Friday, September 16, 2016

Sociology and Marxism (1978)

From the January 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Julius Gould, professor of Sociology at Nottingham University, has just led an investigation into Marxism in universities. (The Times, 14th Nov. 1977.) The report alleges that
British universities and polytechnics have been infiltrated by Marxists dedicated to indoctrinating students, and overthrowing the liberal and pluralist values of academic life.
We thought at first that professor Gould was joking, certainly about the quality of academic life, but it appears he was in deadly earnest. However, before we could say “London School of Economics”, out stepped another Professor of Sociology from that Tower of Babel in the person of Donald MacRae. He supported Professor Gould, and made his contribution to the confusion by adding: “The 1956 Hungarian Revolution meant the liberation of Marxism. It was no longer tied to Bolshevik orthodoxy.”

Another LSE man, David Martin, a Professor of Sociology, joined in and said in the same newspaper report: “The Marxists do not play fair. They never compare our society with any existing society, only with societies that do not exist.”

After studying the remarks of these three professors, we would agree that academic life is being seriously undermined, not by Marxists, but by these very champions of academic freedom who quite clearly know nothing of Marxism, and consequently are lacking in the knowledge of the subject which they purport to teach. First, a Marxist holds that capitalist society has outlived its usefulness and must be replaced by Socialism: a system of society which involves the abolition of wage-labour and capital and the legal relations which allow private property in the means of production to remain in the hands of private persons. Private property, according to the Marxist, also means state property, and so-called public property of all kinds. A Marxist does not separate means and ends, nor can there be differences between Marxists as to the method to be employed in establishing Socialism. Socialism is not a minority movement, and must be openly propagated and not disguised as some academic dogma. The socialist revolution cannot take place behind the backs of the working class, because they have to understand its implications and be conscious of the need to establish it. To do this they must democratically elect socialists to Parliament.

We are well aware that universities and polytechnics are infested with Professor Gould’s self-styled Marxists. When you examine their ideas, even superficially, there is everything in the far left of the Labour Party and the Communists, Socialist Workers’ Party, Trotskyists, IMG and others. Support for Russia, Black Nationalist movements and the Palestine liberation organizations; support and advocacy for reforms of every kind; “right to work” campaigns; general strikes. These phoney Marxists believe in leadership, minority action, “fair” wages, squatting, etc., etc. Like the butterfly, they live for the day. Practically all the alleged “socialist” societies in universities are composed of these elements.

Professor Gould (and his supporters) should be aware of this. If everyone called themselves sociologists he would very soon object on the grounds that they knew little or nothing about the subject. But being tainted with the herd instinct where it is fashionable to be obscure, he chooses to regard the variegated left-wing agitators in universities as Marxists, when they have nothing remotely connected with the theories of revolution, Marxism or Socialism. How would Professor Gould and other sociologists react if we were to announce (and on much stronger grounds) that genuine Marxists hold the view that the universities are being infiltrated by bourgeois sociologists like himself, MacRae and David Martin?

These professors are not prepared, or are unable, to teach sociology which will conflict with the property relation of existing society. Sociology is one important branch of social science, the other is the science of history. Both of these deal not just with single fields of social life, but with social life in its entirety. Sociology has to deal with questions such as “What is society?”, “What is the relation between the various groups of social phenomena, economic, legal and scientific?”, and “How is evolution to be explained?”. By evolution we do not simply mean the evolution from past form of society up to the present time. We mean the evolution and development beyond capitalism which will involve the social revolution, resulting in the abolition of capitalism. Sociology explains the general laws of human development; it establishes in general that forms of government or the political superstructure depend on the economic base. History furnishes the material at any given epoch for drawing sociological conclusions; sociology is a method of history.

