Monday, June 8, 2015

'Freedom or Slavery?' (1921)

From the April 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard
Born in a world that is tainted and rank with disease;
Bred amid squalor and sunk in monotonous toil;
Almost inhuman, like beasts that are laden and led.
Is our fate fixed? Shall there ne'er be cessation and ease
For our torn, weary feet? Shall we ne'er have the strength to recoil
From the sad death-in-life, where to live is to envy the dead? 
Beauty of nature and art, of fame and creative joy,
Nothing of these do we know, nor care we to understand;
Love that is truly has touched us and passed us by.
Chain-laden slaves are we, whom our masters can crush and destroy
At their wayward, whimsical will, with a negligent wave of the hand,
In the way a wanton child might crush and torture a fly. 
Is there no God to help, no Zeus, or Jahveh, or Buddh?
As well might our prayers be made to an image of wood or stone,
Hear, then, the truth; be sure you shall find it discordant and crude.
But harmony creeps through the discord, and a light in the crudeness gleams—
Freedom is our for the taking, and the power to take our own. 
Out of the wreck of a world that is falling into decay,
Rise, if within you dwells a spark of the will to dare;
Come in our ranks and work, and fight, and if need be die!
We have nothing to lose but our chains. Of a surety comes a day
When a choice must be made at last, when we break the fetters we wear
Or retain them still, slaves proud of our slavery.
F. J. Webb.

9 months of Labour rule (1965)

Editorial from the July 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Twenty years ago this month, Great Britain elected the first majority Labour government in its history.

July 1945 was a time of jubilation for the Labour Party; but it was also a time of reckoning. Their two previous administrations―in 1924 and 1931―had been minority governments, and had been able to blame their failures onto their dependence on Liberal support in the House of Commons.

The Attlee government had no such excuse. They had a massive majority behind them and they were determined to carry out the programme they had cherished for so long. Many Labour M.P.s said―and perhaps some of them even believed―that the day of Socialism had dawned.

Reality was cruelly different, and it exposed Labour Party theories for what they were. The 1945 government were committed to running British capitalism, and they did this in basically the same way as the Tories would have done.

They fought the working class over wages. They used every weapon they could to break strikes in the docks and the coalfields. They launched the nuclear rearmament programme (which, says the Labour Party now, is based on a discredited nostalgia for outdated imperialism).

Some Labour ministers of those days became famous as political buffoons and failures. Others wore themselves into their graves. British capitalism stood undisturbed. And in the end the electors showed what they thought of Labour's attempts to run the system, by turning them out of office.

By 1964 the memories of Labour government had grown dim enough for the workers to want to give it another try. The Labour Party cannot now excuse their failures of 1945/51, so they have simply ignored them. The Conservatives were at any rate ready in the last election to stand by their record in office, and offer it as an incentive to put them back in power. Labour's record is so bad that they kept a shamefaced silence, and quietly forgot the Attlee government and their disasters.

Now once again we have a Labour government, and once again they are in the toils. British capitalism is providing them with many problems―financial, economic, international. They are disputing with the working class over wages. Many of their policies―on the Bomb, immigration, taxation-―have been reversed.

And one again, like their predecessors in 1945, they are failing to solve the problems of capitalism. As this becomes more and more apparent, Labour Party support is declining, in spite of all their gimmicks and vote catching publicity.

Of course, the Labour government are looking for excuses. Mr. Ray Gunter, Minister of Labour, for example, thinks that all the troubles are due to a deficiency in our morals:

“It is only when the nation realises and understands that there are underlying moral standards to which we should be obedient, that the Labour movement is going to achieve everything it wants to achieve . . .”  (Speech to the Co-operative Congress, Edinburgh, 2/6/65.)

Mr. Gunter is the man who said, on election night last October, that the Conservatives should be thoroughly ashamed of their victory in Smethwick. He is also the man reported (The Guardian 31/5/65) to be pressing now for "drastic measures" to further restrict the intake of immigrants into this country.

This is representative of the complete reverse of Labour policy on immigration. It would be interesting to know what Mr. Gunter thinks about the morals of a party which alters its line so cynically.

But however the Labour Party may twist and turn, its fate is sealed. Whether its policies are changed or not, whether they are applied or discarded, capitalism will continue. And with capitalism will also go its inescapable problems.

