Sunday, December 6, 2015

Obituary: Charles Kincaid (1988)

Obituary from the December 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Charles Kincaid died last month at the age of 85. Despite suffering and considerable pain in his last few weeks, the one subject which he continued to be able to speak about with enthusiasm and lucidity was socialism.

Discovering a copy of the Socialist Standard in the West Ham library in the mid-twenties, he read it through and became a socialist, soon joining the West Ham branch of The Socialist Party. The family suffered extreme poverty during three years of unemployment in the early 1930s, and this situation was hardly improved when he obtained employment at Enfield Rolling Mills in 1934. Much of the journey to [and from] West Ham he often walked, not being able to afford the full fares throughout the week. For all but 2 years of his 34 years in the Rolling Mills he was a shop steward.

In retirement at Milton Keynes he formed a discussion group and followed up a number of promising leads. People showing an interest in the case for socialism were written to and visited, despite difficulties caused by his lack of personal transport in the urban sprawl of the area. He made significant contributions to the local newspapers through their letters columns, developing the case for socialism in lengthy contests with opponents.

One of his most unlikely encounters took place during the Blitz while on nightshift. The Rolling Mills Chairman and Tory MP, John Grimston, turned up and was treated to a discourse on socialism to the accompaniment of bombs and anti-aircraft fire. On subsequent visits, he was challenged by Chas to try his hand at chess.

Those fortunate enough to have known Charles Kincaid will sadly miss his good humour and determination in the struggle for socialism. His example can only inspire us to redouble our efforts to bring about the change he was committed to. We extend our condolences to his son Bill and the rest of the family.
CS

Brave New Towns (1980)

The Briefing Column from the October 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the New Town Acts of 1946 over a score of such towns have been designated in Britain. Its object was "to relieve congestion in the big cities and to provide pleasant and healthy conditions for people who would not have to travel elsewhere to find work". According to the Official Handbook of the Information Office, these new towns "represent a notable achievement". The handbook remarks that it was hoped to get rid of the existing slums of the big towns, although it is admitted that the high proportion of unfit houses in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow was so high that clearance would take "longer than usual".

Among the havens of hope were Harlow, Bracknell, Basildon, Crawley, Corby, East Kilbride and Cumbernauld. Nearly a million people have been moved to the new towns in the past 30 years. Are they all living in pleasant, healthy conditions away from the polluted air and poisonous canals of the old overcrowded cities? Do they find it easier to find employment without the need to travel elsewhere? Far from it; unemployment and developing slums reveal the poverty of the planners' ideas and the actual poverty of the people who put their trust in the planners. Many people are saying that they are worse off than before they moved. Those living in Basildon and Pitsea have heard their haven described as a "rural slum"; Crawley reports hundreds more unemployed; while in Corby, thousands in the British Steel Works have lost their jobs, and a great many houses are in urgent need of repair.

What about the much-lauded Milton Keynes? According to the Corporation there is prosperity in MK.
Twenty-six thousand jobs have been created since 1967. More than half of these can be described as genuine new jobs. Most of the jobs are from overseas companies and from expansion of companies already allocated. A pool of workers wooed to the area by cheap housing is now keeping pace with business expansion which is not happening in other parts of the country. Business men here are not moaning about high interest rates or traffic jams or having to lay off their workforce. They moan about shortage of hotel space to put up their numerous clients and about the delay in opening up the new helicopter service to Heathrow.
However, the new £8 million station opens soon. New firms include a domestic wireware business from London and engineers from East Grinstead, Sussex. The manager of the local job centre says that "the recession hitting other parts of the country has barely touched us. Over the next five years there will be another 5,000 jobs here".

But these startling claims leave many observers wondering. Andrew Blowers, a sociologist of the Open University, says that: "Workers here earn up to 15 per cent lower wages than in other parts of the South-East. Rents are higher than in London and quarterly central-heating bills of around £150 a year are common." He blames the Corporation for giving the new city a prestige image and attracting firms offering low wages. Most people could not afford to furnish their homes and were at the mercy of door-to-door salesmen with HP cons and inducements. While denying this poverty, the Corporation says "MK is no way isolated from normal economic and social national pressures".