Historical materialism, the method elaborated by Marx and Engels, is the sociology of the proletariat. It is proletarian science because it envisages social change. Sociology as taught by Professor Gould and his colleagues deals with superficial forms of social behaviour without ever discovering social causes. Universities are there for the training of capitalism’s wage-slaves — not for their emancipation. Their science is tailor-made to suit bourgeois requirements and not social requirements; that is, the interests of many as distinct from the few.

Some indication of what other academic figures think about present-day sociology is reflected in a statement by Terence Miller, director of the North London Polytechnic—
I do not think Sociology is yet at a stage where it is a suitable subject for teaching to undergraduates. In scientific terms it is still at the level of development of alchemy, with a long way to go before it becomes chemistry.
(The Times, 14th November 1977)
Whilst this is true of sociology in general, Marxism is fully developed as a science, and it is precisely this science which will free society from the inhibiting influences of capitalism. The application of scientific methods to social questions means the end of the ruling class. How many professors of science in general, or sociology in particular, are prepared to go to this length?
Jim D'Arcy

Politics and homosexual liberation (1978)

From the January 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The 1967 sexual offences Act decriminalized homosexual acts in England and Wales conducted in “private” (no third person present) between consenting males over 21 with the exception of members of the armed forces, merchant navy or police. Since then several homophile organizations, notably the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), have campaigned for further reform to “gain the rights and opportunities heterosexuals take for granted”, e.g. lowering the age of consent to 16.

Implementation of CHE’s demands, bringing Britain in line with other European countries like Holland, is a possibility though in June 1977 the House of Lords, fearful of “corruption of youth” and “debasement of morals”, refused a second reading to the Earl of Arran’s Bill seeking to lower the age of consent to 18.

Yet if CHE’s demands are met it must be realized that the securing of such “rights” in no way guarantees liberation from social discrimination. Homosexual liberation, like that of women or black people, requires a change in social structure that cannot be achieved by law reform. The failure of legislation to stop discrimination against both women and black people shows the futility of this when social attitudes are based on myth and prejudice. Furthermore legal rights can be revoked, as was seen in Miami, America last June. Anita Bryant headed a “bible-toting” campaign for a referendum to vote on repealing a bill, passed in January, protecting homosexuals from discrimination in housing and employment. As a result of a two-thirds majority the bill was revoked. One of Bryant’s claims was that a recent drought had been inflicted as punishment by God for increasing tolerance of homosexuals! whilst one of the slogans used by her supporters was “kill a queer for Christ” (Gay News No. 121).

Sex as Sin
Whilst homosexuality appears to be a “natural” aspect of human behaviour, occurring as it does throughout history, hostility to it has only been evident since the development of the Judaeo-Christian religion with its sex-as-sin-except-for-procreation moral code in general and thus its outright condemnation of homosexuality in particular. Despite the decline in formal religious practice, the sexual repressions resulting from religious teaching continue to inhibit most people's sexual attitudes.

This becomes apparent when people object to homosexuality by claiming it is “unnatural”. Sexual behaviour, like most other behaviour, is learnt and dependent upon social custom. Use of such phrases reflects the influence of religious teaching.
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly. (Romans 1:27. Our emphasis)
Moral codes are not “God-given” but arise out of material conditions in accordance with social needs.
In primitive societies—with dirt, disease and death all round them—the overwhelming need was for people to propagate, reproduce their kind for society to survive. Any habits that impeded or frustrated this end were apt to be disapproved of—sometimes savagely, as in the case of the ferocious Old Testament Jews, exceptionally hard put to it to survive and naturally doubly keen on survival.
(Homosexuals in History. A Study of Ambivalence in Society. Literature and the Arts, A. L. Rowse, 1977, p. 2)
It is this same “sex for procreation only” morality that lies behind Catholic opposition to other sexual issues such as contraception and abortion.

