Sunday, January 10, 2016

Revolt on the Clyde (1971)

From the August 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

We’ll occupy the yards and bring the government down! Only force will get us out! These were the sentiments expressed by the UCS shop steward’s convenor just after the government announced its refusal to help Upper Clyde Shipbuilders out of yet another financial difficulty.

These sentiments are understandable but the fact remains that the occupation of the shipyards — other, perhaps, than for a short while as a token demonstration of anger and protest at the way capitalism works — would be utterly futile. Those who urge the Clyde shipyard workers to believe that they can in this way coerce the government to preserve their jobs are cruelly and foolishly misleading them. That workers, especially in a declining industry like shipbuilding, have any “economic power” capable of overcoming the all too-real and socially accepted political power of the government is a myth.

Locked in the yards with no work and no money, the workers would only be able to hold out for a short while. All the government would have to do would be to sit back and wait for them to surrender. They would not even have to consider using troops. The plain truth is that there is nothing the workers can do to save their jobs. The most they may be able to get is a short postponement or a little more redundancy pay.

No employer is going to pay workers to produce wealth he cannot sell at a profit. Employers are in business to make profits, not to provide jobs. If they do not make profits they are in trouble. Which is precisely what has happened to UCS. Indeed Sir Iain Stewart, who resigned as deputy chairman of UCS only a few months after it was set up in 1968, has expressed the view that it was an ill-advised “no sackings” pledge which has landed the company in trouble:
When the merger came together, the board’s first idea — and Mr. Anthony Hepper was the man who promoted it — was to get a full order book. So off he went round the world and picked up millions of pounds worth of work which in fact was profitless . . . Rather than face up to the redundancy of 5,000 men, Mr. Hepper guaranteed them two years full employment — 5.000 people at £1,200 a year is £6m, in two years it is £12m. If you are going to pay out £12m. and get nothing back from it, you go bankrupt (The Times, 24 June).
Stewart, incidentally, favoured immediate mass sackings so that the workers would be compelled to work harder by the threat of unemployment.

It is not our job to get involved in board room disputes, but if this is true all UCS seems to have done, with the help of bribes from the Labour government was to postpone the mass sackings for a while. Some, like Wedgwood Benn and the Labour Party, want to postpone them a little longer or perhaps to phase them out over a longer period. They do not actually put it this way, of course, but this is the most that nationalisation could achieve. For no government could afford to keep open for any length of time unprofitable shipyards, any more than the Labour government was prepared to postpone for more than a few months the closure of unprofitable coalmines. Besides, thousands of Clyde shipyard workers did lose their jobs while Benn was a Labour Minister.

As workers in unprofitable industry about to lose their jobs, sooner or later, en masse or in dribs and drabs, they are victims of capitalism. They have our sympathy as fellow-workers and we wish them luck in using their bargaining strength to get the best of redundancy terms they can, but it would be dishonest of us to pretend — as do the loud-mouthed advocates of occupation, nationalisation, workers control, etc. — that there is any way out for them under capitalism. The way to fight back is to recognise the essentially defensive and limited nature of industrial action and to join in the political struggle for Socialism, to make all the means of production the common property of the community and to abolish for ever the system of employment for wages.
Adam Buick

The educated working class (1971)

From the July 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Yes, I agree with your arguments, but how are you going to get everyone else to?” This is a common reaction of people when the idea of establishing Socialism is put to them. Ninety nine out of a hundred agree it would be pleasant to live in a moneyless world where they had free access to everything they required, where threats like war and pollution no longer existed, where work was not something they were forced to do and therefore disliked, but something they did out of choice and took pride and pleasure in. Yet when we have satisfied them that the world’s resources, if exploited with a view to use and not to profit, could satisfy all the needs of all human beings, and when they have accepted that it is not against “human nature” for people to live together in harmony, to associate rather than to compete: then they are inclined to say that this is all very well in theory, but how are you going to convince the majority of people that Socialism would be best for them?

How indeed? Firstly let us take a look at today’s working class (all those who live by selling their mental and physical energies for a wage or salary). More than ever before workers are skilled workers. They need to be to meet the requirements of advanced capitalist production. In the 1965 Senate Hearings before the Clark Subcommittee on Manpower and Education it is stated that “the market for the unskilled is shrinking” and “unskilled, semiskilled and service jobs which together accounted for 56 per cent of the labour force in the 1960’s will by 1970 decrease to only 25 percent of the labour force.” In today’s technology relatively fewer people are needed to do such jobs as digging roads, cleaning sewers and unloading ships. Mechanisation already dominates these fields. Conversely more and more are needed to research into new methods of producing cheaply and competitively, to build and maintain sophisticated machinery, to administer the complexities of international finance and commerce, and to train workers who will do these jobs.

Hence the vast sums of money capitalism is spending on education to enable workers to operate its highly complex technology. The Plowden Report (Children and their Primary Schools, 1967), in the section entitled “Economic yields of Primary Education” talks about “American attempts to calculate a rate of return on successive years of primary and later education” (par. 1173) and tells how in the United States “data have been presented to show that the total amount of education received, and hence the stock of educated human capital, is growing faster than that of physical capital and estimates have been made of the contribution of education to economic growth. From this work it is clear that investment in education in Britain could make a substantial contribution to faster growth” (par. 1171).

But how do these developments help to clear the ground for understanding Socialism? The answer lies in the type of education capitalism is forced to offer to produce skilled wage labourers. Modern capitalist education is far from being the highly specialised thing that many people imagine. It is quite true that in higher eduaction, for example, most students take just one or two subjects. But these studies are not aimed at specific jobs. Students, after graduating, invariably have to undergo some further form of training course for the profession they decide to take up. And the jobs people do often have no direct relation to their studies. What higher education has done — or aims to do — is to educate future workers to think clearly and critically about their subject in order for them to be able to apply the critical capacity they thereby acquire to their future employment. It would be impracticable for capitalism to educate people for one specific job. The capitalist system, by its highly competitive nature, is so dynamic and so susceptible to creating obsolescence of employment that workers need to be able to adapt quickly to new jobs when old skills have been surpassed by the development of cheaper and more efficient methods of production.

