Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Next Great War (1914)

Editorial from the November 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

The prophets are busy with their prophesying. The same folk who for years have been telling us that the way to ensure peace was to be prepared for war, and who for long have iterated and reiterated the idle phantasy that the very development of the instruments of destruction had abolished the danger of a world wide war by making war too hideous for advanced peoples to tolerate, utterly oblivious to the fact that they have backed the wrong horse every time, now behold in war new hope of eternal peace. This time it is the smashing of Prussian militarism which is to draw every savage tooth and cut every bloody claw, the wide world over, and confer upon this blood-soddened planet surcease from the agony and waste and weariness of war.

We know that, so far was it from being true that to be armed to the teeth was any guarantee of peace, that it was only while the nations were unprepared for war that peace reigned. We know that, so far was it from being true that the development of the instruments of destruction had rendered war too awful for advanced peoples to contemplate, that among the teeming millions of the most advanced races of the earth the greatest triumphs of the engines of butchery were received with the greatest joy. Three torpedoes send fifteen hundred stout and gallant seamen to their graves, and a nation laughs; the guns of British warships kill "fifteen hundred Germans in their trenches in thirty minutes," and half a continent applaud; a single French shell strikes a regiment dead by sheer shock, it is reported, and the most advanced of nations only fear that the report is too good to be true. There is not one of the nine belligerent races, but would hail with acclamations of joy the advent of some new agent of slaughter that would enable their side to mow down men, not by regiments, but by armies.

The claims that peace was to come through armaments no sooner prove themselves to be ludicrously false than we we are told that peace is to come through war. Prussian militarism is to fall, and after that all the swords are to be beaten into plough-shares, and all the bullets cast into printers' letter for the advancement of culture, and all the Tommies turned into tinkers and tailors and raisers of Ostend rabbits and spring onions. And there is to be no more war, and no more iron crosses, and no more wooden ones. So they say who know all about it.

The Socialist, however, knows better. He knows that Prussian militarism has been and is nothing more than the force instrument by means of which German capitalists calculate to win and maintain a preferential place in the world's markets for the products of her factories. The bellicose trait in the make-up of the Kaiser and his militarists, and the remnants of feudalism which still attach to German institutions (to the confusion of many British pseudo-Socialists, who claim that "the German capitalists have yet to win their emancipation") are simply superficialities which are useful to the German capitalists. They mean about as much as the feudal remnants which remain in this country; and, like these latter, they are permitted to remain because, so far are they from indicating that the capitalists have not won their emancipation, that they are only instruments in capitalist hands to prevent the working class from gaining theirs.

It is German capitalist money controlled by the capitalists themselves which has paid for the vast German war machine without which the Kaiser and his war chiefs would be impotent. This money would never have been forthcoming save to further capitalist interests, and those who think that the smashing of "Prussian militarism" is going to set free the Germanic races for the development of industry, and to disarm the nations of the world, are woefully out of it.

Nothing can be plainer than that the mad race for armaments has grown directly out of the development of industry. The expense of modern warfare is so great that only high industrial development can support it. Hence no nation has attained a front-rank place in the race except its armaments are founded upon industrial development. Great Britain, France, and Germany are direct cases, while the might of industrially backward Russia rests largely upon the gold of her allies.

It is clear, then, that it is industrial development itself which produces the modern phenomenon, militarism, neck and neck companion of the modern phenomenon, Imperialism. This is because industrial development means a large and increasing amount of surplus products for which markets have to be found. The power and the need for vast armaments, therefore, go hand in hand, and they develop, not out of Prussian militarism, or Russian militarism, or French militarism, or British militarism, or Japanese militarism, but out of industrial advance.

Granted, then, the uninterrupted development of the present social system, the facts point irresistibly to further great wars. They indicate that no sooner will the present struggle have ceased than diplomats will be at work forming new alliances, and the Krupps and Armstrongs busy evolving fresh "surprises" and mightier means of war.

It was only because German happened to be more advanced industrially, and therefore the more immediate rival, that Great Britain is not on her side now. It may be recalled that, in the anxious days before the war, that powerful vehicle of British capitalist opinion, the "Daily Chronicle," made out a very strong case for taking sides, not against Germany, but against Russia. The fears which prompted this point of view are very significant. The success of the Allies will almost certainly place Russia in a position of unparalleled strength. With her military prestige at its summit, with her capitalists freed by her last two wars from the final restrictions of her feudal nobility, with ruthless taxation driving her peasants into the hands of the usurers, and the usurers driving them from their lands into the towns and factories, with the rapid advance of capitalistic industry in Russia which these things portend, the "Russian menace: commercially will equal the "Russian menace" territorially.