But knowing that religion is the origin of homophobic attitudes does not explain their perpetuation at a time when the idea of “sinfulness” is declining

Intellectual Voyeurs
Psychiatry, which for many has supplanted religion as the definer of what is socially acceptable, has replaced the doctrine of “sin” with the doctrine of “sickness”, since psychiatry developed on the basis of accepting prevailing assumptions. Thus what was illegal (the law itself being a reflection of prevailing moral assumptions), e.g., sodomy, oral-genital contacts, homosexuality, became “neurotic” or “perverted” (Society and the Healthy Homosexual, Dr. George Weinberg, 1975. pp. 23-24). This idea was reinforced by the fact that early investigation depended upon “case-histories” from prisons and mental institutions.

Sociological studies—“intellectual voyeurism” as Altman calls it—also take a moral attitude to homosexuality; for if their definition of deviancy was based merely on “lack of adherence to a statistical norm”, then the sexuality of priests and nuns would also be “deviant behaviour” since their celibacy is even further from the statistical norm than homosexuality. (Homosexual Oppression and Liberation, Dennis Altman, 1974. p.62.).

D. J. West in Homosexuality Re-examined, p. 320, points out that no “single, predominant cause for all cases of homosexual orientation is ever likely to be found”, yet the search for the “cause” continues, revealing the underlying moral attitude of homosexuality as a “problem”. The problem, as Altman notes,
ceases to be of great concern once one is prepared to accept homosexuality as neither a sin nor a pathology but rather as one way of ordering one’s sexual drive, intrinsically no better nor worse than the heterosexual and with the same potential for love and hate, fulfilment or disappointment. (Altman, ibid, p. 19)
But how much does the perpetuation of homophobic attitudes owe to capitalism and will socialism remove them?

Myths about Socialism
For homosexuals, many myths surround the subject of Socialism. Many point to the inconsistency of the left’s claim that Socialism will overcome oppression and evidence to the contrary in “socialist” countries. But confusion is dispelled when it is realised that Socialism does not and never has existed anywhere in the world. Socialism is a world concept like capitalism and could not exist in isolation. Countries that are labelled socialist or communist are based on state capitalism and it is this that the “left” advocate.

In “Gays and the Backlash” (Gay News No. 121) the Socialist Workers’ Party sees the nuclear family as “essential for transmitting the traditional concepts of male authority and female inferiority”. Yet such “concepts” depend on their acceptance and not on familial forms. The view that the nuclear family is the agent of repression implies the need to abolish it. How do the SWP propose to do this? Reform legislation? Nor are the concepts of “male authority and female inferiority” solely responsible for society’s attitude towards homosexuality. The ancient Greeks “extolled both bisexuality and the supremacy of men” while the Arabs have the custom of “addressing love songs to boys because women are regarded as too inferior to be objects of such praise”. (Altman, op. cit., pp. 82-3.).

Capitalism hinders the development of new attitudes in two ways. Firstly, power to exercise personal prejudice is possible with a social system based on private ownership. Gay News, in their submission to the Royal Commission on the Press (issue No. 124), described how it is “virtually impossible for a gay publication to be distributed” if a wholesaler has “very strong views against homosexuality”. This applies also to landlords, employers, newspaper editors, policemen, etc., whose authority derives from private (including state) ownership.

Secondly, capitalism’s profit priority inhibits circulation of ideas. Gay News found that W. H. Smith’s reluctance to handle their publication was due to purely “commercial considerations”, their impression being that there was “no great market for Gay News”.

“Commercial considerations” help to transmit conventional social values via advertising. The article “Gays and the Persuasion Industry” (Gay News No. 123) shows how advertising sells the idea of the desirability of heterosexuality by depicting “the family, role playing and gender identification”. This it does because in selling a product the advertiser appeals to the largest market, that being composed of heterosexuals, since homosexuals comprise only about ten per cent, of the population.

But advertising is necessary in a society where goods are produced for sale. Different attitudes will come not from featuring “gays in one in ten of their ads” but from changing the economic basis of society to one of common ownership where people have free access to goods produced for use not profit, thus making advertising unnecessary. This does not mean homosexuals, or any other minority, have to wait until after the “revolution” before people’s attitudes start changing, as is implied by the left wing.

