Thursday, July 23, 2015

Aneurin Bevan (1960)

From the August 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

The death of Aneurin Bevan was a terrible blow to the Labour Party. Here, we were told, was a man of humble birth who night have been Prime Minister. A man who burnt with a sincere passion against the world's harshness and injustice. But did Bevan bear any responsibility for making the world what it is? Truly, Labour have need of him now, of his scornful wit which could hold the Tories in sullen silence—or have them laughing at themselves. More even than that, Labour need his ability to unite the party in acceptance of policies which as individuals they may find distasteful. Bevan was a master at this because many Labour Party members believed that, if Nye could say with his hand on his heart that a certain course was regrettable but necessary, then it must be so. So it was at Brighton in 1957, when he made his famous speech on the H-bomb which shocked his followers and shattered the movement which up to then had been known as the Bevanites.

Now why should the death of one man be so disastrous to a party which has hundreds of thousands of other members? It seems too obvious to say that the party which can offer the most attractive leaders usually gets the most votes. Since the heyday of the Attlee era, Labour have lacked appealing leaders. No more Ernie Bevin, with his rough manner and the straying aitches. No more Herb Morrison, smooth and, eloquent. Bevan seemed to be the only outstanding one left. And now that be has gone, Labour are asking themselves: What shall we do without him?

A man like Bevan is important to a party which offers itself as a potential administrator of capitalism. At election time, it must angle for the floating voter—and there is no more tempting bait than a colourful leader, to answer the tricky questions which stump the candidate, to shake hands all round and tell everyone how worthy he is, and to explain away the hard facts of capitalist life and persuade the voters to bear the insecurity and the squalor of the system which his party wish to organise. He must justify the promises forgotten or broken, and skate over the stirring enunciation of principles which were upheld at the last election and are being quietly contradicted in this. He must, in fact, be all that the politically ignorant expect a leader to be.

Bevan filled this role to perfection. First of all, he had what they call the common touch. Who better than a one time down-trodden miner to justify the anti-working class policies of his party? One of these was Bevan's pet, the National Health Service. This must have gained a lot of support for Labour in 1945, for many people thought that the scheme would entitle them to free access to the best possible medical treatment—and who wouldn't vote for something like that? In fact, National Health was a rearrangement of working-class poverty, which made no difference to the fact that the surest way of getting decent medical attention is to be able to pay for it. A royal birth still sends a whole clutch of doctors hurrying to the bedside. And Bevan himself died in the care of a titled personal physician. Is that an indication of what he thought of the National Health Service? The record does not end there, Bevan was a member of the Labour government when they were busy breaking strikes and getting involved in the slaughter of workers in Korea and other parts of the world. This was the government which promoted the great swindle of nationalisation, which made the shareholders more secure than before and left the workers no better off. Yet—and here is the swindle—this was said, by Bevan and others, to be Socialism.

True, Bevan sometimes produced a scathing condemnation of the Tories. He was good at this—he made a mess of Selwyn Lloyd over Suez. Yet he could be nationalistic when he wanted. Macmillan, in his House of Commons tribute, called him a patriot. This is what he had to say at Bradford on 17th October, 1953:
Let the British nation take the position it is entitled to, the moral leadership of the world. That leadership does not belong across the Atlantic because America is being dominated by the same kind of mentality as dominates the government of Great Britain.
He could be scathing on the Conservatives' colonial policy—yet, for example, it was his party which imprisoned Nkrumah. (Strangely, Bevan forgot this and in the debate on Cyprus on 19th March, 1959, he actually attacked the Tories for imprisoning the Ghana Prime Minister. The Tories had a good laugh and Bevan had to withdraw—which, of course, he did without turning a hair). He could make a touching plea for peace and security—yet he insisted that any future Labour government must have the right to make any weapons which the emergencies of capitalism may force onto them. This is what he said about the H-bomb at the Scarborough Conference in 1958:
We are not pledging ourselves to making it. We are not pledging ourselves not to making it. We don't know what kind of weapons we need. We must leave ourselves some room for manoeuvre.
There is no reason to pin this sort of inconsistency on to Bevan alone. For he was only one of the many leaders of capitalism. Such men must have at least two faces—one for their public, always responsible but kindly, suggesting that its owner is incapable of hurting a fly; and the other for: the Cabinet Room realities of capitalism, for the brutal and inhuman actions and decisions which they must always be taking. It is never pleasant to hear of a death. But this must be said: Bevan played the game with the rest. He played it better than most. That is why they will remember him for a long time.


