Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Running Commentary: A right Royal time (1980)

The Running Commentary Column from the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

A right Royal time
Somebody's mum is 80 this month. She "looks 60” and still sloshes around in the rain in her wellies. Like many grandmas, she will celebrate her birthday surrounded by three or four generations of her family. So what's special?

If our grandma reaches 80, a number of people apart from the family will be pleased. The florists, confectioners, stationers and shops where we buy our flowers, cards and presents will all profit from the occasion. But this is nothing compared with the bonanza they’ll have when the Queen Mother celebrates her 80th birthday.

News Magazine (4.7.80) apart from featuring articles and pictures of the Royal Lady’s life and times, helps to cover the cost of producing this souvenir issue by carrying two types of advertisements in addition to the usual ones. Cartiers, "By Appointment” Jewellers and Goldsmiths to the Queen as well as her mum, and “over 50,000 employees in 1,000 Woolworth stores” take full page advertisements to send loyal birthday greetings.

As with every “special occasion” (pity the makers and importers of Moscow Olympics mementoes who, we understand, “caught a chill”), purveyors of royal souvenirs vie with each other to relieve you of your money. The Post Office got together with the Royal Mint. For £3.75 (plus £1 for postage) you can buy a special First Day Cover and a specially minted crown (a souvenir coin, not the headgear). The Heritage Club offers the Queen Mother Armorial Plate, slightly more expensive at £396, but this does include “carriage”. John Pinches offers the Queen Mother Birthday Pendant for "just £20”, and the Museum Galleries a set of four “superb quality” medallions for £14.95. However, if you really want to celebrate the occasion in style, the Daily Telegraph of July 7 carried an advertisement from Garrards “The Crown Jewellers” (as opposed to just being “By Appointment”) for a coin watch in 18ct. gold at £1,900; a deposit of £200 will secure.

These are just a few examples at the “top end” of the market. The biggest profits will be made from the hundreds of thousands of paper flags, cotton pennants, cheap commemorative “china” souvenirs, pictures, scarves, books, cards and other rubbish on which members of the working class will be pressured to squander part of their wages to celebrate the Queen Mum's birthday. This is not just a family affair, it is big business. 


Housing drives
The most complacent of politicians would not deny that the housing conditions of many sections of British workers are dreadful. But what they all say is that they are doing, or rather are about to do, something to cure the problem. Some guide as to the extent to which governments over the last few years have actually made a difference to the housing of the working class was given in a report of a speech by a junior Housing Minister at an Institute of Housing seminar in April this year (the Guardian 25.4.80). John Stanley announced a new housing drive. But so did the government before him, and the one before that, and the one before that back to those grim 19th century days . . .

With all that driving we should arrive sometime. But we don’t. Council and private house building are at their lowest levels since the 1930s and 1924 respectively. But don't think it is stopping in the 20s and 30s; the 19th century may be nearer than we think. One “Senior Housing Official”, referring to the last Labour, and the present Tory government’s housing record, put it like this: “Under the two governments, housing investment has already fallen to levels tolerated by Attlee and Baldwin. In the future, will the comparisons be Gladstone and Walpole?”

The new housing drives are about as real as government promises to cut unemployment. Under the last Labour government house building fell from 100,000 homes a year to 60,000. By 1984, if present trends continue, council house building will be reduced to miserable proportions. Likewise, private house building has one clear direction—down. Not that reversal of the trend would make much difference. Even now, there are thousands of empty privately owned homes and not all council homes are full, despite long waiting lists. But private house buying and renting mean having the necessary money. And as most of the homeless or those living in bad housing in many cities have not got that stuff, houses stay empty and slums remain overcrowded.

But aren’t the rich overcrowded too? Just think of poor Princess Anne. Not only does she have to share a home with her husband and son but there’s all those servants to be crowded in as well. Gatcombe Park, a Cotswold mansion which the Queen bought for her, is slightly bigger than the average two up and two down, but think of the drains! The royals have recently applied to the Ministry of Agriculture for an improvement grant to pay for their rotten sewers. If given, the grant would probably be large enough to buy quite a few workers' houses, let alone improve the drains.


Education cuts
Are you going to school? Are your children going to school? If so, it must be nice to know that you or your parents will probably have the privilege of paying for text books soon, as the Tories continue to freeze education. Grim jokes about sharing desks (Joan’s turn to sit down to-day), sharing equipment (Sue’s turn to write her answer today) and sharing teachers (2B's turn for lessons this week), are rife in the education world. The numbers in classes are rising (as though these are not big enough already) while thousands of trained teachers can't get work. Now the Bernard Sunley Charitable Organisation wants to do something about this state of affairs. They have just made a £1,500,000 donation to education and while no one can pretend that this will make a major difference, it presumably will pay for a few books and a few school dinners for the mounting number of children who can’t afford them—or will it? Actually the money has been provided to build not a new school, but a new management training centre in Northampton (the Guardian 17.4.80). The trust fund (owned by the giant insurance company Eagle Star) will not be doling out this money to help poorer children to a slightly less dreadful education. It is trying to ensure that those very important serfs, the managerial cliques, are better trained to squeeze even more profit out of school leavers lucky enough to find employment.


