Friday, April 4, 2014

August 4th, 1914 (1964)

From the September 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

At midnight on August 4th, 1914, the British ultimatum to Germany expired and the First Great War began.

In our Party there were no illusions about the nature of the war, in spite of the turmoil of the times and the perfidious attitude of other alleged working class parties.

At our first Executive Committee meeting, following the outbreak of the war, arrangements were made to prepare a Manifesto setting forth our opposition and stating the Socialist attitude. At the next Executive Committee meeting a draft was presented and, after approval, sent to the printer to appear in the next, the September issue of the Socialist Standard. This was our War Manifesto. It was later reprinted and distributed in leaflet form.

This manifesto briefly set forth the capitalist basis of society, pointing out that the war was a capitalist war which was no concern of the workers, and did not justify the shedding of working class blood in a conflict which only involved the interests of their masters. It concluded with the following paragraph: -
Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, the pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism.
The Party kept its pledge. Its attitude was maintained, from the beginning to the end of the war, without equivocation, in spite of antagonism, persecution and numerous other obstacles.
Gilmac. 


TWENTY YEARS AFTER (1958)

Theatre Review from the September 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

In his play, "Chicken Soup with Barley" (Royal Court Theatre), the young Jewish writer, Arnold Wesker, born of Hungarian-Russian parents in the East End of London, gives us glimpses into the world in which he grew up, through the history of a Jewish family from 1936 to 1956, to show the gradual disintegration of a political ideal—the Communist Party.

The play opens at the time of the Blackshirts' marches on the Jewish East End. We are immediately caught up in the excitement of young Communists fighting the Fascists on their doorstep and at the same time looking eagerly towards the crusade in Spain, to the front line. It seemed to them as though any fight with the Red Flag flying was the good fight, a blow for the future, whether in the workshops, the streets or on Jarama Ridge. To Sarah Kahn, her family and friends, out of the ceaseless struggle would come—something. And in the East: Moscow. The Red star still glowed as to them the god had not yet failed.

The war plans are bypassed, and with the end of the war the pattern has changed; there is a strange emptiness now. The Communist Party is somewhere in the background, but the group has naturally been broken up by the war. Gradually they go their various ways; a greengrocer's shop in Manchester, a handicraft furniture in the Cotswolds. The unity and urgency has gone; to each his own salvation. But Sarah Kahn is still the same, carrying on her fight against the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, and against her husband Harry, a drifter of a man who could never hold a job down and to whom even in the old days the party was just something that happened to be around, like his wife and the boys. For Sarah Kahn nothing has changed, life is still fighting and caring.

Her son Ronnie Kahn, now grown up, carries with him the thread of the past, an enthusiasm for the "Left," together with an ambition to write, to write about the working class life he knows, to express its culture and hopes for the future. One day in 1956 he returns home after working in Paris, a shattered man, one of the many whose belief in the great Russian myth had been destroyed by the Hungarian revolt, and with it, his desire to write. Against Harry, now a paralysed wreck of a man after suffering a strike, Sarah's struggle is almost over, but her son now stands in his place. At all costs to be saved from becoming as his father had been. But "If you don't care, you will die," she says. 

This is where the play leaves us, and gives, as its political injunction, that we must simply "care!" The retreat from an illusion has left nothing but a little infused hope that may ease the agony and make life bearable. And perhaps—sometime—who knows?

For thousands a political idea is dead. But those people who take their political philosophy on trust must not be surprised if that trust is forsaken and their ideals turned to ashes. So much for so little. But the tragedy is great.
I.D.J.