From the December 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialist Worker”, the weekly paper of the International Socialists, regularly publishes a statement of their main principles called “What We Stand For”.(1) We would expect this organization to stand for Socialism. Surprisingly, Socialism is nowhere defined in the statement and it only appears as a word upon which various people and organizations have placed many different interpretations. Still it is possible to get some idea of what IS stand for by a careful reading of their statement. It is also possible to get very confused. For instance, the statement starts off:
We believe that socialism can only be achieved by the independent action of the working class.
Whereas, the last part says they are
For the building of a mass workers’ revolutionary party . . . which can lead the working class to power . . .
(our emphasis both times)
Now, unless the workers are supposed to be getting power for something other than Socialism, it is simply ridiculous to say that someone who is being led is taking independent action. Could IS tell us which statement they stand for and which is this week’s deliberate mistake? It would also be interesting to know just how large a “mass” the workers of this “revolutionary party” are to be. Presumably, if it attracted too many workers the working class would be leading themselves!

The second part of the statement reads:
We believe in overthrowing capitalism, not patching it up or gradually trying to change it. We therefore support all struggles of workers against capitalism and fight to break the hold of reformist ideas and leaders.
We would wholeheartedly agree with this although we wonder if they only mean reformist leaders in the last bit. However, IS don’t appear to agree with this part of the statement themselves. Later on they say they are:
Against unemployment, redundancies and lay-offs. Instead we demand five days’ work or five days’ pay, and the 35-hour week. For nationalization without compensation under workers’ control.
What is this if it is not an appeal to patch up capitalism? No form of nationalization ever has or could solve the problem of unemployment in capitalism. This is a strange way to fight reformist ideas. As another example, at the two general elections this year they have supported the return of a Labour government. This is despite acknowledging (although their election posters made no mention of the fact) that such a government would be anti-working class and reformist. This is another strange way of supporting all struggles of workers against capitalism and fighting reformist ideas. Again, perhaps IS could explain?

The fifth part of the IS statement at least gives us some idea of what they stand for. It contains the sentence:
The experience of Russia demonstrates that a socialist revolution cannot survive in isolation on one country.
This holds the definite implication that a Socialist revolution took place there. So, we must go back to the Russia of 1917 to find out what they mean by a Socialist revolution. There, in a backward, predominantly agrarian country which was collapsing under the strains of a modern twentieth century war, the Bolsheviks took power in a minority insurrection. They did so on the promise that they would provide “Peace, Bread and Land” and not Socialism. The Bolsheviks had also expressed the wildly optimistic hope that the workers of other countries would follow their example and take power also. When these workers, who at the time were butchering each other in defense of their masters’ interests, did not do so any hope of establishing Socialism was obviously futile. In this situation, which could have been predicted from the start, the Bolsheviks consolidated their position by establishing a dictatorship which suppressed all opposition and under Lenin’s guidance, embarked on a program me of state capitalism.

If this is the IS idea of a Socialist revolution it is easier to understand their opposition to parliamentary democracy with an almost universal franchise and their preference for soviets (or “councils of workplace delegates” as they put it) which have at best only a haphazard democracy. Their stated reasons are that
The state machine is a weapon of capitalist class rule and therefore must be smashed. The present parliament, army, police and judges cannot simply be taken over and used by the working class.
True, the state machine is a weapon of the ruling class but there is little logic in saying that because someone uses something as a weapon then nobody else can use that weapon. And of course the present parliament, army, etc. cannot simply be taken over and used by the working class. In the words of Engels:
. . . the victorious proletariat must first refashion the old bureaucratic, administratively centralized state power before it can use if for its own purpose . . .(2)
The IS preference for soviets may also be due to the fact that they are less representative and thus provide a better opportunity for a minority to come to power as the Bolsheviks did. It is to be hoped that IS have a greater love for democracy than their counterparts of 1917 who dissolved the first and last completely democratically elected Russian assembly (the Constituent Assembly of 1918) when they found they were in the minority.

