Sunday, October 12, 2014

"We are the Lambeth Boys" (1960)

Film Review from the March 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are the Lambeth Boys, sponsored by the Ford Motor Company and shown in a Free Cinema programme at the National Film Institute recently is a documentary film with an impact. It was directed by Karel Reisz, already quite well-known for his earlier documentary about a London Jazz Club Momma Don't Allow. It has received special consideration from the specialist cinema magazine, and even found space in the popular Picturegoer. We are the Lambeth Boys concerns itself with youth. It deals with teenagers at a Walworth Youth Club, their activity at the club during the course of a few evenings and includes a club outing to a public school.

It has a largely explanatory commentary and makes no effort to discuss the attitudes and actions of young people couple with the delinquency arguments. For the most part the camera seems unnoticed by the boys. Nothing seems rehearsed. The boys play at the cricket nets, the girls gather in groups and talk; later they are seen jiving in the hall of the club. It shows some of them at work; a Post-Office boy clipping an endless pile of circulars, a girl putting cream on an endless supply of cakes in a factory, another girl sewing, a boy at a typical secondary modern school in the morning assembly, with its purely perfunctory prayer and hymns. In the evening boys lounge at the street corners in the "caffs" and chip-shops. The girls giggle in groups, shouting across the road.

The picture of their lives is one of aimless routine. Despite their aggressiveness, the club is important to them because it enables them to be together at somewhere other than the pictures, dance halls or billiard-saloons.

With no bar on language, or any need to be on their best behaviour they talk and discuss various topics with a club warden in a quiet, natural way. In one discussion about corporal punishment they show themselves to be more savage and primitive, despite the jokes which cover their embarrassment at having to talk seriously, than any M.P. or any Tory women's conference. They talk about clothes, and in one of the films few interviews a teenager tells how he buys expensive suits to wear for only a few months. An indication of their frame of mind. Jobs are fairly easy to get, especially when they only have to clip circulars. The money is good, and they can spend plenty on records and all the other teenage items that sell in such numbers. In other discussions about what they do and what they think of London they show a cynical yet naive attitude—one moment tough and hard thinking, the next showing incredible sentimentality and crude bravado. Growing up into capitalist society, realising some of its violent pressures, teenagers get the full force of the difference between illusion and reality. Thus in a dream world created by frustrations they live a life governed by frustration.

We are the Lambeth Boys gives some indication of this. As the makers of the film did not proffer any social commentary themselves, perhaps they thought it would go down better without waving genuine social problems in the public's face. Though many people realise that adolescence is not a wholly joyful time, when young people look ahead expectantly, the truth of the matter should be even plainer. Teenage conditions may have improved since before the war but their world is still resentful, bitter, aimless or just plain empty. The post war changes and the introduction of the flat estates and hire purchase prosperity may cause a further change which could affect the next generation and cause the next delinquency problems.
Robert Jarvis

Young Delinquents (1950)

From the May 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

During recent weeks sensational newspaper reports have told us of the recent increase of attacks with violence. Our sentiment is appealed to when we hear that young girls and old women are beaten up and robbed of a few shillings. Judges say that flogging should be introduced, and women write hysterical letters to the press. 

Everything is done to whip up mass hysteria and exaggerated fear to impress us with horror at the vicious adolescent attackers.

As much as any, we regret these violent attacks by young thugs, but, unlike most who have voiced their horror recently, we are consistent in our opposition to violence of this kind.

Those who cry loudest have, however, a strange morality. Few Judges or parsons complained of the brutality and cruelty inflicted by our soldiers during the war—that was a matter of course—they only raised their hands and voices when the enemy were brutal.

These sensitive people are not shocked that workers are compelled by necessity to work out their lives in occupations which permanently harm their health and in many cases eventually kill them. We hear very little outcry about the thousands of workers who are killed or crippled in the course of their work due to insufficient protection from machines. At any time, the number of workers killed or injured because their employer would find it less profitable to introduce safety measures beyond the letter of the law, far exceeds the number of cosh victims.

These adolescent gangsters are victims of Capitalism as much as are the people they attack. During their childhood and early adolescence they were raised on patriotic films, stories of what a hero their father was, out there killing Germans, those in large towns were bombed, seeing the dead and wounded and learning not to be shocked or surprised at blood and horror. They are later encouraged to join army cadet forces, are then conscripted and trained in the best methods of self-defence and murder.

