Sunday, January 24, 2016

The General Strike of 1926 (1966)

From the May 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

London's Piccadilly was jammed with traffic. So was the Thames Embankment. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes—cars, vans, bicycles, horses and carts, almost anything on wheels— had been pressed into service.

This traffic chaos was news, but there were no newspapers. Out of Fleet Street came only a few bundles of single-sided cyclostyled sheets with a very brief digest of news snippets.

The railway stations were quiet except for the murmur of voices of bewildered people who had turned up with the hope of getting a train.

The docks were still and silent. Only at the gates, where groups of dock workers stood around, was there any sign of life.

The same pattern prevailed in towns and cities all over the country.

It was Tuesday, May 4, 1926--the first day of the General Strike. Workers whose Trade Unions had called on them to stop work, did so unanimously. The solidarity of the strike surprised even Trade Union officials and confounded thousands who had not expected the strike to take place.

During previous months, talks and negotiations, committees and commissions, reports and announcements telling how Trade Union leaders, the Government, the clergy and some prominent individuals were striving to find a solution to the deadlock, had led lots of people to believe that the strike would be cancelled at the last moment or that, if it was called, it would be a feeble affair, causing them little inconvenience. So, many awoke on that May morning without a thought that the day would be different to the one before.

For nine days the strike continued, more Unions joining in when called upon. At midday on the ninth day the General Council of the Trades Union Congress went to the Prime Minister and announced, “ . . the General Strike is being terminated today.” The news was broadcast at 1 p.m.

This abrupt ending caused more consternation inside Trade Union ranks than the calling of the strike had caused outside. Thousands of active, local Trade Unionists were struck speechless by the news. When they recovered their wits they set up a howl of protest and recrimination. They were the men who, during those nine days, had organised the pickets and demonstrations, arranged entertainment and recreation for the strikers, produced local strike bulletins, issued transport permits, planned help for the halt, the maimed and the blind and done the multitude of organisational jobs that had kept the strike solid. They had been the N.C.O.s of the battle. With confused ideas about the strike—theirs not, they thought, to reason why—they had done their job with enthusiasm. When, at the height of their zeal, they heard the retreat sounded, they were flabbergasted and enraged.

Angry voices accused the T.U.C. General Council of cowardice and treason. The General Council accused the miners of making impossible demands. Denunciation, recrimination, spite and mud-slinging were rife for weeks but, by the time of the next Trades Union Congress, the venom had subsided and members of the General Council were re-elected to office.

During the forty years since the General Strike the question has been frequently asked, “If the strike had not been called off so precipitately, could it have been brought to a successful conclusion?” The questioners have different ideas about what would have been a successful conclusion.

Their question implies that the Trade Unions planned the strike with a particular object in view, that the workers were led into the fight towards some preconceived goal. This is a complete misunderstanding of the event.

The threat to strike was an act of defence and defiance which the T.U.C. General Council did not expect to have to put into effect. They candidly admitted that they did not want the strike, that they did everything to avoid it including, as one of them said, grovelling to the Prime Minister. The Government forced them into the fight.

Ten months earlier the coal miners had given notice of their intention to terminate the miners' national agreement, to reduce their pay and increase their working hours. Failing acceptance of these demands, the miners were faced with a lock-out. They sought support from the T.U.C. and a committee of Unions representing miners, dockers, railwaymen and road transport workers planned to completely stop the handling of all coal if the lock-out notices were not withdrawn. At the final hour the notices were withdrawn, the Government granted the mine owners a nine months subsidy and set up a commission to investigate the coal industry.

The Trade Unions were delighted and the day of victory passed into the annals of working class history as “Red Friday”.

To those who did not blind themselves to what was happening around them, it was apparent that the employers and the Government had bought time to prepare for a show-down. The Trade Union leaders did the three monkey act; they saw nowt, heard nowt and did nowt.

The Government, without any effort at secrecy, instituted a strike breaking organisation, The Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, mainly under the control of military and naval personnel. At the same time they held out hope to the miners by appointing a commission of enquiry into the coal industry.

Months later, when the commission reported, it offered the miners nothing and, with the end of the Government subsidy drawing near, the mine owners again submitted their demands.

With the Prime Minister acting the part of a benevolent mediator it was simple to misunderstand, if not ignore, the Government’s bellicose activities. After Red Friday it appeared logical to again threaten strike action as a counter to the mine owner’s threats. But with the passing days it became clear that the Government and employers were digging in their heels.

As zero hour approached, a conference of Trade Union delegates met in London and the T.U.C. General Council, acting as negotiating committee, met the mine owners and the Prime Minister daily. The Council found itself shuttled between an immovable Government and an irresistible delegate conference. When finally they reported their inability to move their opponents, the assembled delegates voted by 3,653,527 to 49,911 to empower the General Council to go ahead with the strike.

Despite the overwhelming vote, the General Council utilised the twenty six hours between the decision to strike and the appointed time for it to commence, to again try to get the miners’ lock-out notices withdrawn so that negotiations could continue without strike action. Eventually, a full cabinet meeting flatly refused even this modest request and the Prime Minister told the General Council that the proceedings must close because the strike had been called and because of overt acts, affecting the freedom of the press, that had already taken place. Printing Trade workers on the Daily Mail had refused to print an anti-working class article, and had walked out.

The Government utilised these last few hours to set its strike breaking machinery into operation. The King signed a proclamation declaring a state of emergency under the Emergency Powers Act of 1920. Orders in Council were issued, army leave was cancelled and troops moved to industrial areas. The commissioners of the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies were instructed to put their machinery in motion. The mine owners made a final offer to the miners to settle with reduced wages and increased hours. At midnight on Monday the strike was on.