Japan, whose industrial development has been the wonder of the age, and has brought her from obscurity to alliance with "proud Britain," and America, who has already begun to "think Imperially," are also destined to take a very strong line in the struggle for markets.

Hence the road of plotting and scheming and "building up' for the next great war must begin even before the grass grows over the myriads of corpses of this one. And this road of blood and tears must be followed the human race until the working class of the world, for the opportunity to exploit whom all modern wars are fought, determine to find their emancipation in Socialism. In the name of suffering humanity we call you to our banner!


The Inkslinger Brigade (1914)

Editorial from the October 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

The inky patriots, the Labour "leaders" and pseudo-Socialists, are rushing to the assistance of the capitalist class in their frantic efforts to obtain cheap recruits and, as in the past, it is left to the Socialist Party to state the working-class position on the matter.

From our platform and in our Press, in face of all opposition, we have always given the only advice that is consistent with class-conscious action.

In "piping times of peace" we have told the workers of this country that their interests are irrevocably bound up with the interests of the workers the world over, and that their enemy, the capitalist class, os one and indivisible whenever and wherever capitalist interests are in any way jeopordised  by the organised working class. In time of war, of international crisis and financial panic, we have the same story to tell, because that story is true and indisputable.

The gang of ink-slingers hired by the capitalist Press to write just what is in the interests of their paymasters, are urging the workers to fight. Their leading articles, their psalms and songs are all to the same effect. The miners who in 1912 were described as "scum" by the same leader writers; the builders' labourers who were locked out to starve for 27 weeks in an attempt to force them to sign away their right to resist the demands of the bosses; the transport workers who were so recently batoned into submission; the Irish whose relatives and friends were ruthlessly butchered in Dublin because they dared to strike; even the South African workers, scarcely recovered from the wounds received in reply to a demand for a living wage, all are now urged to fight.

"The King and Country needs them"! What a different story is now told! The "scum" are heroes. Those who, when fighting for bread for wife and child were "cowardly agitators" are now Brave Britons when appealed to to fight in defence of the landlord's property and the capitalist's trade.

Fellow workers, why is it you are so easily cajoled by such obvious twaddle as the "honour of Britain" and are still more sacred mumbo-jumbo, "the integrity of small States," so soon after the Johannesburg slaughter and the lesson of Transvaal?

You are indeed "brave boys" when you are wanted to defend the right of the "British" landlord to levy toll; to risk your lives that British capitalists may dispose of the surplus values they have robbed from you. And when master says "turn," you all turn. When it was to the interest of the boss to curse the Boers you cursed them and screeched your desire to wring the necks of Kruger and his generals. But the scene changed and Master wanted the Boers to suppress the white miners, and then—well, you obliged and you cheered the Boers. When the mad Kaiser came to this country to confab with his worthy cousin, you lined the streets and shouted yourselves hoarse with cheers for the German Emperor, while now the Kaiser and all his best are but the spawn of hell.

While yet the cries of horror resound, cries of righteous indignation at the brutal atrocities of the Congo, and "red rubber" stained with the blood of the people for the profit of Leopold, King of the Belgians; and ere the outcry against "Bloody Nick," the Tzar of all the Russias, is forgotten, you cheer the "brave Belgians" and point to the "civilising" influences of the Muscovite hosts, the gentle Cossack, our allies.

Does the secret lie in the Press? Each and all the rags that are published for the delectation of the workers tell the same tale, and so used are the workers to "putting their thinking out," that the story, with sundry trimmings and speeches of gore, garnished with sentiment and cheap melodrama, has only to be repeated times enough in order to be believed, while editors and leader writers are to be found galore, ready to sell their pens for any dirty work. "It is in your interest to kill the German worker," they reiterate, and on the other side of the Channel the same tale is being told except that it is the English worker who is to be butchered. So the German worker turns out with the rifle to meet the British worker similarly armed, and Master downs the pockets of both.

Those who turn out to think for themselves and find no honour in trade wars or glory in slaughter; who see only butchery of men and starvation of children, whose interests are not served in the "game of kings"; those who endeavour to voice and pen to rouse the working class to a sense of their responsibility; those who tell the truth as they know it because it is the truth and not because it pays; they should be suppressed, should be torn to pieces by the well-dressed hooligan mob mad with jingo fever — if the writers of the jingo Press had their way. Ah, yes! such is the freedom of the Press.

