Monday, November 30, 2015

Sidelights on Capitalist Rule (1952)

Editorial from the September 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the themes of Mr. Harold Nicolson's biography of the late King George V is that he showed a good grasp of problems of government and, indeed, the examples quoted do seem to indicate that he often displayed more insight and level-headedness than some of the leading politicians. But what is the major problem of the governments of capitalism? It is of course to keep the working class as far as possible satisfied with the system under which they are exploited, and if they can't be kept satisfied, at least to keep them quiet. One example selected by a Manchester Guardian reviewer is George V's handling of the political crisis which brought down MacDonald's Labour Government in 1931 and led to the formation of a “national” three party government with MacDonald as Prime Minister.

During the crisis the King interviewed the leader of the Liberals Sir Herbert Samuel and according to Mr. Nicolson's account this is what was said:-
Sir Herbert "told the King that, in view of the fact that the necessary economies would prove most unpalatable to the working-class, it would be to the general interest if they could be imposed by a Labour Government. The best solution would be if Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, either with his present or with a reconstituted Labour Cabinet, could propose the economies required. If he failed to secure the support of a sufficient number of his colleagues, then the best alternative would be a National Government composed of members of the three parties."
Further information was given by Sir Oliver Wigram in his record of a later discussion with the King. He says that the King found:-
“Sir Herbert Samuel the clearest-minded of the three and said he had put the case for a National Government much clearer than either of the others. It was after the King's interview with Sir Herbert Samuel that His Majesty became convinced of the necessity for the National Government.”
When MacDonald went to see the King to tell him that “all was up” with the Labour Government, the King impressed on him “that he was the only man to lead the country through this crisis and he hoped he would reconsider the situation.”

It would certainly seem that Sir Herbert Samuel (now Viscount Samuel) had a very shrewd idea of the part a Labour Government can play in keeping capitalism on an even keel.

*     *     *

The fact that we should have had to wait until now to know what arguments Samuel was using to try to keep a Labour Government in office in 1931 gives point to the recent controversy about the practice of Ministers maintaining secrecy on the discussions that go on inside the Cabinet.

In letters and articles in the Press various views have been expressed on the issue that arose between Mr. Bevan and Mr. Attlee on this question but it was left to Mr. W. Harvey Moore, Q.C., to suggest in a letter to The Times (16/8/52) that "secrecy is an evil, and knowledge and criticism of the actions of politicians is essential in a true democracy . . . The ordinary man who has to suffer for the mistakes of those who govern him is entitled to know 'the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.'"

Mr. Moore mentions the countries beyond the "Iron Curtain" where any disclosure of facts that may be discreditable to members of the Government is regarded as treasonable and he thinks any tendency in that direction should be avoided in this country.

But as we live in a capitalist world where war and the threat of war are always with us he has to make an exception of strategic secrets that may be useful to a potential enemy.

*     *     *

On the same day (16th August 1952) the Manchester Guardian had two editorials, one on the British workers and the other on the workers in Czechoslovakia, and what a difference of outlook they displayed. The first criticised the British trade unions that are pressing for higher wages and threatening a ban on overtime to meet dismissals. The Guardian's argument here is that if British prices are not kept down British exports will be riven out of world markets by the competition of countries with cheaper products.

In the second article the Guardian related that the Communists who govern in Czechoslovakia are complaining in like manner of the workers there. The Czechoslovak Prime Minister complains of irresponsibility and indolence on the part of the trade unions and describes as traitors the workers who resist having to work more than eight hours a day. On the hours question the Guardian writer makes the jibe that the Communists regard it as a righteous desire if workers in the West want shorter hours, but regard it as criminal if workers in the "Peoples' Democracies" have the same desire. The jibe strikes home, but it also hits the Manchester Guardian, whose sour condemnation of British workers contrasts markedly with its evident satisfaction that the Czechoslovak Communist is in trouble with its own workers.

It is particularly interesting to notice that in Britain the workers who threaten to strike for higher wages when the Government says they shouldn't are suspected of being "communist" inspired, while the Czechoslovak workers who do the same are accused by their Communist Prime Minister of being "traitors and diversionists" in the pay of Western capitalists or "captives of bourgeois ideologies." Thus the Government of the two halves of the capitalist world play exactly the same game, of seeking to divide the workers on National lines. The workers answer ought to be that of uniting internationally so that the working class of all countries could stand together against its exploiters and work together for the removal of capitalism and establishment of Socialism. But that would displease equally the Manchester Guardian and the Czechoslovak Government.

Fox-hunting, Privilege and Power (2005)

From the January 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

This is not really about hunting. This is about the last hunting horn blowing the last call for the feudal system and the House of Lords...

In August 1997 the Socialist Standard wrote (half) jokingly, of the imminent demise of the quaint rural past-time of hunting landowners. Half, that is, because the joke contained some truth on the matter of the contretemps over the banning of fox hunting which will come (finally) into force next month.

Much fuss has been made about banning this blood-sport, its supporters twisting and turning, saying one minute it’s a cultural past-time, the next it’s an economic necessity of farming life. Either way, it’s by-the-by. What is interesting is the raw process of power involved in this debate.

Under any normal circumstances, such a Bill – like the banning of dangerous dogs (under the Tories), or the banning of raves (also under the Tories), or any other sundry such measures that restrict the mythic beast of personal choice – would have been nodded through parliament after a swift and enjoyable debate. With foxhunting, however, the inner secrets of the British constitution were revealed in all their ugly goriness as the New Labour hounds tore into the privileges of the owners of vast tracts of land who wanted the right to literally be a law unto themselves.

Under ordinary conditions, most legislation and acts of government are passed by the passive (at least) co-operation of the responsible bodies. For example, in the direct democratic aspects of the constitution of California, if the Lieutenant General does not oppose an initiative going to referendum it is much easier to have the vote – as in the recent one on stem-cell research held there in November. It could still be forced through, but unless the issue is strongly desired, most people wouldn’t bother to fight against the grain.

At least in California, though, the electorate have a chance of voting for new officials. With the House of Lords, the British legislature has the remnants of the descendants of cronies and toadies of monarchs past mixed with the cronies and toadies of top-politicos today. The toadies of kings past also have the advantage of owning the country – a kind of fringe benefit – and the latter-day toadies like to hang out with these wealthy landowners. The incentive for resisting encroachments onto their eminent domains is clear.

Posture politics
Add to the mix the quest of the increasingly marginalised Tory party to find a solid political base from which to challenge a government that tries to pretend to represent the whole nation, and you have a recipe for government attempts to compromise with the uncompromisable, reconcile the irreconcilable, and the spectacle of hard-done-by landowners taking to the streets under the banner of the “Countryside Alliance”.  And, after themselves banning raves and pitbulls, of the Tory party now crying out about restricting personal cultural liberties and who weep about the unnecessary slaughter of dogs.

That is a recipe for the most debased, ridiculous, irrelevant and futile posture politics stirred up by has-been politicos on the make, squabbling over the crumbs of power. That hundreds of hours of parliamentary time apparently needed to be spent over banning foxhunting, as compared to the single vote needed to launch a murderous war, shows where the priorities of these disinterested Lords and their Commons co-conspirators really lie.

The whole history of the House of Lords has been one of the rich and powerful trying to retain a voice and a vote to protect their vested interests against democracy. It had nothing to do with organically evolved institutions, rationally devised systems of checks and balances, and everything to do with shabby compromises and naked self-interests of the landed elite demanding their place in the legislature. Every twist of their fight with the Commons has come from their naked self-defence of their property – most famously with the Irish and other Lords conspiring to defeat Gladstone’s Home-Rule Bills in the late nineteenth century.

