptic. The reader will have already been warned of this through the foreword by Toynbee. The Groaniad columnist is a high-ranking member of the both the Secular and Humanist Societies, and her columns and articles in just about every magazine or newspaper she wrote for contained sneers at religion. Shaw considers the various Christian denominations irreconcilable in their theologies, and pour scorn on orthodox Christian doctrines such as the Atonement, that Christ died for our sins. Religion should not be taught in school, because of the incompatibility of the account of the Creation in Genesis with modern science. Children should not be taught about religion at all under they are of the age of consent. If their parents do teach them, the children are to be removed from their care. This is the attitude of very aggressive secularists and atheists. Richard Dawkins had the same attitude, but eventually reversed it. It’s far too authoritarian for most people. Mike and I went to a church school, and received a very good education from teachers that did believe in evolution. Religion deals with ultimate questions of existence and morality that go far beyond science. I therefore strongly believe that parents have the right to bring their children up in their religion, as long as they are aware of the existence of other views and that those who hold them are not wicked simply for doing so. He also believed that instead of children having information pumped into them, the business should be to educate children to the basic level they need to be able to live and work in modern society, and then allow the child to choose for itself what it wants to study.

Communism and Fascism

This last section of the book includes Shaw’s observations on Russian Communism and Fascism. Shaw had visited the USSR in the early ’30s, and like the other Fabians had been duped by Stalin. He praised it as the new socialist society that was eradicating poverty and class differences. He also thought that its early history vindicated the Fabian approach of cautious nationalisation. Lenin had first nationalised everything, and then had to go back on it and restore capitalism and the capitalist managers under the New Economic Policy. But Russia was to be admired because it had done this reversal quite openly, while such changes were kept very quiet in capitalism. If there were problems in the country’s industrialisation, it was due to mass sabotage by the kulaks – the wealthy peasants – and the industrialists. He also recognised that the previous capitalist elite were disenfranchised, forced into manual labour, and their children denied education until the working class children had been served. At the same time, the Soviet leaders had been members of the upper classes themselves, and in order to present themselves as working class leaders had claimed working class parentage. These issues were, however, gradually working themselves out. The Soviet leaders no longer had need of such personal propaganda, and the former capitalists could reconcile themselves to the regime as members of the intellectual proletariat. And some of the industrialisation was being performed by criminals, but this was less arduous than the labour in our prisons.

Shaw is right about the NEP showing that nationalisation needs to be preceded by careful preparation. But he was obviously kept ignorant of the famine that was raging in the USSR through forced collectivisation and the mass murder of the kulaks. And rather than a few criminals in the gulags, the real figures were millions of forced labourers. They were innocent of any crime except Stalin’s paranoia and the need of his managers for cheap slave labour. It’s believed that about 30 millions died in Stalin’s purges, while 7 million died in the famine in the Ukraine.

Shaw’s treatment of Fascism seems to be based mostly on the career of Mussolini. He considers Fascism just a revival of the craze for absolute monarchy and military leadership, of the kind that had produced Henry VIII in England, Napoleon, and now Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, the Shah of Iran and Ataturk in Turkey. These new absolute rulers had started out as working class radicals, before find out that the changes they wanted would not come from the working class. They had therefore appealed to the respectable middle class, swept away democracy and the old municipal councils, which were really talking shops for elderly tradesmen which accomplished little. They had then embarked on a campaign against liberalism and the left, smashing those organisations and imprisoning their members. Some form of parliament had been retained in order to reassure the people. At the same time, wars were started to divert the population and stop them criticising the new generalissimo. Industry was approaching socialism by combining into trusts. However, the government would not introduce socialism or truly effective government because of middle class opposition. Fascist regimes wouldn’t last, because their leaders were, like the rest of us, only mortal. In fact Mussolini was overthrown by the other Fascists, who then surrendered to the Allies, partly because of his failing health. That, and his utter military incompetence which meant that Italy was very definitely losing the War and the Allies were steadily advancing up the peninsula. While this potted biography of the typical Fascist is true of Mussolini, it doesn’t really fit some of the others. The Shah, for example, was an Indian prince.

