Saturday, September 12, 2015

One person, one vote (1981)

From the December 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Down the centuries upholders of privilege have recognised and feared the power of the masses to overthrow the rulers of society; but it took a poet to flip the coin of fear and turn it into a joke:
If you make a revolution, make it for fun,
don't make it in ghastly seriousness,
don't do it in deadly earnest . . .
do it just to spit in their eye.
(D. H. Lawrence, A Sane Revolution.)
Fear, irony and humour characterise the responses of many who contemplate for long the oddity that rulers are few and the ruled are many. Plato thought about it a lot:
The third group is the mass of the people, who earn their own living, take little interest in politics, and aren't very well off. They are the largest class in a democracy, and once assembled are supreme.
(Plato, The Republic, p.385, Penguin, 1975)
His ironic response was to spin out an analogy between society and a bee-hive. He wanted all drones cleared out of the hive and replaced by three brainwashed classes of people, presided over by a philosopher-king, who alone stung everyone into submission with a venomous dialectic.

The fearful response to popular power sometimes contains a magical incantation, as when Edmund Burke tried to ward off the evil influence of the French Revolution from his English readers:
We fear God; we look up with awe to kings; with affection to parliaments; with duty to magistrates; with reverence to priests; and with respect to nobility.
(Revolutions 1775-1830. (ed) M. Williams, Penguin, 1971, pp. 108-9.)
It is indeed a heathenish thing for the masses to rise up and bite the hand that whips them!

Goodbye To All That
Fear is creeping into Margaret Thatcher's voice now; with unemployment rising to three million and bankruptcies soaring, and yet insists she's doing us good. Presumably she'll get booted out at the next election and replaced by an earnest Labourite, or a smarmy Liberal-Social Democrat, who'll play at ruling capitalism for a further five years.

What potential for revolution remains among the workers now that parliamentary democracy has made the barricade and the guillotine decadent, even absurd, as a way of removing and chastising Thatcher?

One person, one vote: the implication of this democratic slogan is that there is a revolutionary use for the cube of black-japanned metal — the ballot box. It would not have amused Lawrence, would have puzzled Plato and infuriated Burke; but is something Thatcher and the working class could come to terms with. The ballot can dictate the shape of society. Provided Thatcher displays only the usual amount of incompetence over the next two years, then not the fulminations of Foot, not the hysteria of left-wingers and not the self-starvation of all terrorists will remove her from office. Yet sometime in 1984 she will meekly accept the probable dictate of the ballot box and cease to rule with her usual bad grace. Capitalism could be deposed throughout the world in just the same way; after all, how could an "ism" fight back?

Individuals are the bearers or agents of ideologies. When you vote, you put a cross against the name of someone and the sum total of ideologies borne by the successful names yields the style of society around you — give or take a nuclear hiccup or two. Putting a cross on a ballot for revolution would be much the same — give or take a capitalist or two. What about a world-wide referendum, where the ballot paper reads "capitalism or socialism: place a cross against your choice"?

Hello New World
But the simplest revolutionary use of the ballot box would be to nominate and vote for individuals as bearers of the ideology of the masses — the working class. Theirs is a beautifully simple ideology, well-fitted for revolution. It goes something like this:
Politicians never do the workers any good.
If you want something done, do it yourself.
Labour is the source of wealth and only a fool says otherwise.
You'll never change the world until you get the vast majority to agree.
The political programme to fit this goes as follows:
One person, one vote;
therefore the last thing we need are politicians and leaders;
therefore if anything is to be done to the world all must do their bit;
therefore away with all that nonsense about banks,
advertising and invisible earnings creating wealth — it's brain and brawn that will do it all;
therefore you can stick your United Nations, your summit meetings, your social security plans and all the rest;
we've got to talk it out like we do down the pub — then pick our team.
Strange that a colossal social system like capitalism can be toppled by something as ordinary as the process used by a darts club to choose team members; by the method an angling club uses to select venues for a season; by the way the local women's institute decides who'll make the sausage rolls, make the cakes and cut the sandwiches for the next whist drive. Yet all socialism requires is that workers put their heads together and decide about society, stick their men and women in the parliaments of the world and stick their fingers up at all those who said it couldn't be done.
B. K. McNeeney

Party News: Conway Hall Meeting (1980)

From the December 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Bomb and the Dole Queue—Abolish the Cause, brought 110 people on November 10 to Conway Hall. Three speakers dealt with the subject matter. Steve Coleman, referring to the weapons of mass destruction, denied the relevance of a new-born CND in dealing with this issue. Socialists were not discriminatory; they opposed war in all its forms. E. Hardy showed the absurdity of Labour and Tory Government schemes to deal with unemployment. More, or less, government expenditure had little impact on the dole queue. This was an in-built feature of a system based on production for profit. Dick Donnelly from Glasgow Branch posed the socialist alternative to capitalism that gives rise not only to the problems dealt with by the other speakers but additional problems that were a chunk of working class life. He rammed home the need for workers to reject all leaders and media imposed ideas, and work for socialism where human needs will be the determining factor. A world of co-operation with social conditions that allowed men and women to realise their potential.