These young people are disillusioned early. They see quite a bit of life and they realise that no worker  ever gets rich by working hard. They look at their parents, old before their time with work, dreading the slump that is already on its way. The boys know it's not work that makes you rich—they don't know why—but they use their eyes. They see the brutality, cruelty and injustice of Capitalism at work and they try to get rich quickly by the violent means that society has taught them.

And they are bored. At work, doing a useless or monotonous job, longing for the adventure that their fathers wanted in their youth and never got. Once more youth determines to succeed where the previous generation has failed.

Thus they rebel against society.

But the difference between the rebel and the revolutionary is that the latter has knowledge. The rebel is doomed to defeat, for he beats his head against a wall that he doesn't understand and eventually he is smashed by it.

The revolutionary understands the workings of Capitalism and realises that the violence, cruelty and misery of life under this system cannot be removed or mitigated within society as it is. A complete change is necessary.

There won't be any cosh boys under Socialism. Private property society that denies workers access to the things they need will be abolished: Socialism will be democratic with common ownership in the interests of everyone, not—as at present—a society based on force. To-day, the cleverest, most unscrupulous, vicious and most lucky, sometimes get to the top—provided they exercise these characteristics legally.

The rebel is bound to be broken by society, but the revolutionary intends to change it. And it is Socialist knowledge that makes the revolutionary.
Lisa Bryan

Return to Labour (1972)