Anarchism and Syndicalism

Shaw is much less informed about anarchism. He really only discusses it in terms of ‘Communist Anarchism’, which he dismisses as a silly contradiction in terms. Communism meant more legislation, while anarchism clearly meant less. He should have the articles and books on Anarcho-communism by Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin believed that goods and services should be taken over by the whole community. However, rather than a complete absence of government and legislation, society would be managed instead by individual communities and federations.

He also dismisses syndicalism, in which industry would be taken over and run by the trade unions. He considers this just another form of capitalism, with the place of the managers being taken by the workers. These would still fleece the consumer, while at the same time leave the problem of the great inequality in the distribution of wealth untouched, as some industries would obviously be poorer than others. But the Guild Socialists did believe that there should be a kind of central authority to represent the interests of the consumer. And one of the reasons why nationalisation, in the view of some socialists, failed to gain the popular support needed to defend it against the privatisations of the Tories is because the workers in the nationalised industries after the War were disappointed in their hopes for a great role in their management. The Labour party merely wanted nationalisation to be a simple exchange of public for private management, with no profound changes to the management structure. In some cases the same personnel were left in place. Unions were to be given a role in management through the various planning bodies. But this was far less than many workers and trade unionists hoped. If nationalisation is to have any meaning, it must allow for a proper, expanded role of the workers themselves in the business of managing their companies and industries.

The book ends with a peroration and a discussion of the works that have influenced and interest Shaw. In the peroration Shaw exhorts the readers not to be upset by the mass poverty and misery of the time, but to deplore the waste of opportunities for health, prosperity and happiness of the time, and to look forward and work for a better, socialist future.

His ‘Instead of a Bibliography’ is a kind of potted history of books critical of capitalism and advocating socialism from David Ricardo’s formulation of capitalism in the 19th century. These also include literary figures like Ruskin, Carlyle and Dickens. He states that he has replaced Marx’s theory of surplus value with Jevons treatment of rent, in order to show how capitalism deprives workers of their rightful share of the profits.

 

 

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Two

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Trade Unions

He discusses the unions, which he describes as ‘proletarian capitalists’. They are there to protect the workers, who have to sell their labour just as the businessman has to sell the product they create. Unions are there to ensure the workers are able to charge the highest price they can for their labour. He also discusses strikes and lockouts, including the violence of some industrial disputes. Scabs need police protection against being beaten, and angry workers will tamper with the equipment so that anyone using it will be injured. They will also place fulminate of mercury in chimneys to cause an explosion if someone starts up the furnaces.

Party Politics and Socialism

Shaw describes the class conflict between the Tories, representing the aristocracy, and the Liberals, who represented the industrial middle classes. These competed for working class votes by extending the franchise and passing legislation like the Factory Acts to improve working conditions. However, each was as bad the other. The aristocracy kept their workers in poverty in the countryside, while the middle classes exploited them in the factories. The laws they passed for the working poor were partly designed to attack their opponents of the opposite class.

He goes on to give a brief history of British socialism, beginning with Marx, William Morris’ Socialist League, and Hyndeman’s Social Democratic Federation. These were small, middle class groups, disconnected from the British working class through their opposition to trade unions and the cooperatives. It was only when British socialism combined with them under Keir Hardie and the Independent Labour Party that socialism became a real force in working class politics. The Fabian Society has been an important part of this, and has made socialism respectable so that the genteel middle classes may join it as Conservatives join their Constitutional Club.

Shaw believed that socialism would advance, simply because of the numerical supremacy of the working classes, and that soon parliament would be full of Labour MPs. However, he also recognised that many members of the proletariat were anti-Socialist. This is because they depended for their livelihood on the businesses serving the idle rich. He called this section of the working class the ‘parasitic proletariat’. The working class is also distracted away from socialism through lotteries and so on.