Nearly an hour of questions and discussion followed. Dick Donnelly rounded the meeting off with a moving and lucid exhortation to workers to join us now in establishing a harmonious, classless society, quoting Marx's message to the working class, "You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to gain".

Capitalism - No (1979)

From the December 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Class War goes on without respite; this relentless struggle between us and our masters brings with it industrial conflict, poverty, humiliation, insanity and the wars which are fought for the world markets.

In the quest for profit all decent human feelings are pushed aside. Millions starve while mountains of food are burnt or dumped into the sea. If it is more profitable to produce arms than food, then so be it. People live in slums while luxurious flats stand empty because no one can afford to pay the rents.

All this happens because of the system under which we live. Capitalism's wealth is not produced for need but to make a profit. A tiny minority of the population live off the surplus value produced by the majority. These parasites are the owners of the means of production (mines, factories, land, machinery). With the help of the State (police, army and so on) they suppress and exploit the workers. It is the workers who toil all day in the mines and factories and on the land to produce the food, clothing and the other goods we need to live.

After they have produced all this wealth, the workers meekly let the capitalist class steal it from them (legally). This theft takes place at the point of production. The workers are paid a wage which is far below the value of what they actually produce. Their wages will only buy enough food, clothing and fuel to keep them in reasonable "working order".

Under capitalism the people who contribute nothing to society receive the greatest rewards and live a life of idle luxury. The workers are forced to live in poverty while progress and technology are held back until it is 'profitable' and human need and welfare come a poor second to profit. The only solution is socialism, where we will produce for need, not profit, and human welfare will be the prime consideration. We will see an end to misery, starvation and wars; all will work to the best of their ability and will be able to satisfy their needs. Only then will men and women be able to live their lives with satisfaction and dignity.
P. Maratty

Letters: 'Corbyn for Leader?' & 'Blacklisted' (2015)

Letters to the Editors from the September 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Corbyn for Leader?

Dear Editors,

There are several good reasons why World Socialists should welcome the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the role of Labour Party Leader or Her Majesty’s Opposition Leader in the UK, if in indeed me makes it beyond any dirty tricks from his opponents in the party. Corbyn win or lose, his success now marks the end of the long ‘politically repressive’ Thatcher period.

Bill Martin’s little piece on Corbyn (Socialist Standard, August) rather missed the points, unfortunately!  Sure, Corbyn’s socialism is not our Socialism and that’s not the point either.

In the USA Obama was called a socialist (laughingly!) and now there is a candidate Bernie Sanders, A self-described ‘democratic socialist’ on a Corbyn-like ticket doing well so far in the US Presidential Election Party Primaries. If he doesn’t win the Democratic nomination he’ll force Hillary Clinton leftwards to beat him, much as Corbyn here has done with both Burnham and Copper. Most would agree that for a person in the USA (of all places) to be doing well in a national poll and openly calling himself a ‘socialist’, of any kind, is pretty good progress for politics there. Not since Upton Sinclair in the 1930’s.

What has that got to do with Corbyn?

Well ‘Socialist Standard’ regulars (World Socialists) know that Corbyn’s socialism is not ours, but his popularity and success and should he win here will definitely (no doubts about it) legitimize and popularize the word ‘socialism’ again in the UK politics. This word since Thatcher has all but been banned and junked by the media (TV, radio and newspapers) and these outlets are where most of the public/voters still get their politics. Also junked by Labour Leaders.

Therefore, the same effect as with Sanders in the USA will likely happen here in the UK. But more again will happen here as it will likely happen in the USA. What? The word ‘socialism’ being currency again (sorry for the association) will lead some to research socialism and they’ll come up with the SPGB & WSPUSA (World Socialist Party of the United States) in their results page!

There is another reason in that World Socialists welcome working people getting a better share of the wealth in the meantime and Corbyn as British Prime Minister will achieve this for workers.

