So They Say: Good God, said God

If ideas were worn like garments, most upholders of capitalism would make their speeches in the nude. As soon as the Arab-Israeli war began, both sides claimed heavenly justification and support. The Times (8th October) reported that Dr. Abdel Halim Mahmoud, the leader of Egypt’s biggest Muslim religious institution, called the conflict a holy war and said:


  The enemies of God have committed aggression on Muslim lands and desecrated our sanctuaries. It has become the duty of every Muslim to make every sacrifice to liberate Muslim territories from Zionist aggressors.

In Tel Aviv Brigadier-General Mordechai Piron, chaplain to the Israel armed forces, said “Snap”:


  Israel is fighting a sacred war against a cruel foe . . . The whole House of Israel has its eyes on you with heavy prayers and blessings for your success in repelling the enemy. The Lord will give you strength.


Perhaps God would appreciate a gift of Pelican psychiatry books, to find out what you do about schizophrenia.


Percentage from Peking
Those who believed in China’s march towards Socialism are still reeling from the news of China’s application for membership of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund: in order to be able to raise big loans abroad. In The Observer on 30th September, John Davis made the dose more bitter still by advising investors to go for Chinese government bonds. These have been in default (i.e. paying no interest) for many years, and so can — or could before 30th September — be bought cheaply. However, the IMF and the World Bank would almost certainly make a condition that the debts on the bonds be settled. Says Davis:


  The sum needed to wipe the slate clean for the Chinese is peanuts in the context of the sort of money China will want to raise in the future. In fact, it need not be more than the price of a few Concordes.


A nice “killing” for those who can afford it. Where will the money come from, and the interest on the loans China hopes to raise? From the surplus-value created by exploited workers in this “new utopia”.


A Roof over your Head
Architects and town planners from the Comecon countries recently had a conference in Bratislava about “one of the worst headaches of all East European leaderships — the problems of housing in towns” (Guardian, 26th September). The plight of workers in these countries generally is no different from that of those elsewhere. The promises are just as familiar:


  Poland, with a housing situation reckoned to be among the worst in Europe, now has a programme introduced by Mr. Gierek’s regime to provide every family with its own accommodation by 1990.


In Bulgaria, almost 50 per cent, of households share their accommodation with others.


What is interesting is that attempts to solve the problem revolve round finance as much as buildings: subsidies, schemes in which flats revert to the State at the end of the “owners’ ” lifetimes. So the housing problem in “Communist” countries is that of all the capitalist world — simply an aspect of working-class poverty.


My Dad can Fight Yours, too
A prize for the funniest item of the month should go to Norman Atkinson MP. On 26th September he wrote to The Times protesting against an apparent slight on the Labour Party’s Marxism. His letter said:


  For these reasons the Labour Party became — and still remains — a Marxist party . . .  all the leading Labour Party names you mention from Harold Wilson to Roy Jenkins accept the Labour Party’s Marxist constitution — and I assume are proud to do so. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the SDF, the ILP, GDH and Margaret Cole, the Fabians, and Arthur Henderson . . .  all would have agreed that it was their own Marxist scholarship which had the greatest influence during the early formative years of the Labour Party.


In the nineteen-fifties Morgan Phillips, the Labour Party secretary, claimed its derivation to be not from Marx but from Methodism. In fact, what almost all those Atkinson mentions have in common is their denial of the class struggle to which, as he says, “Marxist understanding is geared”. But has he “Marxist understanding”? He says “classless society is not possible without the common ownership of the means of production and exchange”. How do people exchange what they own in common? Marx would have writhed.


Achievements of Reform
Norman Atkinson’s letter also asks: “How two families can enjoy equal rights when one has an income 100 times greater than the other.” A sensible question, but the wrong one. It should be: How can one family have an income 100 times greater than another after government by the “Marxists” he names ?


On 27th September the Guardian had a review by Michael Meacher of new books on income distribution. Citing Wealth, Income and Inequality (ed. A. B. Atkinson, Penguin Education) the reviewer says:


  Historically, from 1801 when paupers and vagrants, the bottom 23 per cent of the population, had each a mere £20 per year income, while peers, the top 0.01 per cent, had annual incomes 400 times as great, the picture scarcely changed till the mid-twentieth century. Even since the Second World War, though the share of post-tax incomes held by the highest paid 1 per cent fell from 6½ per cent to 5 per cent between 1949-67, the share of the lowest-paid 30 per cent . . . also fell from 14½ per cent to 12 per cent.


It would be interesting to hear Atkinson explain how “a Marxist party” dedicated to “the founding of classless society” — and in power up to 1970 — let this happen. Certainly, how can families “enjoy equal rights” ?


Life in the Old Dog


The main problem for the Polish manager Kazimierz Gorski is whether to bring Marx into the side following his recent recovery from a leg injury.

(Guardian sports page, 10th October)


Perhaps that is what Harold Wilson and Norman Atkinson are worried over too.


Robert Barltrop