Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Political Notes: Britain at war (1985)

The Political Notes column  from the July 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Britain at war
According to the government Britain has a war on its hands with an enemy so threatening that it will require the combined efforts of the navy and the air force to defeat it. Have the Argentinians sneaked back to the Falklands? Have the Russians landed in the Outer Hebrides? Have the "red" Chinese walked into Hong Kong before the referee has called time out?

No! The new enemy is drugs. A report recently published by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee claims that Britain and Europe are about to succumb to an epidemic of drug addiction. After ten days in America the MPs on the committee, frightened by the scale of the problem there and the probability that it would affect Britain similarly, have recommended that the armed forces be used to cut off drug supplies, that greater effort be made to catch, prosecute and punish drug dealers and that civil courts be empowered to strip them of their assets.

Is it too cynical to think that the government is merely trying to divert attention from its own political misfortunes and the real problems that daily confront the working class — poverty, unemployment, poor housing and cuts in services — by starting a crusade against the new "enemies within" of drugs and, of course, football hooliganism? It is significant too that both of these social problems are used as justifications for granting increased powers to the coercive forces of the state — the police and the army.

Despite all their pious rhetoric, none of the capitalist politicians has yet come up with a remotely plausible explanation for why young people take drugs or behave violently at football matches. What is needed is a recognition that these are just two more manifestations of the sense of hopelessness that capitalism engenders and no amount of draconian legislation — and especially not the use of the armed forces — can solve such problems.

Official secrets
Our old friend "National Security" has been dragged out of the closet again, this time to stop publication of a book which reveals security scandals and corruption at GCHQ, Britain's spy centre (The Observer, 2 June. 1985). The book, entitled GCHQ: the Negative Asset, was written by Jock Kane, a former GCHQ supervisor. Government lawyers claim that it contravenes the Official Secrets Act by disclosing information which could damage National Security, and have secured a civil injunction to temporarily suppress the manuscript. Since Jock Kane cannot afford to challenge the injunction and is not entitled to legal aid he has effectively been silenced and the government is unlikely to have to justify its actions publicly in the courts.

The book does not sound particularly earth-shattering, dealing as it does with "security failures" during an operation in Aden in 1967 and corrupt dealings in currency and petrol vouchers, and fraudulent overtime claims by GCHQ staff in Turkey. But clearly the government feels that the book could be politically embarrassing.

In a country where freedom of speech is claimed to be a right of citizens, this is just another example of official hypocrisy and the limitations that can be placed on workers' civil liberties when it suits our rulers. "National Security" is an all too convenient shield behind which the shady world of political intrigue and corruption of capitalism can be hidden from the view of the workers.

Murdoch’s media
The power of the mass media in shaping people's ideas and opinions is undisputed. We should therefore be very worried by the concentration of ownership and control of press and television in the hands of a very few capitalists. In May this year Rupert Murdoch. the chief executive of News Corporation. took over six American television companies from Metromedia. Taken together these stations reach nearly a quarter of all American homes.

The take-over is in conjunction with Marvin Davis, an American oil magnate. Murdoch and Davis already own 20th Century Fox. the American film and television production company. Two of the television stations they are buying are in cities where News Corporation already has major newspapers: New York, where it owns the New York Post, and Chicago, where it owns the Sun-Times. In Britain Murdoch s interests include The Sunday Times, The Times, The Sun and the News of the World. In Australia he owns two television companies - Channel Ten-10 in Sydney and Channel ATV-10 in Melbourne.

But Murdoch's latest empire building exercise has run into a few problems. Under American law foreigners (Murdoch is an Australian) are restricted to 20 per cent direct or 25 per cent indirect control of American television stations. In order therefore for the transfer of ownership to take place Murdoch would have to become an American citizen. But if he did this he would fall foul of Australian law. which restricts ownership of television channels to Australian citizens. No doubt Murdoch will get round these problems by exploiting some legal loop-hole such as hiving off his Australian television interests to form a new company and taking in Australian partners. One thing is certain: Murdoch will not have the same problems with nationality laws that workers have to contend with. Capital is truly international in character and the capitalist class is not imprisoned by national boundaries, restrictions on immigration or rules governing citizenship in the way that workers are.

Education for profit
The government's adherence to free market dogma is now to be applied to higher education in an attempt to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit in universities, according to the recently published Green Paper (The Development of Higher Education into the 1990s. Cmd. 9524).

In addition to the usual catechism about the need to raise educational standards, save money through more efficient management and so on. the Green Paper also contains proposals that will tie universities more closely to industry. It seems that at present British universities are not turning out enough scientists, technicians and engineers to provide the appropriately skilled labour power for the capitalist class. So, resources are to be diverted from the arts and humanities towards technological and vocational courses. Coupled with this is a proposal to concentrate research in large "strong" departments. This will mean that some departments or even whole universities will lose their funding.
To those who dare raise the spectre of an earlier principle, namely that higher education should be available to all those who could benefit from it. the Green Paper argues that this principle will not be breached since the 18 year old population is expected to fall by 33 per cent after 1990. although demand for higher education places will fall by only 14 per cent because of increasing numbers of women and part-time students. However, these estimates are not accepted by the Association of University Teachers or the committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals.

These proposed changes are dearly part of a cost-cutting exercise, with the added feature of moulding workers more fully to the needs of the capitalist class by marginalising those areas of study which are not seen to be directly productive. The education system was born out of the need to produce workers educated to a level sufficient to enable them to run capitalism for the capitalist class. We should not therefore be surprised that as the needs of capital change, so does the education system.
Janie Percy-Smith

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