A third reason will prove that the left cannot solve the problem of the disintegrating capitalist society - a society to which the term ‘impossibilism’ is better now applied to than to World Socialism. Thus Corbyn is merely a prelude to much more meaningful discussions about capitalism and socialism.

Finally, Bill Martin, a more positive outlook is required from you sir, and not to stick to ‘political elitism’ which is exactly the outlook of British Labour Party leaders now in their tirade against Corbyn!

WILLIAM DUNN, Glasgow

Reply:

We were careful in choosing our description of Jeremy Corbyn as being 'Harold Wilson' warmed up.' In the 1960s policies very like the ones Corbyn is advocating were tried. They didn't aid the course of socialism; they led to disillusionment and workers voting for Margaret Thatcher.

It is no good getting the word socialism back on the political agenda if it is again to be associated with statism, taxation and nationalisation. If there has been one consistent theme to the Socialist Party's campaigning it has been that we need to be clear about what socialism is and what is needed to achieve it, and we cannot welcome anything that will create confusion and muddle, however well intentioned.

We recognised that much of the ‘Corbynmania’ phenomenon is that 'the desires of workers (however misinformed and locked into the logic of markets) will have forced their way into the halls of power.' What that means, though, is that we have to continue to work hard to put forward and explain the socialist case to dispel the misinformation. There are no short cuts, and whether the workers support Thatcher or Corbyn doesn't change the need for clear socialist agitation.

That is not elitist at all, it is the democratic approach. – Editors.

************************************************************

Blacklisted

Dear Editors,

In the mid-1970s the Mail and the Sun attacked the ‘left’ in my union branch of the CPSA (now PCS), Department of Environment and Transport HQ, for 'concealing' their political views before standing for election to the Branch Committee. They could not charge me with dissembling' – because I was an open Communist and the papers' report noted this, without naming me. In fact, against trusted and CPSA ‘Moderators’, Janet Daly of the Tory Party, and Militant Tendency, I won three successive elections for Branch Secretary.

In 1984 Gordon Leake of the Express (a self-confessed ex-BOSS member-turned-journalist) claimed that the CPSA branch at GCHQ did not exist. In fact, Diane Green, its branch secretary, a member of the BL84 faction (the one in which Communists and Socialist caucuses and non-Militant members participated) was elected to CPSA’s National Executive.

In 1996, the GCHQ Staff Association (formed after Thatcher had barred GCHQ unions), lost its appeal to the Certification Officer (a Thatcherite creation), for funds from the Thatcher fund for union postal ballots. The reason was the heavy dependence of the 'union' on Peter Marychurch, the GCHQ director, for facility time, accommodation and telephone.

D. SHEPHERD, London NW4

They Shoot Cowards, Don't They? (1997)

From the November 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Eighty years ago, some ten million lives were lost in World War One. Among these countless casualties was a small group of about three hundred and fifty who are not remembered each November when the dignitaries assemble at the Cenotaph and lay their patronising wreaths of poppies.

Recently, this select few have been in the news, and not for the first time; their deaths were, and still are, the subject of controversy. Readers of the Socialist Standard would no doubt consider the death of any human being in the pursuit of property and resources highly controversial. However, the reason the fate of this tiny proportion of those who died so long ago continues to be debated today is because they didn't die a "heroic" death at the hands of the enemy. They were shot by their own comrades.

To the uninitiated, or the naive, or just the logically-minded, this may come as a shock. Surely the job of an army is to slaughter marauding foreigners, not its own troops? Wrong. The job of an army is to do the state's dirty work, that is to plunder land, wealth and raw materials, as well as secure routes for international trade, or to prevent another state from doing same. This definition of any army's role does not preclude murder within the ranks. Granted, killing your own chaps doesn't sound like an efficient way to run an army, but the legally-sanctioned execution of comrades-in-arms during World War One was not only efficient, it was absolutely necessary.

Those who died by the bullets of their fellow troops were not ordinary soldiers, not normal men. They were of that rare perverted persuasion which knew fear and a sense of self-preservation. It may sound obtuse to suggest that a soldier who is afraid of going into battle is some sort of oddity, but that is precisely what the army wanted the average Tommy to think. If you suppose that fear probably comes as naturally to a soldier as brown paper bags to a Tory MP, you'd surely be right. But the army has a special term for people who respond rationally to this entirely natural emotion: they are known as "cowards".