Throughout the strike the Union leaders emphasised that it was entirely an industrial dispute. The Government insisted that it was a challenge to the state and the democratic constitution and would lead to civil war. Communists urged that the strike could be used to displace the Conservative Government in favour of a Labour one. A few scatter-brained individuals even saw the strike as an attack on capitalism by class conscious workers, with the prospect of a social revolution.

All the circumstances considered, it was obvious the workers could not win. The number involved in the strike action was about three million. (G. D. H. Cole put the figure at 2,751,000).) That was quite a small portion of the total working class. The remainder were sympathetically indifferent, apathetic or hostile. The Government, despite a mild pretence at being an unbiased referee, was doing its job of keeping law and order. That meant preserving capitalist law and preventing the workers from being disorderly. Strikes create disorder. From its position of strength the Government could not lose.

Had the Government been weaker, and resigned under the strike threat, its successor, whether Liberal or Labour, would have had to do the same job of running capitalism. Subsequent Labour Governments proved that. Under similar circumstances they did similar things in the attempt to make capitalism run smoothly. The present outcry against unofficial strikes is a continuation of the policy. The workers must be kept at work without interruption for the hours and wages that the current trade condition requires.

That the General Strike could have led to a social revolution is a fantastic notion. The three million strikers reacted to what they considered an injustice, not because they were conscious of their class status and certainly not because they understood capitalism and the need to overthrow it.

When the strike was over the workers showed how un-class-conscious they were. Trade Union policy during the following years was one of greater class collaboration than ever before and Trade Union leaders cemented themselves more securely in their jobs.

The strike should have revealed the true nature of capitalist government, the real function of the state and the futility of leadership. But very few learned.

The workers will continue to struggle within capitalism and, whatever political party is in power, the government will use the state machinery against them, to keep them from disrupting the system or damaging the prospect of profits.

The General Strike was one battle in a continuous war. It was not a Waterloo. It was more like a Dunkirk. Battles on the industrial field, whether won or lost, will leave the workers still a subject class. With the employers entrenched behind their state, it requires political organisation with a knowledge of Socialism to dislodge them.
W. Waters.

What is the Class Struggle? (1931)

From the June 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Probably no phrase used by Socialists is the subject of more misunderstanding and misrepresentation than “the class struggle." The professional “anti-Socialists,” who trade upon the fears of the “small investors,” do not tire of horrifying their patrons with the imaginary spectacle of a horde of strikers and unemployed raiding their peaceful homes; and the language frequently used by equally professional Communists lends a certain amount of colour to the conception of the class struggle as a physical conflict in the streets between roving bands of pugnacious individuals drawn from the two classes which form modern society. Yet nothing could be a greater travesty of the facts.

The class struggle is, at bottom, a conflict between the class of possessors who own the means of living and the class of producers who are exploited by them in the fields, mines, factories, and on the railroads, etc. The struggle at first takes the form of a series of strikes and lock-outs, by means of which the masters try to increase, and the workers try to limit, the extent of the exploitation. These skirmishes, which periodically interrupt the process of production under capitalism, centre round the terms upon which the workers part with their energy to their masters, i.e., the amount of the wage, the length of the working day, and a host of minor conditions related thereto. Few workers are exempt from the necessity of thus debating with their employers the price of their commodity, i.e., the power to labour, their only possession and source of maintenance. It forms a normal condition of their existence under the existing social order.

In spite of this, many workers still harbour the delusion that there is a harmony of interests between them and their masters, that it is up to them to produce more cheaply in order to help their masters to recover lost markets at home and abroad; and this delusion is fostered by many Trade Union leaders.

The other absurd extreme is represented by the professional Communists, who try to persuade us that strikes are the result simply of their agitation. When the discontent of the Trade Union rank and file reaches a certain height over a given question and the leaders “regretfully” call a strike, we witness the spectacle of the Communists telling the world that this is because of the fear with which they have inspired these leaders. They invariably forget, however, to let us know how it is that these leaders recover their courage. They are too busy denouncing them as traitors, to admit their own inability to prevent the strikers returning to work.

The class conflict is due neither to the weakness of the leaders nor to the schemes of the agitators. The decisive economic factor in a strike is the state of the labour market, which the constant progress of machinery and improved methods of production tend to turn more definitely against the workers. Treachery and stupidity aggravate the defeats which the workers repeatedly encounter, but even if their leaders (actual and would-be) were as loyal and intelligent as they are frequently the reverse, the main trend of economic development and its results would remain, broadly, the same as now.

This does not mean that the workers should abandon the struggle as hopeless; indeed, they cannot do so without being crushed beyond chance of recovery. It does, however, impose upon them the need for studying the cause of the struggle and discovering new methods of dealing with it. 

The struggle is contested at first upon the industrial field, but it does not end there. In fact, so long as the workers see no further than the need for sectional defensive tactics, there is nothing to prevent the struggle going on indefinitely to j their disadvantage.

The possession of the means of living places an overwhelming advantage in the hands of the master class; but it is essential to realise that this possession depends upon conditions which it is possible for the workers to alter.

Possession, to-day, is no longer a physical relationship. It is a legal one. The shareholders of a joint stock company which owns a mine, a group of mills, or a railway system, may live at the ends of the earth, may never see their property, may know next to nothing about it, and yet go on receiving dividends upon which they can exist in comfort and luxury without labour. Superficial “revolutionaries,” who advocate that the workers should “occupy” the factories, forget that the workers are continually doing this—they have to—and that the last thing in the world that the capitalists want to do is to occupy the factories themselves. Physical contact with the means of production is a pleasure which they are quite prepared to surrender entirely to the workers—on terms. They merely insist upon controlling, through salaried agents, the ownership and disposal of the products. When and where such sale ceases to be sufficiently profitable, they use their legal powers to lock the workers out; and, in either case, their ownership and control, whether exercised negatively or positively, depends upon the State.

