Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Dispute at the London Docks (1949)

From the August 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

The trouble at the London docks is an excellent illustration of the capitalist outlook of the Labour Government. The dockers are willing to unload all ships except the Beaverbrae and Argomont, the two Canadian ships which are involved in a Canadian trade union dispute. The dockers are also, prepared to see troops unload the Canadian ships but are not willing to unload them themselves because they contend that these ships are “black ships.” The Dock Labour Board refuses to allow the dock workers to unload other ships unless they are prepared to unload the two Canadian ships. At the moment of writing the government has threatened to declare a state of emergency unless the Port of London is working fully on Monday, July 11th; thus the Labour Government, like all previous capitalist governments, is taking the side of the employers against the workers.

On July 10th Reynolds News contained the following :
   “Mr. Sam Watson, chairman of the Labour Party, said at Brandon (Co. Durham) yesterday that the dock strike was the work of foreign agencies, was purely political and could be solved if the members of the unions threw out the anti-British agitators.”
What a familiar ring this statement has. For a hundred years every strike of any size has been put down to the nefarious influence of “agitators” sometimes foreign, sometimes home-grown. Many of the Labour leaders who are fighting the dockers were included in this category long ago; now that they support the Labour administration of capitalism they take up the capitalists’ cudgels and sing his tune.

But let us subject Mr. Watson’s statement to a little examination.

First of all the Government’s ultimatum requires that work must be resumed on all ships, including the two Canadian ships. Whatever may be the merits or demerits of the dockers’ attitude over the Canadian ships the fact remains that the Government is prepared to bring chaos to the docks and interfere with the unloading of food ships rather than permit the dockers to abstain from working two out of over a hundred ships, although over ten thousand dock workers have taken up this attitude. And yet we are told that the dock workers are solely to blame for the trouble, and that it is the work of “foreign agencies.”

Secondly the unions are the organisations of the workers in particular industries for the purpose of improving wages and conditions of labour or resisting a worsening of those conditions and wages. The trade union officials that the workers appoint and pay are appointed and paid to carry out the work that the majority of the workers in the union instruct them to do. Since the coming into power of the Labour Government leading trade union officials have attempted to curb their members’ struggles for improved conditions and, in particular, have used their position to try to prevent the workers from using the strike weapon, the only effective weapon the workers have on the industrial field. Labour Government still leaves the workers dissatisfied and struggling for improvement in their conditions; whoever gives adequate expression to this dissatisfaction in particular instances and attempts to put into practice the workers’ wishes is likely to receive their backing, regardless of political colour.

While it is true that the communists strive to fish in troubled waters a communist spokesman can only carry his fellow-workers with him if he is travelling along a road they want to travel. As long as he does this, and as long as the workers control his activities, it is immaterial whether he is a communist or a tory in political outlook. It is often forgotten by those not directly concerned that when workers come out on strike it is a very serious matter for them; they are jeopardising their livelihood and are hardly likely to do this at the behest of a few wild and irresponsible individuals. Whether their action is good policy at the given moment or not is immaterial; they have given it serious consideration and have taken action seriously, and therefore the charge that they are led by the nose by political agitators is particularly insulting when coming from the people they appoint and pay to fight their battles.

The fact of the matter is, in the dock strike as well as the other labour troubles that confront the Labour Government, that Labour Government has gone to the heads of leading trade union officials and they no longer adequately represent the views of their members. They have fallen behind and have given an opening for others who put the workers' case in industrial disputes more near to the demands of the situation.

Mr. Hartley Shawcross, the Attorney General, we are told (Reynolds, July 10th) delivered a “scathing attack on the ‘ wretched ’ unofficial dock strike ” and said:
   “But the freedom of the trade unions, the very right to strike, must depend on the members’ loyalty, and their use of the negotiating machinery."
To whom are trade union members supposed to be loyal? Surely to themselves and not to the officials who fail to carry out the policy for which they were appointed. As a lawyer Mr. Shawcross may be hidebound by legal formulae but that is his affair and not the workers. “Negotiating machinery” was not devised to help the workers but to aid the employers in keeping the machinery of capitalism running smoothly. Give a date weeks ahead when a strike is proposed so that (1) the employers can make adequate preparation to defeat it and (2) so that the workers will be bamboozled by long drawn out negotiations that will weary them into agreeing to compromises favourable to the employers. The strike that has the best chance of succeeding is the one that comes out of the blue and, if unsuccessful, is abandoned before the workers’ organisation has become too weak to enable them to strike again out of the blue with better success.

On the industrial field the workers are fighting the employers and their only loyalty is to themselves. Where the officials they appoint fail to recognise this they should be replaced by those who do. Strikes cause disorganisation and some suffering; if they did not do so they would be worthless as weapons to be wielded by the workers in disputes over wages and conditions.

In the present dispute the dock workers, rightly or wrongly, are taking sympathetic action to help fellow workers on the other side of the Atlantic. Until the Labour Government came into power this was an ideal supported passionately by all who claimed to be acting in the interests of the working class. Now “loyal citizenship ” has taken the place of international labour solidarity and Sir Hartley Shawcross concluded his speech with the threat:
    “The choice between the dockers on strike is whether they will resume work now as loyal citizens, or will continue to jeopardise the security of their employment by waiting until the community asserts its authority, as it can and will, by emergency measures.”
How like a statement emanating from a Tory Government or from the Russian Government? The "community” is, of course, the Government in power.

It is also claimed that the communists influence union action by carefully and artfully laid plans to influence the attitude of workers at conferences, mass meetings and so forth. But are they the only people that play this game? Are the trade union and labour leaders innocent of wire-pulling? What of the carefully-framed resolutions that are brought forward at the “right” moment and the speakers that are deputed to speak at the right moments? Or the weighty declarations backed by “my long and valuable work for the members”? There is only one way for the workers to arm themselves against wire-pulling and falling for seductive speeches and that is to know what they want and how to get it. Penalising people for their political opinions is not only undemocratic—it is fatal because one day the penaliser will find that he is throwing a boomerang which will come back and knock him out.

The Labour Government are now using the emergency powers regulations to try and force to their knees some of those workers who helped to place them in power. Is it too much to expect that this and similar Government attitudes in industrial disputes during the last four years will be remembered when the workers are called upon to vote in the General Election?

The Labour Government, backed by leading Trade Union officials, is constantly appealing to the workers to refrain from pressing demands for increased wages. In spite of this the demands are widespread and more and more insistent; there is unrest about living costs amongst the workers in industries all over the country and the Government does not appear to be able to do anything about it. In face of this, it is curious with what rapidity and unanimity the “state of emergency” was invoked—with everything cut and dried, and in a dispute where the workers adopted a customary trade union attitude of not unloading “black” ships. Can it be that the Government wanted a show-down in order to curb the general demands for increased wages?
Gilmac.

Raw Recruits (1949)

From the November 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

A hundred years ago, when capitalism seemed to be a divinely-ordained system, destined to last for ever, the “upper classes” made no bones about admitting that all the work was done by the “labouring classes.” The capitalist economists used to reflect on the happy arrangement of society by which landowners, shareholders and the rest were free from the painful necessity to work.

Here are three quotations made by Marx within the space of two pages of “Capital.” First, from Sismondi’sDe la Richesse Commerciale”: “Thanks to the advance of industry and science, every labourer can produce every day much more than his consumption requires. But at the same time, while his labour produces wealth, that wealth would, were he called on to consume it himself, make him less fit for labour.. . . Exertion to-day is separated from its recompense; it is not the same man that first works, and then reposes; but it is because the one works that the other rests. . . . The indefinite multiplication of the productive powers of labour can then only have for result the increase of luxury and enjoyment of the idle rich.”

Second, from Storch’s “Cours d’Economic Politique”: “The progress of social wealth begets this useful class of society . . . which performs the most wearisome, the vilest, the most disgusting functions, which takes, in a word, on its shoulders all that is disagreeable and servile in life, and procures thus for other classes leisure, serenity of mind and conventional dignity of character.”

And third, from Townsend’sDissertation on the Poor Laws": “It seems to be a law of nature that the poor should be to a certain degree improvident, that there may always be some to fulfil the most servile, the most sordid, and the most ignoble offices in the. community. The stock of human happiness is thereby much increased, whilst the more delicate are not only relieved from drudgery . . . but are left at liberty without interruption to pursue those callings which are suited to their various dispositions.”