The issue of those who were branded and shamed with this term during the First World War has come to the fore once again presumably because of the election of the new Labour government; there is apparently new hope for campaigners of obtaining pardons for their relatives. They have reiterated that there is evidence and expert opinion which now points to the likelihood that the majority of "cowards" were in fact suffering from some form of mental illness, and not in full command of their senses. It would seem more likely however that anyone who wishes to avoid almost certain death is in an absolutely sound state of mind.

Irrevocable punishment
The fact that advocates for these men are relying on the "shell shock" defence suggests one of two things. Either they genuinely believe that anyone in his or her right mind should willingly and dutifully have gone into battle in a war which took senseless carnage and breathtaking incompetence to new pinnacles; or they simply believe that this is the only chance of restoring the tarnished reputation of the family name. It's interesting that nobody seems to have questioned the morality of executing a man for refusing to endanger his own life; or recognising that he may have been averse to murdering his "enemies", who were terrified soldiers like himself, strangers against whom he had no grudge. That, surely, is justification in itself for laying down arms.

It seems astonishing now, in slightly more lenient times, that the government of the day could have permitted such summary and irrevocable punishment for its own servicemen, especially as the accused had no representation and no right of appeal. However, the practice has to be viewed in the light of the circumstances in which much of World War One was fought, particularly in the trenches. This essentially involved massing thousands of men and then sending them like lemmings towards the enemy lines, resulting in catastrophic casualties, often in order to gain just a few yards of ground, if any. Given that such behaviour, except to the seriously mentally unbalanced or the suicidal, naturally appeared to be utter lunacy, the politicians had to provide some incentive to persuade the potentially sceptical recruits to act like madmen. The principal methods of course were propaganda and flattery. After character defamation of the enemy, using easily understood terms such as "evil Bosch" or "filthy Hun", conscripts were told that it was their duty and privilege to rid the world of such despicable degenerates. Having preserved democracy and fair play, and saved England for all decent, God-fearing citizens, the troops would then be welcomed home as heroes and be forever intoxicated by the eternal gratitude of their countrymen.

Not surprisingly, it occurred to the top brass in the army that such shameless patronising might not wash with a few who cared to examine even cursorily their justification for mass slaughter of innocent human beings. And if only a few sceptics concluded that they were being duped, they might well persuade many others to lay down their arms and take up flower pressing instead. Therefore, an extra "incentive" was required, and this was where the ruthless efficiency of the military came into its own. It would have done no good to tell a dissenter that he was a naughty boy and to sit in the corner for the rest of the day; nor would there have been any point in threatening to send him to prison for life. After all, he would still have his life. No, the only way to ensure that insanity prevailed was to offer a Hobson's Choice: either go over the top and face almost certain death, or refuse and face certain death.

Madness of war
The fact that some three hundred or more soldiers, who were presumably aware of the penalties for cowardice, still refused to fight begs an important question. As the punishment was the ultimate penalty of death, and given that actually going into battle at least provided a chance of survival, doesn't it seem likely that these men were, as the campaigners claim, suffering from severe psychological trauma, be it shell-shock, or just the horror of seeing the gruesome demise of their comrades? In that case there would have been grounds for clemency, because these men were clearly not "cowards", but were deeply disturbed. Alas, such a distinction would have been irrelevant, because these unfortunate few had to be made examples to all the others of what happens to those who refuse to obey suicidal orders. Little surprise then that there was no right of appeal.

To some, war is heroic; to others, it is anathema. There is only one thing that can be said for certain about wars: they are never fought in the interest of those who die in them. Today, Britain has a professional volunteer army, and technical advances mean that modern warfare is a much more scientific affair. The Gulf War was a high profile example of how ever more sophisticated weapons are able to accurately target enemy weaknesses. Now there are no poorly trained conscripts, and no need for battalions of troops to go "over the top", and so there is no need for summary executions to enforce discipline. The naive and innocent victims of the firing squads of eighty years ago had the misfortune to be born into a very different stage of capitalism's destructive development, when daily casualties could wipe out entire regiments.

It's difficult to imagine what must have gone through the minds of those conscripts as they huddled in their cold, damp, dirty trenches, waiting for the order to ascend into no-man's-land with only a tin hat and a rifle for protection against a phalanx of machine guns and mortars. It was a different world then, not only in the way wars were fought, but also in the way minds were moulded. Many men were no doubt torn between the love for "their" country and the love for their families. Perhaps some thought of the men on the other side of the lines whom they would be required to massacre--men with the same fears and hopes, with families waiting anxiously at home; ordinary men, no different except that they just happened to be born under another flag. Perhaps some even entertained the idea that one day the world might be free of artificial economic divisions, when co-operation would replace conflict. Alas, such fanciful ideas were for future generations to enjoy. The soldiers of the Great War were unfortunate to live in an era when courage, however you defined it, equalled death.
Nick Brunskill

The rise and fall of Labour reformism (1998)

Book Review from the July 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

What’s Left? Labour Britain and the Socialist Tradition. By David Powell. Peter Owen. £22.50.