Dr. James E. Russell of the Educational Policies Commission of the U.S.A. National Education Association said in 1965 “. . . we are facing a situation where we cannot tell whether a given form of training will carry a man as much as 10 years in time.” (quoted in The Manpower Revolution, ed. G. L. Magnum). Stress is consistently laid upon the need to produce versatile minds in order to cope with the ever-changing technology of modern capitalism.

Industry has the last word on this with the warning of Leslie Williams, former deputy chairman of ICI, that science graduates in industry would need "flexibility of outlook and capacity to deal with a great variety of problems”. He therefore called for courses providing “an adequate scientific education and more opportunity for development of creative qualities”. (The Times, 24 November 1970, report of a lecture to the Royal Society of Arts).

A good deal of what has been said so far relates exclusively to what many people regard as the elite realms of higher education. So an objection might now arise on the lines that since those who pass into higher education are a relatively small percentage of their age-group, our previous observations and conclusions do not apply to the majority of the population.

In Britain at present the number of people in the age-group in higher education is indeed a minority (although, at over 20 per cent a bigger one than most people think). However from 1959-60 to 1968-9 the number of people on student grants trebled and from 1961-2 to 1968-9 expenditure on higher education doubled to £l,853m. (Statistics of Education No. 1969. Vol. 5. Finance and Awards). Then Education Planning Paper No. 2 on Student Numbers in Higher Education (Oct. 1970) projects conservatively that by 1981 there will be 835,000 full-time students, more than double the present number and a full 28 per cent of the age-group. This is not an arbitrary development. For the reasons we have already seen, capitalism needs trained minds and more trained minds. In America over 40 per cent of the age grade attends one of the 2,500 colleges and universities, and proportions are steadily rising.

There education is the biggest single employer with almost 30 per cent of the whole population working in what has been termed the "knowledge industry”. California already sends 80 per cent of its high-school students on to higher education and in the words of Californian educationalist, Dr. Martin Trow, "is wrestling with the transition from mass to universal higher education”, (from an article in The Times by Stuart Maclure, 13 January 1971). Russia too, world’s second biggest capitalist power is not far behind America in its higher education programmes. These facts coupled with the vast expansion programmes going ahead in British education (by 1964 12 per cent of the population was already engaged in full-time educational work — The Education Industry, by W. K. Richmond) gives the lie to the common conception that the college-educated are just a small elite group.

Reform of primary education, comprehensive schools and continual raising of the school-leaving age are giving to more and more young people the chance to develop that "flexibility of outlook”, that adaptability and open-mindedness which capitalism requires of them. To aid this process there is greater encouragement than ever in the upper school for people to study seemingly incongruous combinations of subjects; the "crank” or "leisure” degrees like psychology, sociology and philosophy are among the most favoured in many universities and colleges; inter-disciplinary' courses arc becoming almost commonplace, and the polytechnics and new Universities have tended to adopt those broad-based, American-style syllabuses in which “educational and occupational flexibility go hand in hand” (Senate Hearings before Clark Subcommittee, p 387).

What so far has been the result of the spread of education and the information explosion in the advanced countries of the world? Have people been generally satisfied with the additional purchasing power that their skilled, more highly remunerative employment has given them? Let us look at the situation in various countries.

In terms of man-hours lost to production, 1970 marked the highest point of working class discontent in Britain since 1926. Yet the panic this has inspired in the present government seems hardly justified when we consider that in America average strike rates are two and a half times as high!

Workers in France, in the first months of 1968, were enjoying the highest standard of living in their history. Then came the shock of the May events. The developments which have taken place in Italy since 1960 have been called the "economic miracle”. Living standards have risen steepily, yet since this date social unrest and strikes have been seen on an unprecedented scale. The same pattern has been discernible in Eastern Europe. The Czechoslovakian crisis, strikes and riots in Poland and dissident movements in Russia all spring readily to mind.

Recent years have also marked the rise, in the West, of strong, hard-bargaining unions and associations of professional workers. Student protest has engulfed all the advanced capitalist world, East and West alike. So-called affluence (i.e. highly sophisticated misery) does not make workers more satisfied with their lot. In a society where men must sell their labour-power for a wage in order to survive, the class war at both ends of the wage scale is as bitter and as real as ever.

Capitalism has given, and is giving, people the weapons to destroy it. At the moment people are thoroughly dissatisfied with all that capitalism involves (unpleasant work, rationing by wages, intolerable social and psychological pressures), but seeing no alternative still continue to support it. Hence, whilst being increasingly aware of the fact that they are deprived, they either limit themselves to demanding a slightly less minute share of the capitalist cake, or their frustrations explode into violence. But neither course of action leads far. Before we can get rid of a system we must understand the nature of it and have another system to put in its place. It is unconvincing to attack capitalism without being able to propose an alternative to it. That alternative, Socialism, is what we propose.

So how are we going to get a majority of people to agree with our arguments? In brief, social forces within capitalism itself are pushing people in that direction. Capitalist education, as one of these, is forced to give workers the mental tools which enable them to see their fundamental predicament. We simply aim to clarify things. We point out how all the things wrong with the world are rooted in the social system people put up with. We explain what Socialism means and how it can be achieved.

When the working class evaluate the Socialist proposal on its merits there will be no bar to the establishment of a world of free access. The understanding process is continuous and, if we exclude distinct possibilities like nuclear war and mass pollution, the continuing development of capitalism with its ever-recurrent problems and crises can only accelerate it. Socialism is not for the distant future. All the material conditions for it exist already. Once the pressures of coping with capitalism make people fully responsive to Socialist ideas, World Socialism will be a certainty.
Howard Moss

The Monday Club Tories (1971)

From the June 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Few things so ill become the ruling class as the way they believe their own propaganda myths about their position and importance in society. They have put it about that business banquets and board meetings are indispensable to the production of food, clothing, shelter and the other amenities of life.

Some of the more weird aberrations of some of our masters were described in a series of article by John Pilger in the Daily Mirror during March. We were informed that:
With a Tory government in power and the unions in revolt, the old conflicts of class in Britain have begun anew. But in 1971 the Class War is not what it seems.
It would be interesting to learn more from Pilger about this phenomenon called “the Class War”, and in particular where it goes to, and what happens to it, when the Tories are out of office. But we must proceed.