To EDL and Back

The Proper Gander Column from the April 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Broadcasting budget cuts have led to plans to take BBC3 off the air in 2015, demoted to being an online-only channel. So it looks like there’ll be fewer of its trademark brash documentaries, like EDL Girls – Don’t Call Me Racist. This show follows three women attached to the thuggishly nationalistic English Defence League. Gail is a long-standing leader of the Yorkshire ‘Angels’. She has a steely, scary determination, undaunted when she’s ‘disrespected’ by founding leader Tommy Robinson’s departure from the organisation. Amanda is a younger wannabe member, who thinks ‘it’s quite romantic going on an EDL demo’ as a date with her new boyfriend. Katie is the only one in her family of committed EDLers to doubt their beliefs. She tells her mum that she doesn’t want to be thought of as racist as they sit colouring in A4 placards with felt-tip pens.

Those taking part in the programme hope that it will dispel the stereotype of EDL members as shaven-headed racist young males. If nothing else, it succeeds by reminding us that obnoxious, mistaken beliefs can be held by both men and women. One member objects to bread being marked as halal, claiming that a few pennies from its sale will go to the Taliban. Another says that she doesn’t want her children to be ‘made to wear a burqa’. There are enough reasons to criticise Islam without having to rely on these kinds of laughable misconceptions.

The EDL makes ill-founded generalisations about others, but can’t see the irony when they complain that other people make ill-founded generalisations about them. The difference is that generalisations about EDL members are usually correct, as they all share views which easily fall apart with only the slightest scrutiny. They have a misplaced sense of ownership and loyalty to the country they just happened to have been born in, along with misplaced beliefs about society’s problems, and misplaced blame towards Muslims. They’ve even misappropriated the slogan ‘Whose Streets? Our Streets’ from the left.
Mike Foster

TALKS IN THE TRAIN (1905)

From the March 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Good morning, John."

"Good morning, William, what do you think of the King's Speech?"

"I am pleased to see that the Government intends to deal with the question of the unemployed!"

"To 'deal' with it!"

"Yes, 'legislation will be submitted to you for the establishment of authorities to deal with the unemployed'!"

"And you really think the Conservatives will 'deal' with it?"

"Is there any reason to doubt it?"

"Yes, the capitalist system, which the House of Commons is elected to support, produces an unemployed problem. If that problem were effectively 'dealt' with it would mean the abolition of the capitalist system, and that, as you know, is not 'practical politics.'"

"But surely you will give the Government credit for good intentions?"

"It is said that the road to Hell is already well-paved with such. Apart from that, both Conservative and Liberal leaders have declared their inability to do anything."

"When did they make those declarations?"

"Speaking at Watford, in October, 1895, the late Lord Salisbury said 'we have got as far as we can to make this country more pleasant to live in for the vast majority of those who inhabit it' and 'we have no panacea for the evils with which we are afflicted.' In the following November, at Brighton, he said 'I am conscious that when the Government has done its best, this would advance but a very small distance in diminishing the suffering which the hand of Providence has inflicted.'"

"But what about Balfour? He is leader now."

"Yes, and at Manchester, in January, 1895, he said 'If you ask me whether anything in the power of the Unionist Party or any other party or within the compass of the wit of man to devise can meet the curse of lack of employment, I fear we can look forward to no prospect of that kind.' He now doubt holds the same opinion now."

"Then we must turn to the Liberals!"

"Who will give you no more better encouragement. In the House of Commons, in February, 1895, Sir William Harcourt said that with regard to the question of the unemployed, he agreed with the position taken up by Mr. Balfour a few days previously at Manchester. Of Asquith, who responsible for the murder of the Featherstone miners, a cynical indifference could only be expected. At Newcastle, in January, 1895, he referred to the unemployed as the nation's 'rubbish!' And when Campbell Bannerman was asked by the unemployed deputation at Poplar in January last what he would propose as a means of dealing with the problem he merely said he 'was not in the Government.'"

"But, then, admitting the futility of expecting either Conservative or Liberals will solve the problem, I think that the promised legislation on the alien question will help."

"In what way?"

"Well, if aliens come over here and drive our own men away and deprive them of work, don't you think the Government  should prohibit alien immigration?"