But now, condition's are changing. As the upper class begins to realise that only lack of knowledge prevents the workers of the world putting an end to the present system, and with it the consumption of surplus value by a favoured few, so they begin to change their tune. One by one, like so many Uriah Heaps, they try to persuade the workers that they are all only humble working men. Brigadier Ralph Rayner, Conservative M.P. for Totnes, recently wrote to the Dartmouth Chronicle, detailing all the arduous duties he has to perform, in support of his claim to be a worker. The Sunday Express (31/7/49) announced that the Earl of Harewood’s fiancee is only “a working girl she met her future husband at a music festival, in the same way that any working-class girl might meet an earl at a music festival. But perhaps one of the most notable of recent claimants to working-class status is Sir Bernard Docker. Sir Bernard’s aspirations were revealed in an article in the Sunday Express (17/7/49) about Lady Docker, who not long ago had jewellery worth £50,000 stolen from her. One statement made by the author of this article is especially interesting: “When I met Lady Docker the jewellery she wore seemed insignificant to me—a small sapphire and diamond bracelet, two wedding rings, and an engagement ring fashioned from stones which once belonged to her husband’s mother. She said, ‘These and a Royal Thames Yacht Club badge in sapphires and diamonds are usually all I wear.’” Lady Docker confessed that she had “always been attracted by the solid man of achievement, not the playboy.” Lady Docker is to be congratulated on her taste in husbands. Her first was Mr. Clement Callingham, “a fine, hard-working business man,” one of whose presents to her was a diamond brooch valued at £7,000. Her second was Sir William Collins, who died in 1947, leaving nearly a million pounds. And her third is Sir Bernard Docker, who thinks that “every ordinary working man—and I class myself as a working man—wants to have the opportunity to save money and spend it how he likes.”

When Socialism is established, these eleventh-hour recruits to the working-class will have a chance of substantiating their claims.
Alwyn Edgar

Monday, July 16, 2018

Other Days—Other Ways (1946)

From the February 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Arthur Deakin is fast gaining reputation as the Labour Party's most blatant capitalist propagandist.
Quoted with great satisfaction in the Daily Herald for November 6th, 1945, he calls upon the workers to reject unofficial stoppages which are rendering a grave disservice to the "nation" and (as an afterthought) their fellow workers.
   “While applying our minds to schemes for sharing wealth," he writes, "we have also to get down to the job of producing wealth."
   "The nation is fighting for its economic survival, and if it is to succeed, the people, both workers and management, must put their backs into the job with the same team spirit as in the days of the war.”
We have shown, in recent issues of the Socialist Standard how the Labour Party, loudly demanding a drastic re-distribution of income when out of office—on the grounds that there was plenty of cake; only too few had got too much— suddenly discovers when in office that "we” have got to produce more—the cake isn't big enough !

What we would here point out is Mr. Deakin's naive and stupid conception of Socialism, which he imagines is "schemes for sharing wealth."

Socialism is not "a scheme for sharing wealth.” It is the only method of producing wealth up to full capacity by modern society. Socialism is the ONLY way to take the capitalist brake off production.

When wealth is produced in superabundance under Socialism—it will not be "shared out" by a "scheme" it will be freely distributed. These Labour Party Trade Union officials never have known, and still do NOT know, what Socialism is.
Horatio.

The Westminster By-Election (1924)

From the April 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

From the National point of view the by-election for the Westminster Abbey Division presents no particular point beyond the spectacle of four supporters of capitalism competing for one seat.

From the local point of view it afforded some amusement, while certain features are worth noting.

The outstanding feature was the large poll given to the Labour candidate, Mr. Fenner Brockway. The Labour Party are jubilant at their second attack upon what has always been looked upon as a Tory stronghold since. John Stuart Mill sat for the division.

Mr. Scott Duckers, the Liberal candidate, claims to have kept Mr. Churchill out, because those who voted for Mr. Scott Duckers would otherwise have voted for Mr. Churchill. There is very little evidence, however, for this statement, and it is far more likely that had Mr. Scott Duckers not run the bulk of the votes he received would have gone to the Labour candidate, who, like Mr. Scott Duckers, was a conscientious objector during the war.

It was interesting to see one objector opposing the “Five Cruisers” scheme, while the other one supported the scheme. It shows how poor a base sentiment is for a political policy.

The Tory Party split over the candidates put forward and the official machine realised it had a formidable task in front of it. Not only was there the great wealth of Mr. Churchill’s family behind him, but the yellow gutter press and the Observer were using all their influence to support Mr. Churchill. Added to this was Mr. Churchill's record and the fact that he is a master of platform clap-trap. In fact, the only thing he appeared to lack was a sense of decency.

Mr. Churchill conducted his campaign as a “Show” or piece of buffoonery. Fighting men, jockeys, comedians, etc., were his principal speakers. Processions of highly decorated motor-cars toured the streets, and the candidate joined in the procession at times. This gutter method of conducting a campaign shows the shallow mind of the individual responsible for such method.

But a later incident looks rather curious. During the closing days of the campaign, the newspapers reported that a motor-car, carrying the Labour Party placard, persistently followed Mr. Churchill’s car, and whenever he attempted to speak drowned his voice with motor horns, rattles and shouting.

This incident must have swung some hundreds of votes to Mr. Churchill, as the “waverers” in both Liberal and Tory camps would vote for him under these conditions, because “he was not getting fair play.” The Labour Party stated that the car was not officially connected with them, despite its labels, and among so many blatant “stunts” in operation, the suspicion arises that the hooligan car was run by Mr. Churchill or his supporters on purpose to gain the sympathy of those mentioned above.

Now hooliganism, long a favourite method with the Tories, whether indulged, in from a motor-car or the kerbstone, is both reactionary and cowardly. It is an admission that the hooligan cannot meet the arguments of his opponents And so indulges in methods to prevent him being heard. Such tactics are to be condemned, no matter who indulges in them. .

One other fact emerged from this by-election. Practically all the capitalist press united in talking of ‘‘Mr. Churchill’s brilliance,” “his great gifts,” ‘‘his remarkable abilities,” etc., but when one reads the carefully prepared speeches he gave, they turned out to contain nothing but stale and worn-out platitudes.

Any members of the working class, who were led away by this praise of the press, will now be able to realise that Churchill is only a shallow-pated chameleon.
Jack Fitzgerald

Books Received (1969)

From the April 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Workers' Mutual Aid by John Lawrence, 35 Micheldever Road, London, SE12 1s. 

Short anarchist pamphlet which rejects all political parties and wants equal wages while money exists. See Marx’s Poverty of Philosophy and Value, Price and Profit for the socialist reply to each of these points.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Wood for the trees (2018)

From the July 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Matter of Perspective
Living in a prosperous part of South England I occasionally encounter people who claim to be happy with their lives. They seem not to be suffering alienation in their work and are content with the standard of living it provides. What is a socialist to make of such an individual and is our call to revolution impotent in the face of such contentment? Certainly the traditional Marxist case depends on developing and politicising the pre-existing frustration and unhappiness that usually accompanies wage slavery. What does socialism have to offer such people?

Although initially taken-aback by the self-centeredness and political myopia of such individuals socialists can still offer them personal and political liberation by pointing to the perspectives of ‘time and place’. In terms of time we will refer to the struggles of the past that have enabled them to enjoy the relative material and political freedoms they have and point out that these can be eroded and/or destroyed by the instability of capitalism at any moment. The economic crashes that define capitalism can destroy jobs and savings just as its wars can murder its children. Anyone who is content to leave the future of their children in the hands of politicians whose only loyalty is to those with wealth and power is surely guilty of both extreme naivety and neglect. And if they are fortunate enough to personally escape these wider inevitabilities then even the most optimistic among us would be in complete denial not to be concerned about the dangers of pollution and global warming that will be their inheritance.

As I grow older I become aware of just how fragile our individual world is. Even the most successful and healthy individual can succumb to accident or illness at any time. Although socialism could not prevent such vicissitudes of existence it will end the added stress that accompanies loss of earnings in capitalism. Falling into poverty because of illness or bereavement is a common enough phenomenon in our present society. Living in a culture of such great inequality of wealth and opportunity creates crime. The relatively affluent among us are very fortunate if they do not fall victim to crime at some time. As Gil Scott-Heron memorably said about injustice in his song Angola Louisiana: ‘It can walk into your living room as long as it surrounds your home’. They might equip themselves with state-of-the-art security but all this does is foster the feeling of being ‘under siege’ and further alienates the individual from the wider community.