Democratic, Parliamentary Socialism and Nationalisation

Shaw argues strongly that socialism could only be established through democratic, parliamentary action. General strikes wouldn’t work, as the employers would simply starve the workers out. The strikes intended to stop the outbreak of the First World War had failed the moment the first bomb dropped killing babies. Violent revolutions were purely destructive. Apart from the human lives lost, they destroyed the country’s vital industrial and economic structure. Socialism needed to build on this, not destroy it. Similarly, confiscating the capitalists’ wealth, either directly through nationalisation without compensation, or by taxing capital, was also counterproductive. The capitalists would simply sell their shares or unwillingly surrender them. The result would be bankruptcy and mass unemployment. This would result in further working class unrest, which would end in a counterrevolution.

The only way socialism could proceed would be by long preparation. You should only nationalise an industry once there was a suitable government department to run it. Compensation should be given to the former proprietors. This did not mean robbing the workers to pay their former exploiters, as the money would come from taxing the upper classes so that the class as a whole would be slightly worse off than before, even though the former owners were slightly better off.  You can see here and in Shaw’s warning of the ineffectiveness of general strikes the bitterness that still lingered amongst the working class after the failure of the General Strike of the 1920s.

Nationalisation could also only be done through parliament. There were, however, problems with parliamentary party politics. If the socialist party grew too big, it would split into competing factions divided on other issues, whose squabbles would defeat the overall purpose. Party politics were also a hindrance, in that it meant that one party would always oppose the policies of the other, even though they secretly supported them, because that was how the system worked. We’ve seen it in our day when the Tories before the 2010 election made a great show of opposing Blair’s hospital closures, but when in power did exactly the same and worse. Shaw recommends instead that the political process should follow that of the municipalities, where party divisions were still high, but where the process of legislation was done through committees and so on parties were better able to cooperate.

Limited Role for Capitalism

Shaw also argued against total nationalisation. He begins the book by stating that socialists don’t want to nationalise personal wealth. They weren’t going to seize women’s jewels, nor prevent a woman making extra cash for herself by singing in public or raising prize chrysanthemums, although it might in time be considered bad form to do so. Only big, routine businesses would be nationalised. Small businesses would be encouraged, as would innovatory private companies, though once they became routine they too would eventually be taken over by the state.

It’s a great argument for a pluralistic mixed economy, of the type that produced solid economic growth and working class prosperity after World War II, right up to 1979 and Thatcher’s victory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part One

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Introduction

This is a great book. It’s the kind of book on socialism I was very much looking for in the 1980s when the papers were all praising Margaret Thatcher and alleged superiority of capitalism to the heavens. What I wanted then was a classic defence of socialism, which clearly showed the destructive nature and defects of capitalism, and how these would be removed for the better under a proper socialist government with a clear idea of what needed to be done and how it could be achieved.

This is a rather long review, so I’ve split up into four parts.

The book was written between 1924 and 1928, when it was first published. George Bernard Shaw is one of the great figures in British socialism. An Irishman, he was one of the founders of the Fabian Society along with Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and editor of its anthology of socialist writings, Fabian Essays. He’s best known for his play Pygamalion, about a linguist, Henry Higgins, who takes Eliza, a rough working class girl, and tries to mould her so she can pass as a lady of the genteel classes. It was filmed as the musical My Fair Lady, starring Rex Harrison.