Revolution in Ideas
A change in people’s attitudes toward minorities will be part of the revolution in ideas that is the necessary prerequisite of Socialism. This is something that the left wing cannot offer. Their ideology is geared to an “enlightened” minority leading the majority. Here they are no different from CHE who, in their pamphlet No offence (Bob Sturgess, 1975. p.2) see parliamentarians as “guardians of liberty”. Implicit in this or the “enlightened minority” idea is the notion that “they knew best”, that they are somehow superior to the rest of us. The Socialist Party of Great Britain rejects this leadership concept for, like the “blind faith” demanded by religion, it requires people to suspend their reasoning ability and replace it with “trusting belief”.

Until people stop putting their faith in leaders and start using their own reasoning abilities, the only liberation that can be expected is “tolerance”, i.e., pity extended to something regrettable, the result of an “ideological position overriding an emotional attitude (of hostility)”. (Altman, ibid., p. 55, our emphasis.)

It is the superficiality of such tolerance, the “smug liberalism” which one left-winger claims can make “life impossible for gay people inside organizations of the left” (The Politics of Homosexuality, Don Milligan, Pluto Press, 1973, p. 15). But the real danger of tolerance within capitalism is that economic frustrations such as housing problems, unemployment, etc., which are the direct outcome of production for profit, can cause the underlying emotional attitude to override the ideological and direct hostility towards scapegoat minorities like homosexuals.

The SPGB, in requiring an understanding of capitalist society, sees through the myths which it perpetuates and recognizes the validity of a homosexual life-style, not from any “moral obligation” but from knowledge gained by rational investigation of facts. The difference between tolerance and acceptance was made clear in the recent interview of Jeremy Thorpe. If the Liberal Party accepted homosexuality rather than “tolerated” it, it would not have mattered whether he had “ever had a homosexual experience”.

It is possible that ideas about homosexuality will change within capitalism but what is evident is that any liberalization will be superficial in character and subject to reversal. Only Socialism can provide a lasting liberation. Though the majority of people are heterosexual they, like the majority of homosexuals, are dependent upon working for a wage or salary in order to live; they are members of the working class whose common interest lies in establishing Socialism regardless of race, sex or sexuality. It is when members of the working class recognize this common interest that they will reject the myths and prejudices that surround homosexuals and other minorities.
Paul Moody

What Socialists Want (1997)

From the October 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

We want the people to directly and collectively own the industries, utilities, transport systems, natural resources etc., and democratically decide how these vital means of living should be used.

With genuine socialism, workers aren’t exploited, because production is purely for use—not profits, which force employees to work much longer and harder than necessary, often in unwanted jobs. With production for use, there is free access to food, goods, electricity, trains, health care etc. as the means for providing these then belong to the people. You don’t buy what you already own!

With genuine socialism, there’d be no inequality, no unemployment, no homeless, no poverty, no debts, no lack of much-needed health care, and no deceitful politicians! Food can be of the highest quality. The crazy competition for profits drags standards down since firms must cut workers and corners, which, inevitably, means the most cheap and vile practices and ingredients end up being used (e.g. filthy E. coli-ridden abattoirs and cows force-fed other rotten cows and sheep).

Religion Retreats (2016)