To return to the point about “the independent action of the working class”. The statement also says that
To achieve socialism the most militant sections of the working class have to be organized into a revolutionary socialist party . . . 
Taken in conjunction with the apparent endorsement of the Bolsheviks’ tactics this would seem to indicate that IS hold the Leninist “vanguard” theory. This theory says that far from taking independent action for Socialism, the mass of the present working class will never understand Socialism anyway and will have to be led by professional revolutionaries who will introduce it from above. Whatever way you look at it, the IS statement is either confused or dishonest. Quite possibly it is a mixture of both as any "vanguard" can only survive on the confusion of its followers.

The Socialist Party, in contrast to IS, has a clear line on what Socialism is, and how it will be achieved. Socialism will be a society in which all the means by which wealth is produced and distributed will be under the common ownership and democratic control of the whole community. Of necessity, it will be a worldwide system because the means of production and distribution are worldwide. There will be no wage or price system as things will be produced solely for use and not for sale. People will work to the best of their ability and take according to their needs. The nature of Socialism shows that it can only be achieved by the conscious and independent action of a clear majority. It is the job of Socialists to help build that majority. We do not deprecate the struggles of workers but we insist that they must understand the class basis of those struggles. Without that consciousness all their efforts will eventually be futile.

Once Socialists are in the majority they will have to get hold of the state machinery to prevent it being used against them. Socialist delegates elected to the various assemblies of the capitalist nation-states by a Socialist working class would have this control, and would leave any recalcitrant capitalists in a virtually helpless position. The capitalist class only maintain their order with the active support or acquiescence of the workers. Once they lose this and are faced with an organized, uncompromising working class it will be plain to all what they are—a socially useless, parasitic minority living off the backs of the workers.
Con Friel

(1) The quotations in this article are taken from the statement as it appeared on 24 August, 1974.
(2) Extract of a letter from Engels to Bernstein on 1 January, 1884.

B.U.F. and the Jews (1968)

Book Review from the July 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anti-Semitism and the British Union of Fascists by W. F. Mandle (Longmans. 12s. 6d.)

In the popular uproar over immigration it is sometimes forgotten that the term racial problem was not always synonymous with colour problem. Before the war, and for some time after it, the Jews were the racists' favourite chopping block. They were blamed for the shortcomings of capitalism; they were subjected to the same hate, the same malicious lies, the same apocryphal horror stories, that coloured immigrants are subjected to now.

Jews were denounced as flashy and vulgar (although insidious also!); as a sexual threat; as devotees of archaic and disgusting rituals. They were supposed to be clever at despicable things and to be a threat to "Western culture" (Blackshirt, the BUF paper, had an article in December 1934 entitled "Jazz Goes With Jewry" and in January 1936 described Jews as "venereal-ridden vagrants"). These same lies are now being levelled at coloured people.

Anti-Semitism was accompanied by violence and hysteria which often was infectious. I remember a Fascist meeting at Ridley Road, in the hot summer of 1947, which jammed the streets with a frantic mob, parts of which were desperate to scream insults, and to assault anyone who took their fancy. One sweat-streaked face shouted at me that a nearby photographer "should be done up—he's probably from the Jewish Express." I'm sure she didn't even know if such a paper existed.

W. F. Mandle, who has made a considerable study of Fascism, has examined the pre-war records closely to trace the course of the BUF's anti-Semitism. At first, although it was clear they did not like Jews, the BUF did not include anti-Semitism in their propaganda; on April 1 1933, in fact, Blackshirt proclaimed that "Jew-baiting in every shape and form was forbidden by order in the British Union of Fascists before the Union had been in existence two months". But inexorably their attitude became more hostile; it was tempered by the alliance with Rothermere in 1934 (the reason for the famous Daily Mail headline "Hurrah for the Blackshirts!") but when the alliance collapsed the BUF became more extreme in its anti-Semitism.

In a rally at the Albert Hall in 1934 Mosley defined his organisation's attitude and two years later he came more to the point, when he said he would be " . . . fully entitled to take any measures necessary for the preservation of the British race." The BUF knew what these "measures" were to be; although their official policy was deportation. Blackshirt said on 31 October 1937 that some European countries had already got rid of Jews and "it will not be long before science will find a means of eradicating this pest from England once and for all." Mick Clarke, one of their speakers, echoed Himmler when he described Jews as "lice of the earth [who] must be exterminated".