African wages
One of Sir Keith Joseph’s concerns as Industry Secretary is to con the workers into even lower wages so that his class can get even more profits. His latest scheme, announced to a somewhat stunned BBC lunch time audience on Sunday the 29 June, was that the workers should voluntarily take lower wages and so ‘‘price themselves into a job”. Now there are many who have long held the view that Sir Keith is not a fanatic he is just mad. On the other hand, it may be as well to recall that other equally strange folk (for example James Callaghan) managed to trick a large section of the working class into extremely low pay rises (while inflation raced ahead) for quite some time. Perhaps it is unlikely that messianic Sir Keith is going to have the same effect, but it is too early to say yet.

What Sir Keith really needs is a dash of South Africa; there they really put the world of his dreams into action. At least 33 British Companies now operating in South Africa are accused of paying their workers less than subsistence wages. The minimum wage level in South Africa is known officially as the poverty datum line (PDL). This does not actually give enough to prevent starvation. But the Brits are supposed to observe the EEC code which requires them to pay what the EEC calls the minimum effective level (MEL); but even this is only barely sufficient to keep starvation at bay. Among the glorious list of 33 British Companies which, it is claimed, pay less than the MEL, some actually admit to paying less than the PDL. These remnants of British imperialism include household names such as Barclays Bank, BP, GEC, Norwich Union, Rank Hovis MacDougall, Rentokil and Tate and Lyle.

Some of the quotations from Company Reports and comments which the Observer (8.6.80) extracted are quite startling. Thomas French & Sons, fabric manufacturers, say “it is not the Company's policy to aim at ‘unmerited’ pay levels recommended by the EEC code”. The Company could only be more honest if it had said: “it is not our policy to pay a halfpenny more than necessary to get the blacks to work, to leave us the highest margin of profit” And how do they define their criterion of a “merited” pay rise? In the meantime, the Company’s lowest paid workers are paid less than 50 per cent of the PDL. Rank Hovis MacDougall says that, “its policy is for the minimum wages of its workers in rural areas to be in line with PDL as soon as practicable . . .” Until the Company graciously decides, African workers can live a lingering death.

The issue has caused a mini-storm in the British Parliament as the Trade Secretary John Nott wriggled and squirmed in refusing to publish a Black List of the worst offenders. In reply to a Parliamentary question (the Times 28.6.80), Nott said this of British companies and South African employment: “If a Company gave good fringe benefits” (he is thinking of a car perhaps, or a holiday on the French Riviera?) “and set about achieving good industrial relations” (which means the best conditions for profitable production) “that Company should be commended” (because it is achieving the best conditions for exploitation) “even though some might question its performance over wages” (question the callousness of this exploitation). “Such a Company was much more to be commended” (commended by its capitalist owners?) “than a Company which pays good wages” (meaning MEL?) “but did none of these other things" (but what about those that did neither?).

Don’t get it wrong; all wages are robbery because employment entails exploitation of the work force in order to make the profits for the employers. South Africa is just a particular example of what is happening everywhere. Sir Keith boasted in the USA on a recent trip, that wage rates in the UK are extremely competitive. That is, they are probably lower than many other potential areas for investment of the United States capital in Europe. It is that low wage he and the Tories and all capitalists want to reduce.
Ronnie Warrington

Socialism holds the initiative (1980)

Editorial from the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The socialist analysis of society has many unique features. To begin with, it is consistent; it stands now as it did when the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed in 1904. The reason for this—and here we have another unique characteristic—is that our analysis fits in with reality, with the material experience of society. No other analysis explains the wars, the poverty, the social and other ailments of capitalism.

But one aspect in which the socialist analysis is unique is too often ignored, particularly by those opponents of socialism who are so confused and deluded as to attribute to themselves the very characteristics which they lack. This aspect is the innovatory nature of socialist theory—the fact that it is socialists who hold the intellectual initiative and have ideas and concepts untrammelled by the stale and fallacious presumptions of capitalist politics.

For the politics of capitalism are not innovatory. The kindest description they can be given is responsive, in the sense that they spring up piecemeal as each separate problem of capitalism manifests itself—and usually they die as those very problems expose their impotence.

These responses are staccato, coming in fits and starts and often operating in contradiction of each other. For example, it is not so long ago that, in response to capitalism’s economic crises, the governing parties were devoted to high government expenditure as an answer to their problems. Now, we are told that those same crises can only be cured by lower government spending—which does not mean that, soon, we shall again be offered the panacea of high state spending in some election programme.

This illustrates the fragmented nature of the responsive politics. Capitalism's governments, whatever noises they may make about planning for years ahead, in fact work at the most from one Budget day to the next. Attempts to improve on this—or at least to lengthen the period for which they “plan”-have always come to grief. The Wilson government in 1964, for example, hatched its infamous National Plan which, under the guidance of the bibulous George Brown, was going to organise capitalism into prosperity. It was, of course, not an original notion and who now, in the economic chaos and the poverty of the 80s, remembers that discreditable episode with other than distaste?