From the September 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
The role of religion throughout history has been extremely powerful. Indeed it could be argued that it has affected human beings in every stage of society. In a hunting/gathering society human beings felt themselves surrounded by inexplicable forces. An erupting volcano was the voice of a god, lightning was a battle of invisible titans and the mysteries of birth and death could not be explained by any natural process. Into this enigma of existence strode the shaman, the soothsayer and the modern priest, imam and assorted holy men. A career in the black arts of superstition was rewarding.
With the advance of scientific knowledge religion has found itself in an ever increasing decline. Zeus, Thor, and millions of other ancient gods have been given their P45s and packed of to the land of myths and fables. We still have Jehovah and Allah kicking about haunting the minds of the gullible but their days are numbered. As the power of religion dwindles its adherents become more and more ludicrous in their claims. Here are a few recent crazy examples from 2008:
“A prominent Saudi Islamic cleric has issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against Mickey Mouse, whom he characterized as an agent of Satan sent to corrupt young minds. Sheikh Mohammed Al-Munajid told Saudi Arabia’s Al-Majd Television that his beef with Mickey is that he is a mouse, a creature that Islam sees as ‘repulsive and corrupting.’ Al-Munajid explained that Islamic law refers to the mouse as ‘little corrupter’ and a creature that is ‘steered by Satan,’ and grants permission to all Muslims to ‘kill [mice] in all cases.’ Therefore, according to Islamic law, insisted the sheikh, ‘Mickey Mouse should be killed’” (Israel Today, 16 September).
No word yet of a fatwa on Donald Duck or Goofy yet but then maybe the Sheikh doesn’t get to the movies much these days. We wonder what he makes of Tom and Jerry.
“More than half of Americans believe they are protected by a guardian angel and two in three are certain that heaven exists, according to a study of US religious beliefs released Thursday. The survey, conducted by researchers at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, asked 350 questions about religion to 1,648 adults across the country. Fifty-five percent said they believed they were protected from harm by a guardian angel, a figure that researcher Christopher Bader said came as a surprise. ‘To find out that more than half of the American public believes this was shocking to me. I did not expect that,’ he said. Sixty-seven percent said they were ‘absolutely sure’ heaven exists and 17 percent believed it ‘probably’ does. Seventy-three percent of Americans believe in hell, it found’” (Yahoo News, 18 September).
This is a case of a Waco researcher asking wacco questions and getting wacky  answers.
“In Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where the rule of law sometimes takes a back seat to the rule of God, zealots are on a campaign to stamp out behavior they consider unchaste. They hurl stones at women for such ‘sins’ as wearing a red blouse, and attack stores selling devices that can access the Internet. In recent weeks, self-styled ‘modesty patrols’ have been accused of breaking into the apartment of a Jerusalem woman and beating her for allegedly consorting with men. They have torched a store that sells MP4 players, fearing devout Jews would use them to download pornography” (Yahoo News, 4 October).
And people sneer at fundamentalist Muslims!

No Solution in Devolution (1997)

Editorial from the October 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tony Blair has declared that “the era of big centralised government is over”. Given this, the question that now needs to be asked is: why does a power-crazy government with a huge majority that was prepared to do almost anything to get elected want to devolve power, update the constitution and “democratise” Britain?

The only logical answer is that Tony Blair is looking to the long-term. Because of the intense pressures on government expenditure in Britain (as elsewhere) he knows that real social and economic reform is a non-starter—hence the government’s interest in fripperies like devolution and constitutional reforms. Blair is clearly aiming to preside over a new left-of-centre “consensus” politics that will spell the end of the modern Conservative Party The drive for “democratic renewal” is the linchpin of this strategy, naturally made all the more attractive because it will cost little if anything to implement. It provides a focal point for centre-left campaigns, will isolate the Conservatives (and keep them out of power after PR has been introduced) and it deflects attention away from economic paralysis, social failure and anything else that demonstrates the government’s real impotence.

Through promoting devolution in recent weeks the Prime Minister has cleverly provided a basis for cutting social transfers from the owning class to the poor workers of Scotland and Wales, and to some of the subsidised capitalists there too. The entire debate has emphasised the disproportionate amount of subsidy per capita in Scotland and Wales compared to other poor regions of Britain such as the north-east.

Devolution, particularly in Scotland where the Parliament is to have tax-varying powers, will sooner or later mean a cut in block grants from the Treasury. Furthermore, Blair’s government will be largely absolved of any responsibility over troublesome Scottish social problems and no will no longer have to sink as much money as before into a bottomless pit. (That this was going to happen was spotted months ago by the Conservatives, a party that knows a thing or two about double-dealing and political chicanery.)