It is the State, with its machinery of coercion, including the armed forces, which upholds the conditions condemning the workers to sell themselves piecemeal into lifelong slavery. It is the State that repels every attack upon the property rights of the master class by starving strikers or unemployed, and which, by doing so, makes the workers’ struggle a political one.

For the masters' grip upon the State machine is the weakest link in the chain which binds the workers to the present system. It is a link which can be snapped whenever the workers as a class say the word. For generations in this country their masters have flattered and wheedled and bribed them, and kissed their babies, in the endeavour to secure their political support. Encouraged by this, numerous leaders of the workers have adopted politics as a career, and have, to a considerable extent, relieved the masters of the need, for administering governmental affairs directly, just as in the realm of industry the capitalists have long ago surrendered the task of supervising production to paid managers, foremen, etc. Just as the masters rely on a section of the workers to exploit the others on their behalf, so now, also, they entrust to Trade Union and political leaders the job of maintaining the system which makes that exploitation possible; but whereas the managers and foremen have little need to curry favour with their subordinates, the. “Labour” politicians have reduced demagogy to a fine art.

They know just where the shoe pinches, and can estimate to a nicety just how much to relieve the pressure in order to preserve in the minds of the workers the necessary degree of docility; but there are limits to their powers. While they may lull the unemployed by judicious adjustments here and there, they cannot prevent the increase in their numbers. They can do nothing to stop the process whereby the little security of livelihood which the mass of the workers enjoy is being constantly undermined. They can do nothing to prevent the speeding up of the workers in the factories, with the consequent increase in the accident rate. They admit that they cannot stop the attacks on wage standards already miserable enough.

They are of no real assistance to the workers in the struggle, nor can they remove the cause of the struggle. They can only assist the master class by administering to the workers periodical doses of dope, and holding in readiness the forces necessary to quell restiveness when dope proves ineffectual. In a word, they have proved themselves fit to govern.

The more effective a government is, as a government, the more certainly it becomes unpopular. Periodical changes are, therefore, inevitable, and the rapid rise of the Labour Party to the favour of the masters and the support of the workers may speedily change into an equally rapid descent; but the class struggle will go on. No mere change of government, whether constitutional or dictatorial, can stop it. It can only introduce an alternative method of attempting to suppress the symptoms.

Nothing short of the conversion of the means of living into common property can remove the antagonism of interests between masters and slaves. That is the object of the Socialist Party, which it alone has consistently adhered to. It alone, therefore, expresses the interests of the working class, and all workers of both sexes, plain or coloured, employed or unemployed, are invited to join.
Eric Boden

The Illusion of Disillusionment (1950)

Book Review from the June 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

Because of its inner contradictions Capitalism is a dying and decadent social order. This decadence is reflected not only in its institutions but in its literature. That is why some of its most effective literature is that of despair, cynicism and protest.

The first World War did much to shatter the complacency of 19th century Capitalism. The slumps, massive unemployment and wide “Labour unrest” which followed it, seemed for many to threaten social disintegration.

It was in this period of shell-shock disillusionment that many “intellectuals” began to lose faith in Capitalism and to search desperately for a new faith. Having no real historic evaluation of social development, they had no real solution to existing social problems. It became easy—fatally easy—for them to seek escape from the obsessional anxieties of a dark capitalist reality in the wishful thinking of an enchanted socialist fairy-land—Soviet Russia.

A miracle had happened. Socialism had been established in an economically backward country, All things were now possible. Not only were the “toiling masses” to be freed but art and literature would also be freed from its degrading commercial morality and cash payment. For many “intellectuals” well might Russia look to be “ All this and Heaven too.”

The six contributors to “The God That Failed” (Hamish Hamilton) could easily be fitted into that category of intellectuals. The dust cover also announces it as “Six Studies in Communism.” The contributors are Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Andre Gide, Louis Fischer, the American negro writer Richard Wright and the poet Stephen Spender. All are Soviet apostates, ideological crusaders in an holy war against their once adopted Russian Fatherland.

This book is not primarily about the objective state of affairs in Russia but the subjective state of mind of each of the writers over Russia; their doubts, inner conflicts and guilt feelings as part of the protracted process of disillusionment resulting from the shattering impact of their experiences inside Russia or the Communist Party or both. Each appears not so much as an objective commentator on Russia but rather in the role of a Dostoevsky of a fallen and disgraced ideology.

In the first fine careless rapture of their conversion they regarded themselves as “servants serving a higher purpose”—vide Mr. Crossman, M.P.. who writes the preface. They were however “intellectuals” and, according to Mr. Crossman, better able to interpret the social significance of an age than were the inarticulate millions. How catastrophically they failed in this respect their own confessions bear damning testimony.

The totalitarian requirements of Russian State Capitalism were unwilling or unable to make concessions even to gifted servants. Mr. Crossman tells us that these intellectuals were treated with indifference by the Party apparatus. He also makes the suggestion that the Kremlin might have regarded their influence as negligible. It does seem that this “indifferent’ of the Kremlin towards them gives the book its strong personal edge on Russia. This accounts for their concern when “The Party line” affected them as individuals and consequently clashed with their own preconceived ideas on their role and status as “intellectuals.” It might also explain why on matters that affected them less, i.e. the glaring anomalies in Russian social life, they showed, in spite of the overwhelming proof at their disposal, an almost unbelievable capacity to believe what they wanted to believe and an almost incredible credulity in swallowing Kremlin rationalisations of the ugly contradictions and crass inconsistencies existing in Russia.