So capitalism’s responses are ephemeral. George Brown is only one of a long, long list of politicians whose reputations lie in a grave along with the measures they espoused, in their glad confident morning, as the all-embracing remedy to capitalism’s ills. In George Brown’s heyday, one of the Labour Party’s favourite words was “pragmatic”, by which they meant that their actions were not based upon dogma but on a reasoned assessment of what was necessary in the immediate circumstances. Another way of describing that attitude was expedient. Another was unprincipled.

Anyone entering capitalist politics cannot afford to have principles other than a dedication to their own advancement. At one time, they may genuinely have ambitions to see society improved, to help ease problems like poverty or bad housing, to bring more security to this troubled world. Real experience of government quickly stifles such delusions; promises are broken or forgotten, alliances are forged with onetime deadly enemies, words are used to confuse and deceive instead of to illuminate and unify.

In contrast, the socialist analysis is based rock-firm on the principle that capitalism’s problems spring from the nature of that social system and that they can be abolished only by ending capitalism and replacing it with socialism. This principle stands because capitalism itself is essentially unchanged, as it has to be. Thus a socialist party must be uncompromising and consistent, at all times pressing the case for the social revolution.

And in this we are unique and innovatory. Not for us the discredited politics, the morals and the assumptions of a society based upon the class ownership of the means of living. Only the socialist offers a challenge to capitalism’s assumptions about restrictive access to wealth, about family and sexual relationships, about issues like personal aggression or co-operation, about repression and freedom.

Socialists do not respond to every shift in the weather of capitalism. No economic blizzard casts doubt on the strength of our case, no blast of war persuades us to deny the united interests of the international working class to establish socialism. We are disenchanted, to put it mildly, with the decadence of capitalism and with the staleness and impotence of its responsive politics. We take the initiative; socialism will be the fresh society, which offers the challenge to control our own future.

Political Notes: New Centre Party (1980)

The Political Notes Column from the July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

New Centre Party
While the famous Punch and Judy show of Thatcher and Benn goes through the motions of convincing the electorate that there is a vast ideological gulf between Right and Left, Roy Jenkins, ex-Labour Minister and current President of the European Commission, pursues his scheme of forming a Centre Party. Nobody knows what the proposed Party will be in the centre of, nor what policies it will advocate which have not been tried and failed in the past. The following predictions may be made. Firstly, the new party will stand for capitalism. It may not say that it does, preferring to call it “the mixed economy” (mixed up economy would be more accurate), but by accepting the continuation of class property, wages and profits, we will know which system the Centrals support.

Secondly, if elected, the Centre Party will fail to tackle any single social problem: its reforms will be no better than those of the present capitalist parties. It will blame its failure to carry out promises on all kinds of causes—the unions, the oil sheiks, the weather—but will not concede (or even realise) that the problems are inherent to capitalism. Thirdly, the new Centre Party will evolve its own factions. There will be a Left standing for more state control, less arms expenditure and improved welfare provisions, and a Right standing for less state control, more arms and less welfare expenditure. Some of the Centre Party may fall between both wings and conspire to form a new party of the centre. It too will be marked by the same features as its parent party. And so it will go on — capitalist leaders fighting over the best way to run the worst system. It is perhaps in the recognition that Jenkins’ naive plan is doomed to fail that most politicians have wished to have nothing to do with it. Meanwhile, the non-issue of the day dominates the headlines. Will Jim resign? How long will it take Benn to convince the Stock Exchange that he is respectable? Will Maggie do a U-turn? Will the Liberals revive? Questions that don’t matter, and answers that matter less. The only question of the day which should concern all workers Left, Right and Centre —is whether or not they will continue to support a system that offers them poverty, suffering and insecurity.

Afghanistan Gas
The Russians claim that they went into Afghanistan to “liberate” its inhabitants from an American-backed oppressive regime. The Americans claim that they are concerned about the “freedom” of the Afghanistan people, which has been harmed by the new Russian-backed oppressive regime. Socialists know better than to believe either of the capitalist super-powers when they shield their imperialist motives behind pious justification for warfare. Critical readers of the Guardian will have noticed two separate reports which confirm that the Russian invasion of Afghanistan is explicable in plain economic terms. On 1 May 1980, an article in the gas industry magazine Gas World is reported to have pointed out that
“Supplies of natural gas from Afghanistan will reach 2.5 cubic metres this year, 16 per cent up on last year. The increased supply coincided with Moscow’s refusal to meet Iranian demands for a five-fold increase in the present price of 76 cents per 1,000 cubic feet.
   Gas World comments: 'The extra supplies available from Afghanistan obviously strengthen their hands in negotiations with the Iranians who are already arguing that the Soviets are swindling the Afghans by including the cost of the invasion in the price of the gas they are importing'.”
Two days later, the Guardian included news of the Russian attempt to do a deal with British Petroleum. BP has apparently been offered a supply of 45,000 cubic metres of Soviet gas a year to sell in Western Europe in exchange for technology and managerial knowledge to be used in the Arctic. Meanwhile the press, including the Guardian, continues to perpetrate the image that the conflict in Afghanistan is primarily ideological. A cynic might conclude that they’re talking a lot of gas.