This, not by coincidence, is precisely the sort of thinking which led the government to make the Bank of England independent during the summer. It is illustrative of the government’s strategy to raise political smoke-screens and shift responsibility from those aspects of life it thinks it probably can’t affect for the better in any meaningful way (e.g. the economy, social problems in Britain’s regions). By doing this it hopes to coat itself in political Teflon. Whatever goes wrong will not be the government’s fault, but something or somebody else’s. And the small and superficial bits that go right can keep the “forces for democratic renewal” in power for a very long time indeed. That is, of course, unless the working class wake up to the social chaos and political trickery paraded before their eyes daily and organise democratically to do something fundamental about it.

Letters to the Editors: Money must go (1997)

Letters to the Editors from the November 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Money must go

Dear Editors,

I wish to thank you for your review (August) of my book The Universal Impediment, in particular because, despite having sent copies to many persons and organisations likely to be interested, I have received virtually no comment, favourable or otherwise. That perhaps is because it is difficult to imagine how society could function without money. You may have voiced the general reaction therefore when you said that the weakness of the book lies in how it could be achieved. I recognised the problem. Because we cannot visualise how something can be done we tend to assume that it can’t be done and therefore should not be attempted. That is why my suggestions were not intended as a blueprint but to point out that that which we create we can eliminate.

Again, if I do not call myself a socialist it is only because socialism itself has to move on. Just as 18th century capitalism became inappropriate in the nineteenth century, so 19th century socialism is no longer the complete answer to the problems of the twentieth. Social thinking cannot stand still. We progress only by returning to and questioning fundamentals.

But my main concern was that freedom and scarcity, the two essential features of my thesis— and of human satisfaction—were not mentioned.

Government of whatever sort, elected or not. must by definition, be dictatorial. As we have seen in Russia and elsewhere, a socialism that is imposed from above, whatever its merits, always defeats its objectives. Putting the means of production in the hands of the community is a meaningless concept if that community is itself dictatorial. Party politics, the exercise of power for years by one sector over the rest, is no exception.

As I explained, the money system justifies itself by maintaining the concept of scarcity, but today there need be no scarcity. Already, by genetic manipulation, we are able to produce enough food to feed the world. If we cannot yet duplicate all nature’s resources, we have the technology to create substitutes or alternatives to them to meet all our needs and wants, giving us a world of plenty, so that the money system—and its corollaries, power and government—become not just superfluous but a crippling impediment to production and distribution. No longer is it necessary to take from Peter to give to Paul, to fight over that which could freely and plentifully be made available to everyone.

Not only is the money system inefficient, wasteful and socially destructive, but it will corrupt any system in which it operates. This means that there can be no fundamental social advance while we retain a money system. Like all radical concepts, social organisation without money is difficult to envisage and therefore seems impossible, but we ignore the implications of refusing to do so at our peril.
Melvin Chapman,

And wages too

Dear Editors,

I would like to thank you for having reviewed Bread & Roses in your September issue, though I found myself in disagreement with a few points mentioned in the review concerning both the IWW historically and today.

The Industrial Workers of the World was founded in 1905 and was a very influential union for the first twenty years of its history. In fact, despite the attempts of the American State to crush it both during the First World War and at the time of the Russian Revolution, it continued expanding to reach a peak membership of 100,000 in 1923. The IWW began to decline in 1924 as a result of a split between those who wanted to build links with the Communist Party and those who were opposed to this.

I am not convinced that in 1907 the IWW came to be controlled by doctrinaire Anarcho-Syndicalists (the term was not then in use). The IWW refused to align itself with any political parties or ideologies because its role was to organise the workers of the world into one big union to "end the use of workers against each other anywhere—in the same plant, or in the same industry, or across oceans, in peace or war. either to cut each other’s pay or to kill each other’s kids". (Fred Thompson in the introduction Rebel Voices: An IWW Anthology.)