Indeed Mr. Crossman in a revealing passage tells us that “If the Comintern had only shown an occasional mark of respect for the western intellectual it could have won the support of the largest body of progressive thought in the world.” He adds that “not one would have hesitated to have returned in the protracted process of withdrawal if the Party had shown a gleam of understanding of his belief in human freedom and human dignity.”

So for “an occasional mark of respect” these intellectuals could have got round the awkward dilemma of vast social inequalities in “Socialist Russia;” have ignored the brutality and repression of its state machinery, its Moscow trials and slave camps. They might even have returned to the cess pool unconscious of its mud and slime, all for “ an occasional mark of respect.”

Perhaps these people were deceived by the Kremlin but most of all they deceived themselves. In spite of their inner conflicts and Dostoevskian torments they never achieve the level of objective self-criticism; never see that their own attitude as intellectuals and their claim to interpret social reality in a way different from the “ inarticulate millions ” has, in its way, contributed to the perpetration and perpetuation of the Russian myth as effectively as Soviet inspired propaganda.

People like Gide and Silone are in essence religious idealists. They preferred to regard Soviet Russia less as a social phenomenon than as a religious revival, and Socialism as not basically the transformation of one set of productive relations to another set, but as a way of living like the early Christians. To their patronage of Marxism they brought the authority of the Gospels. Marx, it seemed, played the role of “ John the Baptist ” to Lenin’s “Jesus Christ.”

Richard Wright came to Communism he says knowing nothing of economics which meant he knew nothing of Socialism (the terms Socialism and Communism are of course synonymous). He also was a religious convert to the Communist Party and brought to it that humourless, deadly earnestness with its readiness to live and even die for “ the cause,” so typical of many Communist converts. For him, the cause was mainly the "coloured question.” It was Stalin’s National and Colonial Question that won his interest. His internationalism was in effect merely a black and white cosmopolitanism. He fails to appreciate that only the abolition of Capitalism can guarantee the emancipation of workers, black or white, from their real thralldom, the thralldom of those denied access to the productive resources to a privileged section who own those resources. His writing becomes at times almost hysterical. His account of his persecution at the hands of the Chicago Local is more reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan than a so called proletarian party.

Louis Fischer’s is the most objective account—that of a humane and sympathetic supporter whose sentiments over Russia led him badly astray. Stephen Spender is just another of the pink poets who left the Fabian drawing-room in search of red-blooded political adventure. He appears to have wandered back without ever finding out what it was all really about.

Koestler is the most orthodox of these “ Communist ” converts. He even claims to have accepted Marxism, although his account of it is never more than the tedious rubber-stamped version of the typical communist editorial. In effect he was one of the many highly emotional anti-Fascists who believed that the Communist Party was the best instrument for serving such ends.

Koestler’s account of his seven year membership of the Communist Party is a piece of sheer self-dramatisation. Indeed Marxism merely serves as a somewhat dubious literary device for sustaining the suspense and tension of a thriller. The chief impressions one gathers from his tale are of a temporary period of conspiratorial anonymity; visits of party “contacts,” from whom he received instructions and to whom he gave bits of information gleaned in his journalistic capacity in a big newspaper publishers; his studies in the art of going underground and acquiring techniques for insurrection; his participation—although he was, he says, never in the actual shooting frays—in the political cum Chicago— gangster warfare between Nazis and Communists. All of which activity suggests not so much adult political reasoning but rather an adolescent desire to play “Cops and Robbers.”

He left the Communist Party as the result of three carefully chosen phrases which he used at a meeting of German emigre writers. One was “ No movement, party or person can claim the privilege of infallibility.” Another was a quotation from Thomas Mann—“A harmful truth is better than a useful lie.” Although at the meeting he uttered no criticism of Russia or the Communist Party, it was, he says, a declaration of war. A few days later he resigned his membership.

This piece of typical Koestlerian crypticism simply adds up to the plain fact that he had merely discovered that lies and corruption are still lies and corruption no matter under what guise they appear; that the end does not justify the means because in such practices the means themselves become the end. It took seven years of intense political experience and on-the-spot observation for this intellectual to painfully acquire what the newest convert to our organisation regards as an almost self evident proposition.

Nevertheless “ Fight Fascism ” was still for him the political categorical imperative. He supported the war. He regarded it in the character of a crusade. In an article in the New York Times Magazine during the war he referred to the war as a showdown between the powers of light and darkness. He did make the half hearted reservation that it was not the final showdown. Nevertheless he left no doubt about his belief that it was a showdown.

Koestler is always getting his political objectives mixed up with his “ id ” and “ super ego ” As an admirer of Freud he is always seeking truth, not at the level of empirical observation but in the dark depths of his “unconscious,” to which he seeks to descend. Occasionally he comes up for air but it is never with the truth but always another error.

Koestler tells us in the preface to “The Yogi and the Commissar” that since his schooldays he has not ceased to marvel at the fool he was the year before. He says this is still true today although in a modified form. For some that may be a Koestlerian epigram. For us it would be fitting words for his political epitaph.

We cannot resist the temptation of saying that what is happening in Russia today is an empirical confirmation of the correct position we took up right from the first as to the real nature of Russian social and economic development, while the intellectual Christopher Columbuses were feverishly discovering “The Socialist Sixth of the World.”

The God That Failed” might provide one of the popular formula’s which serve as current explanations of Russia. They are often successful because, although they do not say anything objectively valid about Russia, they do give the illusion of understanding what they do not really understand. It will perhaps be accepted by people who are politically naive and no more than merely curious about social affairs.