In terms of the ‘place’ element of our subversion of any feelings of smug contentment and complacency we need only point to the ease with which such a person can get on a plane and within hours be in the company of parents who have to watch their children die for the want of clean water. This is not some unrelated and alien ‘third world’ but a world that our actions and/or inaction have created. The components of the electronics (for instance) that a ‘first world’ consumer enjoys may well depend on the low wages of a sweat shop on the other side of the world. Because capital always flows to the area of production with the highest rate of exploitation this quite often means, in the underdeveloped world, very low wages and so contributes greatly to maintaining regional poverty.

And you don’t have to travel far to be ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ since the very act of travelling can kill or maim you. A staggering 1.3 million fatalities occur on the roads every year as part of the overall 50 million injuries per annum. In this country alone there is an average of 2,000 fatalities per year among the 200,000 injuries. Given the speed and power of contemporary vehicles together with the desperation to meet delivery deadlines combined with long and monotonous hours involved in commercial traffic, this is hardly surprising. Every time you start your car you take your life into your hands. 

There is an endless list of potential everyday hazards created by capitalism that can put you ‘in the eye of the perfect storm’ including: food adulteration, dangerous working conditions, tired doctors and nurses, faulty domestic appliances, etc., etc. I thought, at one time, that I had finally come across a purely ‘natural disaster’ when I heard about the terrible tsunami in Sri Lanka some years ago; only to discover that the local council had turned off the early warning system because of ‘financial considerations’! 

Life is fragile enough without the additional threats inherent within capitalism. We are so interdependent that we are all, by default, ‘our brother’s keeper’. The ultimate perspective was first provided by the Apollo 8 spacecraft back in 1968 when it emerged from behind the moon to see our planet some 240,000 miles distant. If life is fragile then just how much more is its host; a tiny blue jewel hanging in the midst of nothingness. It is the shared inheritance of us all and no parasitic minority should be allowed to destroy it. At the moment the majority of our species inhabit this world like ghosts haunting it instead of truly living as a part of it. We urgently need to realise this and resurrect ourselves as politically conscious and interactive members of the human family so that we may protect each other and our planet – that is our challenge to those who profess to be content with their lives.
Wez.

Political Notes: Splits (1982)

The Political Notes column from the March 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Splits
Does the Tory government know its own mind? On the one hand we have Howe and Tebbitt, dredging among the official statistics, assuring us that there are unmistakable signs that the worst of the recession is over and that we can now look forward to better times ahead. On the other there is Francis Pym, who has the job of master-minding the government’s propaganda, warning us that things are going to get worse:
  In the short run, living standards generally can only fall . . . we have to find ways of coping with and living with much higher levels of unemployment
There is no evidence that Pym was thinking about his own living standards or his own unemployment, although he talked about what “we” have to cope with. In any case, those with memories extending beyond last week may well prefer this sort of gloomy prognostication, from their experience of what has too often followed a politician’s hearty assurance that better times are just around the corner.

Are speeches like Pym’s, then, completely irrelevant? In fact, some people might find consolation in them, for no politician can forecast what will happen to capitalism’s economy; they can no more foresee a slump than they can a boom. If they had this ability the present recession would not have happened. There would be no three million dole queue. There would be no public expenditure cuts. We would be spared the offensiveness of ministers like Norman Tebbitt, who pretends that poverty (ours, not his) is good for us. We would not have to endure Thatcher’s nervous defiance of the reality she sees all around her. And we would be freed of the drivel of people like Pym.

Whatever stress this government is under, they are not split on the fundamental principle that capitalism must be run in the interests of its owning minority of parasites.


Malignant
The death last month of Ritchie-Calder saw the end of an identikit lefty, who moved easily in the unreal world of soft headed, temporising liberals, ready to support any excess of capitalism provided it is the work of their favoured party.

A devoted member of the Labour Party and a journalist who wrote mainly about science—which he saw as a means of dealing with social problems—Ritchie-Calder must have been thrilled when, in 1963, Harold Wilson began to claim for Labour the role of the party of science. The red (or was it white?) hot technological revolution, promised Wilson, was going to abolish poverty and strife through a four per cent growth in productivity. It sounded simple and it deceived a lot of people, like Ritchie-Calder, who should have known better. And of course it didn’t happen as Wilson promised.

Typically, Ritchie-Calder was a professed pacifist who nevertheless supported war, ending up with an important job on the Political Warfare Executive during 1939/45. Plenty of other lefties went the same disreputable way, after a brief obligatory struggle with what they called their principles.

After the war, Ritchie-Calder's continuing quest for impotence led him into the United Nations; he toured the Congo on their behalf during the troubles in 1960. He probably felt more comfortable there; the history of that country’s blood soaked exploitation by the rubber-seeking imperialist powers can keep a left wing journalist’s typewriter rattling for months.

Inevitably, he joined CND. No Aldermaston march was complete without his personification of the delusion that capitalism can be a society where human knowledge and achievement are used for human benefit.

And inevitably again, the ruling class showed what they thought of him that he presented no threat to their interests—when in 1966 he became a life peer and. a few years later, chairman of the Metrication Board.

Ritchie-Calder was one of those eminent people who give respectability to the organisations of capitalist reform—and therefore to capitalism itself. They may or may not be sincere; what is undeniable is that they are dangerously misguided. We have had too much of them and of their works. Behind a benign exterior they are as devastating as a malignant disease.
 

Cuts
Margaret Thatcher was once dubbed by Labour MPs, taking advantage of the abolition of free milk for some school children, as Thatcher the Snatcher. (The Iron Lady later said that she had been so wounded by these slurs that she would creep home and weep privately to her husband Denis.)

Well now the Prime Minister has advanced up the scale of criminality and from a snatcher has become, according to one outraged Labour MP. the Westminster Ripper. This parliamentary language may be written into the Labour Party campaign to exploit the government’s discomfiture over the cuts in public expenditure, which are now being blamed for almost all our ills from suicidal unemployed to decaying hospitals.

From this there has emerged a handy, distorting equation: Tory equals cuts equals poverty; Labour equals no cuts equals prosperity. Like all such propaganda, this has no basis in truth.

The Labour government of 1929 was infamous for its attacks on the already precarious living standards of the workers. That this was no accident was proven by such Chancellors as “Austerity” Cripps and Roy Jenkins, with his lugubrious warnings about the disaster awaiting us if we continued to live it up in our palaces on caviar and champagne. As a result of watching Jenkins on TV, a number of slum dwellers are said to have guiltily reduced their consumption of fish fingers, hoping thereby to contribute to the national recovery.

The last in this line—Denis Healey—was known as the “first monetarist”, which did not mean that he was a “monetarist” but that he zealously pursued a policy of public expenditure cuts. The latest account of this is in the book Inside the Treasury by Joel Barnett, who was Healey’s Financial Secretary. Apart from admitting that, in contrast to their promises to be able to control capitalism, the Labour government of 1974 did not have the first idea of what to do about the economy, Barnett records how Healey’s proposed cuts were pushed through the Cabinet, against some typically inconsistent opposition: “There is no will in this Cabinet,” expostulated Peter Shore, “To tell the IMF to take a running jump, even if unemployment rose to 2 million”.

Both Labour and Conservative governments have imposed cuts, which is another way of saying that they have both tried to do what the capitalist system demands of a government. They are basically in complete agreement on that. And that is another way of saying that no member of the working class, with the power to transform society, should misuse that power by supporting them.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Loss of the Titanic (1982)

From the April 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

For over seventy years the Titanic has lain there, more than two miles down in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. During a few days in April 1912 it was the greatest ship in the world—the unsinkable. And then, on its maiden voyage in a clear night and on a calm sea, the Titanic foundered and over 1500 people died.

This liner was the pride of the White Star Line—built like two ships in one, with an inner steel skin divided into compartments which could be scaled off by a switch on the bridge. The Titanic's 46,000 tons were driven at over 22 knots by the steam power from 29 massive boilers, heated by coal fed to them by scores of sweating stokers. Well above the noisy drudgery of the engine rooms there was a riotous luxury for those who could afford it; “For the payment or £870 per voyage,” said one account, “the richest man on earth would not lack a single comfort that his wealth might buy”.