Socialists should know their history of the Labour Party, if only to be able to refute the claim that it was ever a socialist party and to demonstrate its failure to gradually transform capitalism into something better.

Powell’s book can serve as well as any as a source of the basic facts, especially as it is largely descriptive and devoid of any ideological perspective beyond "they’ve always been divided and that’s a bad thing" and perhaps a hint that the answer to the question "what’s left (of the original Labour Party)?" is "not a lot".

Towards the end of the last century many trade unionists felt that the trade union movement, or "Labour", should have its own party in parliament separate from both the Tories and the Liberals which represented different sections of the ruling class. Despite the election of Keir Hardie as an independent Labour MP in the 1892 election and the formation the following year of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), they didn’t make must headway (Hardie lost his seat at the 1895 election) until the House of Lords handed down their judgement in the Taff Vale case that a union could be sued for damages for loss of trade caused by a strike of its members.

This threat to their funds goaded the largely still Liberal leaders of the TUC to move and in February 1900 a conference of trade unions and various political groups (the ILP, the Fabians and Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation) voted to set up a Labour Representation Committee. The founding resolution, which had no socialist content whatsoever, read:
"That this Conference is in favour of establishing a distinct Labour Group in Parliament who shall have their own Whips and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to co-operate with any party which, for the time being, may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interest of labour, and be equally ready to associate themselves with any party in opposing measures which have the opposite tendency".
The name Labour Party did not come into use until after the 1906 election when 29 MPs were elected (nearly all of them as a result of a secret, but obvious, deal with the Liberals). It was not until after the First World Slaughter, with the adoption in 1919 of a new constitution including the famous Clause IV, that individuals could join the Labour Party. Even then, Labour still didn’t officially talk about "socialism" but only about "the new social order". This, in fact, was state capitalism rather than socialism, but was seen only as a very long-term goal which the leadership never took seriously then or since.

In so far as Labour did have a theory it was taken from the Fabians, an elitist group of intellectuals (including George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and Beatrice and Sidney Webb), who preached the "inevitability of gradualness": the goal of state capitalism was to be reached by a series of reform measures adopted by successive Labour governments. The first two Labour governments, both minority ones under Ramsay MacDonald, merely showed the capitalist class that Labour was "fit to govern" capitalism on their behalf. The second ended in complete disaster in 1931 when, faced with the slump, MacDonald, his Chancellor Snowden and some others in effect went over to the Tories.

Powell records the various attempts by those who took the state capitalist goal seriously to get Labour to be more than a party out to try to govern private capitalism a little less harshly than the Tories or the Liberals: from the ILP under Maxton in the 1920s (which disaffiliated from Labour in 1932), the Socialist League under Sir Stafford Cripps (later known as Sir Stifford Crapps for his role of Iron Chancellor imposing austerity on the workers in the post-war Attlee government) in the 1930s, the Bevanites in the 1950s and the Bennites in the 1970s and early 80s. They never got very far and only succeeded in ruining Labour’s electoral chances since most people wanted a humanised private capitalism rather than state capitalism.

The lesson the Labour left failed to learn was that you cannot have socialism without a majority who want and understand it. In a situation where most people still want capitalism—a situation which unfortunately has prevailed throughout the Labour Party’s existence, and still does—then what Socialists must do is not to try to get into government on a programme of reforms, but to campaign for socialism, to "make Socialists" as William Morris put it and what we’ve been trying to do since 1904 (yes, the working class could have made a different choice in the 1900s).

We might not be much nearer our goal of socialism than then, but the Labour Party has now abandoned its goal of those days of legislation favourable to trade unions and workers generally and has become Tweedledee to the Tories’ Tweedledum—which is what the Liberal Party was in 1900. They are not even an independent trade union pressure group in Parliament, but an openly pro-capitalist party.

Incidentally, we get a couple of mentions as, along with the British Socialist Party and the Socialist Labour Party (De Leon’s not Scargill’s) , one of "the warring fragments of Hyndman’s SDF" that opposed the First World War (true) and of "the congeries of Marxist factions" that were "in bullish mood following the events of October 1917" (not true).
Adam Buick