The writers of this book seem to have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. Russia still remains for them a sinister historical enigma. All of them still believe Russia had got on the right path but somehow has taken the wrong turning. Believing as they do in a non Marxist sense that men make history, they believe that bad men make bad history.

Having started with illusions they were ripe—rotten ripe one might say, for disillusionment. In substance their disillusionment consists of the replacing of one set of illusions with another set. One hardly knows whether to call the book a study in tragic futility or a lesson in futile tragedy.

But this is where we came in.
Ted Wilmott

The attitude of the SPGB during the Strike (1966)

From the May 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our attitude towards the General Strike was determined by the following considerations. The limits of trade union action; the determined attempts by the employers to depress wages since the great war; the evils of leadership; the lack of understanding on the part of the workers; and the fact that, in the last resort, power rested with the Government backed by a non-Socialist working class.

We pointed out at the time of the general strike that the workers should remain in complete control of the movement and not allow themselves to be hood-winked into a worse position than before the strike. And, above all, not to follow the stupid slogans of the communists to place all trust in the leaders. After the strike the communists put the blame for the failure on the very leaders they had urged the workers to trust, and advocated fresh leaders from the same group that had influenced the collapse.

Although the possibility of a general strike had been in the offing for some time the trade union officials and their supporters had made no effort to prepare for such an eventuality, whereas the employers had completed their plans long beforehand.

After the strike we made the following comments in the June 1926 Socialist Standard:
The greatest trade union action that was ever taken in any country was closed by the most gigantic swindle in the whole history of trade unionism. . . . The splendid solidarity of the rank and file, along with their studied refusal to follow the maniacs who advised the formation of "Workers Defence Corps" and other methods of crude force are healthy signs of the beginnings of an understanding of their slave position that forms the first step in the work of establishing Socialism.

Equality Means Diversity (1954)

From the June 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism—the society we desire and work for— means a world in which all people will be social equals. There will be no owners of property and no non-owners, no rich and no poor, neither superior nor inferior classes, “ races ” or sexes. Why, it may be asked, is such a state of affairs desirable?

There is, of course, one very obvious answer. It will give better material conditions to those who now go hungry, badly clothed or poorly housed—in short, to those who suffer any form of poverty. It is the expression of their demand, as Oscar Wilde put it, to be seated at the board instead of being grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table.

The justice of the claim to better living conditions is seldom disputed; it is only opposed on allegedly practical grounds. No one (except, possibly, the religious fanatic) says that he would wish the hungry to remain hungry. Instead it is claimed that there is “ just not enough food to go round.” If the prime social mover were satisfaction of people’s needs, all forms of poverty would quickly melt in the warm sun of common humanity.

Unfortunately, the existence of class society based on property deflects the human purpose, which is to live fully and harmoniously. Men and women who enter into the antagonistic relationships of master to slave (lord to serf, capitalist to worker, etc.) are denied the opportunities of human development which only equality can bring.

"Free access to what is needed” is a feature of socialist society which contrasts markedly with the un-free access allowed in property-based society. Property is restrictive; its institutions are concerned with guarding the rights of exclusive possession. But the guard who watches a prisoner becomes almost as much a prisoner as the prisoner himself. To be a member of a dominant class may be vastly preferable to being a subject—but it is no substitute for living in equalitarian society.

Socialism is needed for the full development of the human personality. People who are denied direct participation in living (apart from merely existing) must to-day accept spurious substitutes. In place of useful and satisfying work, there is the need to sell your energies as a commodity on the labour market; in place of creative leisure (which should be continuous with work) there is an entertainment industry seeking to sell you a good time by proxy; in place of living with people whose interests and outlook you share, there is either the family (economic unit) or the impersonality of being some form of paying guest. The mental problems of the latter type are not really separable from the physical needs to which the term “poverty” more usually refers.

Most people are more or less aware of the poverty of the capitalist way of life. This awareness often takes the form of a feeling of frustration, of wanting something different without really knowing what it is or how to get it. To some extent, this is mitigated by the growth of the means of mass influence—newspapers, cinema, radio, television—so that everyone knows that there are millions of others who are also “ tuned in ” to the same influences and are, so to speak, in the same boat. If it is customary to want to win the football pools, for example, there is also a feeling of solidarity among the countless losers making the best of things until next Saturday.

One way in which an individual overcomes the feeling of insignificance, in comparison with what he feels to be the power of forces outside himself, is by conforming to them. He ceases to be himself; he adopts entirely the kind of personality offered to him by cultural patterns, and he therefore becomes exactly as all others are and as they expect him to be. The American National Comic Weekly assures us that the four out of five adults who read comics“ live with the personalities. They take their habits from them. They wear what they wear, eat what they eat, and talk like them, and even act like them.” This appears to be a typical over-statement on the part of those who are concerned to make the greatest claims on behalf of their product, in this case, the comics.

It is significant that most aspects of our lives have that “mass-produced” look. It is not just the material things that are stereotyped. Take a few random examples. Our humour is repetitive, our entertainment " canned,” and our sport actively engaged in by a tiny minority with the rest as passive spectators. There are a few individual artists—and countless impersonators and impressionists, intentional or otherwise. Last year every girl looked like Elizabeth Taylor (well, tried to, anyway)—this year we are assured that every girl is to appear as another Audrey Hepburn. The dull uniformity of male garb is notorious, and even the sartorial rebels conform to the prevailing fashion of rebellion. Perhaps these are some of the least harmful ways in which monotony expresses itself but, in being taken for granted, they may not be recognised as part of commodity-living.