To get the setting right and to conjure up the proper sense of occasion, John Pilger takes us to Chilham Castle, near Canterbury, in Kent where lives the thirteenth Viscount of Massereene and Ferrard who has, among other things of course, no less than nine names. The talents of this gentleman extend to salmon-netting, fox-hunting and giving mediaeval banquets. He has a favourite fairy story which begins “Once upon a time there were 750,000 jobless workers who ordered taxis to pick up their dole money and take them on to the betting shop” — and, perhaps, give the occasional mediaeval banquet?

Gathered at the Castle are the ginger group of the Tory Party known as the Monday Club. Every hoary old reactionary notion is trotted out from anti-contraception to anti-trade unionism. There is a lady present (we had better not call her just a woman!) who thinks the Rhodesian government is doing “splendid things for the natives” like “building them little houses”. At this point Enoch Powell joins the august gathering and a respectful hush falls while they listen to the learned phrases of their Guest of Honour. The Monday Club claim to have 34 MP's including a Cabinet Minister and that the decision to sell arms to South Africa was due to their pressure.

These political primitives somehow manage to delude themselves that they are our betters and feel destined to rule us. Jonathan Guinness, of the multi-millionaire brewing family, says:
 I want to see an end to the Welfare State as we know it now. I believe that people at the lower levels tend to be rather passive, and handouts stop them making an effort.
It is a cheek for men like Guinness to talk about “handouts” and “making an effort”. Everything he owns is a handout. What effort has he ever had to make? The “lower levels” to which he refers are people who have lived in slums, suffered from a retarding environment, mis-education and unemployment so that life has very little meaningful purpose for them (not a very praiseworthy achievement for capitalism!). Yet, however little effort the least able of these people makes it is greater than that of Guinness and his ilk. And any so-called hand-outs workers may receive come from the wealth produced by their class.

The Monday Club backwoodsmen forget the reasons capitalism developed the “welfare” state in the first place. A working class rife with tuberculosis, rickets and dental decay presents its ruling class with serious problems when recruiting an army in war-time, while in “peace” time employers need a minimum standard of efficiency from their workers in order to make more profits.

There is a lesson here for all advocates of reforms. Most of the trivial-enough gains, made on the boomtime swings, can be lost on the slump-time roundabouts. Nor is it the case that the ruthless men of right-wing Toryism will callously do things which no Labour government would stoop to. Capitalism, in its various phases of expansion and contraction, imposes quite narrow limits on the policies and actions of politicians and governments.

Just as in the 1930’s we saw the mocking irony of a Labour government cutting civil servants’ wages and preparing cuts in the dole-money, so in recent years it was they who first took milk away from school children and increased charges on the once vaunted Health Service. The Labour government also sold arms around the world, including South Africa. The Monday Club, for all its “belief in yesterday” (or, living in the past) and sympathy for the National Front, could also go no further than the prevailing winds of capitalism would take them.

There is nothing in capitalism for the working class, whoever runs it.
Harry Baldwin

At Home and Abroad . . . (1971)

The Home and Abroad Column from the May 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

At Home
In Britain the chaos of capitalism continues, with the Tories’ election promises to control the economy rapidly turning sour. Prices are streaking upwards so that wage claims, far from the three per cent to which the Wilson government tried to restrict them, are now being made for rises of up to thirty per cent. Unemployment, not to be left out of the act, is also on the up—814,000, the highest since May 1940 — and likely to reach a million before the end of the year. Heath, rather than confess that his policies are bankrupt and his pledges lies, blamed the jobless total onto "inflationary” wage claims, another issue on which he differs from Enoch Powell, who continues to insist (correctly) that inflation has other causes. The fact is that this particular crisis has lasted since 1963, which is a pretty good record for a social system which claims to be orderly and efficient. With a crisis like that, who needs a slump?

On the subject of statistics, the 1971 Census provoked the sort of indignation which would be better reserved for the real degradations of capitalism. A lot of the protests were the result of the sort of neurosis about "privacy” which capitalism fosters in workers who have little else to protect themselves with. This, does not, of course, gloss over the fears about other aspects of the Census; this government now says that the information would not be used against the people who give it, but governments have been known to break their word . . . And the whole exercise was designed to suit capitalism, to help its governments plan the system more efficiently and its industries to operate more effectively. The gathering of such information will be a necessary part of socialist society; capitalism misuses and corrupts everything it touches. 

Politics
A deposed politician, like a spanked child with its thumb in its mouth, has his consolations. Often it’s a place on a lucrative board; sometimes (Robens, Marsh) it’s a well paid job as boss of a state industry. Or it can be selling one’s memoirs. George Brown’s have come out, very much in the style we might have expected, and launched at a luncheon where the modern Jimmy Thomas treated his audience to a speech freely sprinkled with swear words. We might have guessed that Wilson would have upstaged his old rival, by not only getting his memoirs out at record speed but also by stealing the headlines, with a legal battle over who had the publishing rights. It seems that these men are going to have sharply differing recollections of the same events. It also seems that the version of each will tend to favour himself against the other. This is no mere bickering but the deadly business of political infighting in which truth usually becomes lost in the fogs of battle. It will be a fruitful beld for the political historian of the future; everyone seems to be getting something out of it except the workers, who were tricked by the Labour leaders, then exploited and repressed by them. 

Abroad
Who, or what, is to blame for the massacre of My Lai? The trial and conviction of William Calley has stimulated interest in the notion that people should not be held entirely responsible for their actions and that it might be more instructive to examine the society in which they developed. (This notion does not, apparently, extend to Charles Manson, who seems to be clearly mad; perhaps because there is no political capital to be made out of doing so.) The important question is, how far are we going to take this notion? As far as to argue that all eccentricity, crime, deviance, has its roots in society? That it would be better to do something about war itself, and the social system which produces it, than about the frail individuals who are caught up in it? We need not delude ourselves, that anything like this sort of questioning will be allowed. It is too pointed, too rational, too threatening to capitalism.