"You and I are clerks. A few years ago all clerks were males. But women have entered the field against us. In many departments they have not only lowered men's wages, but have driven out male labour altogether. Would you ask the Government to prohibit women and girls entering into competition with clerks and other workmen?"

"Ah! but then they are our own flesh and blood; the others are foreigners."

"But the effect is the same!"

"Still, we must look after our own flesh and blood."

"Is it the rule of the employers to consider 'flesh and blood,' or are they not usually willing to employ any person, irrespective of nationality or creed, who will answer their purpose?"

"But if the aliens were kept out things would be better."

"I cannot see it. The unemployed problem confronts us because of the increasing power of producing wealth which man, aided by machinery, is securing, a power which is increased every day by the improvement of old methods and machines, and the introduction of new. This would continue, even if we had no aliens. All that is urged against these victims of "man's inhumanity to man" could be met by strict enforcement of the Sanitary and Housing Acts, and by the enactment of laws fixing a maximum working week and a minimum wage, equal for both sexes when equal work is done."

"Isn't that a big order?"

"Not if the alien problem is as important as you urge."

"You say that even if all aliens were excluded we should still have an unemployed problem. In that case we have our colonies."

"Where you already have an unemployed problem."

"But not so intense as here."

"But you propose to make it so by sending more men to them."

"Ah! but that's where Chamberlain's scheme comes in. Give our colonies more of our trade."

"That might help for a time; but do not forget there is no cessation of the development of the machine industry, in your colonies as elsewhere. In the near future your colonies will be manufacturing all that they require, and will not them need manufactured goods from Britain. They will be independent of us, as the Continental nations have become. Moreover, by giving your trade to your colonies you take it away from other countries and intensify the unemployed problem in those."
"Oh, that's their business."

"You admit them, that these proposals cannot solve the problem, that at best they would merely improve matters in some parts of the world, and make things worse in others."

"I quite see now that the problem is an international one."

"And can only be solved by international action on the part of the wealth-producers. The present demands of the unemployed are unsound."

"In what way?"

"They are asking for 'work' when already far too much 'work' is done. What is required is something which involves a change in the basis and organisation of society—the redistribution of work."

"The redistribution of work!"

"Yes. Let everybody work. Let each do his share of the work before enjoying any of the results of labour."

"Why, that means—"

"ALL CHANGE!"
CORNER SEAT.


Obituary: George Bellingham (1938)

Obituary from the June 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the past few months the Party has suffered severely at the hand of death, and we regret the loss of another propagandist, George Bellingham, who died in April, at the age of about 55.

His attention was directed to the Socialist movement during the early days of the War. The conduct of the Labour Party in its whole-hearted support of that slaughter, and the betrayal of the workers by the Trade Union leaders, prompted him to take a more active part in working-class affairs.

In 1916 he was elected to the Executive Committee of his Trade Union, the London and Provincial Union of Licensed Vehicle Workers. The following year, in company with a member of the Socialist Party, he attended a conference of the Transport Workers' Federation, held at Bristol. While there they noticed that the whole of the passenger-carrying industry was in the hands of the Bristol Tramway & Carriage Co. The employees were unorganised, and dare not mention a word about Trade Unionism.

Realising that the time was favourable to rectify this, they reported the matter to their Executive Committee, and, as a consequence, Bellingham was sent to Bristol to undertake the task of organising this body of workers, and so bring them into the Trade Union movement. This work he carried out in a thorough and efficient manner, and as a result he was approached to stand as a Parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party. This offer being in conflict with his Socialist principles, he declined.

He continued the work of Organiser until the various Trade Unions catering for the Transport Workers were amalgamated into the "Transport Workers' Union." When this took place our late comrade gave up his position and ultimately returned to his work as a journeyman cab-driver.

For many years he gave unsparing service to the cause of Socialism, carrying on consistent propaganda, both among his fellow drivers and from the platform. Not until his recent illness compelled it, did he relax those efforts to help forward working-class enlightenment and ultimate emancipation.
E. L.