As instance "The Globe." "The Globe" is a patriotic paper and is owned by patriotic Britishers. It tells us (Aug. 28th) that it "has nothing to say against Socialists as such," a rather frank admission based, no doubt, upon the sad experience of one of its owners, Mr. Samuel Samuels, who proved that he knew nothing about Socialism in a recent debate with a member of this Party. We are further informed that "some of these detestable creatures, who have degraded and disgraced the Socialist leaders, are still haranguing small mobs in Hyde Park in language which, in times of peace, we are accustomed to pass over with contempt." That explains why Samuel "debated" with us. They could hardly have treated us with more contumely had they sent the office boy.

Then these inky patriots tells us that they "have heard of speakers who tell their audiences that they owe no allegiance to either King or Country, that they as soon be governed by the Kaiser as by King George, and that the struggle in which we are now engaged does not concern the working classes in the least." In response to this horrible doctrine we would expect the editor or the office boy at "The Globe" to tell us what the workers have to gain by war and why they should fight each other, but they don't—which goes to further prove that "they have not a word to say against the Socialist." And having no argument they resort to the gutter in a vain attempt to silence us. The dirty suggestion is that "it might perhaps be undesirable in the general in the general interests of public order that the business should be left to the crowd." It might perhaps. There is the direct incitement to rush the platform and do by numbers what they cannot do by argument. The advice has been taken and one local doctor who, judging by his intelligence, is a reader of "The Globe," attempted  to rush our platform at Hyde Park and who, when faced with a man half his size with his coat off, scuttled away like a rat.

These brave patriots are ready to sling ink by the quart, and to advise others to do the fighting: they will urge an excited crowd to pummel one with whom they disagree, but suggest that they fight, and they run like rabbits.  

Where we are holding large and successful meetings the local Press and platform are being used for the same purpose: to incite a crowd to silence us by any dirty method. There is, however, but one way to silence us. They may rush our meetings with the aid of hired hooligans, but our work among the workers will still go on. They may suppress our paper, but we shall still preach Socialism. When they show our facts to be fiction and our conclusions to be false, then and then only will our voice by still.

In the meantime they may deafen the workers with the ringing of bells and blind them with the wagging of flags, but time is with us, and sooner or later the still small voice of Truth will be heard amid the babel of tongues, and the inkslingers and their like, who stir up the ignorant to assist them in their dirty work, will meet their just deserts.

The Films (1956)

Film Review from the July 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard


This film is a timely reminder that the spirit of McCarthyism is not yet dead—only a little less vociferous. In fact, it can fairly confidently be said that this spirit will not die as long as capitalism lives. As long as it serves a political or economic end to have purges, scapegoats or witch-hunts—which means for the duration of capitalism—then these things will continue.

It is welcome, however, to find a film from Hollywood which is openly hostile to "red-baiting," though of course, the makers of the film had difficulty in getting it made at all, and no doubt the next time that the Un-American Activities Committee turn their attention to Hollywood, they will pounce on this film with glee.

The story is simple—An elderly woman librarian in a small American town refuses to remove from the library a book on "Communism" which the City Council find embarrassing. As one might expect in the land of the free, she is branded as a "red," ostracised, and her life made impossible generally. The little boy whom she befriends and encourages in his love of books, becomes disillusioned, and with his father goading him with talk of reds, spies and Communists is eventually driven to the verge of insanity, and expresses his neurotic confusion by burning down the library. However, the film's simplicity carries with it conviction, at least for a substantial part of the plot, but what makes the film so disturbing is its deliberate understatement of its case. One is not presented with the McCarthys, the Cohns or the Schines of the American scene, but with the "nice ordinary people," who, with their bigotry, stupidity, and political infancy, violently rush to defend "democracy" and "the American way of life," and become the oppressors. This provides a striking parallel with the burners-of-books, the Jew-baiters, and the racial persecutors of the maligned "undemocratic" nations, and indeed the film stresses this parallel in the symbolism of the burning of the library.

The characteristics of the film is good, Bette Davis being extremely convincing as the librarian, although somewhat more restrained than in her more youthful days. Kim Hunter and Joe Mantell (who made a good first impression as 'Ange' in "Marty"), also give extremely effective performances, the latter as the boy's All-American father who eventually drives the boy crazy by his talk of subversion, Communists, and "Pinko-talk."