When the Titanic left Queenstown on its first, and only, voyage seventy years ago this month its passengers included capitalists whose ownership of wealth totalled over £120 million. There was J. J. Astor, the banker Washington Dodge, “smelter king” Benjamin Guggenheim; men like Charles Hays and J. B. Thayer, rich through the ownership of American railroads. They were attended by maids, valets, nurses and governesses, apart from hundreds of stewards and stewardesses. Many of these people were making the crossing for no more pressing reason than to take part in a glamorous, historic event—a celebration of their position and power as members of the ruling class. There were other passengers whose motives were rather different; the Third Class accommodation carried hundreds of emigrating workers, many of them Irish, who were hoping to find a more rewarding style of exploitation on the other side of the Atlantic. When the Titanic sank their plight, appropriate to their inferior station, was particularly desperate.

Confidence
As it drew out of Queenstown the Titanic, with its size and power and exclusive luxury, represented the confidence of contemporary capitalism that no problems were beyond its power to solve. There had been no major war in Europe for 40 years, although it needed a conscious effort to blot out the signs which in 1912 were clearly showing that peace was not to last much longer. On all sides there were technological advances which could be comfortingly misconstrued as evidence of a human triumph over natural forces and social problems. The commander of the Titanic, Captain Smith, had contributed his own evidence: “I cannot imagine,” he had said six years before, “any condition which would cause a ship to founder . . . Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that”. This was supposed to be an orderly society in which everyone knew their place and happily kept to it. There could be no doubt that it worked; after all there was the Titanic to prove it . . .

Near midnight on April 14, three days out, the Titanic collided with an iceberg and by a process as inexorable as a mathematical equation filled up with water and sank. The iceberg, made of snow accumulated over 3,000 years, had broken loose about two years before the collision and had been drifting in the Labrador Current. It tore a massive hole beneath the water line in five of the Titanic's compartments; as the sea poured in the vessel dipped bow first, which eventually sent the water over the top of each supposedly watertight bulkhead into the next compartment, which filled up and pushed the bow further down, and so on.

It took nearly three hours for the Titanic to sink, amid a deafening roar from its boilers, leaving some seven hundred terrified survivors in the boats or clinging to pieces of wreckage. By then it was clear that in one respect it was not a luxurious ship; there had been 2,201 people on board but there were lifeboats for only 1,178. Confidence had overruled caution—why have a lot of life-saving equipment on a ship which couldn’t be sunk?

A quick reaction to the disaster was a flood of nonsense about the behaviour of the crew and passengers, as if capitalism was seeking some consolation for this blow to its arrogance. A contemporary publication—The Deathless Story of the Titanic by Philip Gibbs—was sickeningly lyrical:
   All the great virtues of the soul were here displayed upon “that dim dark sea, so like unto death” —courage, self- forgetfulness, self-sacrifice, love, devotion to those highest ideals which are the guiding stars of life, beyond the common reach.
Reality was less noble. There were many brave acts that night but there was also some predictable panic. Some passengers tried to rush the boats, one officer fired his pistol to control a panic, another berated the Managing Director of the White Star Line, Bruce Ismay, for his disruptive influence while the seamen were trying to get a lifeboat away. One of the boats which had places for 40 people was launched with only 12; it was dominated by Sir Cosmos Duff Gordon, who prevented it returning to the scene to pick up more survivors.

Then there was the matter of the numbers saved from each class of passenger. Gibbs claimed: “Women and children first—the old law of the sea—was obeyed. The old tradition of chivalry was upheld, as splendidly as ever in the story of the sea”. The truth is that a greater proportion of men in the First (Mass (33 per cent) were saved than of male children in the Third Class (27 per cent). Only four First Class women passengers died out of a total of 144 but in the Third Class 89 out of a total of 165—or 54 per cent—were lost.

The official British report on the disaster denied that this was due to any discrimination, saying that it was “. . . due to various causes, among which the difference in the position of their quarters and the fact that many of the third-class passengers were foreigners, are perhaps the most important”. In fact the position of the accommodation was vital; the First Class was much nearer the boat deck and was sealed from the rest of the ship by barriers many of which were kept locked even as the Titanic was filling with water. Some were guarded by a seaman doing his duty to stop people having access to something they couldn't afford, while fellow members of his class pleaded for their lives to be let through. And even if some steerage passengers did get through the barriers there was nothing and nobody to guide them through the maze of unfamiliar corridors and stairways up to the boats. Pathetically, many died because they went back for their luggage; its loss would have been a major catastrophe for them. The report's conclusion that there had been no discrimination by class should be taken in the context that no Third Class passengers testified to the Inquiry. The press might have aired their story but they were not interested; when the survivors arrived at New York the attention was focused on the likes of Mrs. Astor. who was met by two limousines carrying two doctors and a trained nurse and of Mrs. Widener and Mrs. Hays, who each had a private train waiting for them. The ruling class survived, as they lived, in the best parasitic style.

Record time
There was a simple reason for the sinking of the Titanic but it docs not tell the whole story. The master's sailing orders instructed him:
   You are to dismiss all idea of competitive passages with other vessels and to concentrate your attention upon a cautious, prudent, and ever-watchful system of navigation, which shall lose time or suffer any other temporary inconvenience rather than incur the slightest risk which can be avoided.
Smith's response to this was to take his ship on a course which, he knew, lay through seas where there would be icebergs. He was specifically warned that icebergs lay ahead but he drove into the danger zone at too high a speed with inadequate lookout. If the iceberg had been seen sooner, or the ship had been travelling slower, there might well have been a different story.

Was this, then, an isolated case of experienced seamen (Smith was White Star's senior captain and had 38 years of work for them behind him) suddenly taking leave of their senses? In reality, Smith's sailing orders were little better than fantasy. Those were the days of fierce competition on the trans-Atlantic crossing; the mighty ocean liners were the Concordes of their time and they travelled amid a similar ballyhoo and displayed ostentation. On the Atlantic crossing it was common practice, whatever the orders said, to sacrifice safety for schedules because ships which did not arrive on time lost business for their companies. For the Titanic, on its maiden voyage, it was particularly important to make a crossing in record time; there were all those wealthy and influential members of the ruling class to impress.

For all those privileged people, to cross the Atlantic in the greatest of all ships was an affirmation of their superior position in society. (When the survivors got to New York in the Carpathia the Social Register could hardly face the disgrace of rich people travelling on such a low class vessel; it listed them as “Arrived Titan-Carpath. April 18. 1912”.) During the voyage the Titanic’s Marconigraph operators were buried in an avalanche of private messages and congratulatory telegrams, so that they refused the first ice warning because they were too busy; for the same reason, another warning lay unheeded beneath a paper weight. Another warning was, incredibly, given by Captain Smith to Bruce Ismay, who kept it for five hours, showing it to his friends as a reminder of his exalted position at the head of the company which owned this fabulous ship.

So it was not just a case, as the Inquiry had it, of a ship going too fast in dangerous conditions. For the excessive speed, and much of the circumstances in the tragedy of the Titanic, was a response to a festival of capitalist privilege. It was gruesomely appropriate, that it should turn out to be an exposure of a social system, which still lives seventy years on, as dominated and distorted by the reckless greed of the profit motive.
Ivan

Trade Unions and the Labour Party (1996)

From the February 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Labour Party leaders are so desperate to win the next general election that they have virtually banned any mention of trade unions. If Labour does win the election they are in for a nasty shock — and so are the trade unionists who helped them to power!
There was recently a postal workers’ strike in Scotland. An unofficial strike. What the word “unofficial” might mean was never entirely certain, since union officials were very much involved in negotiations for the strike’s resolution. It would seem to mean that the workers acted of their own accord, possibly spontaneously though not necessarily without consulting, or rather asking the permission of, their “leaders”.

One tiling was obvious; part of the significance of this word “unofficial” lay in the union officials’ “official” disapproval of the workers’ actions Seemingly facing both ways at once, union officials continued to represent the workers, but with a certain embarrassment and even bad temper. This disapproval might have two possible causes; the feeling that the workers had themselves in some way usurped the hierarchical prerogatives of the leadership and the officials, or (more likely) fear of the embarrassment that might be caused to the Trade Union movement’s “parliamentary representatives”, the Labour Party, with a general election coming up in the next year or so.

As everybody knows, because the media continually tell us, the Labour Party is “in the pocket of the unions”. The unions pay Labour’s bills, the unions have 50 percent of the votes at the Labour Party conference, the unions sponsor individual MPs. It is obvious, “he who pays the piper calls the tune”; but who actually pays who? Do the unions pay labour for its support, or does the Labour Party buy industrial peace by promises of “faimess”, “workers’ rights”, “union rights” and the rest? It seems a mutually beneficial relationship, all very cosy and enough to have the bosses howling with rage.

