Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Catholics and Aliens (2015)

The Halo Halo! Column from the September 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
A question in the Guardian G2’s ‘Notes and Queries’ column (where Guardian readers respond to each other’s queries on anything that happens to be puzzling them) recently asked ‘If  there is intelligent life out there, what are the chances that it might believe in God?’
Following the recent news that exoplanet Kepler 452b appears to be remarkably Earth-like, the Vatican appears to have the answer. The Pope, it seems, is way ahead of the rest of us on this and has been prepared for the possibility for some time. In addition to the squad of exorcists the Vatican keeps on the payroll to deal with earth-bound satanic beings, they apparently also have their own astronomers to keep an eye out for aliens who presumably, if not already Catholics, could be converted.
‘If there was intelligent life (on another planet) I don’t see that as a contradiction with the Christian faith’, said one Vatican astronomer. ‘If God created aliens somewhere out there, then the Vatican is in no position to say Jesus wasn’t for them too’. (Independent 2 August). And another, back in 2010, informed us that ‘aliens who seek baptism should receive it from the church, because any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul.’
And according to another 2008 Independent article, Fr Jose Gabriel Funes, the Vatican priest in charge of the stargazing department announced that ‘Alien life would be part of God’s creation’ and aliens would be ‘our brothers’. So in partial answer the Guardian’squestion of whether they are believers, any aliens planning to visit us can rest assured that they are already being eyed up for baptism into the Catholic Church. No doubt a few can be recruited into the priesthood too. They’ll fit in well.
How the aliens will react to this news though, if it turns out they are already devout Martian Mormons, Moonies or Moslems for example, Saturnalian Salvationists or Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses from Jupiter we’ll have to wait to find out.
To clarify the situation then, let’s visit www.ufointernationalproject.com/latest-news/5th-june-2015. They sound as if they’ve got their finger on the pulse of the latest alien/ufo facts.
‘The Catholic church has been pondering over whether there indeed is a far more technologically and intellectually advanced sentient species elsewhere in the galaxy’. They tell us, ‘Pope Francis, apparently, believes so and according to rumour he will not only announce his intentions to prepare the human race for ET contact, BUT he will (according to many rumours) denounce the international corporate capitalist system, that is currently contaminating the planet with toxic consciousness and greed and making us all slaves to the dollar’.
Well, that sounds interesting. These ‘far more technologically and intellectually advanced’ aliens probably won’t need any lessons from the Pope about capitalism, but once their conversion to Catholicism starts, what will they make of the bible account of creation? Fr Funes, the chief stargazer, doesn’t think that will be a problem though. ‘The bible should not be held to account for its lack of scientific accuracy’. He says.
They’re obviously counting on the aliens being as gullible as they think the rest of us are.

Trotsky and Stalin: rival leaders (2003)

From the March 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Despite presenting themselves as mortal enemies, the camp followers of Leon Trotsky and Josef Stalin were competing government management teams operating under the same basic philosophy – that the workers could not, as a whole, come to socialist consciousness and bring socialism about for themselves.

Trotsky himself can be seen as being one of the main causes of Stalin's ascendancy. As Trotsky's hagiographer Isaac Deutscher points out in his The Prophet Armed, Stalin began his dominance of the Soviet government as part of “a special faction the sole purpose of which was to prevent Trotsky having a majority which would enable him to take Lenin's place.”

This faction was aided by the fear that Trotsky as commander of the Red Army (with a predilection for being seen in public in dashing military uniforms) could assume the role of a military dictator. Such fears would have been stoked by his support, in 1921, for the militarisation of labour (in effect placing the workers under his personal direct command).

Leadership worship
Trotsky was comprehensively out-manoeuvred by Stalin, and eventually driven out of Russia, whereupon he tried to position himself as head of the loyal opposition to the Bolshevik regime. His writings from 1929 onwards are full of criticisms of the leadership of the Comintern and their policies, especially regarding his own faction. Typically, he wrote: “Under the treacherous blows of the Stalinist bureaucracy, the Left Opposition [i.e. him and his followers] maintained its fidelity to the official party to the very end” (Trotsky, 'The Tragedy of the German Proletariat: The German Workers will Rise Again – Stalinism, Never', March 1933). The debates between Trotskyists and Stalinists always revolved around such questions of leadership – if only the leaders had acted in such-and-such a way, things would have turned out better.