As one would expect, a happy ending is engineered, albeit somewhat unconvincingly. The burning of the library and the tragedy of the boy's mental state brings the City Council to their senses, and all is forgiven. One is left in doubt, however, as to whether the forces that were at work hysterically crying "red" would be appeased by this, and when one considers that many of the persecuted political "suspects" do not have the advantages of influential friends and happy circumstance that this librarian has, one appreciates that the real situation is much worse. In fact, political intolerance in America, with the suicides, imprisonings, exiles, and ruined lives that it leaves in its wake, is little less evil (if at all) than similar products of the Capitalist world in the "iron-curtain" countries or in former Nazi Germany, or even this country for that matter, if the dismissal of Mr. John Lang from I.C.I. is a reliable manifestation.

This film is a clear reflection of American opinion which is openly hostile to McCarthy, political and judicial corruption, and other less pleasant aspects of God's own country. It is at pains to point out that McCarthyism, censorship, and the like, are denials of the very freedoms which Americans claim differentiate them from the "dictatorships." Actually though, it is the unscrupulous up-and-coming politicians in the film who really gives the game away from the Socialist point of view. He states that practically any step is justified in order to save America, and goes on to explain that a country at war, whether hot, cold or lukewarm, must be drastic in its measures, and that if innocent people get crushed in the process, it is just too bad. Of course, whether the Liberals like it or not, that is in fact the position, and that beside the fundamentals of Capitalist cut-throat competition, all talk of freedom and democracy is just so much hot air. In spite of this, and of the artificial ending, the points that the film makes are valid and telling, and apart from the not inconsiderable value of the drama itself, make this a worth-while film.
Albert Ivimey

A Classic Reformist (2015)

The Cooking the Books Column from the November 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
When Jeremy Corbyn appointed John McDonnell as Labour’s Shadow Chancellor the media homed in on McDonnell’s entry in Who’s Who that one of his hobbies was ‘fermenting the overthrow of capitalism.’ Questioned about this by Jon Snow on Channel 4 on 14 September, McDonnell indicated that he didn’t really envisage a literal ‘overthrow’ of capitalism, saying ‘change is a gradual process; that’s what socialism is all about. At the end of the day I do want to transform it.’
Snow followed up by asking ‘is it actually the Shadow Chancellor’s role to try to reform capitalism?’ To which McDonnell responded:
‘Yes it is. I think the Shadow Chancellor’s role is to put forward an alternative to what’s happening at the moment under our economic system that we’ve got.’
This is not the Marxism which the media has accused him of. It’s classic reformism – the view that capitalism can be gradually transformed into socialism through a series of social reform measures – as advocated by Eduard Bernstein at the turn of the last century and eventually adopted by the Social Democratic parties of Europe.
It only seemed wildly radical to the media because of what the Labour Party has evolved into over the years – a party that openly accepts capitalism and projects itself merely as a better and more efficient alternative manager of the capitalist system than the Tories.
In his speech to the Labour Party conference in September McDonnell made no mention even of gradually transforming capitalism into socialism, let alone of overthrowing it. He only promised policies which he said would end austerity:
‘We will dynamically grow our economy. We will strategically invest in the key industries and sectors that will deliver the sustainable long term growth that our country needs’.
Well, yes, of course, if there was growth then the government would not have to cut its spending –  ‘austerity’ in its proper sense – as its tax revenues would automatically go up too, allowing it to continue spending at the same level.  Governments were obliged to practise austerity as the crisis and consequent slump (the opposite of growth) meant that its tax revenues went down.
All supporters of capitalism realise that growth is the antidote to austerity, but the question is how to bring about growth? In fact can a government do this, ‘grow the economy’ as McDonnell put it?
In an interview on BBC 5 Live on 28 September, he remarked:
‘If you look at our capitalist system, one of the definitive analysts of how it works – not whether it is condemned, or whether it is right or wrong, just the mechanics of how it works, when it was first formed and how it would be developed – actually was Marx.’
True, but a key aspect of Marx’s analysis of the mechanics of capitalism is that governments cannot control its operation. Capitalism is governed by economic laws – capital accumulation before consumption personal and governmental, profits before people – which impose themselves on governments as an external necessity.
Government intervention cannot make capitalism work other than the way it does.  But the claim that it can is the whole basis of McDonnell’s policy (note that capitalist businesses and entrepreneurs are still going to exist, i.e. capitalism is):
‘We will create what Marianna Mazzucato describes as the entrepreneurial state. A strategic state that works in partnership with businesses, entrepreneurs and workers to stimulate growth’.
This is what the Labour government under Harold Wilson that came into office in 1964 tried to do but its ‘National Plan’ was a miserable failure. Wilson blamed it on the gnomes of Zurich. Actually, it was the economic laws of capitalism wot done it – and would again if ever McDonnell becomes Chancellor.