Shaw wrote it between 1924 and 1928, when it was published, at the request of his sister-in-law, Lady Cholmondley. She had asked him to write a letter explaining socialism for women. Shaw looked into it, and discovered that amongst the masses of literature about socialism, there weren’t any books that realised that there were such creatures. And, he adds in his ‘Instead of a Bibliography’, very few that recognised the existence of men either. The book’s addressed to a female audience. The reader is a ‘she’ and the examples given are taken from women’s lives, jobs and experience. Shaw recognises that most women are occupied as wives and mothers, or shop girls and workers in the great weaving mills, the common female roles at the time. But he also recognises and fully supports the fact that more professions were being opened up to women in science, law, medicine and so on. If done badly, this approach by a male writer can seem patronising, but Shaw, as a great writer, manages to avoid it. And even though it’s aimed at women, I greatly enjoyed it, and would recommend it to other blokes.

Capital, Equality of Incomes and Imperialism

Shaw tries to present complex ideas about capitalism by simplifying them down to the level of ordinary people’s housekeeping or domestic economy. He defines capital as left over money. It’s the money you have left after spending your income on rent, food and so on. This is the money that the idle rich, the landlords, invest in industry. And money’s only real value is for the food and clothing that it will purchase. You cannot eat money, and the food it will buy must be eaten or else it will be spoilt. Which means that money must be invested and used, rather than stored up.

At the heart of Shaw’s view of socialism is the equalization of incomes. He believed that everyone should earn exactly the same amount. Capitalism had created vast inequalities of wealth. On the one hand there was a small minority of the idle rich, who had to invent pastimes and diversions in order to use up their wealth. On the other was the vast mass of the poor, living at or near starvation level. He begins by asking the reader how they would divide up the nation’s wealth, challenging the reader to think for herself rather than let him do her thinking for her. He then proceeds to argue that it is impossible to decide that one person should be paid more or less than another because of their personal morality or ability. He sharply criticises the quasi-feudal economy of his day, when 90 per cent of the country worked to support the gentry, who only comprised ten per cent of the country’s population. They do nothing for it, don’t benefit from it, as they can’t personally eat or drink more than anyone else. And instead of investing it, they simply take it out of the country to invest it or spend it abroad. He also attacks British imperialism for this same thing. It hasn’t benefited the peoples we have conquered nor British tradespeople, businessmen and workers. It has led to the exploitation of Blacks abroad, who can paid far less than their British counterparts. Thus Britain is flooded with cheap imports, and British companies are going bust and their workers laid off.

The Progress of Capitalism and Decline of the Businessman Owner

Shaw then describes how the middle class have their origins as the younger sons of the aristocracy, with a few acute remarks on the absurd gradations of class which meant that a wholesaler was socially superior to a retailer. His father was a businessman, who had been a member of the gentry. As such he looked down on the elite Dublin shopkeepers, even though they were richer and entertained the local Irish aristocracy, which he very definitely couldn’t. But business was changing. The age of the small businessman in personal possession of his business, was giving way to joint-stock companies owned by their shareholders and managed by professional, salaried staff. Under pressure from the unions, they were combining to  form monopolistic trusts. This made them ready for nationalisation.

Nationalisation and the Coal Industry

He presents the coal industry as particularly needing nationalisation. At the time he wrote, there were a number of different mining companies. Some worked poor mines and were close to bankruptcy, others very rich. However, miners wages were set at the level the poor mines could afford, which was near starvation. Coal prices were set for the rich mines, and so prices were high. The miners were thus being starved and the consumer overcharged. The mines should thus be nationalised so that the workers were paid a fair wage, and the consumer a fair price. Shaw advocated nationalisation so that costs and prices could be brought down and goods sold at cost price.

Banks and the Stock Market

He also discusses and explains finance capitalism, stocks and shares, debentures, futures and the stock market. He warns the reader against get-rich-quick scams, like the bucket shops which will charge his prices for very risky shares. If people want to invest, they should do so with the government or municipality. Their shares won’t provide a great yield, but they will be safe. He recommends that banks should be nationalised because of the problems the small businessman had acquiring capital. The big businesses rely on financiers, who certainly won’t lend the small businessman wanting a modest loan anything. Neither will the banks. He pointed to Birmingham as an example for the future, as it had established a municipal bank to serve the customers the big banks wouldn’t.