The first Parliament Act of 1911 came when the Lords tried to block a Liberal budget. They are only supposed to be able to delay legislation for two years under that Act (and now after the Act under the Attlee government, only one year). However, in a busy parliament, any delay means disrupting the whole schedule for other bills, and so can mean wreckage of any plans it wouldn’t be worth putting up a fight over.

After the Attlee government, the Lords agreed not to vote on anything contained in a government election manifesto, a concession to democratic legitimacy in order to be able to keep their undue place in the halls of the legislature. When New Labour removed (most of) the hereditary peers, they declared themselves no longer bound by this agreement, and began to make life difficult for the government. Hence why it has taken eight years to pass this Act.

The Countryside Alliance now is set to challenge the legitimacy of the Parliament Act 1945 – the power that finally allowed the Government to force the Act through despite Lords opposition – on the grounds that it wasn’t passed properly (the Lords never voted on it). Sixty years late, they discover this idea.  If they can’t win under the rules, they try and change the rules.

The government has pledged to continue with its reform of the Lords, removing the last vestiges of hereditary peerage, but keeping the likes of Lord Sainsbury – a man who gave millions of pounds to the Labour Party, with nothing in return save a peerage and a ministerial post.

In Scotland, where the new Parliament is not bound by an un-elected second chamber, a bill banning hunting was passed with ease, and, strangely, the world hasn’t come to an end. A stark illustration of the power exerted by the Lords in the British Parliament.

Hereditary property rights
The landed rich cannot begin to conceive that their will cannot run untrammelled. Representatives of the hunts have talked of landowners exerting their property rights, and withdrawing co-operation from national infrastructure. Withdrawing co-operation with the army (so much for their vaunted patriotism); withdrawing access to land holding electricity pylons railways and waterways. Some have even called for civil disobedience. They have claimed the police will not be able to enforce the Act (something the police deny), which is again betraying their usual stance that law and order must be respected (and also forgetting that the police could just turn up to their houses and serve warrants on them).

We have already seen their civil disobedience – abandoning cars in the street, storming parliament, fighting with the police in ways that could only impress hardened direct actionist anarchists (indeed, London Class War in the Autumn 2004 edition of their paper have called upon the pro-hunters to, erm, bring it on). Yet, they escape with only a slapped wrist compared with anarchists who get heavily fined and locked up.

The BBC have contacted various utility companies to find out what the ramifications for the withdrawal of co-operation would be. The answer is, whilst it could make life difficult, if withdrawal of co-operation were to conflict with operational needs of the electricity, rail or waterways, then there is legislation for them to force access. The landowners could be shocked, again, to find themselves at the wrong end of a copper’s truncheon.

They retain their faith in the holy rights of property, of the power of property holds to exert influence in society. They forget that the power of property rests upon the political power to enforce it, and now the law is for once against them, they don’t like it. Much as they don’t like the right to roam, for ordinary people to walk across their vast open spaces that they have a piece of paper saying they own.

The sad thing in all of this – apart from the genuinely moving look of surprise and hurt that hunt supporters have when they discover the police can be a bit nasty – is that many of them feel genuinely, passionately moved by this ban. Some have been heard to say in interviews that this is the first political issue they have ever felt strongly or passionately about. So, never mind thousands dying in war, millions dying of preventable diseases, the AIDS pandemic, millions dying every year of starvation, privation, squalor, poverty, meanness and misery in every town bred by poverty. The right to hunt foxes is what exercises them.

The countryside should not be a preserve of a tiny minority, shouldn’t be a source of division or overweening power. Disputes should be settled democratically, without tiny rich groups having more say than others. All of this just serves to show how the nexus of power and privilege that is part and parcel of capitalism prevents those sensible sentiments being carried out. The attempts of the rich and the powerful to maintain their power over making the rules and laws of society is an affront that serves to illustrate how shallow democracy under capitalism really is.

A telling strength of the remaining power of aristocratic privilege, is that at the dawn of 2005, we have still had to devote some 1500 words to discussing people in silly costumes hunting foxes at great expense and waste.
Pik Smeet

Sunday, November 29, 2015

THE PEOPLE By Campanella. (1931)

From the April 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard
The people is a beast of muddy brain
That knows not its own force, and therefore stands
Loaded with wood and stone; the powerless hands
Of a mere child guide it with bit and rein;
One kick would be enough to break the chain;
But the beast fears, and what the child demands,
It does; nor its own terror understands,
Confused and stupefied by bugbears vain.
Most wonderful: With its own hand it ties
And gags itself—gives itself death and war.
For pence doled out by kings from its own store.
Its own are all things between earth and heaven;
But this it knows not; and if one arise
To tell this truth, it kills him unforgiven.
(Translated by J. A. Symonds.)

The Fall of Riazanov (1931)

From the April 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

The process of eliminating all of the better-known men and women who were prominent in the Bolshevik party at the time of the seizure of power has gone so far that practically all of them now share Trotsky's fate as exiles, or are in prison or relegated to obscurity. The latest person to be got rid of is D. Riazanov, the authority on the literature of Marxism, who formed, under the auspices of the Soviet Government, the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow.

Riazanov has been removed from his post as Director of the Institute, expelled from the Russian Communist Party, and lodged in jail on the grounds of alleged "betrayal of the Party" and "rendering assistance to the Menscheviks and foreign interventionists."

It would be idle to discuss whether these or any of the charges levelled by the Russian ruling caste against its opponents are well-founded, for the simple reason that those charged are not in a position to defend themselves. The authorities are in a position to secure whatever verdict they like and to publish alleged "confessions" in the names of the prisoners. After more one of the past trials the prisoners in private conversation repudiated their "confessions."

What is interesting about Riazanov's case is that his deposition is accompanied by the claim that his reputation as an authority on Marxism was totally undeserved. He is now alleged never to have understood the Marxian system—this in spite of the fact that only last year, when he reached the of sixty, great honours were shown officially, including the award of the Order of the Red Flag.

The real reason for the denial of Riazanov's soundness as a Marxian can possibly be looked for in the urgent need to mislead the Russian workers into the belief that the Russian system of "State capitalism" is in reality "Socialism."

We have before drawn attention to the theories now being propounded in Communist economic text-books, according to which the Russian workers are not exploited, in spite of the existence of a growing class of investors in that country. Marx showed that you cannot have a rent, interest and profit system without the exploitation of the workers. Marxism has consequently been unpalatable to Russia's rulers. Anyone who cannot or will not swallow the bowdlerised Marxism of the Communist Party dictators necessarily becomes a danger to their interests.

Perhaps Riazanov has been guilty of knowing too much about Marxian theories, and of not knowing how to dance to a different tune.
R. E.

Trendies, get stuffed! (1980)

From the March 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is time the working class declared war on the trendies. Radicals, liberals, cult musicians, progressive poets, campaigning journalists, revolutionary feminists, long-haired vicars, nose-picking punk heroes, populist academics, counter-culture creeps, Leninist demonstrators, ecologist friends of the earth, health food nutcases, real beer bores, fringe theatre goers and people who talk in loud voices about Trotskyism in Hampstead pubs. These denimed crusaders constitute one of the biggest diversions the working class has been confronted with since Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of the Church at Wittenberg.

Trendies want capitalism to ban the bomb, clean up the atmosphere, give equality to women, rock against racism and legalise dope. Those who disagree with their ideals—for so long as they try to enact them by marching up and down Oxford Street listening to the echo of their slogans they will remain idealists—are labelled 'reactionaries'.

Socialism is a materialist proposition, based on the incentive of human self-interest. It is dependent upon logic, not 'good vibrations'; reason, not rabble-rousing. We want a society in which men and women will fully control their own lives because they will own and control the means of producing and distributing wealth. The socialist case has developed out of a scientific analysis of the capitalist system which oppresses us. The system cannot be reformed in the interests of the working class. It must be abolished.