The Calley case illuminated the fact that atrocity comes naturally with war. If we needed more evidence, the flare up in East Pakistan supplied it. Here is another example of a part of what is called the Third World, the newly independent nations which were going to be such a force for peace, drowning itself in blood. The division between India and Pakistan was largely drawn to satisfy religious prejudices, yet here we have people of the same religion freely slaughtering each other. Religion was not the issue in this war, but an economic clash. Just like in the old days, before national independence was even a possibility.

One of the emerging capitalist nations which will be interested in the events in East Pakistan is China, whose relationships with the West have changed so dramatically. This was an example of trade following not the sword but the ping-pong bat, or rather the other way round. We can be sure that many firms are licking their lips at the chance of getting in on the massive market of China, getting a share of what has so far been reserved for those companies prepared to risk American displeasure. Travel firms will try to open up the country with their package tours and hotels. And spare a thought, amid all the rejoicing, for the poor deprived holders of Chinese government stock, who have not had a dividend for so long and who now sniff some money in the air. Wonder what happened to all that talk about Socialism in one country?


War resisters (1971)

Book Review from the April 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Conscience and Politics, by John Rae. Oxford University Press. £3.50.

Two earlier books on the objectors of the first world war were written from a sympathetic standpoint. They were John Graham’s Conscription and Conscience, 1922, and David Boulton’s Objection Overruled which was reviewed in these columns in August 1967. The present work, by Dr. John Rae, Headmaster of Westminster School, though it covers some of the same ground, has a different approach and contains much information not in the other works. Dr. Rae has had access to official documents and other materials not open to the earlier writers.

Rae sets out to describe the stupidities and confusion surrounding the handling of the objectors and offers as explanation that the authorities did not know the kind of people they were dealing with, had made no attempt beforehand to plan what they were going to do, and had in fact drifted, without forethought, into this situation just as they drifted into conscription itself. Asquith’s government had entered the war believing that it would be fought (and quickly won) by the kind of professional army that had served in the past. Because conscription was traditionally unpopular the Asquith government stood by the policy of voluntary enlistment though, in the view of the military people who were counting on a long all-out war and needed control of civilian as well as military man-power, the early flood of recruits was not only largely irrelevant but a positive embarrassment because the War Office "had neither the personnel nor the equipment to undertake their training." But when voluntary recruitment (which of course had included large numbers pushed into offering themselves by various kinds of pressure) began to fall off, the advocates of conscription gained ground. Asquith had been forced to accept a coalition in May 1915 and by the end of the year it was clear that conscription was going to be introduced. It was prefaced by some adroit playing-off of different groups of workers against each other — the volunteers and their families against the civilians, single men against married, and so on. (The interested reader is referred to the SOCIALIST STANDARD April 1916 on how this was done.)

Chapter two of the book describes the hasty and ill-conceived drafting of the Military Service Act 1916 and the equally hasty inclusion of a conscience clause to placate the opposition. According to Rae the earliest date on which the decision to insert such a clause was reached was 1 January 1916, "which left just three days in which to draft effective legal provisions for conscientious objectors". What the government did was to borrow a clause from the Australian Defence Act of 1910, modified by using the term "conscientious objection" contained in the British Vaccination Act of 1898. Asquith resisted military pressure to restrict the definition formally to religious objectors but the two military men (Macready and Childs) who became responsible for all conscientious objectors under military jurisdiction were bitter opponents of the concession and never gave up their opposition to the political and other nonreligious objectors.

Among the problems to which the authorities had given no thought were how conscientious objection was to be proved, what work was to be done by those who were willing to work, and what was to happen to those who refused to give military service or do civilian work but whose claim to be recognised as conscientious objectors had been turned down. They were still wrestling with these problems when the war ended. Their last blow against the objectors after the war was to deprive many of them of the vote until 1926.

Anyone who knew the conscientious objectors or who reads this book will not be surprised that the authorities in the first world war were baffled by the strange variety of religious and other views with which they had to deal. In an appendix, Rae lists, along with 42 political objectors and 1050 the nature of whose objection "was not stated", 43 different groups. (The number covered by this list was 3964 so that it represented only about a quarter of the total of objectors.)

The biggest single group in this list was the Christadelphians who did not object to assisting in the successful prosecution of the war but objected only to coming under the military authorities.

Rae has this to say on some of the other sects:
. . . the applicants from the Church of Christ, Devise’s Church, Dependent Coklers, and the Peculiar People, expressed an objection primarily in terms of a literal reading of selected biblical texts. Muggletonians and Christian Israelites, though literal biblicists, were more likely to base their objections on their expectations of an early advent of Jesus Christ. A desire to be 'separate from the multitude’ and to reject secular and political life inspired the Sandemanian objectors.
If the variety of beliefs baffled the authorities it also presented problems to the objectors in their mutual relationships. There were inevitable clashes of views between the different political groups and between them and the religious objectors. It would be unsafe to generalise but certainly in some prisons and camps the religious groups, other than the Quakers, kept themselves very much to themselves and there was sometimes considerable friction. However in some places they managed to live together well enough. In one camp, when a strike was organised and religious objectors refused to join in, one of their influential spokesmen won them over to the strike by meeting one biblical quotation "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s" with another, "The labourer is worthy of his hire”. Just like the "relativity" pay claims of today the strike was sparked off by the news that the "pocket-money" pay of objectors in some other camps was a few pence per day higher.

Rae finds the ILP and the No Conscription Fellowship the main source of political objectors though he has a footnote about smaller groups of objectors "from the Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Party of Great Britain, Industrial Workers of the World”. He lists the SOCIALIST STANDARD as one of his sources of information.

This book makes interesting reading. Among other things it explains why, made wiser by the lessons of the first world war, the authorities were able to handle much larger numbers of conscientious objectors in the second world war, so much more smoothly.
Edgar Hardcastle

Paris 1871 (1971)

From the March 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Paris Commune itself, though arising immediately out of the Franco-Prussian War, was actually a direct product of the development of capitalism in France that brought misery to the worker and to the small trader. The idea of the Commune was borrowed partly from the French Revolution during which it had a short life. Its leading partisans drew inspiration mainly from traditions of the past in defining their ideas and shaping their policies; the future only appeared to most of them in blurred and contradictory outlines.