The capacity for original thinking is stultified in present society. The fact that aspects of our “ private lives” become typical questions on which experts and guidance councils pronounce opinion encourages the view that the problems of social life are too complicated for the average man or woman to grasp. The popularity of various kinds of readers' advice columns in the newspapers and magazines testifies to the willingness and even anxiety of people to consult the specialist or leave it to the experts—” Gods With Heads of Clay,” as we called them last month in another connection.

It can probably be accounted a growth in human freedom that to-day our lives are shaped by anonymous authorities like “public opinion” and “common sense” rather than by dictators in person. But the socialist way of life, in which all people will participate as equals, stands quite apart from any such forms of compulsion. It is the overcoming of a set of social relationships, of a system which discourages people from trusting their own capacity to think about those problems that really matter.

We have said that Socialism will develop human personality. We must confess to having no definite ideas of what particular form this personality will take. Our goal is not so much an ideal of perfection as a condition for free development. It must be sufficient for us to catch glimpses of the future in the ideas and actions of people to-day. We know that where interests are in harmony people work together with a will. To-day antagonistic interests predominate. We know that, given half a chance, most of us want to express ourselves in some artistic way (in the widest sense of the term). To-day we must earn a living. The growth of socialist ideas means an increase in the number of people who understand society, in the dual sense of knowing how to abolish property and how to really live without it

It may be that the cynic will remark that a world without the excitement of war, the pride of possessing property, and the delight in human inequality will be a dull place indeed. In dismissing the first two of these conditions as psychological perversions, we are not in any way passing judgment on individuals—only on the social system. To those who get to know about Socialism there is something exciting and rather wonderful about the prospect of all people living in cooperative harmony and on terms of equality. We have tried to show that, far from making people equal in the sense of being the same, Socialism offers the prospect of a richly variegated society—how can it be otherwise when human needs, among which is variety, are the prime consideration?
Stan Parker

Palestine — dream or nightmare? (1988)

From the March 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip is “home” to 60,000 people. They live in corrugated iron hovels — on average 16 people to every two rooms. The camp has no proper sewage system; dysentery and malnutrition are rife. Thousands of Palestinians are also treated each year for psychological problems caused by the stress of life in a refugee camp.

On the other side of the razor wire that keeps the Palestinians in, is an Israeli settlement — Gush Katiff — surrounded by look-out towers and machine guns. In the centre of the settlement is a luxury hotel and conference complex, no more intended for the Israeli settlers than it is for the Palestinians in the refugee camp. They live in small, heavily guarded farming communities along the twenty-eight miles of sandy Mediterranean coast that is the Gaza Strip. Their living conditions are undoubtedly better than those endured by their Palestinian neighbours. But a further difference of greater significance is that they have chosen to live there, mostly out of a misguided belief in the policy of Jewish settlement of the occupied territories, while the Palestinian refugees in the camps did not choose their fate.

The Gaza Strip and the West Bank were occupied by Israel during the 1967 war but the origins of the Palestinians’ grievance go back beyond this to the days of British rule in Palestine. Until the end of the First World War both Jews and Arabs lived side by side in Palestine. The end of the war saw the beginnings of large-scale Jewish immigration spurred on by the Balfour Declaration promising a “Jewish homeland” and Zionist ideas which played on justifiable fears of Jewish persecution and presented a “return” to Israel as the only secure solution to their continual oppression. With the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s those fears were more than ever before justified and Jewish immigration to Palestine increased rapidly as a consequence.

Arab leaders in Palestine feared that an influx of jews would lead to the British reneging on their promise of Palestinian self-government. As a result Arab turned on Jew and groups of Jewish terrorists — the Irgun Zvi Leumi and the Stern Gang — were organised to respond to Arab attacks, engage in guerrilla warfare against the British and to intimidate non-Zionist Jews into supporting them.

The mass immigration to Palestine of Jews seeking to flee from Nazi extermination camps and the indifference of the “Allies” was welcomed by neither Arabs nor the British administration in Palestine. Ships carrying Jewish refugees were refused permission to land at Haifa and their passengers were treated as illegal immigrants by the British authorities. Finally, unable to cope with the difficulties of placating both Arab and Jewish leaders, who had both been promised the right to govern, the British withdrew leaving a bloodbath in their wake as Jews and Arabs battled it out for control of the new state. The Jews emerged victorious; the state of Israel was established in 1948; 1,750,000 Palestinians left or were driven out.

Since that time the dream of a “homeland” free from oppression and insecurity that led so many Jews to rally round their leaders in the name of Zionism, has been bitterly disappointed. The state of Israel has been at war with its Arab neighbours in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and, most recently, the euphemistically entitled “Campaign for Peace in Galilee” — the invasion of Lebanon. The expropriation of land from the Arabs and the occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have resulted in a legacy of frustration and bitterness among many of the 750,000 Arabs who stayed in Israel after the 1948 exodus and continue to endure discrimination in employment and welfare and among the one and a half million refugees in camps in the occupied territories. That bitterness and frustration finally erupted into angry protest in December last year and has since then been further inflamed by the brutal attempt by the Israeli state to crush the protest.

The current outburst was, apparently, triggered by a road accident in which four Palestinians were killed by an Israeli vehicle. Since that initial seemingly spontaneous outburst, various organisations which trade in the same kinds of religious and nationalistic sentiment that underpins many Zionist organisations, have tried to hijack the Palestinians’ protests for their own political ends — Yasser Arafat’s PLO, its youth wing, Shabiba and the fundamentalist Islamic Jihad.