The only way to remove those problems is to abolish capitalism and replace it with Socialism. And that will happen only when the working class throughout the world have seen through the distortions and the failures of all the capitalist parties and have consciously and unitedly opted for Socialism.

QED (BBC1) (1984)

TV Review from the January 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard


This fascinating programme traced the improvement in British workers' living standards achieved through advances in technology over the last 35 years. The film was very effectively put together, showing the 1948 sequences — both original footage and reconstructions — in black and white and those if 1983 in colour. Heinz Wolff, the narrator, acted the two central characters — the lower income worker and the prosperous businessman.

We first saw him entering a typical house of the former in 1948; the tin bath on the outside back wall, 5 amp wiring just sufficient for lighting and the wireless—certainly no electric fires or any of the appliances we now take for granted. Instead of a vacuum cleaner, the carpet sweeper; instead of the 'fridge, the ventilated larder cupboard; a bicycle the only personally owned means of transport. We then switched to the businessman getting out of his car, going into his centrally heated home, and switching on the rather primitive television set. His wife is in their all-electric kitchen with 'fridge, washing machine and food mixer. The maid uses the Hoover and does the ironing.

What a contrast in 1983! The "working class" home now boasts all mod cons, including colour TV and video (Wolff does not say how much of this evidence of "affluence" is owned by the worker and how much by the HP company), and ownership of a car is almost taken for granted.

On the surface the differences have been greatly eroded. However, Wolff then points out that this rise in living standards has been made possible by the great strides in technology. The days when production was simple (and labour intensive) and most of us could do our own domestic repairs have given way to high technology, labour savings and the inability of most of us to understand "how things work". This, incidentally, with the high cost of getting any sort of repairs done, leads to built-in obsolescence resulting in more frequent replacement purchases, which is good for business.

Wolff then asks: What shall we do about the unemployed to make them again feel useful members of society? From a non-socialist, his answer is quite remarkable. To paraphrase him: in a sensible society we would turn them into caring people; we need teachers, nurses, people to help look after the elderly, handicapped and infirm. There is a multitude of worthwhile (but not profitable) ways of working, but he ends his programme with the words: "That future is further away than we think".

We say it need not be. If the programme made viewers aware that there is indeed a solution to the problems of capitalism and that advances in technology should benefit all and not just increase the profits of the few, then we are one small step nearer to that future—the establishment of socialism. Then work will be judged only by its usefulness to the community and workers will not be forced to be idle, feeling useless and unwanted, because no profit can be accrued from their work by the employer.
Eva Goodman

Hot War in the Caucasus (1995)

From the February 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

If anything, the end of the Cold War has given even the least enlightened of us a geography lesson. Most of us are now all too familiar with names like Basra and Bosnia, Zagreb and Sarajevo and Mogadishu and Macedonia, and we can locate them on a map without too much difficulty. Grozny and Chechnya are the latest example of hitherto unheard of names that have suddenly rocketed themselves into the world news. But why the tiny Caucasus republic of Chechnya?

Yeltsin and his generals would have us that Chechnya is breaking laws laid down in the Russian Federation constitution by declaring itself a sovereign republic. Therefore, they must be returned to the fold at any cost.

One wonders at the importance tiny Chechnya holds for Yeltsin, considering its size. The old Soviet Union covered a total area of 8,647,172 square miles. Chechnya covers an area of 7,350 square miles (smaller in fact than Wales - 8,018 square miles). Surely Chechnya can't be that important - or can it?

To Yeltsin, the free-marketeer, Chechnya means vital roubles to a crippled Russian economy. Chechnya is basically essential to Russia's economic interests - all the more important since Georgia and Azerbaijan, both rich in natural resources, seceded successfully from the Soviet Union.

Oil Pipeline
The tiny republic of Chechnya, land locked on three sides by Russia, includes fertile farmland that straddles the wheat fields of southern Russia. The republic is also an important rail/road trade route to other trans-Caucasus republics. But most importantly, Chechnya controls the oil pipeline that connects the Black and Caspian Seas. Chechnya also claims several oilfields and a refinery and is further invaluable for the supply of chemicals, building materials and engineering.

So, like all wars in the modern world, the Chechen conflict has profit motive at its root, in particular who controls the Chechnya's mineral wealth and strategic pipeline.