On 20 September, 1870, after the defeat of the French armies and the capture of Napoleon III, Paris was invested by the Germans and a four month's siege began. A Republic was immediately proclaimed and members of the National Assembly appointed themselves as the Provisional Government, declaring their intention to resist the enemy to the end. An Assembly member, Thiers, eventually emerged as the head of the government, with another Assembly member, Trochu, as its military director. In contradiction to the Republican declaration the government sent Thiers to seek for a successor to Napoleon!

It was the popular belief in Paris that the city could never be taken, and every reverse suffered by the army was followed by threatening demonstrations against the government, accusing it of incapacity, and making a demand for a Commune. This demand, as we have mentioned, was partly based on tradition. During the French Revolution, when France was sorely beset on all sides, the Commune of 1792-3 put backbone into the defence, and the memory of that Commune had persisted, hallowed by the march of time.

On 31 October the Paris Town Hall was invaded by an angry crowd, some demanding a Committee of Public Safety and others the Revolutionary Commune. Members of the government were made prisoners. Blanqui and Flourens tried, for a short time with success, to get control of the situation. Soon a battalion of the National Guard arrived and rescued the government members. The government, anxious to allay opposition for the time, declared an amnesty for all those who had taken part in the disturbance. Later, in defiance of the amnesty pledges, Blanqui was taken prisoner and played no further active part in the struggle.

On 20 January, 1871, Trochu declared that further resistance was impossible, although he had made no serious attempt to organise resistance, and that peace negotiations must be opened with the enemy. When making this declaration he exposed the government’s hypocrisy by stating that, on the evening of 4 September, he had assured his colleagues that Paris had no chance of successfully withstanding a siege, and that to attempt to hold out against the Prussian army would be folly. On 29 January the city surrendered and the German flag was hoisted on the forts, in spite of the demonstrations by angry crowds which had to be dispersed by gunfire.

At the beginning of February carefully manipulated elections were held for the sole purpose of ratifying the peace terms. The result showed the sweeping domination of monarchical and clerical influences in the provinces whilst Paris remained republican. Throughout the country the National Guard was still armed and, in the peace terms, it had been stipulated, by force of circumstances, that the Paris National Guards should be allowed to retain their arms. As soon as peace was signed the government began to give evidence of its intention to disarm and crush the revolutionary elements in Paris.

The first move made by the government was to transfer the seat of government to Versailles, a few miles from Paris, out of the reach of popular demonstrations. Soon rumours were spreading that the government intended to disband the National Guard. This would have been a calamity for thousands of workers. Since the beginning of the siege many businesses had been compelled to close down or curtail their activities, throwing workers out of work and forcing them to depend upon their pay as National Guards; the disbanding would have deprived them of their means of living. This determined them to hang on to their weapons at any cost.

The government also proposed to enforce the payment of all overdue bills and arrears of rent, which had been suspended during the siege. The enforcement of the payment of arrears brought the poorer section of the small proprietors over to the side of the Paris workers. The propertied class had not forgotten the happenings of June, 1848, and were deliberately driving the poor to despair and insurrection so that they would have an excuse, when the workers came out on the streets, to repeat their former attempt at extirpating any revolutionary ideas.

Mass meetings of protest were held and a Central Committee of the National Guard was subsequently appointed, made up of three members from each Paris district, and sub-committees were also appointed for some of the districts. The members of the Central Committee, elected by the people in the districts, were quite unknown men. They were picked out for their practical capacity and trustworthiness. The Central Committee was appointed on the 11 March, 1871, the day that the Red Republican journals (a loose organisation of radicals that had come into prominence in 1848 and still existed) were suppressed by the government, and Flourens and Blanqui were condemned to death for their part in the demonstration of 31 October.

Thiers and his ministers arrived in Paris on the 18 March, supported by 25,000 troops, and proceeded with their design to disarm the National Guard, which numbered about 200,000 men. At 3 o’clock in the morning a secret attempt was made to seize the cannon belonging to the Guards of the Monmartre district. The cannon were captured but the government had forgotten to provide means of transport. In the meantime the people in the neighbourhood awoke and women surrounded the troops calling upon them to leave the cannon alone. Subsequently National Guards and stray soldiers collected around the brigade guarding the cannon. General Lecomte, who was in charge, ordered his men to fire on the crowd. Although ordered to fire three times the soldiers did not respond. Then Lecomte was arrested and taken to the Guards headquarters. Eventually the attempt elsewhere to steal the cannon also failed.

Before the Central Committee could meet to organise the insurrection the government stole out of Paris and entrenched themselves at Versailles. Even after the Central Committee took control the defence, including the elementary precaution of closing the city gates, was neglected, whilst arrangements were being made for the election of a Commune.

Whilst the election was in progress the Central Committee set about organising the public services, suspended the sale of goods from pawnshops, forbade landlords from evicting tenants, and prolonged for a month the period of voucher bills. Two members of the Committee were sent to the bank and obtained, through the medium of Rothschild, money to pay the wages of the National Guard and the expenses of running the public services. The astonishing thing is that all through the time the Commune existed the Bank remained in the hands of its old management and the Commune officials had to beg for the money they needed, although there was a vast amount of specie in the vaults of the Bank. This was only one of the many examples that showed how respect for private property still clung closely to supporters of the insurrection.

The government of Thiers now gathered its army together, including prisoners of war which Germany released for the purpose, officially declaring war on the Commune on the 1 April and then, without further warning, gave orders to open fire on the city. The Parisians were thrown into confusion. Their forces were not yet organised and lacked officers possessing military knowledge, staff work which should have provided ammunition, guns, and other appurtenances of warfare at the proper places, was in no condition to meet the needs of the struggle. At the beginning there was a child-like trust in the reluctance of the Versailles troops to fire on their fellow countrymen; a trust that was soon dissipated by the fiendish acts that followed. A sortie against Versailles on the 3 April was repulsed. From that date onwards Paris was on the defensive and its death agony began. Three important defects contributed to the defeat of the Commune: It lacked internal harmony, which hindered the determined adherence to any line of action; it lacked experienced military leaders, which hindered the building up of adequate measures of defence; and it possessed too great a reverence for private property.

