1960s >> 1964 >> no-715-march-1964

News in Review: “Freedom’’ in Africa

ABROAD
“Freedom’’ in Africa
By European standards, the recent mutinies in East Africa were very small beer. It was crushingly ironical that when the trouble started the new governments turned to the hated and despised British ex-rulers for help. If this proves anything, it is that ruling classes all over the world, whatever the colour of their skin, have common cause in the maintenance of their privileged position.

The troubles turned a spotlight upon Africa which is very disconcerting for the organisations which can always be relied upon to support any movement (especially in Africa) for national independence. These organisations have argued that the nationalist movements stood for freedom against the oppression of a foreign power. But how has freedom fared in the newly independent states?

Only five of them now make any pretence at being democratic. Ghana —the favourite example, of course—is now what the pro-Nkrumah Accra Evening News calls a one party democracy. Uganda has promised that it will also become a country where only one political party is allowed.

On all sides there is a developing African patriotism which is as pernicious and as nauseating as the Blimpishness which it ousted. Nkrumah and Kenyatta have both done their part in fomenting this patriotism; only last January Uganda’s Prime Minister said that there is what he called “an urgent need to cultivate national consciousness.”

This indicates what will happen when the workers of Kenya, Uganda and the rest start their first organised struggles to improve their wages and working conditions. They will be foolish to expect their new, African masters to take seriously the promises they made, in the days when they were opposing British rule, about freedom and human rights.

Capitalism laughs at such concepts. That is something which, we hope, the African workers will come to appreciate. It may even also get through to the people who like to call themselves progressive, the people who unfailingly speak up for Uhuru and other swindles which promise freedom and happiness but which only bring the customary repression and poverty.

Stiff Sentence
Reuter reports from Moscow that two former directors of a Riga department store have been found guilty of accepting bribes. Over here, that sort of offence against capitalism’s rules of legal robbery would mean at the most a few years in prison. But in the so-called Socialist paradise it means something else. Both men were sentenced to be shot.

AT HOME
The Paul Report
There are many occupations under capitalism which will be quickly dispensed with under a Socialist administration. To list a few that will disappear, we have all banking and financial wizards and non- wizards, all military, naval and air force personnel, decorated and un-decorated, all ticket collectors on trains, buses, ships and air liners, all advertising, sales and business executives and, last but not least, lurking in the background of the commercial drapery, with soft lights and sweet music, the modern clergy.

After the publicity given to the Paul Report, this particular occupation of clergyman is in the news at the time of writing. The Liverpool Echo was recently lamenting the city’s shortage of clergymen and quoting from the Report that a ratio of one clergyman to 6,000 population showed Liverpool as . . . “one of the country’s worst hit spots ” . . .  Rather a novel way of putting it, like a shortage of coal in winter, or a shortage of water in summer!

The question arises—are these reverend gentlemen who wear their collars back to front, deal in holy water, and claim to be the earthly representatives of the supernatural, indispensable to society? The answer is that capitalism finds them an indispensable ingredient in fostering and perpetuating the myths of antiquity which Marx correctly described as . . . “ the opium of the people.”

So, whilst clergymen may be necessary to a ruling class anxious to control the brains of their wage slaves, we, the working class, could well travel along the road to our emancipation in a quicker, lighter way, freed from the phoney incantations of these modern medicine men.

The working class have no cause to lament a shortage of the “tools” their masters use against them, rather should they rejoice at any evidence that the religious pillar of capitalism is crumbling away.

End of R.P.M.?
As the general election draws nearer, the government tells us that every decision they make is a compound of courage, wisdom and humanity. That is why Sir Alec Douglas-Home described the move to abolish resale price maintenance as the grasping of a nettle.

 

It is not unreasonable to ask why they took so long to make up their minds, these wise, courageous, humane men. Only a few years ago the government gave R.P.M. its blessing; even now, it is not sure that price fixing will end. The proposed legislation will have plenty of loopholes through which even a moderately determined manufacturer will be able to slip and so continue to impose his terms on the retail market.

 

Perhaps the announcement was part of the usual pre-election handouts, like the raising of the school-leaving age. If the Tories can convince the voters that they are on the side of the consumer against the price-fixer, they may win some marginal seats in areas like the North and Midlands, where the price-maintained goods are so widely sold.