Wembley Waffle
A visitor to the Special Conference at Wembley on 31 May would be excused for thinking that it was the Tories, not the Labour Party, who were the organisers. After all, handed to all delegates as they entered was a short leaflet published by a Labour Party faction called The Social Democratic Alliance. This is what it said:
“Oppose the extremist NEC statement! Oppose the move to withdraw from NATO! Oppose re-nationalisation without compensation! Support the mixed economy! Support the Western Alliance! Support the Centre — support the SDA!”
Now, “Left Wing” delegates at the Conference were dropping these on the floor with the contempt that they would show for a signed photo of Sir Keith Joseph. “These people have no place in our great movement” commented one trade unionist. The funny thing is that the SDA policies were precisely those of the last Labour government. The Left may be permitted to shout and make rhetorical threats at Conference time—they may even will the right to put them in their manifesto— but come the next Labour government, the leaders will be dancing to capitalism’s tune, and those who put their faith in the Labour Party will be crying that they were betrayed.
Steve Coleman

Don’t follow leaders (1980)

From the July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Some are born to lead, others are born to be led” is a saying often used to persuade workers that they need, and should follow, leaders. Under capitalism the motto controlling workers’ actions is “Ours is not to question why; ours is but to do or die”. Socialists have contempt for such ideas. If you walk along a road and don’t know where it leads to, you get lost and that is what has happened to the working class: they have put their trust in leaders, who do not understand the system any more than their followers, and the result is that they all get nowhere fast. In fact some have ended up six feet under the ground, following the orders of their leaders on the battle field in defence of capitalist interests.

The fact that the working class feel the need for leadership is an indication of the limited social role they see for themselves. It’s easy to see how workers are attracted to leaders who offer a way out of the continuous chaos of capitalism, whether they are Left wing reformists claiming that they can run capitalism in the interest of the working class or religious leaders telling us to be “nice boys and girls” and to be content with the little we have because we’ll go to heaven when we die.

We are told by the defenders of capitalism that the ordinary person in the street would not be intelligent enough to take over the running of society from top to bottom. In fact, it is the workers who run society now — from managers to doctors to coal miners — but far from using their abilities for their own benefit, they use them for the benefit of the privileged few who own and control the means of wealth production and distribution.

It is not new leaders that are needed, but a new system which puts human needs, instead of the hunger for profit, first. It is to advocate a new system of society, not new and superior leaders, that is the work of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and our companion parties. Our alternative to capitalism is socialism, which will only be achieved when the majority of the working class understand and realise the need for it. Socialism will not be brought about by workers following some self-appointed vanguard on a mystery tour through a black tunnel—whatever it leads to at the other end, it won’t be socialism. So what is this socialist society that we in the Socialist Party urge workers to lead themselves to? It will be a society where there will be no money and free access to all the wealth produced; no buying and selling will take place because no private property will exist. Instead, the means of wealth production will be commonly owned and democratically controlled. Wars, poverty, class division and the environment from which leadership emerges will have gone forever.

The need for socialism is more urgent now than ever, as capitalism pushes towards a confrontation between the Great Powers which could in minutes wipe out much of the human race. So the choice is yours: leaders or socialism — choose wisely, for your life could depend on it.
SD

Running Commentary: PLO recognition (1980)

The Running Commentary Column from the July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

PLO recognition
“They’ve taken my legs, but it only means I’m more firmly planted in the soil.” Mayor Bassam Shaka of Nablus (3.6.80).
The terrorist attacks which maimed two West Bank mayors and wounded other Palestinians in Hebron last month were the climax of weeks of mounting violence in the area, provoked by what all governments would term “necessary vigilance for the security of the state”. The victimisation of communities, refugee camps and families by the Israeli security forces—together with arbitrary searchings and beatings—are having the effect of driving the most “moderate” Palestinians into the arms of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, something that Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in the heady days of 1978 was designed, in part, to prevent.

The nature of the Israeli government’s “civilising mission” on the West Bank was clarified last month with the publication of a letter (dated 19 May) by Uri Avnery, a Labour member of the Knesset. Reproduced was the following extract of orders from the military government to Israeli army conscripts: 
“Any one you catch outside, you first beat with the clubs all over his body, except the head. Have no mercy, break all his bones! Give no explanations. First of all beat, and when you are finished you can explain why you have done so. If you catch a small child, order his whole family out, make them stand in a row, and beat the father in front of his children. Don’t treat this beating as a privilege, it’s a duty! They understand no other way.” (Middle East International, 6.6.80).
It would be misleading to suggest that the PLO’s growing international respectability—the EEC states now recognise it—is the altruistic response to what is occurring on the West Bank (the Arab Community in Palestine were, after all, dispossessed and dispersed rather a long time ago). Rather, it is the consequence of an awareness that vital oil interests (and to a lesser extent, arms markets) depend upon Middle East “stability”, and that the Israeli government’s policies could lead to a further surge of Islamic extremism in the area. (The fact that the American government is internationally out of step on the question doesn’t mean its heart is in the wrong place Carter is doing nothing to upset a strong pro-Israel lobby in election year.)