That hundreds of new city children are living in poverty became clear from recent reports in the local press. "Many families were without gas or electricity. A lot of people are on the breadline." And on top of "normal" wages, high rents and the increasing dearth of jobs, they are faced with pollutants such as sulphur-dioxide and flouride emissions from the brickworks, the dangers of asbestos exposure in the Rail Works, housing cuts and large numbers of unemployed, especially among school-leavers.

Looking through the property columns, however, gives one a different picture. There's a 300-year-old cottage at Great Linford—offers in the range of £70,000. One among scores ranging from £52,000 in Hanslope to £82,000 in Towcester. Or if you are thinking of returning to London, there's a nice penthouse in Kensington at £115,000 (99-year lease) and one near Hampstead (freehold this one) at £245,000.

As the end of the 20 century approaches these glaring contradictions expose capitalism as criminally inefficient and anti-social, fit only for the end that has overtaken all previous class-divided societies.
Charles Kincaid

Labour's young lions (1964)

From the May 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent conference of the youth section of the Labour Party, the so-called Young Socialists, at Brighton, has again rejected the official party policy on many important issues. There are signs that the young Socialists have now become an embarrassment to the Labour Party as was the League of Youth in the past. The Labour Party has always been unfortunate with its youth section. They have always been captured by extremists. In the thirties it was the Communists; today it is the Trotskyists.

Trotskyist theory places great emphasis on leadership and slogans. It is their policy to take up the demands of any discontented group and to try and lead their struggle. The Young Socialists have been an easy target for them. In fact it is only here that their policy of boring from within has had any success. The youth sections of all "left-wing" parties tend to be more "radical" than the main party.

When the blatant vote-catching manoeuvres of the leadership of the Labour Party are considered it is not really surprising that the Young Socialists have gone the way they have. They don't like what they see but have not the political experience to explain it. It is young people in this frame of mind that the Trotskyist approach with criticism and an alternative policy. They move in and organise the discontented members.

There are at present four or five Trotskyist and similar groups operating in the Young Socialist movement. This in itself is noteworthy. For Young Socialist branches have tended to back the group which approached them first, though changes occur through the process of splitting to which the Trotskyist groupings are particularly liable. The most influential of these is Keep Left which the Labour Party has already proscribed. This takes the same line as the Socialist Labour League, the main British Trotskyist group, and has a clandestine organisation within the Young Socialists. There are other Trotskyist groups opposed to Keep Left in Liverpool, Nottingham, Glasgow and South Wales. Then there is Young Guard, which has a following in London and amongst students. Strictly speaking, this is not Trotskyist—its Trotskyist wing recently broke away—but it has the same technique of "boring from within."

An amusing aspect of all this is the factionalism and the disagreements between the various groups. The leaders of the boring-from-within groups—Healy, Grant, and others—are all older men who have been on the Trotskyist movement for twenty to thirty years. They fell out with each other soon after the Revolutionary Communist Party was dissolved in the late 1940s. The basic differences were over the nature of the Russian system and various theses of Pablo, a leader of the Fourth International, on Eastern Europe. These quarrels have been transferred lock, stock and barrel to the Young Socialist organisation. Wherever their branches meet these obscure differences are aired and the whole Trotskyist library of abuse is brought out—centrist, revisionist, Pabloite, elitist, Stalinist, Krondstadt, etc., etc. Added to this are stories and rumours of how the members of the groups have behaved at various conferences; how they allied themselves with the Right Wing; how particular groups have organised too many socials and dances. All this together with secret meetings and visions of armed uprisings may be good for laughs but has nothing to do with Socialism.