There is no mistaking the terrifying import of this stuff, but it won considerable support in areas which had a large Jewish population. In the 1937 LCC elections, the BUF got over 3,000 votes in Bethnal Green N.E., over 2,000 in Limehouse (Stepney) and about 2,500 in Shoreditch.

But this was the nearest they came to power. They lost a lot of their glamour when the Public Order Act of 1936 banned political uniforms in public; unemployment did not again reach the heights of 1931 and finally the war removed much of their support, helped by a government anti-racialist campaign as part of the official war propaganda.

It is, of course, an open question, what would have happened in England if events had taken a different course or had been differently timed. The danger of racism is still there; workers are still ready to vent their frustrations on a minority. Consider how closely Mandle's description of conditions in 1931 resembles those of today:
"In that year there was developing . . . a distaste for party politics; indeed the three major parties, Labour, Liberal and Conservative were in a state of internal tension that only the Conservatives survived. There was a feeling that parties did not have the answer to deepening economic crisis. And the crisis was deepening: unemployment was rising. Britain's credit overseas was declining and there was a frantic search for nostrums."

Terrorism is not Revolution! (1976)

From the January 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The increase in the activity of terrorist organizations has produced the usual denunciation from all public figures and the press. Mr. Justice Donaldson at a recent bombing trial sentenced members of the IRA to life imprisonment; he did not spare them the additional punishment of listening to his epilogue on the virtues of law and order and the British abhorrence of violence. Nauseous cant like this from overpaid servants of the State, reminds us of Belfort Bax's description of the High Court judge, whom he referred to as "whited sepulchres in wig and gown" administering the law he did not make, much in the same way that Bill Sykes did not make his own jemmy—he only administered it.

Sir John Donaldson has probably forgotten when he was at Cambridge University he was chairman of the Federation of University Conservative and Unionist Associations, to which the Ulster Unionists were affiliated, and which formed the government of Northern Ireland from the very beginning. Those who have followed the course of events in Ulster will know that one of the features of this government was to arrange the voting procedure in such a way that their political rivals, Republicans and SDLP among others, could not wrest political power from them, even should they obtain a majority, which in the nature of things was high unlikely. Gerrymandering, or the corrupt use of the ballot box, made their return to power at each election a virtual certainty. It was largely the Catholics being for all practical purposes disenfranchised, and the frustration of being unable to do anything about it, that produced the very conditions for violence that Sir John now rails against. He is not alone in failing to see the logic of the situation which is created by the actions of those who are now loudest in their condemnation. This is capitalist society, and we must expect every backwoodsman of both sexes and all parties to depress and sicken us with their double standards of morality: by their "shocked horror" at bombing, murder and kidnapping. This hypocritical pattern is world-wide now that practically every country in the world has spawned a terrorist organization — yet another expression of class society.

Terrorism is as old as capitalism itself, although most people believe it to be something to have arisen with the IRA. Unquestionably people are shocked at bombing and murder, but they would be shocked even more were they to look at the number of ex-terrorists who are now respectably installed as heads of government, or ministers of state, etc., within the areas of their previous activities. Who remembers the Stern Gang, the Jewish terrorists of the forties; the Mau-Mau of Jomo Kenyatta; the Algerian and Moroccan terrorists of a few years ago? Very soon we shall have Yassar Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization, whose main talents consist in organizing the hi-jacking and destruction of airliners, the slaughter of airline passengers, and attacks on school-children with Russian arms, becoming a head of state somewhere in Palestine. The ex-terrorist, like the ex-prostitute who has become respectable, is more virtuous and dedicated to upholding the state authority on the one hand and while the other hand is firmly riveted to the state coffers. That's what terrorism is all about — who shall have the legal right of exploiting the working class within their borders, and who shall own and control the wealth of that community.

The fact that most terrorist organizations have high-sounding objectives like freeing the population from the tyranny of Imperialism, or restoring the rights of minorities, which incidentally is invariably coupled with territorial demands usually for mineral-bearing land or sea, does not alter the capitalist nature of their objectives, nor will it make any difference to the end result as far as the working class are concerned. A successful coup by a terrorist organization will only produce a change of masters, as capitalism will continue. The entire history of terrorist organizations from the 19th century onwards is proof of this.