Trendies couldn't care less about abolishing the system. Those in the SWP and IMG are more concerned with supporting the latest fashionable reform than organising for revolution. Their political aims are determined by the very narrow confines of the system which only some of them have vaguely perceived.

Some trendies stay trendy all their lives. Peter Hain, the personification of a long yawn, is attempting to keep it up until he gets his pension. Reg Birch, the mad Maoist who recently retired from the TUC, did keep it up until he got his pension. From adolescence to senility, with nothing in between, they follow every movement, every demonstration, every cult that is thrown up in the name of the modern secular religion, Progress. What Progress is and where it leads to nobody knows. Others grow weary of their trendiness. At thirty they cut their hair, buy a suit and get a job in an office. By the time they reach sixty they tell their trendy grandchildren how they too once went through a rebellious period. "You'll grow out of it". And one day the workers will grow out of it. We'll grow out of the ideology which tells us that hope is the passing affliction of the young and uneducated. The working class will then grow up to socialist political majority.
Steve Coleman

Canadian University Left finds us too Working Class! (1974)

From the February 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following letter has been sent by our companion party, the Socialist Party of Canada, to three radio stations and the Victoria University Union paper (who have assigned a reporter to investigate the matter).

Dear Sir,

Universities are commonly considered to be centres of the highest liberal thinking, readily exposing their students to the widest range of philosophy and political thought.

The existing realities should cause quite a jolt to such an illusion.

On December 4th, 1973 the Socialist Party of Canada was informed that the journals Fulcrum, Western Socialist, and Socialist Standard were henceforth banned from the University of Victoria Bookstore. Reason? "They are not intellectual enough." It might be interesting to note just what is "intellectual enough" at the University of Victoria. Numerous Leninist, Trotskyist, Maoist, "Communists" and N.D.P.ist works find their way onto the bookstore's shelves. Threaded through some of these leftist ideas are scattered ideas of Marx smothered, unfortunately,  under an avalanche of counterfeit Marxism. meanwhile the genuine Marxism of the Socialist Party of Canada and its Companion Parties in other countries is "not intellectual enough."

Fortunately the high intellectual plateau of Victoria University's Bookstore is yet to be achieved in other places for Fulcrum, Western Socialist, and Socialist Standard are considered intellectual enough to grace the shelves of University libraries throughout the world as well as being regarded as valuable sources by researchers and historians.

Admittedly, when the University of Victoria has two resident ministers with subsidized housing and a history instructor is reported to have told her class that Martin Luther was right when he said indulgences did not have to be paid to get out of purgatory but wrong when he said there was no purgatory, the University is placed in an intellectual light that is out of the reach of the Socialist Party of Canada.

One can imagine the reaction if the Socialist Party of Canada were to demand a subsidized resident Socialist and that courses in its ideas be taught. Socialists are not so naive to think capitalism's institutions could be out to such a useful purpose, but it is too much when their journals are not even available for those who would wish to buy them.

Perhaps their ideas make Socialists more sensitive to infringements on freedom of speech but whether exposed to Socialist ideas or not most people probably agree that the future of mankind should be hammered out on the anvil of free discussion and debate rather than expressed by tyrants or suppressed by censors.
Jim Lambie,
General Secretary 

Revolution in Russia (1949)

From the January 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

Henry Ford is reputed to have said, "History is bunk." If he was referring to the stuff that we were taught, under the heading of history, in elementary schools a generation ago, we can agree with him. But that is not what WE call history. History, for us, is not the kind of incident portrayed by film actors like George Arliss, Linda Darnell and Charles Laughton; it is not an account of the bedroom antics of princes and prostitutes. It is the study of the social life of people; how they produce their means of living; how they think and behave; the institutions they throw up, the changes they bring about; their struggles, their failures and their successes.

From a study of such things we can learn much. By learning of mistakes made in past struggles we can avoid making them in our own. If we trace the course of past events, and know how to interpret them, we shall be less likely to be misled by political quacks in our own day.

When we recognise these things, we can appreciate the importance of a study of history. But, when we learn of the activities of people in the past, we need a key to enable us to understand why they so acted. Such a key is provided by the "Materialist Conception of History," the theory propounded by Karl Marx a hundred years ago.

By the use of this key we can understand many of those things that Ford has referred to as "bunk." We can learn of the Crusades of the 12th century as being something more than just wars of Christendom against the "Oriental infidels." We can study the social effects of such inventions as gunpowder, the mariner's compass and the internal combustion engine, We can get at a real understanding of the great French Revolution, the American Civil War, and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

The Russian Revolution is interpreted differently by different people. The Communist see it as a working class revolution revolution resulting in the establishment of Socialism. Socialists, who apply the "M.C. of H." when they study any historical event, have an entirely different interpretation of the events in Russia during and since 1917.  The Socialist view of this outstanding historical period is presented in a new pamphlet published by our companion party, The Socialist Party of Canada, entitled "The Russian Revolution. Its Origin and Outcome."

The opening chapter of the pamphlet outlines the fundamentals of the present world system. It provides the foundation for the rest of the pamphlet.

Chapter 2 analyses the set-up in Russia prior to, and at the time of the rise of, Bolshevism. It deals with the state of Russian agriculture and industry in those days and with the origin and coming to power of the Bolshevik Party. It shows that, "The Bolshevik revolution  . . . was not, and could not have been, a proletarian revolution. The best that can be said for it is that it was intended to be a proletarian revolution."

The third chapter, entitled "Dictatorship of the Proletariat," states that "Russia in November, 1917, fell into the lap of a handful of revolutionaries with a programme far beyond the limitations of the material at their disposal." It goes on to show that the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia is really the dictatorship of the Communist Party.

The next two chapters, "The Paper Revolution" and "Socialism in One Country," shows that "The Bolsheviks learned rapidly that the revolution could emerge only from somewhere other than their own muddled heads." They deal also with the rise of Stalin and quote from him to show the mis-application of Marxism in Russia.

Chapter 6 carefully analyses the Russian Constitution adopted in 1937 and " . . . hailed by Communists and 'fellow travellers' everywhere as the most democratic constitution in the world." The pamphlet then passes to an examination of the contortions and convulsions of the various national parties of the Communist International, " . . . the organisation set up by Moscow to guide the destinies of the workers of the world."

"Poverty and Riches in Russia" is the title of chapter 8, a chapter of facts and figures. Tables of production costs, wage variations, cost of food, etc., give a vivid picture of conditions amongst Russian workers today. These figures, in the main, are drawn from Russian sources, which adds considerably to their usefulness. The concluding chapter poses and answers the question, "Could events have taken a different turn in Russia?" It also shows the general tendency of the workers' struggles in the future.
"The dictatorship has now been in existence for more than thirty years. It has remained throughout fearful of a free and unhampered reaction to its record. It has proved a failure as an agent of working class emancipation." (P.15.)
The confusion about Russia that exists in the minds of many workers is, perhaps. excusable. It is difficult to interpret events whilst they are are happening, even when they have but recently happened. Especially so when there is so much biased propaganda on the subject. For those who wish to see the Russian Revolution in its proper perspective, this pamphlet is invaluable. In the future, when the events described have sunk into a more distant past, and can be viewed more impartially, " . . . the Bolshevik Dictatorship will . . . take its place amongst the tyrannies of history." 

This pamphlet, coupled with "Russia Since 1917" published by ourselves (1s.), forms a valuable work on the developments in Russia during the past thirty or more years. The two pamphlets together, contain more useful information—reliable information—than is to be found in books at twenty times the price.

It is obtainable from all S.P.G.B. branches and from Head Office. "The Russian Revolution. Its Origin and Outcome," published by the Socialist Party of Canada, October, 1948, 52 pages, price 6d., post free 7d.
W. Waters.

