The Political Notebook Column from the February 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard
It is a cold winter’s night. The gloomy street is illuminated by municipal lamps which reveal the familiarity of a slum terrace. A man of 40, father of four small children, hurries along the deserted pavements. There is a series of sounds, not unlike a car backfiring. Immediately afterwards a car’s engine is thrust into gear and screams away. Nothing happens. Slowly one or two curtains are cautiously pulled back and nervous faces momentarily appear at the lighted windows. The wail of police and ambulance sirens is at last heard in the distance. The man is lying face down on the pavement, the street lamp shedding sufficient light to pick out an expanding pool of red. Still nothing happens. The man dies. After some considerable time the ambulance, police and army race into the street and take away the body. The televisions remain on in the now watching houses. A policeman calls at a house nearby to give some information to a mother of four small children. All part of a normal night in Belfast.
A few days later, the Northern Ireland Secretary issued an end of year statement to the House of Commons. It talked of great efforts to bring peace, of increased security, of lessening tensions, of the human concern of the Conservative Party for the people of Ulster. The scene will be repeated many times on other British streets before the year ends.
Are the Conservatives the peace loving party they make out? Of course, they say they are opposed to workers being murdered in the Belfast streets. But one may be forgiven for wondering whether this is a general principle. Conservative (and Labour) Governments maintain, and when necessary use, far more efficient means of killing than the terrorists of either side in Ulster can possibly obtain. Almost the first thing Thatcher did when she came to power last year was to dramatically increase spending on the armed forces, the means of mass destruction. In the first eight months of government, the Thatcher administration did little but cut vital services for the working class. But when it comes to the repressive forces of the state, the means and instruments of wealth (and human) destruction, that’s another story.
The Tories also claim to be democratic. That is, they say they are in favour of a form of capitalism where the workers are able, every so often, to choose their political masters. This involves a limited (though important) amount of free speech, freedom of assembly, ability to move from one part of the country to another and few political restrictions on workers’ ability to go abroad. (That most workers do not have the economic resources to go abroad other than their two weeks in the Costa Racket is another matter.) But in fact the Tories do not believe in even those principles.
In October last year, Chairman Hua visited London and other European capitals. The Guardian (27.10.79) reported that the British side wanted to raise the matter of the flow of Chinese emigrants (illegal of course—in China the workers are not allowed out even for holidays) into overcrowded Hong Kong. I was not at the meeting between Thatcher and Hua but I am reliably informed the conversation went something like this:
THATCHER: You’ve got to stop your people leaving China and flooding our colony of Hong Kong.
HUA: But I thought you were in favour of people being allowed to leave countries they did not like.
THATCHER: Don’t come the little innocent with us Hua. We want you to put on more guards, with more dogs. Build a Great Wall around the whole country if necessary. Keep your billion prisoners in prison. This is for real.
HUA: Ah, so you British are pretty similar to us after all.
It is in fact the other way round. Chinese capitalism is becoming more similar to the older western capitalism every day. Following the overthrow of the remnants of the old faction of the Chinese Communist Party, the government is desperately trying to cultivate individual personal wealth in an effort to bring China up (that should read perhaps ‘down’) to the standards of late twentieth century western capitalism. In 1979 “the Chinese leadership, whilst emphasising that it intended to eliminate capitalism, decided that the bank balances of the national bourgeoisie should be restored. Rumours suggest that some have regained between one million and three million Yuan (£300,000 to £900,000)” (The Financial Times 31.5.79). A Shanghai official explained in best Orwellian terms as follows: “Our aim is to eliminate capitalists as a class. Giving them back their money is a step towards achieving this aim”. Latest reports from China indicate that the trend to encourage private wealth holding is continuing. The end of the conversation referred to above between Thatcher and Hua was:
THATCHER: Business as usual Chairman Hua?
HUA: Business as usual Mrs. T.
China, America and Russia
With the Russian invasion of Afghanistan last December it seems clear that China is concerned to prove that she is even more capitalist than the capitalists when it comes to international terrorism and war. China is making belligerent noises about Russia (though it has been doing that on and off for years) and proposes to join the “capitalist roadster” Uncle Sam in threatening economic and military retaliation against the Russian imperialists. The US Defense (sic) Secretary Harold Brown was in China in January of this year. Mr Brown while there said that the “Soviet Union was trying to subjugate the people of Afghanistan”. He went on to say that China and the USA would act together, which “should remind others that if they threatened the shared interests of the United States and China we can respond with complementary action in the field of defense as well as diplomacy. It should remind them that both the US and China intend to remain strong and secure and to defend our vital interests” (The Guardian 7.1.80).
That China and the US have “vital interests” in common should cause no surprise. The dividing and re-dividing of world markets and spheres of influence among the super-powers is part of “business as usual” of the capitalist world. This particular Russian foray has called forth a sickening display of indignation from the US, who have so recently fled from their own Afghanistan in Vietnam. Margaret Thatcher, no beginner when it comes to meaningless moralities, also weighed in with strong “moral” condemnation of the Russian intervention. It is too early to say whether the crisis over Afghanistan will blow up into a world war of unimaginable horrors. The dangers to the working class are obvious—as is the need to reject capitalism world wide.