Tactics, said Trotsky, should have been framed so as to win workers over from their Social Democratic leaders, under the command of the Communist Party: “We must understand how to tear the workers away from their leaders”. According to Trotsky, the official Communist leaders would not follow his policies because they were constituted of “not a few cowardly careerists and fakers whose little posts, whose incomes, and more than that, whose hides, are dear to them” (Trotsky, 'For a Workers United Front Against Fascism', December 1931) .

Two years later the Stalinist leadership did adopt Trotsky's tactics – specifically of the “United Front” of labour organisations against fascism – but only by surrendering leadership of the movement to the leaders of Social Democracy. The issue remained one of leadership, backed up by a notion that the workers were incapable of developing broad socialist consciousness in anything like a majority, and so that the “Communists” would have to work with reformists in order to influence them, and draw off the active workers into their own ranks.

“Could the Communist Party succeed, during the preparatory epoch, in pushing all other parties out of the ranks of the workers by uniting under its banner the overwhelming majority of workers, then there would be no need whatever for soviets. But historical experience bears witness to the fact that there is no basis whatever for the expectation that...the Communist Party can succeed in occupying such an undisputed and absolutely commanding position in the workers' ranks, prior to the proletarian overturn” (Trotsky cited by John Rees in 'The broad party, the revolutionary party and the united front', International Socialist Journal, Winter 2002).

It is, John Rees claims in the article this quotation comes from, the “uneven consciousness” among workers that necessitates the need for leaders, and for an organisation that can bring it together with non-socialist workers in the name of immediate given ends, be those organisations trade unions, or – as above – workers' councils. Thus, the Soviets beloved of Leninists, and trade unions too, become locations for 'united front' work. This admirably demonstrates that Julius Martov's accusation in his State and Socialist Revolution that Bolsheviks supported soviets in order to help seize power as a minority was acknowledged by the very leaders of the Russian coup d'état.

For almost all of their existence, both Trotskyist and Stalinist organizations – thoroughly convinced that the workers could not come to understand and want socialism – have orientated themselves towards working with official reformist organisations. Instead of standing clearly and forthrightly for socialism, they ape the manoeuvres and sounds of official Labourism, seeking to influence non-socialist workers through tactical manipulation, rather than convince them to change their minds.

While Rees argues that “united front” work provides an opportunity for “revolutionaries” to discuss and convert reformists, he also states that “the immediate aim of the united front is to provide the most effective fighting organisation for both reformists and revolutionaries”. That is, whatever front is going to be built must always give precedence to the struggle at hand, and its immediate success. This position stands in some contrast to the official Trotskyist doctrine of “transitional demands” – i.e. advocating reforms known not to work, in order to draw workers into “Communist” ranks through their inevitable disappointment.

Thus, we have the present example of the Stop the War coalition whereby Trotskyists are working with pacifists, CND and Submissionists (“submission”: the English translation of “islam”) to try and achieve their immediate aims. John Rees himself appears in the media as a “co-ordinator” for the coalition, his membership of the SWP never mentioned (at all other times he is generally introduced as the “editor of the International Socialist Journal”). Quite how he is supposed to bring people round to revolutionary politics by hiding his affiliation remains a mystery.

The reality is that these fronts can only attain any sort of success by hiding the disagreements between their constituent organisations, specifically about means and motives. That is, they succeed by making demands that are supported by significant numbers of workers, meaning that any “revolutionary” content will be buried into the need for immediate victory. As such, it is small-c conservative, taking political consciousness as it is found, and seeking to manipulate it, rather than change it.

Such a tactic, however, affords the Leninists an opportunity to extend their influence. As a tiny minority, they get to work with organisations which can more easily attract members, and can thus be part of campaigns and struggles that reach out well beyond the tiny numbers of political activists in any given situation.

For example, in the 50s and 60s, many trade union bureaucrats were members of the Stalinist Communist Party (just as today, a good number are former Trotskyists). Likewise, the SWP provide much of the material and personnel for organising the Stop the War Coalition. The salient fact remains, though, that despite providing all this assistance, the “revolutionaries” are incapable of taking these campaigns and trade unions further than the bulk of the membership are willing to tolerate.

Socialists have long argued that tiny minorities cannot, without force on their side, simply take control of movements and use them to their own ends. Without agreement between the parties to a project about what it is and where it is going, leaders and led will invariably walk off in different directions. That means, if the Leninists are right, and the majority of workers cannot achieve socialist consciousness, then they must be committed to using force against the recalcitrant majority in order to achieve their aims.