The Chechen separatists feel they have every reason to claim independence. The area was initially forcibly incorporated into Russia by Tsarist expansionists some 150 years ago, since which time they have suffered the status of t the second class citizen, their Islamic faith making them subhuman to racist Russians and having to endure travel restrictions all too reminiscent of South Africa.

Stalin hated them so much that he had the entire population deported to central Asia in 1944 on trumped-up charges of Nazi collaboration -  a venture that wiped out 60 percent of the Chechen population.

Yeltsin has since blamed Chechens for every social evil facing Russia, from drug-trafficking and black-marketeering to the current trend for hijackings.

Chechnya sparked the current conflict in September 1991. When General Dzhokha Dudayev assumed power and declared Chechnya an independent republic. This was flatly denounced by Russia on November 1 1991.

Russian hostility to Chechnya's claims to sovereignty led some Chechen extremists to carry out hijackings to force their message home. This provided Moscow with the pretext to finance and supply weapons to the anti-Dudayev forces led by the pro-Yeltsin Umar Authurkhanov, in an attempt to nip Chechen nationalism in the bud.

Confidence in support from Moscow inspired anti-Dudayev forces to launch an attack on Grozny on November 25 last year, with the help of Russian mercenaries - an assault that was quickly repelled. What only became clear later was that the FSK (the successor to the KGB) had in fact recruited the mercenaries to fight Dudayev. The present crisis is, therefore, grounded in the covert backing Russian security forces gave to internal Chechen opposition forces. For it was the humiliation of that defeat that prompted the Russian massing of troops on the Chechen border at the beginning of December.

Opposition to the war
Polls since carried out in Russia have found that 75 percent of respondents oppose the war. The Russian media has also condemned the invasion of Chechnya, including the normally pro-Yeltsin Izvestia newspaper. On December 23, MPs in the Duma voted overwhelmingly for a halt to the war and even the army has been reported as feeling compunction pangs.

The only support Yeltsin has had for his Chechen operation has come from the parliamentary faction "Russia's Choice", the right-wing lunatic Vladimir Zhirinovsky and other nondescript opportunists. To the majority of Russians, Yeltsin, "the champion of democracy", is in reality a Stalin in miniature.

Many Russians are bewildered at Yeltsin's overnight change of character. For this is the same Yeltsin who came to world attention lambasting Gorbachev's attempt to stifle Lithuanian independence, begging army officers to disobey orders and calling on the UN to intervene.

Yeltsin, in three years, has learned quick that the rules of capitalism means that a country can only prosper if it is aggressive in defence of its economic interests. That's why the governments in the West have been so reluctant in coming forward with their criticism - because they have been doing the same thing as Yeltsin for 200 years.
John Bissett

Worker take-overs (2015)

Book Review from the June 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

'An Alternative Labour History: Worker Control and Workplace Democracy', Edited by Dario Azzellini. Zed Books. 2015

This is a collection of articles describing – and advocating – ‘workers control’ at various points in history and in various places, particularly Latin America, today. The authors see workers spontaneously taking over workplaces as the way to a new society without private or state capitalists.

In times of economic and political chaos when factory owners lose control or abandon their factories, workers do not just sit back and do nothing. They take over the factories and try to keep production going.  This shows, as Azzellini points out in his introduction, that ‘workers do not need bosses to organize production’. But this has never lasted for any length of time.

Sooner or later ‘order’ has been restored, either by the old ruling class re-establishing control or by a new ruling class taking over, and ‘bosses’ have come back, whether the old private ones or new state ones. In some cases, however, the ’recuperated’ factories  have been given a legal basis as cooperatives producing for the market. But this is no solution.  Cooperatives, Azzelini writes in the section of his introduction ‘Limits and contradictions of the cooperative model’, ‘tend to operate within the capitalist logic of productivity and profitability … the pressure on them to a adopt a capitalist business logic is immense … cooperatives are embedded in the framework of the capitalist economy and compete on the capitalist market following the logic of profit-making … ‘

This is a better fate than being forcibly suppressed but is still a dead end. Which is why Azzelini favours a revolution in which there is a general movement of workers to ‘take and hold’ the means of production (to use the terminology of the old IWW, which surprisingly doesn’t get a mention).

A revolution led by workers’ councils would certainly be better than one led by a vanguard party but still underestimates the degree of understanding of those involved as to where they are going and ignores the need to win control of political power to permit this and/or to back it up.
Adam Buick