With autonomy for the Palestinians more firmly on the agenda, can we expect a resolution of what appears to be an intractable problem, with both sides determined to give no ground? A homeland with “secure borders” may sound reasonable, but capitalism is not as simple as that. The PLO’s policy of “liberation” through violence veils the more important issue of whose freedom is at stake, and for what purpose. Peace has hardly gone hand-in-hand with the creation of nation states; real freedom will require self-determination of an entirely different kind.


WHSmenzies
“I believe in a poly-culture of the press from left to right, from cranky to sound.” James Goldsmith, proprietor of Now magazine (“Question Time” BBC1, 12.6.80.)
Owners of newspapers are fond of pointing out that we live in a country where the concepts of freedom of speech, assembly and publication are enshrined in the Constitution. Every one of us has the legal right to own a daily newspaper, provided we can get our hands on several million pounds. What they don’t mention however, is that you can expect some difficulty in getting W. If. Smith to distribute it.

Last month was published a thin book, Where is the Other News? (Minority Press Group) which attempts, among other things, to show why W. H. Smith and Menzies are prepared to display those old family favourites Dental Surgeon and Pig Farming (sales of 3,000 per issue) and not journals like the Socialist Standard (sales of 4,000 per issue). These big two wholesalers have cornered two-thirds of the newspaper and magazine market in Britain (Menzies have 93 per cent of the Scottish market), with total business in 1978 estimated to be 792 million pounds; and their domination of the market is increasing as small wholesalers close down.

Smenzies argue that a publication lacks “credibility” if it is not part of the advertising-funded, market-research based magazine industry. Should they agree to distribute a journal they will ask to vet the boards (not German for weeing on the floor; they only want to check the contents before it is printed—ostensibly for libel, but then aren’t the “quality press” more plagued with writs than anyone?).

But, you might ask, isn’t it naive to expect that Smith’s or Menzies could be other than conservative and not committed to the free availability of challenging opinion? Perhaps so; but in France it is mandatory for wholesalers to distribute periodicals of any circulation. What is clear is that, under capitalism, the free dissemination of ideas has less to do with legality than with the ability to pay—something to remember the next time you “read” Sir Larry Lamb’s Sun.


Hard stuff
Socialists have often shown that capitalism causes an immense waste of resources. An article in the shipping industry newspaper Freighting World, illustrates the point. On 26 March a Captain F. L. Cox points out that because airline passengers can buy cheap alcohol, most aeroplanes are priced to carry a much greater weight than is desirable. A Boeing 747 for instance could have over 500 bottles of spirits in the passenger compartment. Captain Cox points out that this extra weight causes the following problems:
1. Fire hazard. Most spirits would be classified under IATA rules as combustible liquids, some as flammable liquids. Fire would spread more readily after an accident.
2. Deceleration hazard. Violent deceleration can result in bottle missiles flying through the cabin. In one accident, where the aircraft was a total loss, all passengers were safe except for one whose death was thought to have been caused by a flying bottle.
3. Rescue hazard. Broken glass in the cabin is dangerous to both the passengers and rescue personnel after an accident.
4. Security risk. A hijacker has tried to use a broken bottle as a weapon.
5. Passenger comfort. A) congestion of packages in the cabin; B) extra risk of intoxication and disorderly conduct.
6. Fuel wastage. Extra fuel has to be used in carrying duty-free goods. While only a small proportion of the total fuel load, it is still an unnecessary waste. More travellers return with the type of spirit popular in their own homeland: and it was probably manufactured there in the first place. (our emphasis)

So it can clearly be seen that one minor feature of the present insecure system—the urge to buy cheap booze as an advantage of overseas travel—is responsible for serious social difficulties which could be eradicated tomorrow if the workers woke up to the idea of a society without buying and selling.
Melvin Tenner 


Good for Nothing (2016)

Book Review from the August 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

'War: What is It Good For?', by Ian Morris (Profile £10.99)

Absolutely nothing, according to the song, but Ian Morris claims here that war has had a much more useful role in human history. It has made people safer, healthier, longer-lived and richer, leading to a society with far less risk of violent death and an enormous expansion in what is produced. The basic argument is that war has resulted in stronger states and a consequent suppression of violence. Hence ‘[i]n 2010 the planet was more peaceful and prosperous than ever before.’

It is not suggested that all wars have been beneficial in this way, only what Morris calls productive wars, those that accelerated the growth of strong states (which he terms Leviathans after Thomas Hobbes). Many wars have been counter-productive, or at least unproductive, though in terms of those killed these have been far less lethal than the productive wars. Behind all this is the view that, left to themselves and without a big and powerful government to keep them in line, people will be constantly at each other’s throats, as supposedly in small-scale societies such as the Stone Age and modern hunter-gatherers. This remains a contentious issue and has been discussed in these pages before (August and September 2014).