B-team
The bosses, though, don't actually howl. The Tories howl occasionally, as do the press, in a fairly anodyne, stagy sort of way, especially as elections approach. The bosses worry, they worry about this relationship. They worry at this relationship, they’re not sure whether to believe in it or not. However much Tony Blair tries to convince them that he is their natural and greatest friend, they worry about the unions. In fact, Blair is right, he is a great friend and ally of the bosses, as is the Labour Party as a whole. In a general sense labour is the employers’ ally as the B- team of UK capitalism, helping keep the lid on dissent in this country when the Tories foul things up so much as to become a liability.

In a related way, Labour helps the bosses by being a regulating, calming influence on the unions, whether in or out of office. In office, they tell trade unionists not to cause trouble or kick up a fuss, be good or you’ll upset our great progressive project from which you will benefit. Be nice boys and girls or we won’t be able to give you the presents we’ve promised. Out of office they say much the same thing, with the added incentive that patience brings its rewards—’’wait till we come to power and you’ll get justice”; which carries like a parasite in its hair the warning: “if you won’t be good we won’t get power and you’ll get nothing”.

“You’ll get nothing if you don’t calm down and shut up.” Does this sound like a relationship of equals? Mutual benefit?

The union movement is treated like an errant child by the Labour Party, and not only that but a poor and disadvantaged child offered the occasional scraps from the Big House (of Commons). The working class is a charity case; the Labour Party a patrician “charitable organisation”.

Obviously there are still disputes and strikes, whether Labour are in or out of office. In 1945 there was the dockers’ strike, in which the Labour government, the most radical government this country has ever seen, threatened the workers with the sack if they didn’t return to work. There was an acrimonious dispute over the Labour government’s union-bashing policies in its document In Place of Strife (an unfortunate title if ever there was one) in 1969. Then, of course, a decade later, there was the still infamous “winter of discontent”. These are just three occasions when unions came into direct conflict with Labour governments. Obviously there have been many more over the same period when workers have been forced to confront their employers, whether private or State.

There are two main points to be made here though; firstly, that whatever the intentions of those involved, a Labour government is a government of the capitalist system and will be forced by that system to act against the interests of working class people. Secondly, whether the government is Labour or Tory, and whatever else may be the case, under capitalism there is still always the irreparable faultline between the workers and the bosses, between the creators of wealth and the owners of wealth. As long as there is capitalism there will be class struggle, and the unions are still the most effective vehicles for working class people to organise for themselves in that struggle to defend what meagre benefits have already been gained and win what can be won. For themselves. Not for the realisation of the dreams of power for Tony Blair and his mates.

Break the link
The long-term, and finally the only real, interest of working-class people is no longer to be working class—i.e., for there to be no working, or any other, class at all. In other words, to replace capitalism with socialism; but that is not strictly the business of trade unions but of the, or a, Socialist Party—in other words, of the whole working class organised politically. In the meantime, however, it should be clear that the short-term interests of workers generally and organised labour in particular are damaged by the link between the unions and the Labour Party.

The unions continually rely on the Labour Party to represent their interests only to find that a Labour government always finally represents the interests of capital, while all the time their misguided faith encourages the unions, particularly the leaders, to tread softly, keep their heads down and wait for handouts. The trade unions were founded on the realisation that, to advance their interests even slightly, workers must organise collectively for themselves and act for themselves to force concessions from employers and the representatives of capital. Largely because of their links with the Labour Party, they are fast becoming little more than purveyors of insurance policies, cut-price holidays and empty rhetoric.

Over the summer of 1995, there were accusations of Stalinism thrown at the Labour leadership. Such accusations were not entirely inapposite, though perhaps the accusers didn’t have in mind quite the same things socialists have. What we have in mind is the way in which Labour both uses and ignores the working class, taking the support of workers for granted and subordinating their needs to those of the party (or should that be “Party”?). Subordinating the unions and the union members’ interests to their own, denying the existence of class struggle and trying to replace it with the struggle of the Parliamentary Labour Party for power; there is a great deal of common ground between Leninism and Labourism in their attitudes towards working class people and trade unions. It’s high time the unions realised they are getting the poor end of a bad deal. Instead of relying on handouts from the leaders of just another capitalist party, the unions should regain the initiative and fight once more for themselves and for each other. They should cut their losses and, once and for all, cut all their links with Labour.
Jonathan Clay

50 Years Ago: Labour Foreign Minister Bevin and his Predecessors (1996)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Now that the Labour Party is in power its promise to introduce Socialism at home and to pursue the “brotherhood of man" abroad is being put to the test. Instead of attempting to introduce Socialism (for which it did not receive or even seek a mandate at the election) it is extending state capitalism by nationalising various industries while retaining all of the basic features of capitalism—the wages-system, production for profit and the exploitation of the workers for the benefit of the owning class. The only difference is that some of the owners are in future to hold Government Stock instead of company shares and are to have no hand in management of the undertakings.

Being thus confined within the limits set by capitalism their foreign policy is likewise pre-determined in all its broad lines. With the "brotherhood of man" on their lips they are engaged, like all their Liberal and Tory predecessors. in a high-powered drive to capture foreign markets for British exports. On taking office as Foreign Minister, Mr. Bevin was reported to have said: "British foreign policy will not be altered in any way under the Labour Government" (Evening News, 26th July, 1945). This continuity means carrying on the centuries-old policy of controlling trade routes, holding down colonies and protecting foreign investments.
(Article from Socialist Standard, February 1946)

Our Masters' Voice (1982)

From the March 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

From the manifestly cheap (The Muppets) to the mystifying (Jesus of Nazareth), Lew (Lord) Grade and his cronies, at enormous profit to themselves, have socked it to us until (or so one might reasonably have supposed) our corporate stomach for the products of their tawdry road-show could take no more, thus hastening their downfall. The truth, unfortunately, lies elsewhere. It is that the recent collapse of Grade's extensive empire came about not so much because the public rejected his patronisingly inferior offerings but because of sheer boardroom incompetence.

To cut a long story short; it appears that Grade fancied himself, not merely as a highly successful light entertainment entrepreneur, but as a would-be film magnate in the grand tradition. Unfortunately for him and his fellow shareholders the film side of his enterprises never really got profitably under way: his biggest flop among some thirty-odd others was Raise the Titanic, which all but sank his Associated Communications Corporation (annual turnover, £250 million).

But, in order properly to understand the true nature of this growing catalogue of greed, graft and mismanagement—in itself a fair reflection of the euphemistically named “entertainments industry" as a whole—we need to remind ourselves of how it all began. Grade (believe it or not, a one-time professional Charleston dancer) had his chance, and took it, in 1954 when, on being awarded the Midlands Independent Television licence, he set up Associated Television (ATC). Dubbed from the start “licences to print money”, the ITV franchises lived up to their name. Through advertising and the promotion of a great deal of such unmemorable rubbish as that referred to above, Grade and his fellow operators seemingly could do no wrong. Grade's empire expanded almost as rapidly as his own ambitions. His board gave him every opportunity to do more or less as he pleased. They lived to regret their trust: Grade badly misjudged the American market for his films and ACC ran up debts in excess of £75 million. (All of which must be one further rebuff for that other slick operator, Harold Wilson who, in recognition of Grade’s services in helping deflect attention from his own betrayal of the working class, presented Grade with his fancy ermined robe and bloomers and bundled him off to the Lords.)

The grenade that blew up in Grade’s face was his attempted payment to his, by that time, evidently dispensable financial manager. Jack Gill, of a bob or two by way of beer-money in lieu of the boot— £560,000 cash, no less; not to mention other acceptable little perks, such as the quarter-million-pound house he lives in. Gill swallowed this insulting treatment with a brave smile—the City did not. A major shareholder, the National Association of Pension Funds, has secured an injunction withholding payment. In due course, no doubt, we shall be treated to yet another swinish struggle around the pig-trough. I don’t know about the Muppets, but Jesus of Nazareth must be throwing up all over the place, wherever he resurrected himself to.

Episode three-thousand-seven-hundred-and-forty-nine of the ACC farce sees, slithering in from the wings, the salivating figure of one Robert Holmes à Court. This South African born lawyer turned asset stripper from Australia (they do get about, these capitalists, don’t they?) has developed his alternative skills to a fine art. The trick, apparently, is to exploit the not infrequent coincidence on the stock market of low share prices and high asset values: buy in the shares at knockdown prices, wait for take-over bids, and then sell dear. Should this ploy fail then the companies themselves can be bought at bargain-basement prices and the assets sold off. (See David Philip, “Moving in for the kill”, New Statesman, 29/1/82.)

