Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Remember Belgium! (1930)

Editorial from the May 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1914, hundreds of thousands of workers were duped into enlisting by the appeal to their sympathy on behalf of “poor little Belgium!" It is interesting to learn that confirmation has now been given to the statement that the Allied Governments had themselves prepared for violating Belgian “neutrality.”

Mr. Harold Nicolson has just written a life of his father, Lord Carnock, who as Sir Arthur Nicholson was Permanent Under-secretary at the Foreign Office in the years leading up to the war (“Lord Carnock,” published by Constable, 21/-).

From a review of the book which appeared in the Daily Herald on April 3rd, 1930, we learn that in September, 1911,
“preparations for landing four or six divisions on the Continent have been worked out to the minutest detail"; and in 1913 French military authorities are reported by Sir Arthur Nicolson to be of the view that “it would be far better for France if a conflict were not too long postponed.”
In 1913 Sir Arthur Nicolson wrote to the Minister in Brussels :—
We and France might have to move troops across the Belgian frontier in order to meet the approach of German troops from the other side.
The Herald reviewer says that ‘‘The Minister's reply makes it clear that this action was contemplated before the Germans actually entered Belgium.”

These statements based on Mr. Harold Nicolson's book were promptly confirmed by the Countess of Warwick in an interview which she gave the Daily Herald on April 4th.

She reports a conversation between Lord French and M. Clemenceau which took place in 1910, she being the only other person present, and acting as interpreter. Clemenceau said:—
. . . .  The British landing would be at Dunkirk, and your troops would go through Belgium into Germany.
French was dubious, and raised the question of Belgian neutrality, to which Clemenceau replied:—
Treaties do not matter when it comes to war. 
The Countess of Warwick relates the following further facts :—
 In later conversation Clemenceau stated that while the British pushed through Belgium the French would attack through Lorraine.
 The conversation was private, but I wrote to King Edward, who was my friend, about it. 
The Countess of Warwick then explained why she had kept this secret for so many years. She had intended to publish it in her reminiscences published six months ago, but her publishers refused to include these passages because “it put our country in a bad light.”

She admits that she made no attempt to publish it earlier than 1929.
For years I bottled it up within myself, even at the time when the “poor little Belgium” talk was being used to lure thousands of poor boys to their deaths.
Then, last year, when she was publishing her own book, she “asked one or two friends what they thought, and they said that they thought it would do no harm so long after the war.”

In short, the noble Lady, one of the shining lights of the I.L.P., the Labour Party, and the Social Democratic Federation, kept her mouth shut when “poor little Belgium talk was being used to lure thousands of poor boys to their deaths,” and only disclosed the secret when she thought “it would do no harm.”

The number of British subjects who lost their lives in the Great War was nearly 1,100,000. In addition, thousands have been blinded, crippled or otherwise mutilated. This the Countess could stand. But she could not bear the thought of putting the "country" in a bad light, and therefore did not let the victims share her knowledge until "it would do no harm,” that is, 15 years too late for it to be of use to them.
We wonder what the Countess of Warwick regards as "harm.”

Labour Government's Solution. (1930)

Editorial from the September 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the MacDonald Cabinet came into office the Countess of Warwick, who presumably knows what level of intelligence meets the needs of the members of her class, proudly claimed for her political friends, the Labour Ministers, that they are the “party of brains." Far be it from us to dispute her claim. Still less would we deny that they are industrious seekers after knowledge. Have they not during one short year appointed nearly 40 Royal Commissions and Committees of inquiry? Are there not hundreds of members of these committees closely cross-questioning other hundreds of expert witnesses and reading millions and millions of words of evidence? And has not the Premier appointed a very special Economic Advisory Council, composed to a large extent of prominent Liberal and Tory economists and captains of industry? With this great machinery pouring out facts and opinions is it possible that our rulers will miss even a single small grain of useful knowledge? The answer, we regret to say, is that they are not likely to learn anything whatsoever which will prove beneficial to the working class.

The general result of these inquiries could be foretold in advance. The terms of reference of the Commissions and Committees and their composition preclude the barest possibility of a Socialist policy being recommended. Does the anti-Socialist professorial muddler of economic theory abandon his prejudices when he secures appointment to the Economic Advisory Council? Does the company director come there to devise ways and means of abolishing the capitalist system which gives him his power and privilege? Or, are the Liberal Party leaders, with whom the Government is holding private discussions about unemployment, likely to do so.