Nonetheless, the Leninists continue to attach themselves to larger movements in the hope of providing alternative leaderships and of being at the heart of the struggle. Hence, this is why Rees continues to argue that the official Labour Party remains “organically” linked to the working class through its individual members and the link to the unions. Only at the Labour Party conference could a revolt over PFI occur, he claims, because of the link between the unions and Labour.

We argue, however, that since we are capable, as workers, of understanding and wanting socialism, and of going beyond mere 'trade union consciousness' as Lenin called it, we cannot see any reason why our fellow workers cannot do likewise. Further, since the majority are capable of actively building socialism, there is no need for a leadership to impose it upon them – and that the job of socialists in the here and now is to openly and honestly state the case, rather than trying to wheedle and manoeuvre within bigger parties to win a supposed “influence” that is more illusory than real.
Pik Smeet

The New Era! (1929)

Editorial from the July 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Government is in office, their photos are in the papers, silk hats and all. The Cabinet is composed of respectable, nice, kind men—we know that, because the papers have told us so. They have started work—we know that because the papers have exhibited photos of them in typical working attitudes—gazing at piles of papers, holding telephones to their ears, etc, etc. We admit that, from the photos, there is nothing to choose between them and their predecessors. They look just as happy and satisfied.

When they were last in power we did not notice any striking change in the general position of the workers. We can confidently prophecy that "history will repeat itself" with slight modifications. What will you, fellow-worker, do then? Will you vote Liberal or Tory next time? Or will you get down to the job of understanding just where you are?

You are poor because you are deprived of the things you produce—because you keep drones to exploit you. You will remain poor until you put an end to exploitation.

Do those smirking, self-satisfied faces that look at you out of the newspapers represent a movement that is going to lift you out of wage-slavery? The movement for Socialism is a serious business, born out of the miseries and enslavement of the multitude; it demands of its votaries hard work, political sincerity, and steadfastness of purpose. It is not a movement to provide an opportunity for brilliant oratory, "statesmanship," swell dinners or joyrides, nor is it a movement to provide a poor man, with a clever tongue, a ladder to climb out of oppressive conditions at the expense of his fellows.

You have voted into a power a Labour Government. You, who are poor, have not done this to amuse yourselves, you have done it in the expectation that your conditions will be ameliorated. Watch the progress of your new Government, see if their acts provide you with any road out of poverty. And when you are disappointed, as you surely will be, do not then sink back into apathy and dejection, but examine again your position in society. If you do this carefully you will come to the knowledge that your emancipation depends upon yourselves and can only be accomplished by yourselves.

The day that you reach this view you will turn to the party that alone has stood for Socialism throughout the whole of its history. That party is the Socialist Party of Great Britain. It is composed of working men and women who, in the course of their daily work, have gained a knowledge of Socialism and held fast to it.

Examine our position; judge us, — join with us in the work of emancipation.

Mancunian monument (1984)

The Place Where I Live Series from the February 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

The traditional music-hall vision of Manchester, as a perpetually rainy city where the skyline is dominated by cotton mill chimneys and heavy neo-gothic architecture, is becoming less true as the larger mills of Ancoats are one by one being demolished. The city centre, however, retains its nineteenth century aspect, as the buildings raised to house the financial side of the cotton trade are now occupied by banks and estate agents. One exception to this, a building which keeps to its original use, is the Town Hall in Albert Square, a huge gothic edifice constructed primarily to house the machinery of local government but also as a monument to Mancunian capitalism's wealth and power.

The source of this wealth and power was the cotton industry, which settled in South East Lancashire in the eighteenth century, in a climate ideal for processing cotton. By 1850 the industry had become centralised in Lancashire and was functionally divided between the northern weaving area and the richer southern spinning districts. Manchester's role in this was twofold, as a fine spinning town and as the major market for yarn and piece goods. Because the cotton industry at this time depended heavily on its export trade the Mancunian capitalists shed their eighteenth century mercantilist preferences in favour of laissez faire and the Anti-Corn Law League, to such effect that a famous building — the Free Trade Hall — was dedicated to their fervent economic gospel.