Generally speaking the members of these factions spend more time arguing against each other and Party officials than anything else. Such is the experience of boring from within. If Socialists were to join the Labour Party they too would be forced into petty disputes to the detriment of Socialist propaganda even if this were allowed. The Young Socialist Movement may have been easy to infiltrate but it has no power to do anything. When its members face the working class they do so as members of the Labour Party and on its programme. They do not control their own journal. They cannot campaign on their own programme. They have to campaign for a Western nuclear deterrent and for immigration control and for other policies which their conference has rejected. To campaign on any other programme is to render themselves liable to expulsion. This is the whole futility of boring from within. Inside the supposedly mass party your time is taken up with quarrels with bureaucrats; outside you campaign on their programme.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain holds that Socialism can only be established by a Socialist working class. hence the chief task of Socialists can only be to make their fellow workers Socialist. We hold that this can best be done by campaigning for Socialism and Socialism alone. To do otherwise is to get the support of non-Socialists and eventually to cease to be a Socialist party altogether. We accept the doctrine of the class struggle and base our policy on it. Thus we refuse to compromise with other political parties which, including the Labour Party, can only stand for Capitalism.

It is sometimes argued that the way to make Socialists is to back the demands of politically ignorant workers and show then that these demands can't be realised without getting rid of Capitalism. But this is an odd way of going about things. Why not tell the workers straight off that they're going down a blind alley? Why bother to lead them down it just to show them it is a blind alley? The logic of this is that the working class should try out all wrong policies just to see that they are wrong. We reject such nonsensical doctrine. But once this doctrine is rejected then the case for entryism falls to the ground. There is no longer any need to make a principle of leading workers down blind alleys because you think it will benefit them.

Nor does it make sense to argue that Socialists should work within the Labour Party because it is "the mass party of the working class." If the Labour Party is a mass working class party then so is the Conservative Party for just as many workers vote Conservative as Labour. But even if the Labour Party were supposed by the vast majority of workers this would still be no reason for joining it. Such workers would not be Socialists. It would still be the duty of Socialists to oppose the Labour Party and to point out its non-Socialist character. An independent Socialist party would still be necessary to spread Socialist ideas.

Basically, however, the Trotskyists don't accept the need for Socialist understanding. They are more interested in leading ignorant masses. This is perhaps why have been successful among the Young Socialists. The ordinary Young Socialist member has little knowledge of politics. He is merely discontented. The Trotskyists have channelled and assumed the leadership of this discontent. Thus arguments which we have heard many times before appear in Marxist and Trotskyist terms. But behind the words there is no understanding. The ordinary Trotskyist follower does not understand the principles of Socialism—some are even religious—he does not realise he is being used by a bunch of experienced political manipulators who have failed to gain a following elsewhere.

Some good may yet come from this confusion and ignorance. Some young people may be led to study the principles of Socialism and to think beyond the slogan level. Already ideas on Russia, nationalization and leadership which we have been expressing for decades are being discussed in some sections of the Young Socialists. We have something to contribute to these discussions. After all, we pioneered the view that Russia is State capitalist; we said even before nationalization was implemented that it would not benefit the working class; it has been a principle of our organization from its foundation in 1904 that the working class doesn't ned any leaders and must emancipate itself. It is not boasting, but a historical fact, that we have been consistently correct in our attitude to political issues. Those who are interested in politics do themselves a disservice if they ignore our case.
Adam Buick

What is the 'Islamic State'? (2015)

From the December 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
ISIS stems from the breakdown of Iraq. Its core is former officers of the Iraqi army that served under Saddam and were displaced by the Americans when they disbanded the Iraqi army after the conquest of that country. Those officers found themselves marginalised further by the capture of the state by an expressly Shia political party (under the sway of Iran). The army had been dominated by a confessional and cultural Sunni section of society. They were able to turn to their co-religionists to recruit support to mobilise against the new government. Although Islamic State (as a group) was already formed, and had emerged from Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Islamist insurgent groups, it was this lash up with experienced military commanders that allowed them to make their break through, around 2010.
It was their combat expertise, the poor moral of the new Iraqi army, and the general lack of government authority in several Sunni provinces, that allowed ISIS to capture the heavy weapons and advanced military equipment that enabled it to advance quickly and overrun Iraqi army positions to take control of vast swathes of the country in the north. The other contributory factor in its growth was the breakdown of civil order in Syria, which enabled ISIS to become a participant in that civil war.
Tellingly, in the unrest, Fallujah (already twice bloodily pacified during the US occupation) rose again. Whilst ISIS nominally maintains it controls the city, it is reported that the revolt was by local tribes, using ISIS assistance and military support. ISIS is thought to have about 30,000 fighters, and about 8 million Iraqis under their control. That is not sufficient military force to subjugate an entire population (before the uprising, about 1 in 20 of the Syrian population were employed in the Ba’athist security forces, which partly explains the regime's resilience, and gives an indication of the scale of resources needed to completely suppress a population). In order to hold this population, it projects an image, with global reach, claiming to want to create a universal Caliphate and convert the world to genuine (i.e. its brand of) Islam.