The right to eat landowners (1997)

From the August 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The good old English sport of sending hungry hunting hounds to chase aristocrats through the woods, catch them and rip them to pieces, has been slow to take off as a popular pastime. Despite claims that these predatory parasites are a foul rural presence, serving only to infect the countryside with their conceited greed and indolence, it has been hard to find dogs with sufficient brutality to enjoy the so-called sport. Those who favour such hunts claim that it is nothing more than a healthy rural tradition, misunderstood by town-dwellers, and that ripping duchesses and viscounts to shreds is the most humane way to rid nature of those who have only survived historically by plundering and murdering others. The Royal Society for the Protection of Useless Aristocrats has been long split on the issue, with one section accepting that such blood sport is "just a bit of harmless fun", while others prefer the idea of culling — or permanent quarantine in the House of Lords. 

This laboured account would be funnier were it not for the harsh reality that rich, privileged, barbaric bullies, most of whom are brutalised at birth by hereditary right and public-school conditioning, do indeed defend their right to chase around the countryside with packs of hounds in order to savage and tear apart defenceless animals. Their callous defence is mounted in the name of sport. And because it is traditional for these parasitical killers to dress up in the costumes of their class and indulge their pleasure in watching deer, foxes and other animals being ripped apart, they respond with well-rehearsed cries of arrogant immunity to humane behaviour when their ritualised sadism is opposed. 

I happened to be wandering through Hyde Park last month when this distasteful rabble of blood-sport enthusiasts gathered to demonstrate their right to be human vultures. A stench of hypocrisy pervaded the polluted city air as they cried for Freedom—not for their fellow humans, but for their cruel "right" to indulge in a sport of supreme inequality. The freedom of the armed hunters and horse-backed chinless wonders with their packs of hounds to pick on animals which stand no chance in opposition to them is not simply about sick behaviour. More than that, it illuminates the very descent into "the law of the jungle" which such people define as freedom. It is the same freedom which allows the very land on which we live, and the earth from which we are fed, to be owned and controlled by a minority of parasitical grabbers who believe that it would be the height of effrontery to invade their freedom by letting the earth belong to the people who inhabit it.

These depraved beings, who rejoice in their right to inflict pain on animals, are in the same class and historic tradition as those who proclaim the inviolable right to cast the peasant off their land and into destitution and starvation. The same haters of freedom who smashed down the communal utopia of the Diggers when those early communists sought to hold the land in common as a store of wealth for all; the same bullies who until a century ago enjoyed the propertied right to flog peasants and rape their daughters, and still today treat those who work on the land as if they are indebted to the landowners who steal the fruits of their labour. Looking at this savage minority of ruthless parasites, bleating their message of outrage against those reformists (destined to parliamentary defeat) who dared question their freedom to kill for pleasure, it was hard not to wish on them the fate of a frightened cornered fox, surrounded by a pack of dogs trained for the kill. 

But that is not the socialist way. Why should we lower ourselves to their brutal customs? As Shelley reminded us: "We are many, they are few." They are not worth the bullets which it would take to shoot them. Nor are they important enough to lead us from our hostility to the cause of violence, however guilty the victim has been conditioned to become. No the aristocrats need not fear our blood sports; the victory of our consciousness of human solidarity over theirs of class oppression will be reward enough for us. 

But look what these parasites are doing to the land. They spray it with chemical pesticides, killing off whole species of birds, butterflies and plant life in their quest for profits. They have fed cattle upon cheap and lousy diets, creating the BSE crisis and whole varieties of food adulteration which makes us and our children all the potential victims of their profit-lust. They have dumped millions of tons of soil into the rivers which pollute the water which we are charged to drink. They have pursued, in the name of efficient "factory farming", the most obscene practices of cruelty to animals which are tortured for the sake of making a few more pounds for their avaricious owners. They have contracted out farm management to City firms which seek to push down agricultural wages, casualise skilled farm work, thrown wage-slave-farm-workers onto the scrap-heap of the unemployed, and destroy whole rural areas in the name of agribusiness. 

The landowners, who protest for their freedom to enjoy themselves in exhibitions of collective brutality, remain free to rape and vandalise the countryside. As Graham Harvey, the agriculture adviser to The Archers (of all things) has written in his incisive new book, The Killing of the Countryside, "they [the landowners] favour a countryside devoted entirely to industrial-scale food production, with the products traded on world commodity markets in exactly the same way as coffee and copper . . . Since this 'progressive' view of farming is supported by big business and the City, it is the one most likely to prevail. If so, the current losses of birds and flowers from our landscape will turn out to be merely the first casualties in a long process of attrition." 

The beneficiaries of this rural plunder are the very few. One percent of the population owns half the land in Britain and two percent owns three-quarters of it. A mere 600 landowners own half the land in Scotland. These capitalist-farmers are subsidised by huge grants to support their manipulation of the market. They receive millions of pounds and euros in return for taking land out of cultivation so as to keep profits up. 

A horsy woman of uncertain age, with a voice like Ann Widdecombe and a designer-label outfit, approached me as I strolled through the Hyde Park demonstration and asked me if I would sign her petition to save traditional country sports. I asked her whether she had ever tried to emphasise with a sensate being chased by howling dogs and threatened with being ripped apart. "Oh, you're obviously a socialist do-gooder," she spat, as she drifted towards the next recruit. Which, as a contrast to a capitalist do-harmer, is not the worst thing in the world to be.
                                                                                                                                        Steve Coleman

Radical history (1984)

Book Review from the May 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Charles Poulsen, The English Rebels (Journeyman, 1984)

This book is a commemoration of popular radical movements and a celebration of the spirit and ideals underlying those movements. It begins with the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 and plots history through the Lollards, Jack Cade, Kett's Rebellion, the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the Naval Mutinies of 1797, the Luddites, the Trade Unions, the Reform Bill, Chartism and the Emancipation of Women. It is intended as a popular history, redressing the balance from a consideration of the antics of Kings and Queens to an analysis of movements arising out of the discontent of ordinary people.

This is a useful history although it is remarkably brief. What is does emphasise is the role of violent insurrection as part of the fabric of British historical development. Poulsen says of British history that
it is one of a long, almost a continual series of risings, rebellions, revolts, riots and direct actions that have wrung from the nation's rulers the sequence of reforms and changes that have resulted in today's society. (p.45)
To this might be added the history of violent reaction from governments in response to the radical movements, even though many of these were reformist in nature and held allegiance to long and/or parliament.

Given that six hundred years of history are dealt with in some two hundred pages it is little wonder that much of what is discussed is almost shorthand. At times this reads more like a dictionary of radical ideas. Tom Paine is dispatched in four pages and Robert Owen only merits three passing references. As for William Morris, he does not appear. As much of the work is descriptive we are left asking questions of the text. Poulsen says of the demands of the Peasants' Revolt that "this is not the place to subject these demands to close political analysis" (p.24). This is a stance that is maintained throughout the work but it is a political analysis that is essentially required. It is not sufficient to describe a history of idealism. Radical ideas must be subjected to analysis in order to understand why they should have arisen and to what extent they are feasible. We need also to understand the implications of those ideas. Any history of radical thinking ought not to be restricted simply to an examination of English radical thought. Marx and Engels are mentioned fleetingly but it is important to understand the part they played in contributing to the radical argument. What tends to happen is that Poulsen's shorthand confuses where it should elucidate, as when he cross refers "what the Bible calls 'love', the trade unions 'solidarity', the socialist 'fraternity'" (p.198). This does not explain what each of these concepts demands or the essential differences understood by these concepts. It is also simplistic to conclude that "socialism" means "fraternity" and again this emphasises the need for a greater analysis within the book. In his epilogue Poulsen argues that radicalism is an ongoing process in which we are all engaged but this theme is not developed sufficiently within the book and the reader is left making what connections he can. Poulsen argues that there is still a need for a "new" society and says:
this desired society has been known by many names over many centuries: the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, the New Jerusalem, the Rule of the Saints, the Digger Republic, the Co-operative Commonwealth, and so on. These early concepts, often associated with religious movements, remained unattainable ideals. It is no longer so. (pp.198-199)
We are not told what conditions have changed to enable the now attainability of these aims. Poulsen's history ends with the emancipation of women but if he really wishes to argue that the common ownership proposed by John Wycliffe can now be achieved he ought to have extended his analysis to a consideration of the debate as it now exists. In this he is guilty of ignoring the work of the Socialist Party of Great Britain which actually does argue the case for the establishment of common ownership as a practical possibility rather than as a moral ideal. At the same time Poulsen's own commitment to radicalism and revolutionary change can be questioned when he argues that at present the prominent radical change required is "the right to work, to practice one's skill or profession, to support oneself and one's dependents by one's labour and thereby make a contribution to the national well-being" (p.198). The perpetuation of capitalism is at odds with a society that can work in the interests of the majority. It is capitalism, for all the reforms that have been achieved, that alienates the working class from the means of production. Poulsen may argue that the "ideal society . . . can only be achieved after a radical reorganisation of our present economic economic and social relations" (p.199) but this is not explained. What form will that reorganisation take and how will it be achieved?