On Morris’s account, the last five millennia BCE saw productive wars, with rates of violent death falling by up to three quarters as a result. But subsequently the horsemen of the Eurasian steppes prevented the imperial powers from providing proper security for their subjects, which led to the disruption of trade and to troops plundering peasants to make up for the shortfall in their pay from taxes. By the fourteenth century CE, much of Eurasia was under ‘feudal anarchy’ and casual violence.

Almost a millennium and a half of counter-productive war came to an end, which Morris dates specifically to 1415: not because this was the year of Agincourt but because it was when the Portuguese king started to expand his rule into Africa, thereby setting off productive intercontinental war. So began five hundred years of European war against the rest of the world, leading to vast colonial empires. It involved the suppression of local wars and banditry and eventually to safer and richer lives, so it was ‘the most productive war in history’.

The Second World War was also productive, as it led to the United States taking over as the globocop, a role that Britain was no longer capable of playing. The last chapter is a kind of paean to the military and economic power of the US, which can use overwhelming force to keep other countries in line. But it may only have a few decades left, since drones and robots will take over the fighting, and computerisation will make globocops unnecessary. Until then the world needs a US globocop, a credible Leviathan that will preserve the status quo, whereby people continue to become safer and more prosperous.

As can be seen, this line of argument relies on looking at things in the very long run, discounting all the killing and suffering that take place before the ‘benefits’ emerge. European colonial conquest involved genocide, slavery and massive exploitation, and it is a breathtaking understatement to comment that ‘the defeated fared less well than the victors’. There are no references to child labour, but no doubt that could also be categorised as productive, on the grounds that it contributed to the development of capitalism and the profits of the capitalist class.

Class society needs a strong central power to defend the interests of the ruling class and to suppress ‘unlicensed’ bandits such as the Mafia. There is technological progress due to war, but this is just because resources are directed at this end, not that war is needed for technological advances. War is incredibly wasteful in terms of lives and resources, which could be put instead to meeting human need. Any decline in violence is basically due to the cost and difficulty of resisting US global hegemony: ‘The essence of U.S. military predominance in the world is, ultimately, the fact that it can, at will, with only a few hours’ notice, drop bombs at absolutely any point on the surface of the planet’ (David Graeber: Debt).

Morris writes that ‘we cannot just decide to end war’. What we can do, though, is decide to establish a society in which war is inconceivable. Socialism has been possible for decades, and we do not need wars or globocops or drones to guarantee a society of true peace and well-being.     
Paul Bennett

The coming election in West Germany (1980)

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

This October the voters of West Germany will go to the polls to elect a new Bundestag (or Federal Assembly). There are three parties now represented in the Bundestag: the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats. The present government is a coalition between the Social Democrats and the Free Democrats but in the past (and still today at regional level), the various other combinations Christian Democrats and Free Democrats, Social Democrats and Christian Democrats have also existed, thus neatly illustrating that the fight between these parties is largely a sham and that all three basically stand for the same thing: the maintenance of capitalism in West Germany.

The German Social Democratic Party (SDP) was. before the first world war, the biggest “Marxist” party in Europe, the party of Bebel, Liebkneckt, Kautsky, Bernstein and Rosa Luxemburg. It had already become a reformist party (as a result of its mistaken policy of trying to advocate both socialism and reforms of capitalism) well before the first World War, but from then on it was downhill all the way. In 1959, at a Congress held in Bad-Godesberg, the SPD finally abandoned all pretence at being in the Marxist tradition and came to reject even the state capitalism which had in the meantime become its longterm aim. It openly proclaimed its acceptance of the “market economy”, the mixture of private and state capitalism that exists in Western countries. And since 1966—until 1969 in coalition with the Christian Democrats and then in coalition with the Free Democrats the SPD has wholeheartedly participated in the administration of West German capitalism, running the capitalist system in the interest of those who live off profits derived from their ownership and control of the means of production. Like the Labour Party in Britain, it has provided a few sinecures for trade union leaders, but has had nothing to offer the working class as a whole.

In fact the SPD has even come to be regarded as the normal governing party for West German capitalism. The opposition Christian Democratic party (CDU) thus enters these elections with a handicap, especially as their leader, Franz-Josef Strauss, a loud-mouthed demagogue from Bavaria (where the party is known as the CSU, the Christian Social Union), has a reputation to live down. Because of his past strident “anti-communism”, he used to be depicted as a possible new post-war Hitler who, if returned to power, would seek to avenge Germany’s defeat in the last war. Strauss however is simply another professional capitalist politician who, if the CDU/CSU wins the elections, will be compelled to run the West German state in much the same way as it always has been since it was set up in 1949. “Rightwing” bogeymen, just as much as “leftwing”, once they come to power, are tamed by being obliged to run capitalism according to its dictates rather than according to their own desires. Whether Strauss or Schmidt ends up as Chancellor should be a matter of complete indifference to German workers.

The Free Democrats (FDP), roughly the equivalent of the Liberals in Britain, will be fighting for their lives in this election. West Germany has a complicated proportional representational system, which gives representation in Parliament to any party which has won at least 5 percent of the vote nationally. The FDP, unable to win in any local constituency, is only represented in the Bundestag on this basis and there is a distinct possibility that this time their national vote will fall below 5 per cent, as it has done already in some recent regional elections.