From the May 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard
The concluding article in our series on the early history and ideas of the British Communist Party
One of the main political events of 1932 in Britain was the breakaway of the ILP from the Labour Party. Until July of that year the ILP had been a constituent part of, and indeed had played a key role in establishing and maintaining the Labour Party. Its secession reflected the feeling of disillusion with the failure of the Labour Party's reformism which had been demonstrated by the collapse the previous year of the Labour government amid a record number of unemployed and with their leader going over to the Tories.
The ILP breakaway had no effect on the attitude of the CPGB to the ILP and its members. Which is not surprising since no authorisation for any change had come from Moscow. But at the 12th Plenum in September Gusev denounced the British party's attitude to the ILP as "right opportunist lagging behind the mass movement". The Party, in other words, had failed to realise that the breakaway of the ILP represented a leftward trend amongst working class militant and so had failed to take advantage of this.
"Right opportunism", as we saw, is in Bolshevik jargon the opposite of "Left sectarianism" and since in this period the Comintern was abandoning the old "sectarian" line it was on the face of it odd that a Party should be accused of "right opportunism". But an incident in 1932 well illustrates what "right opportunism" was. The victim was ex-SLP man, J. T. Murphy, a local Communist leader with a trade union following in the factories of eastern Sheffield. At this time the CPGB was pursuing an anti-militarist policy and had raised the slogan "Stop the Transport of Munitions". Murphy was against this and suggested as an alternative "Credits for the Soviet Union". In fairness Murphy really was guilty of opportunism be- cause the factories of eastern Sheffield where his followers worked were munitions factories -an interesting example of how Communist trade union leaders had built up their following for industrial rather than political reasons.
The Comintern order to co-operate with and try to win over the members of the ILP was conveyed to the 12th Congress of the Party in November 1932. "The basic task", said Pollitt, "is a definite turn in our united front work, to drawing in ILP workers in every phase of united front activity". The ILP leaders, however, continued to be denounced as "the most dangerous reformists in this country" who were trying "to build a barrier between the leftward workers and the CP" (The Road to Victory, Pollitt's Speech to the 12th Party Congress).
Four months later, however, in February 1933 the CPGB, following another lead given by the Comintern, called for united action with Labour, the TUC, the Co-operative Movement and the ILP. The "United front", the Comintern had decreed, was to be extended from co-operation with workers who were members of other workers parties to co-operation with those parties themselves. What had caused this change of line was Hitler's appointment as German Chancellor at the end of January 1933. This represented a failure of the policies pursued by both the Social Democrats and the Communists to stop the rise of fascism. The Labour Party, needless to say, turned down this appeal with contempt but the ILP had agreed and in May a kind of non-aggression pact between the ILP and CPGB was concluded. This alliance was to prove highly embarrassing to the CPGB since they were moving rightwards while the ILP continued moving leftwards. The ILP, said Bell, "subsequently tried to break up the united front by making anti-Soviet Trotskyist attacks upon the USSR and the Communist International" {p.152). Actually, what was happening was that both the Trotskyists and the Communists were trying to take over the ILP by the dishonest policy of boring from within.
The Communist Party, we said, was continuing rightwards. A curious feature of this was that each step in this direction was justified by saying that the final revolutionary crisis was getting nearer. Bolshevik ideology, we saw earlier, demanded that any change in "tactics" had to be justified by a change in the "objective" situation. Since the VIth World Congress of the Communist International in 1928 authorised the "left" turn its EC had met four times. Each time it authorised a move away from "sectarianism" and each time this was justified by saying that the final crisis was getting nearer. Thus the 10th Plenum of the ECCI held from July to September 1929 predicted the imminence of a world economic crisis. The 11th Plenum held at the end of 1931 declared that the crisis was deepening {and authorised a revival of the united front tactic, but "only from below"). The 12th Plenum in September 1932 spoke of a transition from the economic to a revolutionary crisis {and again ex- tended the united front). The 13th Plenum in December 1933 declared that times were even nearer to a revolutionary crisis; at any moment the revolutionary crisis could come; the capitalists were abandoning democracy for fascism; the slogan "Soviet Power" should be raised by all Communist parties. In response the British party republished in March 1934 the thesis of the Second Congress of the Comintern in 1920, the previous occasion the Bolshevik leaders had hysterically predicted an immediate world revolution.
This demand of the 13th Plenum to step up "united front" tactics amounted to a demand to intensify the struggle for immediate demands under the leadership of the CPGB. From the beginning of 1934, however, as the Russian government re-thought its foreign policy, there were so many changes in the Comintern's line that the British Party was unable to keep up with them.
In February 1934 it was urging workers to vote against both the Tories and the Labour Party in the London County Council elections and in March put up a candidate against the Labour nominee in a parliamentary by-election in Hammersmith. "A third Labour government", it was said, "means only betrayals" (One Million London Workers to Welcome Hunger Marchers!, February 1934). Harry Pollitt declared that there was "no contradiction between being associated with the other parties in united front activity against capitalist attack, and opposing the same parties in elections" (Daily Worker, 19 March, 1934). As late as 9 August the Daily Worker was still arguing that for the Communist Party to extend the united front to electoral activities would be "renouncing its revolutionary policy and programme . . . This it cannot do and remain the workers' party. Therefore it opposes Labour Party and ILP candidates whenever possible". Less than two weeks later, on 21 August, the Daily Worker was reporting that the French Communist Party had concluded just such a deal with the Social Democrats there! The significance of this was not lost on the leaders of the British party and by the time the February 1935 local elections came round their policy had again shifted. Now they were prepared to back any Labour candidate who supported the united front. Harry Pollitt had the unenviable task of explaining this shift to the delegates at the Party's 13th Congress in February .The already bewildered delegates were treated to the now familiar excuse:
“The question has been raised: 'Do our new tactics in the elections imply that the previous line of the Party was wrong?' This question principally arises from our in- ability to understand that the application of the tactical line and policy of the Communist party is always adapted to the immediate concrete situation and needs to be changed as the situation changes, with its subsequent changes in the working class movement” (A Call To All Workers, 13th CPGB Congress, February, 1935).
Pollitt went on to speak of this leading to the conditions for "sweeping away the National Government, returning of CP MP's and a Labour Government".
This was in fact way to the right of the new programme For Soviet Britain adopted at the Congress. This had been drafted before Pollitt was ordered to do his about-turn and still reflected the policy of the 13th Plenum as far back as December 1933! After the Congress the old slogan of "Down With the National Government" was replaced by a call for a "Third Labour Government", though unqualified support for all Labour Party candidates had yet to come. In June the CPGB offered to form a United Communist Party with the ILP, but this was just a way of withdrawing its members who had been boring from within the ILP since by now the ILP was regarding the CPGB as a little moderate for them.
By the middle of 1935 the Russian government had decided on its new foreign policy: to seek the support of "democratic" France and Britain against "fascist" Germany. A full Congress -the 7th -of the Communist International was summoned in order to let the various Communist parties know what the new line was. "In the mobilisation of the toiling masses for the struggle against fascism", Georgi Dimitrov, hero of the Reichstag fire, told them, "the formation of a broad people's anti-fascist front on the basis of the proletarian united front is a particularly important task". Unity of action against fascism, he went on, must lead to political unity, to one working class political party in each country.
Their instructions clear, the leaders of the British party returned from Moscow and called a special Party Congress. The old programme For Soviet Britain adopted earlier that year was quietly forgotten and a call for a Labour government substituted. From then on the Communist Party gave unqualified support to the Labour Party; it backed all the Labour candidates, not just left-wingers, in the November General Election and soon applied for affiliation -only to be rejected of course, with some pointed reminders about their previous policy and the lack of democracy in Russia. In accordance with Dimitrov's instructions the Party went patriotic, dropped its anti-militarist line and cut out the subheading of the Daily Worker which read "Organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Section of the Communist International)".
The end of 1935 is a good place to stop in our early history of the Communist Party of Great Britain since this party's present policy is substantially the same as it had then become: support for the Labour Party and a Labour government. There is one difference, however, the Communist Party now puts up candidates against the Labour Party. How long it will take them to drop this inconsistency remains to be seen.
Adam Buick