Poulsen's book is a valuable, though brief, introduction to some of the major radical ideas that have developed within society. At the same time it is a reminder of the need for a radical alternative to overcome prevailing ideologies as when he says of the suppression of trade unions that "the defence of freedom became a catchword to perpetuate poverty and exploitation" (p.157). The freedoms that are enjoyed are those of the capitalist class while poverty and exploitation are the lot of the majority. Poulsen ends with a moral imperative of the need for change rather than suffer nuclear annihilation. If he holds to this perspective then he ought to have analysed how the ideals of Ball, Kett and Winstanley have been developed and the contribution that they have made to the ongoing debate. Ideas do not exist in a vacuum. They are not simply an historic anomaly but a continuum which requires an understanding of the conditions that have given rise to those ideas and an appreciation of how they have matured in response. The history of radicalism is not a series of snapshots but a continuous refinement. The work of the Socialist Party of Great Britain has helped to transform the notion of an ideal into a practical and feasible alternative in which the needs of all society's members are the pre-requisite modus operandi of society.
Philip Bentley 

Sting in the Tail: Pecking Order (1992)

The Sting in the Tail Column from the December 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pecking Order
The scene is the African veldt: hungry vultures circle over a carcass but they are robbed of their meal by some other predators.

Nature in the raw? No, this is capitalism in the raw because those predators were not wild animals; they were humans. The Guardian (29 October) explains:
. . . the eco-sensitive in Johannesburg have been leaving carcasses on the veldt in a bid to save the vultures from famine. They have put an electric fence round one of these "vulture restaurants" in Bophuthatswana to stop the starving people in the homeland getting at the food.
There is a way to end such human degradation and it doesn't involve Bob Geldof, Telethons, or sending a fiver to Oxfam.

Silly Billy
Comedian Billy Connolly has consigned "socialism to the scrapheap. He told Melvyn Bragg on The South Bank Show (ITV 4 October) that "Socialism is wrong. It must be if all those people in Eastern Europe have rejected it".

Obviously Connolly has been under the impression that what existed in the state-capitalist dictatorships was socialism! No doubt he got this idea from the "communists" he knew in his days as a folk-singer.

One of Connolly's past concert tours was entitled "Rebel Without A Clue": we couldn't have put it better ourselves.

Sensible Sinead
It is not often that you get pop singers talking much sense about politics so it is a real pleasure to record what Sinead O'Connor had to say about money.
My biggest aim is to persuade the world to get rid of money, the root of all evil. If everyone agreed to do it at the same time, it could happen. Won't most people be better off pursuing happiness rather than material assets.
The Sun (23 October)
The more current that idea becomes the easier it is for socialists to spread the ideas of socialism. The only logical alternative to capitalism's money madness is socialism where all production will be solely for need.

ToldYa So!
How John Major must sigh for the heady days when he replaced that nasty old Mrs. Thatcher at number 10.

Remember how his popularity had the stricken Tories soaring in the opinion polls? Everyone, we were told, liked this smiling, unassuming, decent chap.

Alas two years on and his name is mud. From singing his praises the press cannot rubbish him enough (the Sun even calls him a turnip) and he is rated the most unpopular Prime Minister ever.

But this column saw it coming! In January 1991 at the height of Major's love-in with the voters Scorpion pointed out that all leaders of governments must make decisions about the running of capitalism, decisions which will inevitably alienate many voters and
This is why every Prime Minister (Tory and Labour) and the voters have, for a while, a honeymoon followed by a cooling off and eventual divorce. This is what happened to Mrs Thatcher and sooner or later John Major's turn will come.
Marks & Spencer
Work hard - your firm will prosper and you will prosper. That is the accepted wisdom that we are constantly being fed by the media. Well, what do you make of this item?
Marks & Spencer, the Rolls-Royce of Britain's high street stores, is purring through the recession with profits up almost 20 per cent. The St Michael label returned profits of £257 million on higher sales of £2.24 billion with the winning combination of selling expensive food and not quite so expensive clothes.
The losers in the battle against recession were 300 staff made redundant at M & S headquarters last year.
The Times (29 October)
Left Wing Stunts
"Major and Lamont must go" is the Socialist Workers Party's latest stunt. Their declared aim is to "kick the Tories out" but the sacking of Major and Lamont will not achieve this as they would merely be replaced by other Tory luminaries. In any case, mid-term leadership changes ALWAYS restore Tory fortunes - witness the last one.

The SWP's real aim is to get a Labour government in. Their argument is that of course Labour will fail; many workers will see this and turn to the SWP.

Both of these aims are hopelessly doomed. A change of leader would, as history shows, leave the Tories more firmly in the saddle while Labour's inevitable failure would, as history also shows, simply pave the way for yet another Tory government.

Our recent readers survey revealed that some readers think we devote too much space to leftwing parties: sorry, but the above surely demonstrates the genuine need to expose their hare-brained and misleading antics.

Hypocrisy
As Robin Cook, and other Labour Party frontbenchers, try to expose the government's sale of arms to Iraq during a so-called ban. It is worthwhile recalling Labour's position when they formed the government.
While the government attaches the highest importance to making progress in the field of arms control and disarmament, we must also take what practical steps we can to ensure that this country does not fail to secure its rightful share of this valuable commercial market.
Denis Healey in the House of Commons (25 January 1966)

Passive resistors (1983)

From the July 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Deviance is a subject which has generated considerable interest among social investigators concerned with maintaining the status quo, as evidenced by the stream of books on minority groups like punks and Rastas. Yet there is one group of people — identified by their unvarying attitude to the problems that confront society — which has escaped investigation by our sociologists. Their integration into society has been so complete that any analysis would mean a critical self-examination of roles, class and status which would place many an investigator in a corner.

The group can be identified by the similarity of their statements on factory closures, the bomb and the nasty things Thatcher has done to disrupt their once-peaceful complacency. Invariably, they react to such disturbances by placing the blame for social problems on individuals rather than on the way society is organised. In the meantime they constantly dream of an "if only land", the place where everything is rosy and the threat of the dole queue only puts in an appearance when the individual can join it from choice — for an extended "holiday" from the monotony of repetitive work.

Sometimes their social conscience goes a bit deeper and they surprise themselves with statement like "if only we did not have the starving millions to contend with". Other times they over-extend themselves by popping the question "if only we did not have politicians".