As the defences crumbled and the end drew near the Committee of the Commune disbanded to join the fanatical resistance at the barricades, which prolonged the death agony. Eyewitnesses related afterwards the terrible story of the horrors that were enacted as the victors turned Paris into a shambles.

On the 29 May the last fort was captured. This ended the Commune, but it did not put an end to the vengeance. For weeks afterwards the indiscriminate slaughter of prisoners continued, only easing eventually for fear of pestilence. A working class which had dared to demand some liberty from oppression, and failed to win it, was met with the cry “Woe to the vanquished”, and they endured woe to an immeasurable extent.
Gilmac.

See also:



At home . . . and Abroad (1971)

The Home and Abroad Column from the February 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

At home
Is inflation a real issue, or something blown up by the politicians? The Tories, just like every other government since the war, came bustling into power with assurances that they had the answer to it. And, as Heath has said more than once, there are votes to be won (and lost, although no politician likes to mention such a terrible prospect) by the party which can convincingly claim that they have done something effective about it.

They would probably feel safer if the people who are really supposed to know what to do—the financial experts, the economists and so on—did not look quite so much like blind men trying to find their way through a fog. If a few of them could at least agree on a solution it would be comforting to Westminster. But some want “cheaper’' money, others “dearer” money; some want lower, some higher, taxes; some see the solution in a statutory wages policy, others in a voluntary one; and so on. These, let it be remembered, are the men who say that capitalism can be controlled and organised to operate in the majority interest.

There are in fact many signs that British capitalism is under great pressure and that some sort of a crunch is not far off. December saw some spectacular failures in profits, with British Leyland and ICI showing the way and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board in really deep water. Despite all the claptrap about “our” interests, this is what the crisis is all about—the prospect that British industry is not meeting the first requirement of capitalism that it makes money.

The government’s first remedy for this is an anti-trade union Bill (just as the Wilson’s government was). A great deal of nonsense gushed forth when the Bill was debated, from both the “left” who completely forgot what Wilson tried to do and from the “right” who professed to see in this master stroke from the Tories the first signs of everlasting peace on the union/employer field. The fact is that whether there is a Bill or not, indeed whether there are unions or not, the class struggle is an unavoidable fact of capitalist life and will go on in some shape or form. One explanation for the confusion on both wings is that neither of them understand that fact.

For a time, despite the Bill, the government’s policies seemed to be in disarray but they pulled back some ground over what looked like a minor victory in the power dispute. (It was in fact a relative victory, depending on where you chose to say the battle started; in terms of wage restriction the workers can be said to have gained something.) Everyone who sat in the gloom, cooking their sausages over a candle, during the power cuts probably experienced some anger, although it may not always have been directed against the workers. Strikes and other industrial action is bound to affect people’s lives and if the power workers are so vital then why do they have to fight so hard to get their rise? Why aren’t they living like stockbrokers, who could go on strike tomorrow without putting anyone's life or comfort in danger?

Abroad
It has rather slipped out of the headlines recently, but there was a mammoth disaster in East Pakistan, not so long ago and it was still there, despite all the sacrifices on the Stock Exchange. It was a classic of capitalism’s simple inability to deal with its problems. The basin of the River Ganges is an area noted for its disastrous storms. So why do people live there? Simply, because they are too poor to move—and too poor to get out of the way when trouble approaches and when the disaster is there they are too poor to get help. It was a typical inglorious, inhuman muddle of a system which claims to be the most efficient possible.

To the east of this particular disaster, the war in Vietnam raged on, with the resumption of bombing of the North. In America the Calley trial lifted the veil on what it is like to be engaged in the war. Vietnam is sickening and it raises sickening passions. Yet here again a politician won votes on the promise that he would do something about it. In reality Nixon has been as helpless as his predecessors and, as the electoral return and the anxieties of the Republican governors show, his importance may cost him the votes he won. Meanwhile, the blood still flows.

A correct account of Marxism (1971)

Book Review from the January 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Interpretation of the Political Ideas of Marx and Engels. by J. B. Sanderson. Longmans. 18s.

It would have been surprising if the current academic interest in Marxism as a theory did not produce some more or less accurate accounts of the views of Marx and Engels. Sanderson set himself the task of giving an objective account of these views and we must say that in this book he succeeds very well.

Sanderson brings out a number of the important principles that underlay Marx and Engels’ policies (the quotes are his):

1. The scheme of social evolution (primitive communism, chattel slavery, feudalism, capitalism. Communism) was meant as a description of what had happened in Western Europe and was not necessarily universally applicable.

2. The socialist revolution depended on a certain level of social and economic development and could not take place anytime and anywhere merely because a determined minority wanted it.

3. Those who represented a ruling class politically did not have to be of that class, but merely had to share its views and protect its material interests.

4. Under capitalism the working class were already the economically important class since the capitalists had become economically redundant “leaving the work of supervision to an increasingly numerous category of managers.” All that was needed to dislodge them from their privileged position was a political revolution.

5. To win political power the working class as a whole had to be “conscious of their common class position, class interests, and class enemies, and willing to act upon that consciousness” and to have organised themselves into a “gigantic political party.”

6. After winning political power the working class would for a “limited” or “short” period become the ruling class as a step towards the abolition of all classes. This political transition period would be the dictatorship of the proletariat as a whole, and not of a minority of revolutionary leaders.

7. In socialist society production of commodities, i.e. articles for sale, would come to an end. Instead “production would no longer be directed by the interests of a privileged minority but would be guided by an overall rational plan which had reference solely to human needs.”

8. In socialist society the coercive State machine would be replaced by “a nonpolitical type of authority” and there would be “effective communal decision without coercion.”
Indeed Sanderson’s book is unusual in that it gives an accurate picture of what Marx and Engels saw as the main features of future society. Nobody can read and understand this book and still think that the likes of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin or Mao adhered to the same political principles as Marx and Engels.
Sanderson also deals with some of the specific policies advocated by Marx and Engels on the basis of their principles. Some of these the Socialist Party of Great Britain has regarded as mistakes while others we no longer regard as relevant in the changed conditions of the second half of the twentieth century.