The main reason this may happen is the intervention of a fourth party, already represented in a few regional parliaments, Die Grünen, the Greens or ecologists, whose main plank is “Kern-kraft—Nein Danke (Nuclear Power—No Thanks). This is the “in" party among leftists in Germany these days, with the support of such names as Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Rudolf Bahro (almost the first thing he did on being let out of East Germany last year was to go to the congress of the Green party) and, until his recent death, Rudi Dutschke. The presence of such leaders of the “extra-parliamentary opposition” of a decade or so ago in the ranks of the vote-seeking, not to say vote-catching, Green party shows that, after all, such people are not beyond all hope. Cohn-Bendit has at least learned that, if you want to put your ideas into practice, you have to go through the ballot box (even if his ideas are still as confused as they ever were).

Also on the green bandwagon (but not linked with the above party) is the nine-day-wonder of a few years ago, the neo-Nazi “National Party of Germany” (NDP), one of whose stickers saying “Green is Life" we reproduce here. This is not so illogical as it might seem, since opposition to modern technology on behalf of landed interests has always been a trend of fascist thought. So, “green” voters will be able to vote for a “neo-leftist” or a “neo-fascist” according to their preference. All this should ensure that none of the minority parties, and perhaps the FDP neither, overcomes the 5 per cent barrier.

Any Socialists in West Germany will of course be writing “WELTSOZIALISMUS” across their ballot paper.
Adam Buick


Death of Blair Peach and the Special Patrol Group (1980)

From the July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

“For me, it was a perfectly standard operation . . .  It was all over in about two minutes” was how Alan Murray, the Inspector who was in command of Unit One Special Patrol Group at Southall on 23 April 1979, and who is clearly a man with unusual standards of normality, described the events which led to the death of Blair Peach. Well what would you expect him to say? — “We rushed down this street clubbing anyone we came across — a right tasty one it was. There was this geezer with a beard who got one on the side of the head and he went down. I’m sorry he died but he was one of the looney left and if he was looking for trouble he can’t complain, can he.”

Since that riotous day, Blair Peach has been canonised into the divine ranks of the left wing martyrs. He was so likely a character for that role that the most maudlin script writer would not have dared to create him. Peach came from New Zealand to teach in the East End of London, which is not renowned for its compliant, attentive, easily controllable school kids. Even more—Peach chose to teach backward, delicate children and the evidence is that he made a skilful, caring job of it. Even his looks were those of a born martyr with his sensitive, bearded face topped by unruly hair—a face which later stared out from the protest posters over the caption “He Fought the Nazis—the Police Murdered Him”.

Although nobody has been—or is likely to be—charged with causing his death, the available evidence is heavily suggestive that Peach was killed by a blow from a radio or some other weapon wielded by someone in that SPG unit commanded by Alan Murray. (One of the apparent mysteries of the matter, which gives much food for cynical thought, is that although the streets were swarming with policemen at the time, Peach’s killer cannot be found.) By the time of the Southall riot, the SPG already had a fearsome reputation, built up by their crowd smashing tactics at Grunwick, Lewisham (1975) and Lambeth (1978). In particular, Murray’s Unit One considered themselves a cut above the rest and tended to irritate the other units with infantile provocations like humming the Dam Musters' March as they arrived at the scene of the action.

The SPG was first formed in London in 1965, when Wilson’s Labour government had won power on the promise of an abundant, caring society through the technological revolution although they did not mention that speedier, more ruthless policemen would be part of it. Nobody with any experience of left wing doublethink will be surprised that many of the people who are now demanding abolition of the SPG are members or supporters of the Labour Party or—like the Socialist Workers Party—advise workers to vote Labour. The SPG was originally intended as a mobile force which would give help at short notice to local police who were having difficulty in coping with particular problems like an upsurge in street crime. All members of the SPG were volunteers but they got no extra pay; presumably they found their rewards in the extra excitement and the mystique attached to being members of an elite. Inevitably, the SPG developed into a semi-autonomous force, something between the police and the Army, with its own, unpleasant, aura. “We’re the Special Patrol Group”, they announced on arriving to search (fruitlessly) one suburban home, “and we can do anything.”

From the beginning, Southall seemed made to measure for the SPG. It began when the National Front hired the old Town Hall for a meeting in support of their candidate in the general election. The NF did not publicise their meeting — they didn’t need to — and the local Indian Workers Association heard about it by chance from the police. At first it was IWA policy to ignore the meeting apart from asking local shops to close as a mark of protest. But a meeting to co-ordinate plans with other community groups preferred a “peaceful” sit-down outside the Town Hall, in which the demonstrators would accept arrest without resistance.

Apart from those strictly local bodies, there were others which were taking a predictable interest in what was happening in Southall. There were small but ominous differences in their attitude towards the affair: the Anti-Nazi League demanded “Stop the Nazi Meeting”; the SWP aimed to “Shut Down Southall”. Neither of them — and this also applied to Socialist Unity, whose candidate was Tariq Ali— used the word “peaceful” when talking about the demonstration which was planned. As the meeting drew near, the excitement became almost tangible; Southall was set for a battle.