Every inhabitant of "if only land" constantly searches for the permutation that will enable him or her continually to win the Sun bingo. Then they can take up permanent residence in never-never land surrounded by status symbols. The status symbols of wage slaves, however, can become unwelcome embarrassments when the capitalists are no longer willing to buy our labour power. Once this happens the "if only" brigade plead to their bank manager "if only I was not on the dole I would continue paying off my overdraft". However, of the entire group of if onlys, the most obnoxious are those who agree with the need for social change, but nevertheless see no possibility of the socialist revolution ever taking place "if only because the rest of the working class are incapable of gaining the necessary understanding". They are capable of obtaining a class consciousness, but the possibility of any other worker doing so is ruled out. Their refusal to understand the collective capabilities of the working class is to deny the individual's own capabilities of participating in the socialist revolution.

Like all grumblers the if onlys are passive resistors not active revolutionaries. What differentiates a socialist from the if onlys, buts and maybes is that we reject such pathetic indecisive-ness and the dismal assumption that the working class can never change the system that exploits them.
Brian Johnson

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Theatre of the Absurd (1997)

Theatre Review from the December 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen

Regular readers of this column may remember a less than enthusiastic review of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman last summer. Now we have more nonsense about nineteenth-century capitalism from the same author: a view of the world so patently absurd that it is surprising that the audience are prepared to take it seriously. But then most people who attend the National Theatre know that Ibsen has a serious reputation, and they react with reverence rather than disbelief.

I find Ibsen enigmatic. Plays like Ghosts, The Wild Duck, Hedda Gabler, and, perhaps especially, A Doll's House are full of insights about the unresolved tensions of family life, the oppression of women, and the hypocrisies which abound in bourgeois life. As credible representations of life in the nineteenth century they seem both psychologically astute and dramatically persuasive. And their resonance are such that it is easy to see their relevance for contemporary audiences.

But on a bigger scale, when Ibsen writes more directly about the impact of the wider society on people, he seems to get it spectacularly wrong. In An Enemy of the People we follow the fate of Dr Tomas Stockman, the medical officer of the spa baths in a small Norweigan town. The town's well-being is much dependent on the appeal of the baths to wealthy tourists, but Stockman has made an unfortunate discovery. The spa waters are polluted by a dangerous effluent from a nearby factory. Stockman sees this as an opportunity to upstage his brother, the town's mayor, and to increase his own reputation in the town by publishing a series of articles in the supposedly radical town paper. Predictably, mayor, factory owner and newspaper proprietor conspire to challenge Stockman's  evidence, and the mass meeting of tradesmen and shopkeepers which Stockman subsequently addresses is similarly more interested in tourism than the "truth". Isolated and enraged, Stockman turns and delivers a devastating critique not of the pernicious evils of a social system which puts profits and people's livelihoods before public health, but of the intelligence of the town's people.

The play is not, as the programme infers, a clash between "The Individual and Society". Rights and wrongs, in a moral sense, must always be informed by the facts of the case and by reasoned argument, and on the basis of the evidence presented in the play it isn't that Stockman is "right" and the townspeople "wrong". As far as we can see Stockman is clearly right about the spa being polluted, but grotesquely wrong in attributing the behaviour of the townspeople to a lack of intelligence. What they do is entirely consistent with, as they see it, their interests. They react, as people will and must do in a capitalist society, precisely in their own interests. Were Stockman the intelligent and principled man that he claims to be, he would have understood the townspeople's motives, and offered them a critique of their situation under capitalism rather than an absurd attack on their intelligence. His position seems to imply the existence of a superior intellectual elite, whose freedoms are being denied by the intellectually challenged. It is, in essence, a fascist, non-democratic position.

An Enemy of the People was first performed in 1882, more than 30 years after Marx and Engels had published The Communist Manifesto. And it prompts the question, "How can a playwright who is so astute about the motivations of people when they are locked in intimate family relations, be so ignorant of the larger world of which families are a part?" Ibsen's position is so extraordinary as to feel contrived. It is almost as thought he deliberately set himself up as an apologist of the capitalist class, intent on deception based on elitism.

On this evidence a plausible case might be made out that it is Ibsen who is "an enemy of the people". And yet I remember a stunning production at the Young Vic ten years ago in which Arthur Miller managed to suggest that it was capitalism rather than the stupidity of people which was at the heart of Stockman's dilemma. But then Miller described his work as an adaptation of Ibsen's text not a translation of it.

Not only is the play misconceived. In Trevor Nunn's production text has been sacrificed to movement. The sophisticated technology of the Olivier Theatre is very much to the fore. The stage revolves interminably, with actors still delivering their lines as they are whisked out of our view. At the slightest pretext the stage is filled with people, a brass band appears regardless of its spurious relevance, only to march off again. It's horribly reminiscent of another production — Nunn's dreadful Les Miserables.
Michael Gill

Election race issue (1978)

From the March 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is a spectre haunting the politicians—the spectre of elections. And when that ghost walks, the politicians suddenly remember that there are votes to be won and lost. They then recall that their future jobs depend on workers' votes. So as the doubtful day gets nearer, the politicians scurry about looking for vote-catchers. One such vote-catcher could be the immigration issue; which is why Mrs. Thatcher has recently tripped over it.

Race and immigration serve a double purpose for capitalism. First, they can be used as straight-forward vote winners for the politicians. By trading on the prejudices that capitalism and its politicians have themselves instilled into the working class the politician hopes to suck in the votes of irrationality. Second, the race issue has at least one important function — it provides a "easy answer" to the difficulties of capitalism and so turns attention away from the problem. The result is that instead of the real issue, Socialism or capitalism, confronting the electorate at election time, the issue of race is thrown up. While the workers are busy blaming each other for their problems (the whites blame the blacks, the blacks the jews, the hews the Irish, the Irish the protestants etc, etc.) instead of seeking the real causes, capitalism continues in safety.

Crude Attempt
Mrs. Thatcher in her speech on Granada TV (30/1/78) has made a crude attempt to steal the National Front's clothes in a search for votes. Her remarks caused a political storm;—so what did she say? She began with a suggestion that by the end of the century there would be 4 million people of the "new Commonwealth and Pakistan" in this country. Note the double talk from the start. She is supposed to be discussing immigration—she is actually discussing coloured immigration. But she knows that of she said there will be 4 million blacks or coloureds here, that would lose her votes. So she disguises the prejudice with the words "new commonwealth." Who is deceived?

Mrs. Thatcher continued in her best stockbroker voice: "Now that is an awful lot and I think it means that people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture . . . (Transcript in The Times 31/1/78). It is worth stopping on this passage for a minute. Note that Mrs. Thatcher says that people are afraid. Later in the interview she said: "We (presumably the Royal "we" means she is aiming for the crown as well as the PM?) are not in politics to ignore people's worries: we are in politics to deal with them." What Mrs. Thatcher is saying is that she accepts the prejudices that capitalism creates, and far from pointing out their causes, she is going to do her best to trade on them. This is emphasised by her ridiculous phrase about being "swamped" by different cultures. First, how 4 million could "swamp" some 55 million is quite baffling. Second, note again the double talk of "different cultures." What different culture there is, soon vanishes : coloured children are growing up on baked beans, Coronation Street and skate boards just like their white brethren.

Cultural Relations
The ultimate reason why immigration must cease, claims Mrs. Vote-catcher, is "that if we get them coming in at that rate people will turn round and we shall not have good race relations with those who are here." This is of course the ultimate sick-joke. People are afraid says Mrs. Thatcher, (something which The Times editorial of the next day ignorantly echoes). Of what are they afraid? That we are not directly told—presumably by inference it is of this culture that is going to swamp them. But the one way this fear (if it is the fear) would be broken down is just the opposite of Mrs. Thatcher's panacea. If there is fear, it is of the unknown; of the different life-styles so called. If there were more immigration, not less, people would mix more with those different cultures and by force of assimilation those fears could vanish. Besides, coloured immigrants are soon absorbed into the "culture" of the council estate, the production line, the office routine, the dole queue, the worker's daily drudgery that Mrs. Thatcher is so anxious to preserve intact for the true blue British working class.