It is easy to see why the oppressed people in the refugee camps might view the promise of Palestinian self-government as an answer. It is not surprising that settlement of the occupied territories by orthodox Jewish zealots who subscribe to the racist religious nationalism of Rabbi Meir Kahane and his Kach movement, which advocates the expulsion of all Arabs from “Greater Israel”, has resulted in an equally vicious hatred of Jews by many Palestinians. But to strive for the replacement of an oppressive Israeli state by a Palestinian one cannot be an answer. It can only result in continued oppression — class oppression — by a Palestinian ruling class that would replace the Israeli ruling class. The dreams of Jewish workers of a life free from persecution and oppression finds its echo today in the dreams of Palestinian workers. Jewish dreams have not been answered by the setting up of the state of Israel and Palestinian dreams will not be answered by the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In the refugee camps Palestinians are vociferously questioning a regime that takes away their land, herds them into camps and then beats them when they step out of line. But some Israelis are also questioning why young conscripts should be sent into the refugee camps to carry out the beatings. Was this the kind of society that they have, on so many occasions, fought to defend and that their parents and grandparents dreamed about and struggled so hard to bring into existence? Israeli workers and Palestinians are asking essentially similar questions. Let’s hope that the answers that they come up with recognise their common interests and reject the nationalism and religious bigotry that engender false divisions, violence and racial hatred.
Janie Percy-Smith

Belfast sights (1984)

From the July 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

It's only when showing someone around your home town that you become aware of things normally taken for granted—the attractive buildings become more beautiful and the slums more pathetic. Recently my perception of a few aspects of Belfast became vivid in just such a way when a visitor drew my attention to the basic lunacies of the city.

The first thing he noticed on our afternoon drive was the ever conspicuous presence of army and police patrols. His fear was obvious, as was his astonishment at seeing men walking about openly carrying rifles and strapped with pistols. He was amused however at one sight of these armed men. At traffic lights we watched as two young children played beside an army sniper lying in a doorway, looking attentively through the sights of his rifle while covering for his mates. The young soldier might have been lying in a trench on a battlefield, such was his posture and actions; the young children could have been playing alone in a park, so oblivious were they to the uniformed gunman lying a couple of feet away. It was a peculiar contrast.

When trying to explain the geography of Belfast 1 found myself almost automatically differentiating between the areas purely on the basis of their religious affiliation. “You are now in the Catholic Falls", or “This is the Protestant Shankill” would suffice as a description, and I would not normally have given it a second thought. After all, this is the shorthand most commonly used by the media. But my visitor was bemused at the casual way in which I informed him that we were suddenly in a completely different type of area. The tightly-knit streets were identical to those down the road, the monotonous housing estates just as run-down, the poverty just as obvious and—guess what—the people didn’t look any different. It was much easier when I had told him half an hour before that we were passing through that part of town where the wealthy people live. The avenues there were quiet, with long fences and hedges sectioning off the large, comfortable houses set in their landscaped gardens. Even the uninitiated visitor could differentiate between these types of areas.

But I had to come up with a more satisfactory means of distinguishing between the working class areas which, on the face of it, admittedly looked rather similar. Could I tell him some of the old differences which are supposed to make these two groups of people incompatible? One lot, it is said, sponge off society and have large families in an attempt to undermine the state: The other side are supposedly thrifty, hard-working and loyal. Possibly it is because they come from different traditions. My visitor had seen that whether or not they were hard-working or “spongers", they lived in the same poor housing and dirty streets, and that their common heritage was a decaying environment. My task was becoming difficult and my guest more impatient for some sort of obvious divide between the two communities.

I drew his attention to some of the graffitti on the gable walls, which serve as a guide to the sectional divide. On a wall of the Protestant ghetto were the telling words. "No Pope here". I told my friend that the last Pope had been offered a kitchen house in the street by the housing authority but that the local people had refused to let him in. I didn't have to tell him I was joking. A couple of streets down I pointed out another piece of loyalist assertion, “This we will maintain". He remarked that most of the houses were derelict and some had already been demolished. In similar ghetloes not a stone's throw away (and to prove this the neighbouring communities regularly throw stones at each other) I showed him gable artistry pleading for a “Free Ireland" and headed "Support the IRA". Even he could see that this was as contradictory as it was to talk about "Military Intelligence".

However, I had no difficulty persuading my friend that the problems in Northern Ireland could not be explained away by reference to the superficial religious differences between Protestant and Catholic. Of greater importance were the political ideologies which lead members of the working class, be they republican or loyalist, to accept lives of constant poverty and violence. The urgent need, we agreed, was for them to assert their common interests in a struggle against petty nationalism and religious bigotry, and for a society of harmony.
Brian Montague
World Socialist Party of Ireland

Between the Lines: Uncle Sam's half-forgotten purge (1992)

The Between the Lines Column from the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Uncle Sam's half-forgotten purge
In Russia it is now common for many people to feel guilty about their complicity with Stalinism. After all, oppressors are only as strong as they are allowed to be by those who stand by passively. In Germany the sense of self-blame for passive collaboration with the Nazi monstrosity has haunted a generation and appears to be playing its part in a grotesque recidivism in a new one. Guilt gets nobody anywhere; it is a pain felt rather than a lesson learned. But worse perhaps than guilt is that complacent incomprehension of past atrocities which accompanies historical ignorance.

In the main, Americans fall into this latter category. The wretched story of McCarthyism is rarely spoken about and even more rarely recognized as being deeply symptomatic of the pseudo-freedom of US capitalist order. The Un-Americans (BBC2, 8.10 pm. Wednesdays 2nd, 9th and 16th September) was a superb reminder of that period of American political madness. Of particular merit was the series' refusal to dwell solely upon the purge of famous actors, writers and so-called intellectuals. The McCarthy witch-hunt hit vast numbers of unknown workers. Their political views lost them their jobs. Four hundred and fifty workers were imprisoned for political crimes - often for as long as twenty years.