The organisation is concerned with having a fearsome reputation, just as every bandit, feudal baron and Mafioso has needed in the past, in order to protect itself and continue its business. It is all about respect and appearance. Hence the, frankly, incompetent terror attacks on Paris, which were more about show and spectacle than about any sensible military strategic goal. Indeed, it has been noted that when they first encountered significant resistance (the Kurds of Kobane) poor morale and training of ISIS forces saw them handsomely beaten.
Their reputation, though, allows them to carry out their commercial operations. According to Channel Four News ISIS has been able to seize over $400 million in bank robberies. A further $40 million comes from kidnap and ransom operations. Its main source of regular income, though, is the $100 million it makes through selling oil, most of it, surprisingly, to the Assad regime in Syria (http://tinyurl.com/oxp3nfv). The American historian and blogger Juan Cole:
“I would argue that Daesh (ISIS) is analogous to the pirate enclaves of the early modern period. Al-Raqqa, Palmyra, Mosul, Falluja and Ramadi function for it as desert ports, as Tortuga and Port Royal did for pirates in the Caribbean and St. Mary’s on Madagascar did for pirates in the Indian Ocean. It is easy to be misled by the organization’s language of “state.” It is a militia of some 25,000 fighters who conduct raids. They don’t actually do much governing of the places they dominate, and mainly extract resources from them. Tribal raiding states in it for the loot have been common in Middle Eastern history, as with Nadir Shah in the eighteenth century. Looting one city pays for the raid that lets you loot the next. They even make the people who want to emigrate and escape their rule pay a sort of exit ransom” (http://www.juancole. com/2015/11/modern-raiding-pirate.html).
Essentially, then, in his view ISIS is the most spectacularly successful mafia operation in history.
ISIS, far from being an existential threat to the western way of life, is in fact a species of a phenomenon seen time and again in history. Its economic basis is the availability of a natural resource which can be extracted with little labour but which commands a high price (other examples are metals and diamonds in Africa, or narcotics in South America). It complements this resource by the proximity of a disposable, largely uneducated population, whom it can recruit to do its dirty work and fighting. It extends this principle with the mass kidnap of woman, and institutionalised forced marriage and rape as a reward for its soldiers. It is, in essence, no different from the Mexican drugs cartels that terrorise the border regions of that country, and infiltrate and direct the governments there.
Essentially, unlike capitalists who live off surplus value, ISIS and its leadership live off the direct expropriation of material surplus wealth, much as a feudal aristocracy did. Hence why its medieval economics rely on medieval methods of rule. The local populations do not have to be disciplined or mobilised into its system, the way workers have to be, merely passively present to extract wealth of fighting manpower from whenever it is necessary.
The role of religion in this context is to keep the local population compliant, and to help attract recruits. A common confession of faith creates the idea of a common identity, and legitimises the excesses of the ruling gang. It also helps to attract ideologues and recruits from abroad. Its most useful role is in attracting money and support. ISIS follows the Wahabbist trend of puritanical Islam that is prevalent in Saudi Arabia. This (and links between Iraqi and Saudi tribes) allows it to obtain funding from Saudis. That Saudi Arabia is itself locked in a regional power struggle with Iran, which in its turn uses the Shia strand of Islam to spread its influence, means here are geostrategic elements to the precise doctrine followed by ISIS.
The other use for Islam by ISIS is to set its stall out against the Great Powers of America and Europe, and their legacy in the Middle East. ISIS expressly rejects the boundaries drawn up by the colonial powers, and seeks to mobilise people in the region behind it against the Western Powers. Islam is embedded into the culture and history of the region, and in the state building manner of ‘selective invented traditions’ it is trying to forge a polity against the great gangsters of the Western militaries, who are sufficiently successful to make their grabs (which tend to be in terms of the territories and the resources in the ground, rather than their movables directly) almost invisible to the eye.
Whilst Islam as a religion is not the only mobilising factor in the Middle East, it’s clear that it has managed to take the role of being at the forefront of nationalism from the state capitalism of an earlier period as expressed in Nasserism, the Ba'athist regimes in Iraq and Syria and the PLO.
Pik Smeet