And if a miracle could take place, and if the capitalist thistle of a committee of inquiry did produce a fig in the shape of a recommendation in favour of Socialism, what would the Labour Government do with it?

What could they do? Elected by the votes of non-Socialists, a minority at that, they must do what their predecessors did—run the capitalist system as best they may and fob off the discontented electors with one excuse after another as long as they can. The expedient of setting up Commissions of Inquiry in order to postpone the awkward admission of failure to carry out Election promises is a time-honoured device of Governments. It is also the rankest dishonesty. When the Labour Government has supplemented its own knowledge with the false theories of all the economists, all the business experts, all the intellectuals, and all the politicians in all the capitalist parties, the truth will still remain that capitalism can only be run on capitalist lines, and will continue to produce poverty, unemployment and insecurity for the workers.

Unemployment is a problem which well illustrates the ignorance and trickery of the Labour Party. The Party in its literature and in the speeches and writings of its leaders has at different times adopted and proclaimed as their own unfailing remedy every nostrum of their Liberal and Tory opponents. For a time we were told that “high wages” in America had solved the unemployment problem, but Mr. William Green, the President of the American Federation of Labor, told the Senate Commerce Committee in April last that for 2¼ years the unemployment among the Federation’s members had never been less than 9 per cent. Last winter it rose to 22 per cent.—one in five out of work! Other Labour leaders told us that agricultural co-operation on Danish lines was the cure; but Denmark has unemployment as severe as our own. They pointed to Rationalisation as the painful operation necessary in order that work might be found for all; yet Germany, that much rationalised nation, has this year had 3 million men and women vainly seeking employment. The Labour leaders were also parties to that most colossal of post-war frauds, the greater production campaign, but now their spokesmen admit that the world is being stifled with over-production. They have preached shorter hours, but Mr. Snowden has just told the industrial employees of the Government that they must wait until times are “more favourable." These and many other useless or harmful schemes have been handed out by the Labour leaders to a credulous electorate. Then last year they tried a dose of J. H. Thomas at £5,000 a year, but the unemployment figures promptly leapt up to more than two millions. Now finally, they are reverting to the old and exploded scheme of migrating the unemployed to other Empire countries.

We recall how the Labour Party cried to heaven when Tories and Liberals told the unemployed to get out of the country and look for work elsewhere. Mr. Tom Shaw, at present Minister for War, was suitably ironical eighteen months ago concerning the "ecstasies" of the Imperialists “about the development of distant parts of the Empire."  . . . (Article in the Morning Post, 18th February, 1929.) The last Conservative Government set up a transfer board to move unemployed miners to imaginery areas where jobs were vacant. How the Labour Party scoffed at the idea of solving unemployment by moving the unemployed from one depressed area to another!

But now the Labour Government, according to the "Daily Herald" of 12th August, is considering a big Empire settlement plan by which the unemployed will be employed on development schemes in the Dominions. Mr. George Lansbury says that he feels “positive that there are tens of thousands of young men in this country who, if they were certain of a proper chance of a decent and self-respecting livelihood in the Dominions, would jump at it." Mr. Lansbury, who is himself in receipt of £2,000 a year for his post in the Government, explained a day or two earlier, that he thought it a most terrible tragedy that these young men “should be able for years of their growing lives to live on a sort of public allowance." (“Daily Herald," 11th August.) It is pertinent to remind Mr. Lansbury that his “sort of public allowance" was given to him because he was going to assist Mr. J. H. Thomas to solve the unemployment problem. His and Thomas’s expensive labours produced nothing, and there are nearly a million more unemployed. The young men are out-of-work because Mr. Lansbury and the Labour Government have utterly failed to find them the promised jobs. But Mr. Lansbury, the £2,000-a-year failure, deplores that they should be getting paltry unemployment pay. His alternative is that they should be found work in the Dominions. The “Daily Herald,” on the following day, unkindly sent this new-old fraudulent remedy into the rubbish heap with the others, by informing us that Australia has its own unemployment of “alarming proportions". “Thirteen per cent. of trade unionists are now out of work, in addition to thousands who do not belong to any unions. Those who know, estimate that there are at least 150,000 unemployed.” (“Daily Herald,” 13th August.) The correspondent of the “Daily Herald,” writing from Australia, added that “there is strong opinion that the stimulation of migration far exceeding the nation’s power of absorption is the principal cause of the present unemployment problem. With the stoppage of this flow of emigrants a return to normal conditions is confidently expected.”