 

Of perhaps it was another move in the interminable fight against wage increases. Mr. Edward Heath, speaking to a Young Conservative conference last month, defended the decision to end R.P.M. on the grounds that: —

 

  . . . it had been found that full employment and an expanding economy brought rising prices.
The Government believed the best way to deal with this problem was in the general context of competition between firms and in the retailing and distributive part of the economy. This was where resale price maintenance had had its effect. (Daily Telegraph, 10/2/63.)

 

Price levels are, of course, a vital factor in the bargaining which goes on over wage claims. No post war government has been able to halt the rise in prices, although all of them have promised to do so. Abolishing R.P.M. might be Douglas-Home’s contribution to the wage battles of the next few years.

 

Meanwhile, the supermarkets lick their lips. Already they are slashing prices, pushing the little man farther and farther into the back street corners where his only sales appeal is that he gives “service.” This is capitalism grinding on in classically ruthless style and the big supermarket tycoons, apparently, love it.

 

Probably a lot of workers will fall for the promises about the benefits which lower prices are supposed to bring them. There are plenty of people who regret the days when half-a-crown could buy a night out in the West End. A lot of the glamour rubs off these reminiscences when we remember that wages were then proportionately lower.

 

The fact is that anyone who has to work for his living always gets, on a general average, enough to keep him going. If prices go up, he gets a little more; if they go down, a little less. Sometimes this process may take a time to work out in the labour market, but in the end that is what happens.

 

This should always be remembered when we are talking about prices and wages. Unfortunately, it is more than likely that the ballyhoo over resale price maintenance will ensure that, not for the first time, the very fact that should be kept in prominence is obscured.

 

Spare a thought

The Sultan of Zanzibar, after fleeing to this country from the coup which deposed him, was reported to be in dire penury. He had to leave his posh hotel and to put up some of his retinue in a Salvation Army hostel. But the cruellest cut is, apparently, yet to come. The Sultan will now, said his private secretary, “. . . have to earn his living.”

 

Now the ruling class are never tired of telling us about the nobility of labour and about how good it is for us to rely upon our wage for our living. Yet when one of them is deprived of his investments and is faced with becoming one of us, their reaction is sympathetic horror. A flash of insight, this, into what our masters really think of this social system—and of the people who are foolish enough to let it continue.

 

BUSINESS

Fiftieth Birthday
Nineteen sixty-three was the fiftieth anniversary of the New York stockbroking firm of Merrill Lynch, Pierce Fenner and Smith.

 

This firm recently announced its results for last year; operating income of $170 millions, net profit of $18 millions, 137 offices in the U.S.A. and 17 outside—including one in London. And an item of expenditure, on advertising and “public education,” of $4-6 millions.

 

In the stuffy world of stockbrokers, Merrill Lynch have long been something of an unconventional outfit. For some years they have been trying to float their own shares on the New York Stock Exchange and have been prevented only by the Exchange’s constitution. When they opened their London office three years ago they upset all the conventions over here by advertising their services in the press—something which, they say, has paid off handsomely.

 

It is by a typical piece of chop-logic that the Stock Exchange, although it allows its members to deal in the shares of companies whose advertising campaigns may be nothing more than dishonest, frowns upon those same members advertising themselves. Well-cared-for stockbrokers can apparently see nothing wrong in a tobacco company tempting its customers to ignore the evidence which links smoking with lung cancer, but they can see everything wrong in a broking firm tempting those same customers to invest in the tobacco companies through them.

 

Merrill Lynch’s ads were aimed at the small investor—indeed, they have a rule that they never turn away any customer, no matter how little he has to invest. They thus have an interest in fostering the delusion that a worker can get rich by risking his paltry savings in a share gamble rather than by using them in some other way.

 

This is a useful delusion for the capitalist class. A worker who invests a few pounds usually thinks that he has a stake in capitalism and is, therefore, that much more servile and uncritical of the anomalies and inhumanities of the system. He will think that way even though his chances of making a significant profit from his shares are infinitely less than those of losing his lot in an unwise speculation.

 

Who, then, is likely to make a profit on the Stock Exchange? Take a look at Merrill Lynch’s balance sheet and you will see.