What, it may be asked, is à Court inheriting? Well, for one thing. The Muppets, and for another, Jesus of Nazareth — mortgage on future sales? £22.7 million—an awful lot of loot for some of the most puerile and patronising codswallop ever passed off as “entertainment” to a punch-drunk, unresisting public. This, however, is not all. Along with the papier-maché and the pseudo-religious we have ACC assets variously estimated at between £50-100 million, taken over for £15.5 million, the sum Holmes à Court paid for 51 per cent of the non-voting shares of the company. These assets include Classic Cinemas. Stoll Moss Theatres, Northern Song (which holds copyright on many Lennon and McCartney songs), Bentray Investments, Elstree Studios, Central TV and Jetsave, the travel company.

As will be appreciated, there is a great deal more to these unlovely shenanigans than is necessary or possible to describe here. The question is: where does all this leave us of the working class? One thing is certain: we’re unlikely ever to find out if we never venture deeper than, say, the surface of our television set. There are the very soundest of reasons we owe it to ourselves to subject, not merely television, but the communications business in its entirety, to the closest and most critical scrutiny. Take the political and economic nature of its ownership and control. We hear enough from our masters and their lackeys about state control of the means and content of media communication in so-called communist countries, most of it no doubt true enough. But the clear inference is that our own media is free from such domination—which is manifestly untrue.

But even if there were no state control—which there clearly is in the way senior appointments are made, or in funding—the media under capitalism would still find itself in the strait-jacket of business interests. Anything that runs counter to these interests is bound to be circumscribed, or mutilated, or banned—in a gentlemanly fashion, of course, behind closed doors, and with an oily smile. After all, what millionaire is willing to allow a fundamentally dissentient voice a chance to be heard, and heard regularly, exposing that same millionaire and the system that spawned him to the penetrating criticism of an informed and hostile working class viewpoint?

To confine ourselves to TV and Radio: if we accept the necessarily innocent abstractions of music, and the coded, less menacing, language of the more adventurous broadcast theatre, what are we left with? It is an unremitting diet of the innocuous, the banal, the slanted, the censored, the hypocritical, the chummily familiar or ingratiating, the half-true and the bare-faced lie. When the inevitable industrial disputes happen we see and hear, with monotonous regularity, ordinary working people and union leaders alike subjected to thinly-veiled hostility from front persons who have evidently never recognised their own status as members of the working class, leave alone forgotten it.

Then we have the other side of the coin. Tune in of a morning to the likes of Brian Redhead and his mates and note the manner in which they deal with, say, the Secretary of State for Employment, or the Chairman of the CBI. And then compare it with their approach to some underpaid, undereducated, relatively inarticulate striker. It never fails to leave a thoroughly nasty taste in the mouth of one listener, at least. As the Glasgow University Media Group has discovered, bias in the media can be disarmingly subtle, as can obsequiousness, or politically loaded hostility. But our own carefully analytical listening and viewing can usually reveal more than enough to put us on our guard.

By the same yardstick it is instructive to study, as objectively as rising irritation and frustration will permit, those programmes—usually televised—which purport to give a voice to “the people". Watch how, after suffering perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes of anodyne and unproductive opinionating, somebody “starts” something by putting a provocative spoke in. Jill Tweedie, in a revealing piece for the Guardian of 1 February, has asserted that these people are “plants” put there to wake things up a bit. This may or may not be true: what is worth noting is that rare occasion when a genuine “uncooperative” strikes home with something slightly more fundamental or politically embarrassing. Watch how the “chairperson” adroitly, and with the assiduous co-operation of the cameramen and sound-technicians, manages to beat a diplomatic retreat. Of course, as that notorious scourge of the Establishment Robin Day would confirm, such undemocratic antics can be suitably recognised and rewarded.

Our message is plain. Workers can and must make the effort correctly to interpret, in the light of their own experience, the gigantic con-trick that is being swung on them, not only by the likes of Grade and Holmes à Court, but by the equally dangerous, if urbane and discreet, ex-public schoolboys of the BBC’s upper echelons. The swindle is perpetrated for two main reasons. The first, and most obvious, is to make money. The second less apparent but not less insidious—is that, under capitalism, the bulk of the media in general, but the broadcasting media in particular, is obliged to play the role of “Our Masters’ Voice”.
Richard Cooper

The Case Against the Profit System (1996)

From the March 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are living in a world which has the resources to satisfy the material needs of every man, woman and child on the planet. We could produce enough food to feed everybody adequately and enough houses to house everybody properly. We could have a fully-comprehensive health care service, pollution-free industry and pollution-free towns.

All this is technically possible. The resources are there. The factories are there The people with the skills are there. But it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen because we are living in a class-divided society where the aim of production is not to satisfy people’s needs but to make a profit.

The basis of present-day society is the concentration of the ownership and control of productive resources into the hands of a small minority of the population, no more than 5 percent in any of the countries into which the world is artificially divided. They form a privileged class, since they are in a position to say to the rest of the population: “This is my farm, or my factory, or my office, and you can’t use it unless there’s something in it for me.”

That “something in it for them” is profit, financial profit, which is a tribute levied on labour by property. It is in fact the basis of the whole economic system that exists today. Making a profit—for the privileged few who exercise a class monopoly over productive resources—is the overriding purpose of production. It is the reason why production is undertaken. It is also the reason why production is not undertaken.

The basic economic law of the Profit System is “no profit, no production”. Defenders of profits see profit-making as an incentive to produce, as what makes the economic system go round. To a certain extent this is true, but it also restricts and distorts what is produced to what is profitable.

The reason why there are tens of thousands of homeless people in Britain and why there are millions of others who are living in accommodation which is regarded even by the government’s own low standards as “unfit for human habitation” is not because we couldn’t build or upgrade enough houses for them. It is because it is not profitable to do so.

The income of those facing an acute housing problem is too low to allow them to be able to afford even minimally adequate housing. And no building firm is going to build houses or flats if it can’t sell or rent them out at a profit. So the homeless and the badly houses go without— despite the fact that the resources to solve their problem exist. In fact, at the moment, there are huge stockpiles of unused building materials lying around and well over a quarter-of-a-million building workers who are unemployed.

On a world scale, it is for the same reason that there are millions of people who are starving or suffering from starvation-related diseases. This is not because enough food to feed them can’t be produced. After all, in Europe farmers are being paid millions to take their land out of agricultural production; in other words, not to grow food. It is, once again, because it is not profitable.

It is not profitable to produce food for people who desperately need it but cannot afford to pay for it. If you haven’t go any money, or enough money, your demand doesn’t count. You don’t constitute a market, so your needs are ignored.

That’s the way the capitalist system works and there’s nothing that can be done to change it. At one time there were people around who used to say: “the government can intervene; it can provide the things that the market won’t provide”.

To a certain extent the government does do this. It does pay for services—like roads, education and basic health care— which are essential to the smooth running of the capitalist economic system. But what these reformists overlook is that the government has no independent source of income. Every penny it spends has to come from taxation or from borrowing. And, in the end, taxes fall on property and profits.

But profits are what makes the economic system go round, so the government must allow them to be made. This places a severe restriction on how much they can raise by taxes and so on how much they can spend. This is why governments are always short of cash; why they are only able to spend minimum amounts on public services and welfare payments.

So, a crumbling health service and under-the-poverty-line payments to the old, the unemployed and the sick is another aspect of profits coming before needs under capitalism.

Profits First, People Second is not an aberration of the system. It is the system working normally. And it is why Socialists say that it is pointless trying to patch up and reform capitalism. It must be abolished altogether and replaced by a new system, founded on a completely different basis—common ownership, democratic control and production for use not profit.
Adam Buick

Friday, July 13, 2018

CIA and the Third World (1982)

Book Review from the March 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

CIA and the Third World, by Satish Kumar (Zed Press, 1981).
   “In the Clandestine services we were ready. On the morning after the election of Eisenhower one of the senior paramilitary officers home from the SEA Supply Company in Thailand ran through the offices shouting: “Now we’ll finish off the god damned Commie bastards. We’ll get rid of the fucking pinkos in the State Department and around this place too. They’ll all be as dead as that little bald-headed son-of-a-bitch who said he thought he was going to cry last night when he had to concede to Ike." 
This scene, described in J. B. Smith’s Portrait of a Cold Warrior, is reported in Satish Kumar’s new book as summing up the atmosphere in CIA headquarters the day after Eisenhower’s victory in 1952.