And that, it seems, was how the police also viewed it. In the event the sit-down was not possible because the police cordoned off the area in front of the Town Hall. A running battle developed, over a large area of the town, with numerous examples of sickening violence, most of it from the police. The Daily Telegraph (24.4.79) described one incident:
“Within three minutes police had cornered about 50 demonstrators against the walls of Holy Trinity Churchyard . . .  several dozen, crying, screaming, coloured demonstrators were dragged . . .  to the police station and waiting coaches. Nearly every demonstrator we saw had blood flowing from some sort of injury; some were doubled up in pain.”
Perhaps all of this was enjoyable to the Special Patrol Group and to the hotter headed demonstrators. It was what they had come for and could be added to their other battle honours. Hundreds of people were injured, some of them seriously; over three hundred were arrested; a community was left in a state of high tension and fear. The NF held their meeting, speaking to 40 of their own supporters, 15 journalists and five members of “the public”. An hour or so after it was all over, Blair Peach died in hospital. Ten days later, the NF candidate totted up his votes; 1545 Southall workers had supported that squalid mess of racism and repression. It was a victory for someone but nobody was sure who.

The killing of Peach gave the left wing a propaganda weapon which they immediately seized. The protest meetings, marches, statements, began at once. “Avenge Blair Peach . . . Get These Murderous Brutes Off The Streets . . .  Smash the National Front . . ." screeched the Socialist Worker of 28 April 1979, in words clearly not designed to reduce the tension. The canonisation of Blair Peach, in the cause of left wing hypocrisy, has been a long drawn out affair and promises to last for some time yet. It has received regular stimulus from the anger caused by events like the discovery of the “unauthorised” weapons in SPG lockers, the trials of those who were arrested and the inquest, which inferred that Peach was killed accidentally by a policeman, using reasonable force to quell a riot. Yes, this one will obviously run and run.

Except that this is no stage play. Police violence is a serious matter, with dismal implications for working class liberty. But so is left wing hypocrisy and the hysterical nonsense which is being spouted from them about Peach, the SPG and the National Front does nothing but obscure some essential facts of reality. To look at just three of the issues:

Ban the Special Patrol Group? No left winger ever seems properly to grasp the fact that the police are inseparable from capitalism, are part of its coercive state machine which exists to protect the rights and privileges of the ruling class. As the tensions of capitalism build up, the police are not likely to become less repressive but more so. Increasingly, the British police are being armed as a matter of course and the SPG are not their only specialist elite; there are others like C10, who are expert marksmen. And it should not be forgotten that policemen are themselves members of the working class, even if they have specially anti-working class ideas; a 1975 survey  (The Public and the Police, William A. Belson) on the relationship between the London police and the public, requested by the Metropolitan Police, found 90 per cent of policemen claiming that demonstrators produced problems for them and 51 per cent accepting that society is constantly threatened by a minority dedicated to its overthrow. Such workers are ready to assert their ideas on the heads of fellow members of their class and are not particular about which uniform they wear while doing so. To demand the disbandment of the SPG is an exercise in futility, since the needs of capitalism would ensure that it was quickly replaced with another, similar elite.

Ban Police Secrecy? Capitalism cannot operate on the principle of open administration; imagine a firm telling its competitors about its plans to corner a market, or a government letting its rivals see its latest secret weapons. This also applies to other organs of repression like the police; they are not supposed to let the criminals know when they are coming to capture them. Unless they operate in secrecy, the police would lose their character as part of the coercive state machine-and would be useless to capitalism.

Ban the National Front? Southall exposed the naïveté — and worse — of the theory that political ideas can be beaten out of workers' heads. How many of the demonstrators have changed their ideas after being beaten up by the police, or because of the death of Blair Peach? Without the protest, the police, the violence, the NF meeting would probably have passed with hardly a mention. As it was, the NF got a lot of just the sort of publicity they are looking for. Workers who are impressed by racism are confused about capitalism, to the point of desperation; they are not likely to be persuaded out of their confusion by violence or repressive laws. An essential part of democracy is freedom of speech; only the left wing are capable of the argument that free speech can be defended by denying it to someone they disagree with. And if the NF is banned, where will it stop? Will the ideas of socialism be next? Free discussion, and openly available information, provide the best conditions for workers to lose their confusion and to learn about socialism. Any attempt to suppress any idea is harmful to this.

Southall was another shameful episode in the history of capitalist repression and of the left wing. On both sides of the police cordon there were those who think that workers have something to gain in such violence as occurred that day; as anti-working class and anti-socialist, there is nothing to choose between them. There was a special irony in the death of Blair Peach and the response to it; as a member of the SWP he must himself have approved the use of martyrs as propaganda weapons, without dreaming that one day he would himself be so used.

There was that day a tragedy greater than Peach's death and the injuries which were suffered. Everyone there was a worker who was misguided as to where his class interests lie; the tragedy is the contribution Southall made to the political mythology of the working class, which obscures the task before us to bring about regardless of sex or race, our own emancipation.
Ivan