The Rise and Decline of Capitalism (2014)

From the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
Capitalism was progressive during its ascendance i.e. in its formative stage. During this phase all its necessary formations and reformations were progressive, even though it emerged having been drenched in blood and gore. Both the capitalist and working classes were sprouting, growing – evolving. All the productive forces – means of production, instruments of labour and labour power - were developing within the womb of the new born relations of production. Hence here the working class movements for formation/reformation were progressive simply because elimination of capitalist relations, which were just taking shapes, was out of the question, even though consciousness about its negation i.e. socialism, began to appear as working class ideas and interests alongside the ruling ideas and interests of the capitalist class. Both classes were involved in severing feudal relations of production and installing capitalist ones. This was the epoch of bourgeois democratic revolution.
For world socialist revolution to occur two interrelated conditions must mature – the subjective condition i.e. the revolutionary will and organization of the working class on a world scale and the objective condition i.e. a comprehensive material maturity of the productive forces for abundance. Until the end of the 19th century the revolutionary replacement of capitalism was impossible since these necessary conditions were not yet ripe.
However, by the beginning of the 20th century, the situation reversed. Capitalism entered into its era of decadence. Decadence – because, from then onwards, the revolutionary situation (objective condition) remains ready but the revolution has not happened owing to immaturity of working class consciousness and organization (subjective condition).
Thus, humankind has reached the ‘era of social revolution’ but the revolution is yet to begin. Capitalism has gone into its phase of global crisis cycles and anarchy leading to world wars involving capital against capital, fomenting national prejudices and pitting workers against workers to slaughter one another, destroying productive forces on all contending sides and producing misery, poverty, waste, pollution and environment destruction. This is, however, not to say that capital has come to a dead halt. Capital’s nature of exploitation, appropriation and accumulation of surplus value continues as long as it exists.
Capital develops unevenly through concentration and centralization. And for that matter capital is still going on accumulating globally whereby one capital kills many giving rise to gigantic conglomerates. Accumulation is going through destruction and annihilation. This is reactionary. This is decadence
Productive forces have developed to the stage of both actual and potential abundance for all. But the working class consciousness and organization have remained subdued under the domination of capitalist ideas and interests – constantly and crushingly campaigned by all pervading 'right', 'left', 'centre' chronicles and ideologies. They comprise all various belligerent factions of capital. Although they use different names and slogans on their banners, they don’t have any scientific alternative to capital’s devastatingly continued reproduction. They are mere reformists of all various hues. We have experienced enough of such things. And enough is enough! They have given capitalism a century long anachronistic existence. Measures which were once very necessary and useful for maturation of the system have already more or less accomplished their tasks and grown old and outdated. The material productive forces of society have come into conflict with the existing relations of production. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations have turned into their fetters or, in other words, the productive forces have outgrown the production relations.
The history of the past hundred years has shown us that the reformist movements around the world have not only been futile, but also have increasingly grown reactionary by providing capitalism with a new lease of life by the entire capitalist media which has baffled the people as a whole. Moreover the leftists and the Leninists have further confused the workers and actually defended capitalism. Now we need a change – a radical change at the foundation of society – and more – a change of the base-structure-superstructure of society – lock, stock, and barrel.
The precise task of socialists today is to hasten the revolution by raising class consciousness through education and organization of the working class world-wide. The working class is not required to establish any eternal truth, or to realize any far-fetched ideal, but to set free the elements of the new society with which the old decadent capitalist society itself is pregnant. ‘… the proletariat can and must emancipate itself. But it cannot emancipate itself without abolishing the conditions of its own life. It cannot abolish the conditions of its own life without abolishing all the inhuman conditions of life of society today, which are summed up in its own situation.’ (Marx and Engels, The Holy Family, 1845, CW, Vol. 4, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1975, p. 37). And from the Communist Manifesto: ‘The proletarians cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation.’
And remember Marx’s famous pronouncement: ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it’ (Theses on Feuerbach, 1845).
Binay Sarkar