Experience had taught them that (i) parties and ideological groups were more interested in promoting their own philosophies and taking control of the union than in promoting industrial unionism, and (ii) that, as explained by your reviewer, the membership of the union would then not have had many more members than there were members of the Socialist Party.

It is our aim to unite all workers into an organisation committed to what we believe to be the basic principles which are vital to any successful labour movement, that is, solidarity, internal democracy. a commitment to changing things ourselves rather than relying upon leaders to change things for us, and having an ultimate aim, which for us means Industrial Democracy and the abolition of the wages system.

The IWW has always had a large influence both through it own activity and also in its influence on other unions. It is because of this that the IWW is worth promoting today. Currently the IWW is in the rise and has negotiating rights and a workplace presence in a large number of towns and cities across North America. It is true that the IWW is still essentially a propagandist group, but for a growing proportion of our members it is also a functioning union. To give just one example, there is a rapidly expanding Construction workers section, some of whose members recently brought 300 building workers out on strike in support of the United Parcel Service strikers.

Our union is also spreading again throughout the world, with increasing activity not just in places where the IWW has been active before like Britain and Australia, but also in Japan, Taiwan, Russia, the Ukraine, Germany, Austria, Colombia, Sweden and. most importantly, West Africa, where our office in Sierra Leone was looted by soldiers during the recent coup there.
Bill Runacre,

The Green Fascists (1997)

The TV Review from the November 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

n the wake of BBC 1's recent series on the Provisional IRA, Channel 4's Witness (15 October, 9PM) sent journalist Simon Sebag Montefiore on a mission to the island of Ireland to investigate the long-standing fascistic leanings of IRA/Sinn Fein. Montefiore had good reason to be the man chosen for this task—his family had been among the victims of possibly the last recorded pogrom in the British Isles when, as Jewish settlers, they had been among those hounded out of Limerick by Irish nationalists just after the turn of the century.

Montefiore's argument was that Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalists par excellence, have long exhibited pronounced streaks of both fascism and anti-semitism. His argument has much to support it. Even today former members of the Irish republican movement will testify to the way in which many Irish nationalists equate the northern Irish Protestants with the Jews, firstly because of the status as displaced ‘immigrants’ into a foreign land and secondly due to their supposedly advantageous social and economic position in relation to the indigenous population.

Sinn Fein has often cloaked its anti-semitism and quasi-fascism behind revolutionary sounding phrases about the creation of a harmonious socialist republican state, uncannily enough rather like the Nazis did. But the wider Irish nationalist movement of which it has usually been the most militant part has not always had such qualms. In the 1930s it was the ferociously anti-communist Catholic Mind which informed its readers that "the founders of communism were practically all Jews. This can scarcely be a mere coincidence . .  .” before going on to suggest that Marx. Engels and even Ricardo before them were all part of a Zionist plot. It was the same Irish nationalist movement which gave birth to the Blueshirts, provocatively modelled on the fascist Blackshirts and Nazi Brownshirts and which gave succour to them until it was no longer politically expedient to do so. And it was Fine Gael, long Ireland's second largest political party and the alternate party of government which claimed in its journal United Ireland that “it is a complete mistake to suppose that Italian fascism is merely a crude individual or party dictatorship . . .  it has gradually evolved a scheme of social and political organisation which is quite certain as time goes on to be adapted to the needs of every civilised country".

Poison of nationalism
All this was support for fascism and Nazism in word. IRA/Sinn Fein, as Montefiore demonstrated, went further-they showed their fascist leanings in deed as well. In 1940, when the UK ruling class was at its most vulnerable in its war against Hitler's expansionist state, the leaders of Sinn Fein brokered a deal with Hitler's representative von Ribbentrop. When Sinn Fein met with him in Germany he reportedly told them something they already knew—"Our cause is the same: the downfall of England." Montefiore suggested in this programme that the beginning of the IRA's mainland bombing campaign during the Second World War was inextricably linked with this deal, as was—more obviously still—their assistance of German intelligence and the Luftwaffe over the bombings of Belfast, the home of a key shipyard and of munitions factories employing thousands. Evidently, the precious lives of the hundreds of Catholics murdered in these raids must have meant a lot to them.