But American secret service operations were in full swing well before Eisenhower came to power. By 1953 they extended to 48 countries and since then, whoever has been president, have never ceased to escalate in nature and extent. Kumar takes us through these operations in Africa, Asia and Latin America using the evidence available from various books, articles and official reports published in recent years. He has chosen the Third World countries in particular (the Congo, Angola, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, Chile, Guatemala, Dominican Republic) because they have been especially susceptible to “penetration” by foreign secret services owing to the relative newness and fragility of their rulers and institutions.

Subsidies, bribery, arms supplies, blackmail, assassination plots and hiring and arming of mercenaries are some of the methods described as being clandestinely used by the CIA to undermine undesirable regimes and shore up or instal favourable ones. Not, however, that such efforts have always met with success. On the contrary this book is less a catalogue of success than one of dismal failure with Cuba, Laos and Angola being prime examples. And failure for the CIA has usually meant success for its Russian counterpart, the KGB, which, as Kumar is at pains to point out, has certainly been at work with an intensity equal to the CIA but whose operations are impossible to document because of the more closed nature of Russian society.

The main point, however, is that every major CIA operation, whether a triumph or a disaster politically, has brought turmoil, misery and death to the population it has been visited on. And although this study tries to be as technical and dispassionate as possible, and not to dwell on the grisly human consequences of "covert diplomacy", it cannot at times’ avoid giving glimpses of the horror stories behind the operational details: the "decimation" of local populations secretly recruited to help favoured regimes in Laos and Vietnam, the mass slaughter and public torture in the Congo in the early ‘60s and the “recurrent terror and repression" there ever since.

Kumar is not completely silent either on the question of why the super-powers go to enormous trouble and expense to clandestinely win foreign rulers and, if possible, populations on to their side. “Foreign policy in the ultimate analysis", he writes, “is the extension of a country’s domestic policy . . . it is natural that foreign policy should also reflect the interests of corporate capitalism ". He goes on to quote with approval the view expressed in R. J. Barnet's Roots of War that what a government does is to “use its power to open up investment and market opportunities, to collect bills and to regulate competition". In other words a country's foreign policy, whether open or covert, is directed towards the defence and capture of markets, raw materials, trade routes and the strategic positions needed to assure these. And Kumar, although frequently pointing to the cloak of "ideology" behind which the battle for control of the Third World is fought, also makes a number of telling references to the underlying economic and strategic motives ("market for US goods”, "mineral wealth”, "strategic location", “wealthy nations"). If he had still been writing his book he might also have referred to the recent declaration by an American Embassy official in North Yemen that the US intends to do nothing to stop the present government there falling in favour of a Communist regime: "We feel that if North Yemen moves left, the Saudis will be so terrified they will move even closer to us. North Yemen has no oil. Saudi has. It’s as simple as that". (Sunday Times, 13 December, 1981.)

Not that the author is anti-American or thinks there is anything wrong with the world being run on the basis of international economic rivalries. Indeed he agrees with R. J. Barnet that the foreign policy of American governments is a legitimate “means of enhancing the power and prosperity of the American nation”. What he is opposed to is this being done in covert underhand fashion by an agency whose crude anti-Communist mentality has at times been at cross-purposes with the interests of American capitalism and which, with its considerable independence from central government, has sometimes landed America’s rulers in the international soup. He qualifies CIA operations as “illegal” and as “violations of human rights", and advocates traditional diplomacy conducted through ambassadors and adherence to “international law" embodied, as he sees it, in a United Nations General Assembly resolution of 1965 which declared that: “No state has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever in the internal or external affairs of any other state".

These are extraordinarily naive solutions to offer. The author's wide knowledge of his subject should have taught him that the economic rivalries of capitalism defy appeals to notions such as “legality", “human rights" and the rest. These rivalries inevitably lead to conspiracies, corruption and bloody conflict. The real lesson of this book, apparently unlearned by its author, is that the need for a vast expenditure of resources, energies and lives in so-called “intelligence operations" will only disappear with the disappearance of the need for governments to seek profitable outlets on the world market for their capitalists’ goods. In other words we will have the CIA, the KGB and all their lesser brothers until we decide to get rid of the system that produces them and that needs them as tools for its normal functioning.
Howard Moss

Religion and Reaction in Russia (1943)

From the November 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

The news that Stalin has approved the election of a Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Russia and the formation of a Holy Synod is not the least surprising to Socialists, especially after the information published in the Daily Worker (see August Socialist Standard) about the increasing numbers of rouble millionaires. 

Perhaps one of the best comments is that of General de Gaulle's paper, La France. It compares the present developments in Russia to the end of the Robespierre regime in France in 1798, and further points out that the old official Greek Orthodox Catholic Church in Russia has energetically supported the war against Germany, openly threatening denunciation as a traitor and ex-communication for any priest guilty of failing to lead the people against the enemy. According to the Moscow correspondent of the Daily Herald (September 6, 1943), "Since the war there has been an upsurge of religions feeling by no means confined to the older generation." This is simply one further aspect of the profound truth of the contention of the Socialist Standard 23 years ago that the people of Russia were not Socialists—but largely illiterate peasants. They still are— and are therefore priest-ridden.
  It is the development of industrial forces, and mankind's consequent growing control over nature, and increasing knowledge of her working, that provides a wider and firmer basis for science, and leaves less room for superstition in the minds of working men. (Socialism and Religion, S.P.G.B., p. 15-16.)
The position of the hapless British Communists becomes ever more ridiculous. One-time sponsors of the "League of the Godless" they are now forced to whitewash what is the most reactionary Church in Europe—the Russian Church— former organiser of pogroms against the Jews, spiritual managers of the Czar's public brothels, and breakers of strikes. Meantime, the British Archbishops and Deans of Canterbury, York, etc., have proved how astute they are and how well they understood that the backward conditions of Russia would serve religion.

According to the Daily Worker (September 16), the Dean of Canterbury welcomes the visit of the Archbishop of York to the Soviet Union. In an article in the same issue he states that "the Russian Church of to-day differs widely from the Russian Church of Tsarist days, proving itself by a whole series of acts, especially in war time, a loyal ally of the Soviet Regime." The Dean considers that this recognition of the Holy Synod in Russia makes it "the first great union of peoples to practise things which for 1,800 years the Church has been preaching."

When we recall the books written by these people, The Socialist Sixth of the World (extensively debunked in the Socialist Standard) and hear the statement of the Archbishop of Canterbury on the radio that they (the Church of England) have long been on the most friendly terms with the Greek Orthodox Church in Russia, and are now exchanging delegates, it becomes clear that the clergy are up to their age-old game, consistently played throughout the ages, of repainting their theological scenery to suit the political policy of the ruling clique of the day. In the same way that Ancient Rome and the Incas of Peru took the idols of conquered tribes and placed them in the Pantheon, so the Patriarch of the Holy Synod is quite willing to send greetings to Joseph Stalin so long as Stalin recognises the Church, or vice versa. Once Churchill "recognised" Stalin, the Church of England follows suit. Stalin has done this, as the Times indicates, because the Greek Church is the most suitable machinery for influencing Russian and Balkan peasants, not the Communist International, which it has superseded. Eleven years ago they said: —
   In all the Catholic Churches in the Liverpool diocese a pastoral letter from the Archbishop was read during the High Mass last Sunday. After stating that the abolition of religion is a fundamental tenet of Russian Communism, the Archbishop asserts, "Almost from the outset the price which the workers paid for the somewhat fictitious benefits of Communism was very real slavery; and slavery not merely of body but of mind, for the serfs of the soil in their misery soon discovered that the only free-thinkers in Russia were the despots who ruled them.
   Even at this late hour the world's ports should be closed to the commercial fleets of Russia and the plague of Bolshevism isolated within the Soviet State." (Daily Worker, November 29, 1932.) 
The official Church of England, through the Dean of Canterbury and others, will try to pass this off as "Socialism," and surely, if Hitler and Stalin can call themselves "Socialists," so can the Dean of Canterbury and the Russian Church. Yelping at his heels, the Daily Worker and Russia Today announce that the modern Russian Church, like the new Soviet millionaires, is " quite different."