No modern capitalist state will allow its authority to be undermined by a minority using violence. Only in a backward country under Colonial rule where the franchise is absent, and political representation stifled, can a nationalist terrorist organization have any chance of success. In any case, most nationalist movements are sponsored and supported by one or other of the big powers. In the world today the independence of little powers only exists on paper. Their rulers are errand-boys for the well-established world powers like America, Russia, Britain, France, and now China. There is always an antagonism between these major powers due to their conflicting interests, consequently they will support and encourage any action, violent or otherwise, which will weaken their opponents. The terrorist organizations of all countries receive aid in the form of arms, or financial aid, and ideological support in the form of propaganda from the erstwhile pillars of law and order. The present struggle in Angola between Russia and America is an example of what happens in fact.

Murder, assassination, kidnapping, are not just the preserve of the terrorist organizations. The Sunday Times of 23rd November 1975, carried a long account of a Senate Committee report on the activities of the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency of America. According to this report, the CIA made eight attempts to have the President of Cuba, Fidel Castro, assassinated at the behest of President Kennedy. The Mafia was even enlisted on some occasions to help out. Earlier, President Eisenhower directly ordered the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the Congo, and the assassins of Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican dictator, received vital aid and arms from the American government. President Ngo Dinh Diem, the President of South Vietnam, was assassinated in 1962 with the connivance of the CIA. President Nixon is alleged to have been involved in the military coup in Chile which led to the death of Allende, and also the assassination of General Schneider, the Chilean army chief. This report makes very interesting reading, and shows the utter disregard for the alleged moral propriety where American capitalists' interests were threatened. All governments, like the Russians, are armed against dissidence either at home or in organizations abroad. The number of coups, purges and assassinations carried out by the Russian dictatorship will never be fully known, but the savagery and ruthlessness of those within our knowledge are almost beyond belief.

Violence is not something which is natural to men: on the contrary, the overwhelming mass of people are peace-loving. They may not love their neighbours, but they have a mutual respect, an understanding and affinity with each other. The capitalist plays upon this when it suits him. If violence has to be deprecated, as at present in this country, they will open the dustbins of parliament and release the hordes of resident neophytes, many of whom, given half the chance, would bring back the Rack. This unseemly bunch of tattered intellects then proceeds to denounce violence and talk about protecting civilized communities. There is, however, a distinction which they make (there could hardly be a difference) between official violence and unofficial violence. When the first atomic bomb fell on Japan in 1945, a number of Japanese schoolgirls were boiled alive in the swimming pool where they happened to be at the time. This was only one of the hideous results of official violence. Since then, millions of people have been killed or maimed in the multifarious official violent incidents known as modern war. Where is the condemnation from these opponents of violence? There is a difference in degree but no difference in principle. An official bomb will kill just as surely as an unofficial one, yet they are silent on this fundamental aspect of violence because the are ignorant, or hypocritical, or both, but above all because they are committed servants and spokesmen of the system of violence — capitalism.

War, violence and terrorism are not instruments which can be used in the establishment of Socialism. The modern state represents the ultimate development of the social power of coercion and destruction. The armed forces are under control of the political machinery. The control of the political machinery is based upon universal suffrage. This means that if the workers vote capitalist representatives to the seats of government, as they habitually do, they can, if they have a mind to, vote them out of office. It is not that the working class are enthusiastic supporters of capitalism — their experiences have taught them to expect little from any party. It is because at the moment they see no alternative to capitalism. This is the situation Socialists hope to remedy. The establishment of Socialism is not just based on the control of political machinery: this is the end of the process. Socialism is not a change of government, it is a fundamental change in the nature and purpose of society. It is a democratic body of social opinion which provides the mandate for the continuance of Socialism.

For this reason terrorist organizations can never be revolutionary or Marxist (a) because they are dictatorial (b) because they repudiate the class struggle, and (c) because their objectives are non-Socialist. By the same token, terrorist organizations, or any other form of minority insurrection, could never succeed in removing Socialism once established. Force cannot be successfully deployed against a body of ideas. Unless the working class are prepared to stand idly by and allow the capitalists of the world to wrangle over the division of society's wealth as if they, the workers, did not exist at all, they have to get control of the political machinery for Socialism. In the meantime, let the supporters of capitalism reflect on terrorism: their system caused it.
Jim D'Arcy