And after Australia, Canada! Two days subsequent to Mr. Lansbury's optimistic views on emigration to the Dominions the “Daily Herald’s” correspondent in Canada announced that a bar had been put up against assisted immigrants owing to the heavy unemployment. Canada only wants immigrants with some capital. (“Daily Herald," 15th August.)

So Mr. Lansbury and the Labour Government have nothing else to offer to the unemployed than to ship them off to the Dominions, in spite of the fact that the Canadian Government and the Australian Labour Government are faced with alarming and continuous unemployment of their own, and firmly declare their determination not to receive Great Britain’s surplus workers.

The Labour Government has no policy except to try to administer capitalism in a way which they hoped would be better than administration of capitalism by Liberals and Tories. In many respects they have actually made the position worse. So little do they know of economic theories and the workings of the capitalist system, so bereft are they of any constructive ideas, that they can do nothing but desperately tread once more the pathways worn by their predecessors in office, pathways which lead to disillusionment for the workers.

This is what happens when a “party of brains” takes on the task of patching up the capitalist system. When the working class wake up to the realities of the situation they will apply their intelligence to a different task, the institution of Socialism. They will seek to understand their own problems instead of elevating the MacDonalds, Thomases and Lansburys into positions of power from which to broadcast pitiful nonsense copied from the programmes of the other parties of capitalism.

Mullahs and oil wells (1980)

From the June 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Following China’s takeover by its so-called Communist Party in 1949, American politicians and commentators embarked on a spree of self-recrimination and examination. How could the enormous Nationalist army, with its American arms and advisers, have been defeated by ill-armed guerrillas? Who, in short, was responsible for “losing China”, and how could it have been “saved”?

A similar debate has been taking place over the last eighteen months concerning another country lost from America’s sphere of influence—Iran. A friendly dictator-emperor, reinforced by a massive army, was sent packing, and is now forced to scuttle from one country to another. Even worse, fifty American diplomats (of whom some no doubt were spies) were held hostage, and still are after an abortive marine attempt to rescue them. Could Iran too have been “saved”, given a little more competence and finesse on the part of President Carter?

One of the reasons for the intense interest that the rulers of other countries show in Iran is of course oil. But it is not the only factor involved. Vast though they are, Iran’s reserves are relatively small when compared with those of countries like Saudi Arabia, and (unless new reserves are discovered) Iran will not be a major exporter of oil much beyond 1990. Western capitalism wants Iranian oil but could certainly get along without it, as it will soon have to do.

The prospects of exports to Iran are also an important factor The massive revenues from oil sales go exclusively to the Iranian state, and a large part of this income is used to pay for imports. Iranian imports have risen spectacularly as a result of the country’s new-found wealth, from four hundred million US dollars in 1958-9 to $18.45 billion in 1975-6. A large part of this figure is made up of arms purchases—Iran under the Shah was for a time America’s best arms customer. Any capitalist class will want a piece of eighteen billion dollars' worth of action, and will inevitably have an interest in maintaining a friendly government in Tehran.

The third reason for Iran’s importance is its strategic value. It borders on Russia and commands the route to the Middle East oilfields. A pro-Moscow government (or, for that matter, a Russian invasion) could blockade the Persian Gulf and drastically reduce the amount of oil reaching Western capitalist nations. On the other hand, a pro-Western regime functions as a regional balance to both Russia and the Arab oil-producing states. In fact, the Shah acted as a kind of policeman for Western interests, supporting the royalists in North Yemen in the nineteenth-sixties, the Sultan of Oman in 1971, and Pakistan against the Baluchi guerrillas in 1973. There was no need for, say. direct American intervention in these cases; an army trained and armed by them was on the spot to defend the status quo.