Unfortunately for them, information is not lacking to the contrary. In the Daily Mirror for September 17 is a report from Moscow by Marion Sinclair entitled "An exhausting time was had by all," on the reception of the Patriarch by Stalin and his enthronement in Moscow Cathedral.
  "Never in the history of Soviet Russia has there been such a blaze of colour, jewels, candles, velvets, brocades—or such a concourse of people in an ecstasy of religious fervour."
The Cathedral Dean was fussing about like the stage-manager before the opening performance.
   "Don't forget those candles, line up the beggars at the door—they're blocking the entrance. Where are the people who are to line the path to keep back crowds? "
   Sergei (the Patriarch) put on the golden mitre blazing with rubies, sapphires, amethysts and pearls. One girl whispered "they can't all be real." But they were, for canonical law forbids the wearing of false jewels. (Italics ours.)
So we see. It is almost the same old superstitious Russia in spite of everything. Great wealth for priests—based on crowds of beggars at the door as they always were, with "modern" rouble millionaires and masses of pauper-workers added. And yet not quite the same, for somewhere in the back streets of Moscow there are working men and women who recall the words of one of Russia's outstanding sons : —
   Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression which everywhere weigh upon the masses who are crushed by continuous toil for others, by poverty and deprivation. The helplessness of all the exploited in their struggle against the exploiters inevitably generates a belief in a better life after death, even as the helplessness of the savage in his struggle with nature gives rise to a belief in gods, devils, miracles, etc.
  Religion teaches those who toil in poverty all their lives to be resigned and patient in this world, and consoles them with the hope of reward in heaven. As for those who live upon the labour of others, religion teaches them to be "charitable"—thus providing a justification for exploitation and, as it were, also a cheap ticket to heaven likewise."Religion is the opium of the people." Religion is a kind of spiritual intoxicant, in which the slaves of capital drown their humanity, and blunt their desire for a decent human existence.
  But a slave who has become conscious of his slavery, and who has risen to the height of fighting for his emancipation, has half-ceased to be a slave. The class-conscious worker of to-day, brought up in the environment of a big factory, and enlightened by town life, rejects religious prejudices with contempt. He leaves heaven to the priests and bourgeois hypocrites. He fights for a better life for himself, here on earth. The modern proletariat ranges itself on the side of Socialism, which, with the help of science, is dispersing the fog of religion and is liberating the workers from their faith in a life after death, by rallying them to the present-day struggle for a better life here upon earth.
The same Russian writer went on :—
  Marx said : "Religion is the opium of the people"—and this postulate is the corner-stone of the whole philosophy of Marxism with regard to religion. Marxism always regarded all modern religions and churches, and every kind of religious organisation as instruments of that bourgeois reaction whose aim is to defend exploitation by stupefying the working-class.
And finally perhaps Josef Stalin ponders these words written to Maxim Gorky : —
   By redecorating the idea of God you actually repaired the chains by which the ignorant workers and peasants are bound. "There!"—Messrs. Parson & Co. will say—"see what a fine and wise idea (idea of God) this is ! Even ' your ' democrats, your leaders, admit it; and we (Messrs. Parson & Co.) are the ministers of this idea." . . . Now in Europe, just as in Russia, every defence or justification of the idea of God, even the most refined and well intentioned, is a justification of reaction.
The Russian writer from whose work the above quotations are taken is N. Lenin (Lenin on Religion, Lawrence & Wishart, 1943, 1s.), and Mr. Harry Pollitt has been so busy at the back of the Second Front lately that he hasn't got round to suppressing it yet.
Horatio.

Activity and news from the constituencies (1997)

Party News from the April 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Jarrow and Easington
North East Branch is to contest two seats at the coming General Election—Jarrow and Easington, where the socialist candidates are, respectively, John Bissett and Steve Colborn. In recent months members have held public meetings, set up literature stalls, carried out mail drops and embarked upon an intensive letter-writing campaign to the local press.

On the streets we have had much verbal support and many we have spoken to agree with our ideas. One thing is certain—when the Socialist Party contests the Jarrow and Easington seats, few serious voters will be unfamiliar with our name or our standpoint.

All said, there is much work to be done in both parliamentary constituencies as both are traditional Labour Party strongholds with large majorities. Furthermore, both constituencies have suffered much in recent years through Tory cut-backs and many voters will be looking forward to the election in the hope that a Labour victory will mean life improvement.

Socialists, however, are aware that no matter which of the mainstream parties wins, it will not alter the fact that we live in a world racked by poverty and insecurity and subject always to the worst exigencies of the profit system. The establishment of world socialism remains the only secure future for humanity.

If you would like us to hammer this message home to the electorates of Jarrow and Easington and can offer your help or support, no matter how small the contribution we d be delighted to hear from you.
Offers of help to:John Bissett,Phone: 0191 4890253,Tim Kilgallon,Phone: 0191 2528704Harland Wears,Phone: 0191 5170470.

Livingston
The Socialist standard-bearer in this constituency, to the west of Edinburgh, is Matt Culbert. He is standing against the Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, and other supporters of the profit system such as the Tories, the Liberals and the Tartan reformists of the SNP.

In a sense this is a follow-up to Edinburgh Branch’s activity during the 1994 Euro-election campaign when the Socialist Party contested the Lothians constituency which includes Livingston as well as Edinburgh itself.

Preparatory activity has involved making contacts and leafleting in Livingston itself which is the biggest town in the constituency whose shopping centre attracts people from the whole of the surrounding area. Local members have also distributed leaflets in West Calder and other ex-mining villages.
Offers of help to:Matt Culbert,53 Falcon Brae, Ladywell,West Lothian, EH54 6UWPhone: 01506 462 359.

Vauxhall
The Vauxhall constituency in Lambeth was chosen as the parliamentary seat that the Socialist Party should contest in the London area, where our candidate is Richard Headicar. The Party's Head Office is based in Lambeth and members can easily gather there to contribute to the campaign.

The election activity was organised by representatives from all the London branches to co-ordinate the work of socialists across the capital. A barbecue was held last summer to help to raise funds, and in the autumn we had two debates; first with Tory Euro-sceptic Sir Teddy Taylor on the European issue, and then against a local Liberal Democrat councillor. Whilst all this was going on we leafleted as much of the constituency as possible to publicise the campaign.

Last November we had the opportunity to contest a local council by-election in the constituency. The Clapham Town ward was vacated and it was our good fortune that Head Office came within its boundaries. It was therefore an excellent chance to gain experience in contesting elections and to introduce ourselves to the Lambeth Returning Officer. Head Office was turned into an attractive base where people could wander in and see our election activity for themselves. Lessons learned from the experience have prepared us well for the General Election.

In the final run-up to the General Election date we plan to have more public meetings and in particular point out the shallowness of Labour’s position—the party that appears most likely to win power. We intend to try to publicise our campaign in the London media as much as possible and to have a regular literature stall in the constituency. Postering, canvassing, and more leafleting are also all on our agenda.
Offers of help to:Gareth Thomas,Phone 0171-622 3811.

Glasgow Kelvin
Our election campaign began last year with thousands of leaflets being delivered to households in parts of this very spread-out constituency. We set up our literature stand on Saturday afternoons during the summer and autumn in the heart of the constituency and displayed posters announcing our intention to contest the General Election.

This year, the campaign resumed with a public meeting entitled “The Challenge of Socialism", and another one to which we will invite the other candidates to state their case is being held this month (see meetings page for details).

Our literature stand will be visiting different parts of the constituency throughout the campaign and hundreds of posters will be displayed. Fortunately, Militant in Scotland will be contesting the election as the “Scottish Socialist Alliance”, so voters in Kelvin (and Livingston) will be spared the sight of ballot papers listing two “Socialist Party” candidates! The Socialist candidate is Vic Vanni.
For further details and offers of help:Tel: 0141 649 9338.

#   #   #   # 

NOT THE SOCIALIST PARTY
Readers in a number of places outside Scotland may find that there is someone standing in their constituency calling themselves a “Socialist Party” candidate.

As will immediately become clear from reading their election manifesto with its long-list of reform demands, such candidates have nothing to do with us. They have in fact been put up by Militant, a Trotskyist group which has been in decline since being expelled from the Labour Party by Neil Kinnock and which is trying to relaunch itself under our name.

They don’t even stand for Socialism, but for nationalising everything and all of us becoming employed by the state, i.e. state capitalism.

Those in these constituencies who want socialism should not (of course) vote for these false “Socialist Party” candidates but should, as usual, write the word “SOCIALISM” across their ballot paper.