A Quack's Confession (1968)

A Short Story from the February 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

The man was certainly ill. We all agreed about that. He was unconscious. He had a high fever. His breathing and pulse-rate was irregular. On rare occasions he would regain consciousness—but then he would just babble nonsensically, or leap about making frantic gestures. Everyone had to admit that there was something wrong. This was not how folk ought to behave. Undoubtedly, he was ill.

Furthermore, we all said something should be done about it. A few advocated prayer, others punishment. But most of us rejected such foolish advice. We were determined to treat his illness properly, medically and effect his cure.

"The correct treatment is quite apparent," said one. "The patient is unconscious, so we must wake him up. We can do this by shaking him vigorously, and by sounding loud noises in his ear."

"Perfect!" cried another. "And since he has a temperature we must cool him down. Let us submerge his body in icy water."

"Naturally," said a third. "And to regularise his breathing we must connect an air pump to his lungs, and be careful to work it by the clock."

In due course they fixed on a plan by which the sick man would receive all these types of medical care. To their surprise, however, after days of the most intensive treatment the patient did not seem to be improving. I thought his condition had worsened, but my companions indignantly rejected this suggestion, and not a few of them maintained (with deep conviction) that our man was on the mend. "Only a soulless cynic could deny that we have made progress," someone remarked, with a contemptuous glance in my direction.

At this I felt I had to speak out. "My knowledge of medicine is very slight," I told them. "But I do think we've been setting about this problem in the wrong manner. It seems to me that these disorders which you have been treating: the temperature, the irregular pulse and so on—these are but symptoms of something deeper. I think we should discover the cause of the illness and treat that."

At this there was, first of all, a great deal of laughter, but when I persisted, amusement turned into annoyance. One of my friends, a little kindlier than the rest, told me: "I can appreciate your concern. When I was your age I too had these high-flown ideas. However, we've a practical job to do now, and we're doing it as well as we can. These abstract notions of yours may sound all right in theory, but you must remember: medicine is the science of the possible."

"The so-called treatment you're using isn't curing the patient," I remonstrated. "If you never tackle the roots of the ailment, he will never recover. You may even be responsible for his death."

"That's going too far," I was rebuked. "Cherish your own ideals if you want to, but don't cast aspersions on decent people who are doing a necessary job. We're extremely devoted to our medical work, and it makes my blood boil to hear the irresponsible suggestion that it's all in vain. We cannot expect overnight miracles, after all."

Throughout all these conversations, the patient was groaning pitifully, and was therefore ducked in even colder water, shaken yet more roughly, submitted to louder and louder noises, etc. I was infuriated and went off to consult some books on medicine and physiology, where I soon discovered the cause of our patient's infirmity. As a matter of fact it is quite a simple virus, and very easy to eradicate.

But I could never persuade the others to listen to me, and they came increasingly to think of me as an obstructive person with a dangerous obsession. At length I was becoming such a nuisance that they had me locked up. I have been in this prison cell ever since. I am allowed newspapers, and in all of them I read that the patient is about to recover.

Yesterday I had a visitor—my fiercest opponent, the one who had denounced me more heatedly than anybody else, the one who was most dedicated to the view that only symptoms should be treated. "I'm genuinely sorry to see you here," he said. And I could see that he was.

"This may surprise you, but I personally feel there may be a lot in what you say. I couldn't come out on your side though. All these ideas about viruses are far too much in advance of the thinking of ordinary people. We must educate them gradually. In time, if we keep on treating symptoms, they will come to see that we must eventually eradicate the cause as well. I admire your stand, but we must be realistic, and not move ahead of the times."

With that, and a promise that I would be more comfortable, he shook me warmly by the hand and left.

All the same, it is extremely lonely here in the cell, and sometimes, at night, I am awakened by the patient's screams of agony.
David Ramsay Steele