One such ease was Steve Nelson, who in 1950 was chairman of the Western Pennsylvania Communist Party. He was arrested on the order of one Judge Musmanno - a man who had been a supporter of Mussolini before the war, praising the Fascists for "their purification of Italian soil" by “driving Bolshevism from the country". Nelson was charged on the basis of his possession of books, including the works of Marx. At the time of his trial a film was released, based on Nelson, called I Was A Communist For The FBI, in which the Nelsonesque caricature was shown to be a murderer. Nelson argued in court that the film would prejudice the jury. He, after all, was accused of being a CPer and possessing books, not of killing anyone. The film was written by one Harry Sherman, local vice-president of the McCarthyite organization, Americans Battling Communism. Musmanno, the trial judge, was also a member.

At the trial Musmanno declared of Nelson's books that "I regard those books as more I dangerous than any firearms". Nelson was sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment, a $10,000 fine and $13,291 court costs to pay the expenses of the prosecution - for which read "persecution". Like others shown on the programme, Nelson now realizes the folly of his old Leninist beliefs and sees how easy it was for the authorities to pursue their purge with impunity. But hostile as we are to the politics of Stalinism, who could watch Nelson's account of how he had a farewell picnic with his wife and kids before he went off to serve his sentence without feeling the utmost sympathy for him and the deepest loathing for the men who persecuted him in the name of freedom?

Lenin at the BBC?
The TV bosses are shouting at one another and in the exchange truths are coming out. It all began at the Edinburgh TV Festival when Michael Grade accused the BBC of becoming an institution which is scared by and sycophantic towards the Government. He accused the BBC bosses of being "Leninist" in their complicity with state demands, of "political appeasement to the Government; abandoning its heritage by axing resources; creating a culture of secrecy through editorial dictatorship; and stifling talent". Quite right. We have long pointed out that the government, in the name of freedom, imposes more and more control over state broadcasting, and, in the name of market forces, is dragging TV down to a lower and lower level. Is there a lower level than Eldorado? Watching it brings back fond memories of Crossroads as a relative example of dramatic sophistication. Marx called it the increasing misery of the working class - and watching Eldorado you get a funny feeling that he might just have been right.

Meanwhile ITV has announced that it is going to cut current affairs out of its peak-time hours altogether. Marcus Plantin, head of London Weekend Television, told the Edinburgh TV Festival that "We're not going to abandon current affairs, but we have to move it to a less competetive slot". By this he meant that advertisers want to put their money behind programmes that pull in the viewers and if game shows attract more soap powder buyers than news analysis, then World In Action will just have to go into the insomniac slot Paul Jackson, head of programmes for Carlton TV. the shoddy little outfit which will replace Thames next year, told the Festival that even though ITV output of news programmes currently constitutes only four percent, that is too much: "Four percent represents tens of millions of pounds and could make the difference between profit and loss". What all this is most clearly leading to is the Americanization of British TV: more tatty soaps like Eldorado, more horrible little game shows, more mindless chat, less news or serious analysis which costs money to research and film. Judge Musmanno and has fascistic friends would be proud: "freedom" (of the market) is flourishing and Lenin is purged from Moscow and well at home at the BBC.
Steve Coleman

Our Annual Conference (1935)

Editorial from the May 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our 32nd Annual Conference took place on Good Friday and the following Saturday at Fairfax Hall, Harringay, London. The attendance of delegates and members at Friday's session was by general consent the best for many years, taxing the capacity of the Hall.

The year's work of the Party's Executive Committee, sub-committees, officials and organisers, was reviewed by the delegates. Of particular interest this year was the report on the series of educational classes held at our headquarters on Sunday afternoons through the winter months. The lectures covered a very wide scope, including, to mention a few, lectures on economics, banking, commerce, history, philosophy, science, art, and literature. In all there were twenty-eight lectures, and a feature of them was that they were the work of a wide selection of lecturers and others whose co-operation was sought by the organiser in working out the course and drawing up the syllabuses. The success of the whole series was a tribute to co-operative organisation. The number of students who attended the course was a record for any series of lectures at Party headquarters, and exceeded the available accommodation. Arrangements are being made to continue these lectures next year on the lines of a more advanced second-year course. In addition, arrangements are in hand for the past winter's lectures to be repeated at branches, particularly at branches in the provinces. This ambitious scheme will involve 600 tutorial classes, but the organiser is confident that the help of new tutors coming forward from the last course will make it possible to carry the scheme through successfully.

Reports on various departments of the Party's work showed unmistakably that there has been a solid and substantial growth of the Party. The number of new members during the year was three times the number of lapsed members for the same period. Provincial propaganda was carried out more widely and established on a more regular basis than for many years. The sales of The Socialist Standard over the past six years have increased by fifty per cent. Six years ago, when we took a seven years' lease on the premises of our present headquarters, many of our more cautious members had doubts about the necessity and the ability to meet the expense of such large premises. Our experience since then has shown that the step was justified. Premises that were then considered too large and ambitious are now, as a result of our continuous growth, not large enough to accommodate all our activities, and we find ourselves faced with the task of securing new and larger premises. Conference recommended a special fund to be set up to meet the inevitable extra expense which will be involved.

Optimism was the keynote of Conference—an optimism justified by the sound and fruitful work of the past few years.

We have excellent reasons for our optimism. Since 1929, sales of The Socialist Standard, Party income, membership, and activities generally, have increased by fifty per cent, or more. Loyal support from sympathisers will enable us to increase our rate of growth in the years ahead of us.