9. The socialist revolution would take place “just possibly at the polling booths, but much more likely at the barricades.” We would now put the emphasis emphatically the other way round.

10. In economically backward countries still dominated by feudal rule Socialists should help the bourgeoisie to carry through their revolution. We say this is now no longer necessary since capitalism is firmly established as the dominant world system so that Socialists everywhere should be working for the immediate establishment of Socialism on a world scale.

11. Marx and Engels regarded Tsarist Russia “as the most serious obstacle to revolutionary progress" and advocated and supported war against it. We say they were wrong to support wars.

12. In the early stages of Socialism there could not be full free distribution according to needs and. although money would be abolished, distribution would take place by means of non-circulating labour-time vouchers. We say that, even if there was a temporary shortage, such vouchers would not be the fairest method of rationing but that in any event the tremendous technical developments in the last hundred years have meant that free distribution can be implemented almost immediately.

We would not endorse everything Sanderson says, but nevertheless this is a book all Socialists and people interested in political theory should read.
Adam Buick

Who's afraid of socialism? (1991)

From the December 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The view is not uncommon that socialist society would quickly starve to death because no one would find it worth their while to grow food or indeed to make anything. Complete lassitude. Maybe, but if millions of people took the trouble to invest in all the effort required in building a socialist world and then let it fall apart through indolence, then the history of the human race must be a fiction, and the law of self-preservation a nonsense.

This view is one not only ill-considered, but expressive of a particular economic system and social ideology elevated to a primary principle of human behaviour: that no act is of value in itself, but only to the extent that it serves to accrue as much of the acts of others as possible for as little as possible. Here the norm for capitalism is used as the norm for socialism, and because it does not fit. socialism is rejected as impossible.

Here, also, is to be found the idea that what, who and how you are is the result of individual character. To have any success in life is a personal achievement, proof not only of ones superiority over others, but of justice rewarding ability and dedication. A natural order! To admit socialism is to reject all this; to allow all the advantages of a good life to those who have not earned it by virtue of personal endeavour and inborn talent.

Nothing is of value it seems unless someone else is deprived of it. The value of ones success is measured against the failure of others—the pecking order, so important to a self-esteem that knows and honours its place, in expectation of the bliss to come. "Who will do the dirty work?” is the cry of the already bruised ego. Not me, please sir! The fear that it might well be me. "If there are no leaders, who will tell us what to do?" Am I to be cheated of the chance to boss others around? What sort of a life will it be with no chance of promotion? What would I work for?

The fear of socialism has nothing to do with socialism; for the fear is now and socialism is not. Fear comes from insecurity, both emotional and physical; and insecurity is the inescapable lot of the wage slave. Ingrained in our consciousness and behaviour is the idea of reward, of the prize. Reward shall go to the deserving and be withheld from others. It is the ideology which supports the wages system and grew out of it.

Satisfying demand
Since it is the institution of private property that deprives all of the enjoyment of what is produced by all—and also many of the opportunity to contribute to the common good—then let us get rid of it.

Socialism deprives no one of anything other than the ability to be better off than anyone else. Socialism is not a system of rationing or centrally-planned scarcity. It is a society that can make what it wants to. and where individuals can take from this what they want. A whole range of skills would be required by a society of such complete and infinite variety. Invention, design. organisation, medicine, education, agriculture—as endless as human needs.

In running a factory for example, there are many tasks. All are important to the overall task. In capitalism these are valued in a hierarchical sense, taking its pattern from society at large, from menial to managerial. In socialism they will be valued simply because they are all necessary.

Yet, in certain respects, socialism would be not all that unfamiliar to the time traveller. There will be, as now, demand for goods and services. Howr will this demand be satisfied and how will this differ from today? In purely practical terms, not all that much. There are two basic elements: production and distribution, of which the latter must include transportation and consumer access.

The essential difference is the absence of exchange at all stages of the process, because exchange in money values is but the expression of private property which will have gone. What you want you could get from a self-service supermarket, which as far as one can judge is as good a system as any, but minus the three-headed Cerberus which presently stands guard at the checkout. demanding payment; the constant reminder that what is socially produced is not socially owned.

A checkout of sorts, would however, have its uses. Firstly, to record stock usage for the purpose of re-ordering and setting stock levels and. secondly, to provide information on the degree of demand for particular items. If demand falls off. it could be an indication that people no longer wanted the items concerned.

Consumer research would have a very important part to play in finding out what people actually did want. So that socialism would be a "demand-led” economy to a far greater extent than is possible today within the constraints of capitalist economics.

One of the principal activities of manufacture. in co-operation with distribution, would be the creation and running of consumer research centres, to involve people at every stage in the planning for new products (and the possible ending of old ones). So that any plan to produce something new would involve discovering what people thought of present products, checking this against the proposed improvements of the new product, and then deciding in the light of the information thus gained how to proceed.

As cost of production and price to the consumer are no longer issues, product ranges to suit the pocket—so much a feature of capitalist production—become unnecessary and so waste is reduced.

In addition to consumer research centres, a democratic system to oversee production and distribution through user councils can be envisaged, with levels of representation from local to area, and so on as necessary, so that all interested parties could be kept informed of what was going on.

Money, it has been claimed, is the consumer’s voting paper in the market election. The significance of this claim depends upon how much democracy there is in the market election system—on how many "voting papers" people have. If you have no money you won't be able to vote at all while the more money you have the more votes you get: which is hardly a democratic arrangement.

Who needs money?
Money has a mystique—magic powers. Because it is the universal measure of values. being unrelated to any one thing, it has the promise of everything. As far back as 1581, the age of merchant capitalism. John Hales in his Discourse wrote: “Money is, as it weare. a storehouse of anie com- moditie ye would have”. Money is not. though, the only way to initiate or to measure demand. Those who claim it to be so are seeing capitalism as an abstract system from which people have been excluded. Money as the reflection of private property restricts demand.

Need or the desire for a particular item initiates demand, and this can be measured through some system of inventory and stock control. In both retailing and manufacture. money values are mainly used to establish profit and loss accounts, which in socialist society would not exist. Because money values are volatile and constantly changing, even under capitalism in ordering goods from a manufacturer who in turn requests production from the factory, it is only physical quantity that has real meaning. And so it would be in socialist society.