In exposing such facts Montefiore's rationale was that of a mainstream bourgeois journalist and historian, and quite possibly of a UK unionist as well. It was therefore unfortunate that he did not extend his analysis to take in some of the wider political implications arising from it. Particularly significant is the popular conception—not altogether unjustified—of the hardline loyalist political community as a bunch of fascists with well-known links to the British National Party, the National Front and Combat 18, as well as fascist groups in other countries. But the question which needs to be asked is: are the IRA/Sinn Fein any better, more politically coherent or more progressive? What Montefiore's programme showed, at least by implication, was that they are certainly not and further served to support the socialist argument that nationalism, in whatever its form and wherever it is found, is now a reactionary political ideology that is poisonous to both the minds and bodies of the working class.

And what was it, at a fundamental level, which finally persuaded an already semi-fascist Sinn Fein to engage in an alliance with Hitler? It was none other than the Leninist dogma used by the SWP, RCP, WRP and most of the other elitist ratbags on the British Left that the enemy of an enemy must be a friend. For Sinn Fein with Hitler in 1939-40 read the SWP with Saddam Hussein in 1989-90, the RCP and the Argentinian Junta in 1982.

Sinn Fein and the British Leninists have long been cosy bedfellows—can anyone be truly surprised when their minds have been infected by the same twisted elitist, nationalist nonsense? Is anyone still under the illusion that the elitist left-wing of capital and the elitist right-wing of capital have little in common? And can anyone mount any serious arguments against the logical, socialist position that the working class have no country, no nation states to die for and no interests at stake when nationalists the world over ally themselves with dictators and bomb and shoot their way to a ‘freedom’ that may give some nationalist leaders state power but which is entirely illusory for the bulk of the population—the working class of wage and salary slaves?
Dave Perrin

Socialist visionary (1997)

Book Review from the November 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

In The Vision by Ian Tisdale. (Health Books for the Radical Association, 9 Seacliff, Vincent Road, Sheringham, Norfolk NR26 8BS. £1

This short pamphlet comes under the heading of dream-like depictions of alternative social systems the best-known of which is William Morris’s News From Nowhere. It consists of a vision of a socialist society, as seen by a space traveller from the near future, so it combines criticism of capitalism with a discussion of some aspects of socialism and ideas on how the change (The Transformation) came about.

The future society in the vision has no money and is based on common ownership, democratic control and ecological principles. A proper sense of community has been established, and cities have been made much smaller and the countryside revitalised, with people living in self-managing communities. The capture of political power was carried out through the Radical Party, the political outgrowth of informal discussion groups and support networks that disseminated the idea of a long-term solution to humanity's problems. In a nice touch, the members of these groups are known as The Possibilists, as they had devised a possible way of bringing a better society into existence. This is a deliberate play on the label "impossibilists". which has in the past sometimes been applied to Socialists on the grounds that advocating only socialism and not reforms is an impossible aim.

So there is a lot here that is useful and interesting in terms of capitalism, socialism and how to got from here to there. However, for a couple of reasons, the pamphlet is not as vivid or effective as it might have been. Firstly, the future socialist society is simply described to a group of time-travellers (and the reader), rather than being shown in any way to them and us. So the result is a rather abstract picture, with no concrete details. Secondly, the dreamer who has the vision (Dr Earner) is brought back to reality at the end in a flight over the earth, where he sees its degradation and poverty, but this depiction is so compressed as to be virtually unreadable, and is not a satisfactory way of getting ideas across.

Nevertheless, this is an unusual and thought-provoking little pamphlet which may help to spread socialist ideas.
Paul Bennett