One thing Mrs. Thatcher has done, is to bring the immigration issue squarely onto the election platform. So the Labour Party, equally desperate for the votes of both the immigrants and the racially prejudiced, rush in trying to ride both horses at once, and fail to stay in the saddle of either. The Labour Party's racialist credentials are of course well known. Mr. Callaghan was the Home Secretary at the time the previous Labour Government passed the notorious Act preventing British passport holders from East Africa entering the country—the first time a British government had passed legislation openly discriminating on the grounds of colour. No sooner had the last echo of Mrs. Thatcher's speech died away when the current Home Secretary hurries out figures to reassure the racialist Labour voters. "Immigration into the United Kingdom fell sharply last year according to provisional figures released yesterday by Mr. Rees." (The Times 4/2/78) Mr. Rees went on to say that in 1977 an estimate 70,000 immigrants were accepted in this country compared with over 80,000 in 1976 and over 82,000 in 1975. The implication is that the reduction will continue under a Labour government. Still reaching for the other horse, however, some government ministers and Labour Party members rant about "commitments" and "humanitarian grounds" etc. The implication intended here is that they are in favour of immigration and are "entitled" to the immigrant vote. In the same Times report Mr. Healey accuses Mrs. Thatcher of trying yo grab the Alf Garnett vote. Funny that though—it was Mr. Healey's party which quietly accepted the support of Alf Garnett's political incarnation—Enoch Powell—at the first 1974 election.

Economics
Ultimately immigration is not about race, colour, culture, or swamps; it is about economics. How many workers do the capitalists need? If there is a shortage, as there was in the 1950s and to an extent in the 1960s, capitalist politicians (Powell included) will tell the world about the delights of British wage-slavery to workers of all colours. If there is a surplus working population, with unemployment, as at present, capitalists will seek ways to halt immigration and even talk about "repatriation" of its surplus workers. The former Prime Minister, Mr. Heath, understands all this and is quite open in his hypocrisy. In a report of a radio interview he gave he says of the previous Conservative government: "We saw no reason why we should allow in a large number of immigrants unless we NEEDED THEM FOR A SPECIFIC PURPOSE and, at the moment, we do not." (The Times 1/2/78—emphasis added). Very true—capitalism doesn't really care about colour—it cares about profitability. For that it needs workers of any colour. When it has too many of these expendable creatures, it puts some on the waste tip (the unemployed) and to try to ensure those tips don't get too unsightly and spoil the landscape unduly, it shuts the door on others.

A cynical business yes—but the politics of capitalism cannot work in any other way.
Ronnie Warrington


Friday, November 27, 2015

Jack Dash (1989)

From the July 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

When I last saw Jack Dash he lay dying in an East End hospital; he said he knew that his time had come, but hoped that he had contributed his bit to the struggle of his class. The time before that we sat in a pub and argued with the ferocity that good friendship allows. Although we were separated in age by half of a century, and in ideas by an even greater gulf, Jack and I were real mates. He was a marvellous story-teller, and able poet who could recite with passion and sing old cockney songs in ways that brought their class origins to life. When, a few years ago, a discussion circle on Marxism was set up in Jack's flat it was a pleasure to see how willing he was to think afresh about the complexities of Marxist theory: in all his years of being praised and vilified as a "Marxist" he had found little time to delve into the complexities of the history of our class, and it was tremendous to share in the process of such discovery when giving talks to Jack and his friends at those informal classes held on the eighteenth floor of a tower block.

Three passions governed Jack's political life. He was a member of the Communist Party. A real loyalist: not a word would he hear against the Socialist Fatherland which dominated his political vision like Jesus on the Cross in the mind of a God Squad zealot. Secondly, he was a militant trade unionist. Never an official man, Jack. The T & G tried to offer him official posts, but Jack preferred to stick to the rank and file. "You win strikes with the men, not sitting in a union office making plans for them", he would say. He knew the docks as if they were his home and the dockers as if they were family: to sell them out would be like stabbing a relative in the back. He said of the TUC that "there are more knights around the table than there were at King Arthur's. If I'd had my way they wouldn't be knighted but neutered". Thirdly, he loved the arts: poetry (Shelley was his favourite, but he liked plenty of others, including the required "Soviet: writers) and paintings and songs and plays. When Unity Theatre (the first working-class theatre in London to put on radical plays) were being built he volunteered as a labourer. His partner on the site was Paul Robeson who stayed with Jack while he was in London; Jack would complain about Robeson hogging the bathroom in the morning and singing at the top of his voice. Imagine that: months of having one of the finest singers ever to live annoying  you with his unpaid entertaining as you prepare for a hard day's work in the docks.

Uncritical of Russia
Capitalism is a monstrous system which makes fools of worker's ideals. As a socialist, the present writer was hostile to Jack's Leninist politics. Without a doubt, he wanted a better world to love in. When the present writer described the socialism that we so urgently need to establish, Jack would be filled with enthusiasm. His hatred of the profit system and hunger for something new are not to be sneered at. But for all of that he was an unrepentant Stalinist. Not a word of criticism would he ever voice against the atrocities committed by the state-capitalist police state which exists in the Russian Empire. He would lose no time in apologising for it. When Stalin was purging millions of so-called enemies of "socialism in one country", Brother Dash was there to explain that most of Stalin's crimes were invented by the capitalist press, and the others were justified by the "counter-revolutionary" activities of Stalin's opponents. When Khrushchev denounced Stalin, Brother Dash pointed out that Stalin had gone too far, but now the socialist state was in safe hands. All of the obscene corruption of the Brezhnev years was defended without the merest hint of criticism. When the so-called Eurocommunists began to express complaints about all not being perfect in the Russian proletarian paradise, Brother Dash denounced them as anti-Marxists—or, to use the crazy terminology of the mixed-up "Communists", enemies of "Marxism-Leninism". When Gorbachev introduced the latest reforms, in an effort to integrate the Russian Empire more fully into the capitalist world market, Brother Dash agreed that this is what had to be done in order to modernise socialism. It was one long lifetime of having to pretend that black was white: that oppression was freedom and state capitalism was socialism. It was a life of having to close one's eyes to the Russian bureaucrats whose privileged lifestyles compare well with the fatcat profit-takers who are the capitalists in the West. The poverty of so many East European wage slaves was something to be denied, just as a Tory denies the same social features in Britain.

Why do men who are filled with a burning hatred of the inequities of the profit system allow themselves to be dragged down into this web of self-deceit—and then, inevitably, the deceit of others? Why do they blind themselves, these Stalinist dogmatists who refuse to admit that the whole Bolshevik project has been the most awful disaster for the workers who have been its victims? Here we enter the field of political psychology; it is a field which socialists may have to tread upon a few more times before we complete the road between here and human liberation. One factor in it is the sectarian need to stick to the Party line. The CP says that Russia is the Socialist Fatherland and it is the duty of every loyal comrade to prove that true. When loyalty to the organisation—any organisation—overcomes commitment to historical truth (to honesty), then all is lost in a terrible sectarian haze. Perhaps another motive was the desire on the part of some workers to be able to imagine that an alternative to capitalism was actually in existence. A sort of self-delusion to offer comfort to those who have to live under and suffer the miseries of capitalism. Bogus socialist countries might serve to soften the hardship of living in a world which is really dominated from top to bottom by the capitalist system.