The much-trumpeted "demand-led economy" of today is in reality no such thing. Consumer choice may be the theory of entrepreneurs and their political guide dogs, but not their practice.The steady erosion of personal choice, at the diktat of a never-ending quest to reduce production costs, is the everyday experience of all. Standardisation of products, limitation of product ranges, and the gradual disappearance of all but the few dominant names, provide variations on an ever-decreasing number of themes. You have only to go around the country to see the lookalike town centres, sporting all the familiar names above the doors and inside on their counters.

It is not easy to break the bonds of traditional thinking to comprehend a society of free people engaged in the rational pursuit of the means of everyday life for their own good. If we attempt to see our lives stripped of their incumberances; to realise that money and the property system only add the dimension of struggle to it (of earning a living—instead of living life) that, at least, will be a start.
Ian Jones

Healey and Howe (2016)

The Greasy Pole Column from the January 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘Victory in war, as in politics, often goes to the side which makes fewer, or less serious, mistakes’ was how it was summed up by one with searching experience of both types of human activity. Denis Healey held the most exposed and demanding jobs in British politics after serving time in the army, including a spell as Beach Master for the Allied forces storming ashore in 1943 at the Italian port of Anzio. He ended the war as a major and when emerging into what was known as peace quickly attained a superior ranking on the Westminster Front Bench rather than in the warm sea of that Italian beach. So all things considered it was not an insult, or necessarily damaging, to be described by him as resembling a casualty of the farmyard.
Because those words were aimed, as accurately as any of the projectiles at Anzio, at the Conservative bastion Geoffrey Howe while Healey was Labour’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, a post in which it was vastly preferable to make the fewer mistakes. Healey remembered this well and it went down in some kind of history: ‘In one debate he had raised some difficult questions in his opening speech. I did not want to be distracted from my own argument by answering them, so I dismissed them by saying that I found his attack “rather like being savaged by a dead sheep” ’.  This response to a considered opposition argument by resorting to childish insult was a part of Healey’s need at the time to disguise the fact that his policies as Chancellor were directed at dealing with the current crises of British capitalism through debasing the living standards of workers. Howe referred to the incident in 1983 when he responded to Healey congratulating him on being reluctantly appointed by Margaret Thatcher as Foreign Secretary (it was in fact more of a demotion} by burbling that it was ‘like being nuzzled by an old ram’. Which Healey accepted as a welcome enlivening of a dull afternoon; he liked and respected Howe as one who also grappled with the impossible labours of making sense of capitalism’s insanity economies.
Bow Group
Howe was too young to match Healey’s authentically managerial experience of the war so he had to be satisfied with drilling the school Home Guard and setting up a National Savings group. Just before the end of the war he was conscripted into the army and reached the heights of a commissioned officer. After demobilisation he went through what was carefully known as a ‘judicious marriage’ and set himself to qualify in law, eventually reaching the levels of a high-earning QC. Politically active, he became chairman of the Bow Group and contributed to a pamphlet which argued that the trade unions were too powerful and enjoyed some privileges which should be cut back (a policy which Prime Minister Harold Macmillan thought would be ‘inexpedient’ ). After two expected doomed efforts to get elected into Parliament at Aberavon in 1955 and 1959 Howe succeeded in the more welcoming Babington from 1964 until 1966 when he was defeated. It was easier for a Tory to contest the comfortingly leafy seat of Reigate, where he remained the Member from 1970 until he retired from Parliament in 1992. After the Conservative victory in 1979 Thatcher plucked him from the back benches to be her Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was typically a time of severe economic crisis, the flavour of which was inflation running as a continuous threat to working class conditions with the purchasing power of wages, pensions and the like continuously eroded. In response Howe could offer no more than some outworn policies fashioned roughly from the assumption that the trade unions were the crucially self-destructive factor. Against the opposition of many established economists he imposed ‘monetarists’ policies, which could offer no remedy to the unemployment which was reaching an historic high; in January 1982 it exceeded 3 million, in some areas affecting almost 20 per cent of the liable population, with particular damage to areas suffering from the decline of established industries such as car production, textiles…
Smug
Meanwhile relationships between Howe and Thatcher were uneven; ‘On your own head be it, Geoffrey, if anything goes wrong’ was a typical comment from her in 1979 about a clutch of policies which included the abolition of exchange controls. Matters came to a head in 1983 when she moved him to Foreign Secretary. Howe was not entirely happy about this; apart from anything else it deprived him of the right to use luxurious accommodation in Carlton Gardens in London and Chevening House, the 17th century stately home in Kent where Howe and his wife had very much enjoyed playing hosts at smart social events. In June 1989 Howe accompanied Nigel Lawson, who was his successor as Chancellor of the Exchequer, to an early morning meeting at Ten Downing Street when they more or less threatened to resign if Thatcher persisted in her opposition to their proposal of British membership of the exchange rate mechanism of the European Monetary System. She refused to be cajoled in this way and what she witheringly described [as] a ‘nasty little meeting’ ended with Howe looking ‘insufferably smug’.
Reshuffle
It was soon after this that her first act in a reshuffle was to inform Howe that she intended to replace him as Foreign Secretary with John Major. Howe resisted, which led to some lengthy and abrasive negotiations settled only by the offer of the use of another stately home and the post of Leader of the House of Commons and Deputy Prime Minister, which ensured that Howe would always sit on Thatcher’s left at Cabinet meetings. Such symbolism is clearly vital to the smooth working of capitalist politics. But the arrangement soon crumbled away when Howe resigned with a speech which has endured as an example of bilious revenge. It was on 13 November 1990, soon after Thatcher had boasted how she would dismiss the proposal of a single European currency: ‘The bowling’s going to get hit all round the ground. That’s my style’. To which Howe responded that he was resigning because being in Thatcher’s government was like an opening batsman whose bats had been broken before the game by the team captain.
Denis Healey died on 3 October 2015.
Geoffrey Howe died on 9 October 2015
Two more examples of the resolve and talents often applied to condition the inhuman plunder of this system of capitalism and to deceive millions of others that there is no other way.
Ivan