In 1780, Manchester's population was 40,000, a figure which increased by over 100,000 during the next fifty years (A. Briggs, Victorian Cities, 1975, Chapter 3). This development brought with it enormous squalor, which impressed even some contemporary apologists for capitalism but which the local government, feudal in style, was unable to ease, even supposing it had shown any will to do so. Fear of proletarian radicalism and a desire for local autonomy led to the local capitalists incorporating Manchester as a borough in 1838, a move supported by the Whig national government which saw municipal boroughs as a safeguard against chartism.

The new elite successfully defeated chartism but the squalor which is a natural accompaniment to capitalism festered on. A severe slump in the early 1860s (wrongly attributed to the American Civil War) exposed the local authorities' inability to cope with such typical problems of capitalism. They were successful, however, in blaming this onto a lack of office space in the then Town Hall in King Street and thus it was decided to build a new town hall, on the grounds that this would enable a more effective administration of Manchester's wedge of British capitalism.

The second Manchester Town Hall was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, whose plan was chosen principally for the amount of office space it allowed. The original estimated cost of £250,000 was over-spent at least four-fold in the nine years that it took to construct the edifice, as the borough decided that their new administrative centre should also be a monument to themselves and to the glory of industrial capitalism which they personified. Proudly, they allowed Waterhouse to add many decorative extras.

The local dignitaries decided that it would be fitting to open so impressive a pile only with a spectacular ceremony spread over three days in September 1877. They at first hoped that Queen Victoria would perform the opening rites but she refused, either as a result of pressure from her Tory ministers at Westminster, who disliked "liberal" Manchester or because if her own antipathy towards the then mayor, Abel Heywood, who had been a chartist. (At the time the press largely favoured the first reason but it is obvious from contemporary broadsheets and recollections of the event that Victoria's non-appearance was the result of her opposition to chartism. In 1877, as today, the press were ready to suppress a story which could damage the royal figureheads of capitalism.)

A most depressing aspect of the opening ceremonies was the role of the working class. On the first two days they assumed the part of onlookers, cheering their masters who were being honoured in the ceremonies. Finally, on the third day they clamoured impatiently to be allowed to participate in a trade societies' procession, rigidly controlled by the bourgeoisie, and so were able to offer their slaves' contribution to the lauding of their masters and of the system which condemned them to squalor.

This happened in spite of a general air of industrial unrest. Mancunian joiners had been on strike for four months before the Town Hall opening and a wage cut imposed on the spinners in Bolton had precipitated a strike by 10,000 of them. Thus, many of those who gave homage to the bourgeoisie on those days were in direct and open dispute with them over their very lives.

It was also known how vastly expensive the new building was (only the police force had more spent on it during the 1870s). It was also common knowledge that deep and widespread deprivation existed in the city, especially in Ancoats and Ardwick. Yet there was little uneasiness expressed at the all-too-obvious contrast between opulence and squalor, even among the working class crowded into the slums and herded each day to their exploitation in the mills.

This—to any class-conscious person—illogical behaviour was the norm as the late nineteenth century saw a great rise in what is known as civic culture — the attempt by a local elite to smother class awareness with provincial loyalties — the success of which may be measured by the fact that the working class are often so eager to honour their exploiters.

Nowadays, provincial or civi loyalties still make good copy for the media, which exhorts to attend the Manchester Show, to cheer for City or United or to get concerned with the latest real-life drama among the cast of Coronation Street. In the same way, national loyalties are promoted through pictures of the Prince and Princess of Wales on the ski slopes or by assuming that we will all cheer our local "hero" from the Falklands. The intention of all this is to create a false identity between employers and employed, helped on with mixtures of local and national chauvinism. In Manchester, as elsewhere, the working class co-operate in their own deception, which may enable them to temporarily forget such acute social problems as poverty, nowadays often harshened by unemployment; currently 16 per cent of the population of the North West, and 20 per cent of adult males there, are out of work (Employment Gazette, 1983). It may also help blot out the dreadful housing conditions in the horrific Hulme Crescents, in the crumbling Fort Berwick or one of the many decaying and vandalised estates. The popular ignoring of such symptoms of capitalism's inability to provide properly for its people is an obstacle to workers seeing through the falsehoods of capitalist ideology to the true cause of their problems.

The process of smothering class consciousness with local or national chauvinism has been going on for a long time now. It has been very successful and has become smooth and sophisticated in its operation but can only last as long as the working class fail to question their relationship with their exploiting class local, civic, national and world wide.
John Critchfield