Whatever the motives for the irrational faith in the phoney socialism of the Leninist states, socialists must expose the dangers of such beliefs. Fortunately, history is doing our job for us: these days it is mainly the old-timers who still entertain the crass fantasies about socialist countries existing (although there are plenty of younger leftists who are gullible enough to accept variations on the same old Leninist theme). Sadly for Jack, after years of loyalty to the CP, he was forced to leave it shortly before he died. There has been a very recent split between the Communist Party of Great Britain (which is the Marxism Today official CP) and the Communist Party of Britain which remains loyal to The Morning Star and its uncritical stance towards Russia. (There is yet another CP—the New Communist Party—which argues that even The Morning Star is not Stalinist enough and only they are the true inheritors of the truly fascistic outlook of the heyday of the 1930s.) Jack could  not bring himself to talk about the split which was accompanying the collapse of the CP; he just went on as of nothing has changed, pretending that his little faction was the party.

The Dockers' Way Out
As for his loyalty to the dockers, how ironic it was that Jack died a month after the government announced its intention to abolish the Dock Labour scheme. On the day he died hundreds of dockers went out on unofficial strike after the courts had refused to accept the legality of a three-to-one vote (by secret ballot) in favour of striking. What bloody audacity this this: a government passing laws telling the unions that strikes must be preceded by ballots and then sending in the unelected Judges to declare such a ballot illegal because a dockers' strike could damage the national interest! The fact is that the dockers are up against a system which cannot make profits out of them like it used to and so they are being prepared for the economic slaughter. Jack had fought with admirable militancy back in the 1960s when containerisation threatened the wages and conditions of the dockers. But King Capital is mightier than the mightiest defender of the working-class interest. There comes a point at which defence will not do the trick. Only tackling the wages system itself, with its right to exploit for profit, will prevent the dock employers winning. The dock workers, some of whom marched for Enoch Powell in the late 1960s and voted Labour like sheep to the slaughter are not yet in a position to take on the system. That is what they must do. Only by organising to abolish the wages system, with its employment and jobs, and not by the pathetic demands of "Jobs for Life", will the dockers really win.
Steve Coleman

Kumar's Story (2001)

The Greasy Pole column from the March 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are about 28 million cars imposing a thrombotic, pollutant tyranny on this country and until recently one of them was driven by Kumar. Not now though; not after he had come up before the magistrates for driving when he had drunk too much. In the dock, shy and nervous, he looked too gentle to have done anything at all likely to put other people at risk. But that is what the law, supported by some impressive evidence, insisted he had done. So they fined him and banned him from driving for a year and if he disobeys that he is very likely to end up in prison.

The court clerk, who is not shy or nervous, demanded that Kumar identify himself through an interpreter standing beside him. Kumar is a Tamil speaker from Sri Lanka,. which has a reputation as one of the most beautiful places in the world as well as one of the most terrifying. Kumar's family had suffered from the official policy of discrimination against Tamils and in the armed clashes between the government forces and the Tamil Tiger guerrillas. In fear that it would not be long before some, or even all, of them would be killed, they scraped up the money to get Kumar, his two brothers and a sister to England; their mother is dead and their father, who is in his eighties, was too frail to travel so they left him in the care of another, brave, sister.

That was four years ago and there has been no contact with them since then. Kumar has no idea where his father and sister are, or whether they are alive or dead. He knows they must keep on the move, never staying in one place for long, for fear of what the government forces will do to persuade them to reveal the whereabouts of the rest of the family. Kumar weeps when he talks about this and he is scared because the Home Office have refused his first application for refugee status; he knows what will be waiting for him if he is sent back to Sri Lanka.

That may well be why he drinks so much, except that there is a Road Traffic Act which lays it down that drinking to excess must not be mixed with driving. This particular law came into being in late 1967, giving the police powers to stop any driver suspected of having drunk too much to take the breathalyser test—blow into a tube attached to a bag. If the crystals in the tube changed colour the person was arrested and then had to give a sample of either blood or urine which was sent for analysis. A reading of at least 80 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of the sample ensured that, whatever else the court might do, there had to be a driving disqualification of at least 12 months. In May 1983 this process was speeded up by the introduction of the Lion Intoximeter, which gives an instant analysis of a breath sample.

From the beginning—a White Paper published in December 1965—we were assured that the breathalyser law was inspired solely by a desire to save human lives. There was compelling evidence from the BMA (The Drinking Driver, 1965) that an alcohol content of 100 microgrammes would make a driver six times more likely to have an accident; a content of 150 to make them 25 times more likely. But statistics are only part of the story; in a society of commodity production it is profit, not human safety, which is the overriding factor. In Great Britain in 1996 the estimated cost of all road accidents, in which there were just over 392,000 casualties, was £267 million. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents expected a new law to prevent 18,000 casualties and 360 deaths on the roads—which was estimated to save something like £10 million a year in the cost of hospital treatment, welfare and repairs. There have been many examples of capitalism's priorities, long before the recent scandal of Railtrack and the broken rails and the "safety" mechanisms which are so inadequate that they allow a train full of passengers to pass a signal at danger.

Whatever the doctors, or anyone else, said, the breathalyser stirred volcanic passions as an unreasonable attack on the car, which was rapidly being elevated into one of capitalism's great icons of delusion. The Minister of Transport responsible for the Act was Barbara Castle, a tough left-winger who robustly rode out the flood of abuse and ridicule which was aimed at her from almost every saloon bar and nineteenth hole in the country. Cherished cars were disfigured by alcoholist, sexist stickers denouncing the breathalyser: "Down With Barbara's Bags" was among the less inflammatory. Some time later, when her battle had been won, Castle was able to refer to the "almost hysterical and irrational opposition" to the measure. In any case she eventually went some way to placate the people who had so raucously denounced her when, as Minister of Labour and Productivity she did her feisty best, using her reputation as a left-winger, to persuade the unions to accept a reduction in their bargaining power.

There were some magistrates among those with reservations about a law which laid down a mandatory sentence of disqualification. Courts are resistant to prescribed penalties, which they regard as undermining the "common sense" which pride themselves on—but which is often not so apparent to defendants. Some magistrates exposed their opposition rather more explicitly, at times virtually apologising to the person in the dock for having to strip them of their cherished power to drive their car whenever they liked no matter what their ability to drive. One chairman went so far as to tell a defendant, as he informed him that he was about to be banned, that he sympathised with him because he often saw people getting legless in the bar at his golf club then driving home in their Bentley or Jaguar. He probably thought he was only being humane, comforting . . .

The contribution made by the car to the delusions which sustain capitalism, and the political implications of this, were made explicit when in the 1997 general election Tony Blair warned New Labour of their need to attract the votes of Mondeo Man. Cars can be an extension of the privacy which in some respects capitalism encourages—in our homes, our money, our neurotic responses to the system's pressures. Drivers assert this privacy when, on their way to work, they swish past a huddle of fellow workers waiting in the rain for a bus. They assert it when their response to having their car stolen is almost as if they had been raped. The car symbolises an illusionary affluence; the first thing workers dream of buying if they achieve the astronomically unlikely win of the Lottery is a car a lot more expensive than the Mondeo parked outside. Travelling in a car, we are told by the manufacturers and the motoring organisations, is sexy partly because it gives us freedom, when in reality it often means being imprisoned in the stress of a traffic jam on the way to work—to a day of wage slavery. Driving a car deceives workers that they are in control; they can move this lethally powerful machine, making it go faster or slower, steering it round corners, bringing it to a stop. Yet the basic reality of our lives—that we need to sell our labour power to an employer in order to live—means that we are not in control. When the recent announcement was made of the impending closure of the Corus steel mills and the thousands of sackings, one of the workers' expressed anxieties was that this meant they could no longer afford to have a car to control.

None of this concerned Kumar as the interpreter explained that he was now banned from driving and would have to pay a fine and some of the prosecution costs and asked him how he could do this out of his wage from the warehouse. He looked surprised and relieved—after all he had been through a lot in his short life and he had given up expecting the future to promise that things would get better. Nobody told him about the stoicism capitalism demands of us as the price of survival and the punishment that awaits anyone who can only try to blank out reality.
Ivan