Thus American policy since the beginning of the Shah's dictatorial rule in 1953 has been to keep in power a friendly ruler. This involved, as we have seen, massive arms sales, the weaponry being used for both internal repression and external intervention. The notorious secret police. SAVAK, was set up in 1957 with a permanent secret US mission attached to it (in light of the American government’s occasional hypocritical ramblings about “human rights", it is salutary to recall its role in establishing this vile SS-like organisation). Even the land reform of the early sixties was a response to American pressure on the Shah to carry out just enough by way of reformist policies to avoid too much rural opposition.

The opposition was restricted by press censorship and the lack of independent trade unions as well as by the ubiquitous agents of SAVAK. Agrarian reform failed to benefit those who actually worked the land (not that it was ever intended to), and the fruits of the oil industry reached only a tiny minority of Iranians. As elsewhere, nationalisation has been of no benefit to the ordinary workers. Apart from the fantastically wealthy and corrupt royal family, and a small capitalist class, Iranians lived lives of poverty and squalor. Their position was made even more unacceptable by knowledge of the rich resources beneath their feet and the manifest affluence of their rulers:
 “As early as 1971 a cautious observer of Iran remarked that, on walking through the streets of the southern, poorer part of Tehran, he encountered 'more expressed hatred than I have ever heard before’ from ’people who watch the cars of the people who are doing well’. The wealth in Iran was being distributed in a manner that was ‘ostentatious’ and 'grotesque’. (Fred Halliday: Iran: Dictatorship and Development, quoting Richard Cottam.)
In the absence of genuine political parties, opposition centred around religious movements (rather as the Catholic Church in Poland is a kind of symbol of anti-government forces).

There are additional reasons why opposition should have come from, and been centred on, the Islamic religion. Sunni Muslims recognise the temporal ruler as the successor of the prophet Mohammed, but this is not the case with the Shi’a branch to which most Iranians belong, The various land reforms of the Shah and his father have deprived the religious leaders or mullahs (of whom there are some 180,000 in Iran) of their lands. They have thereby been forced to rely economically on the “religious tax" paid by their followers, especially the bazaar merchants—and the sums paid over in this way were probably greater than the secular taxes paid to the government. The mullahs constituted a large, influential and financially secure grouping outside the formal state apparatus, and one moreover with a sizable grass roots organisation. The Shah’s new-style oil-based capitalism inevitably led to undermining of the merchants’ position and hence of the mullahs. The result was a clash of interests between the merchants and the Shah as spokesman for the new oil-financed bourgeoisie. The priests are but the ideologists of the merchants, and the seemingly religious dispute masks an economic conflict.

Opposition to the Shah’s regime gradually increased throughout 1977, and by the middle of the following year the Shah was promising “liberalisation" with “free elections”. These carrots failed to quieten things down and martial law had to be declared in September 1978. Opposition still seethed, however, and in January 1979 the Shall left Iran. It was a striking demonstration that even an apparently all-powerful dictator cannot survive for long without the support, or at least the acquiescence, of those he rules over.

The replacement has been the so-called “Islamic republic”, which is effectively run by religious leaders like the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Tehran workers are provided with a diet of “bread and circuses", parading outside the US embassy as if American imperialism were the cause of all their problems. Their new rulers are no better than the Shah and, like him, go in for executions and secret trials. Like the Shah, they wage bloody war against nationalist movements in the non-Persian speaking areas of Kurdistan and Khuzestan. And above all, the division of society into two classes remains.

Meanwhile opposition too continues. At the end of April, bomb explosions in Tehran killed four people, those being blamed for this including the Americans, the Iraqis, the Kurds and left-wing guerrillas. The position of Iran’s new rulers is by no means secure. It is unlikely that the Shah will return (other than to face trial), but the Islamic republic will be as unable to solve the country’s economic problems as he was. The dispute between different sections of the Iranian capitalist class will continue, with the new industrial bourgeoisie likely to come out on top eventually. As has happened so often elsewhere, an inter-capitalist dispute has been dressed up in other clothes (religious, nationalist, or whatever), and workers have been deluded into supporting one side or the other.

Our message to workers in Iran is the same as our message to workers everywhere: do not waste your lives and energy by supporting one group of your masters against another—instead, unite as a class against the system that sets up some human beings as masters over others.
Paul Bennett