Friday, January 13, 2017

The Passing Show: Spanish Arms (1964)

The Passing Show column from the August 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Spanish Arms . . .
What a fuss has blown up over the cancellation of the “Frigates of Franco” contract! Anyone would think that arms deals between powers had never taken place before. Both government and opposition are striving hard to make as much electoral kudos out of the affair as they can. What a godsend to Sir Alec, looking around for a reviver for the sunken Tory spirits; and as the game of shadow boxing is played out in the Commons, press and elsewhere, the same old stench of hypocrisy overall.

Self righteous indignation abounds. “Insulting a great and proud people!" roars a Tory. “No arms for fascists.” jeers Labour in return, although as Government spokesmen have pointed out. Franco will just get his warships elsewhere and British capitalists will lose a few million pounds worth of trade. The Prime Minister says that the opposition have done irreparable harm to “our” trade with Spain, which Mr, Wilson promptly counters by offering to trade with any fascist country, except in war weapons. Gibraltar, one of “our” major bases, has also been drawn into the squabble as an additional red herring. Franco has been after it for years and apparently plans to lay claim to it again in the near future.

A fair summary of the current Labour attitude was given by Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker, M.P. He said: ~
The Labour Party wants trade with all countries, including Spain. We do not believe in trade boycotts, but arms deals are different . . . 
which only goes to show how little H.M. Opposition really know about the capitalist world in which they live. First, we cannot resist reminding Mr. Walker that only two or three years back, his party launched a “Don't Buy S. African Goods” campaign in protest against Apartheid, and if that is not a trade boycott, then we don't know what is. (It failed to have any appreciable effect, needless to say).

But this is the sort of inconsistency of which every capitalist party is guilty, but have no difficulty in shrugging off as the shifting sands of politics force a change in posture from time to time. At the moment, the Labour Party is a very strong contender for government, in which case it won't want to be squeamish about whom to trade with. There are, however, matters of deeper import which should concern us, and which none of the other parties can be expected to raise.

The existence of arms anywhere and in any hands is an evil, and since Socialists are not concerned with choosing between evils, we refuse to enter into the futile squabble over the Spanish arms deal. We know that while capitalist society lasts, the State in all its various political complexions will be with us too. And that means coercion at home and abroad. It matters little, after all, whether the bullets which end our lives are home-made or imported.

And what of the trade which Labour and others are so anxious to foster? “ Peaceful trade ” is how they would all describe it, but there is really no such thing. Trade is a product of private property society. Its very existence means competition, and sooner or later, strife. It cannot be conducted on any other basis or with any different result, yet it seems to mesmerise everyone including workers - the very people who should view it as a curse, not a blessing. Modern trade typifies the anarchy which is capitalism. Despite all the market research, it cannot be regulated and makes a mockery of even the most cautious plans.

But, above all, trade presupposes ease and comfort for the few and deprivation for the rest of us, even when the economy is riding high on a boom. No wonder governments are so anxious for it to continue. These are some of the points which we ask you to bear in mind amidst the mud slinging and irrelevancies of the forthcoming election.


And British double think . . .
What does the word "usefully" mean to you? From our point of view the only satisfactory definition would be "aiming to advance human welfare and happiness." So anything short of that could hardly be called useful. Accepting our definition, would you then say that soldiers perform a useful service? No, neither would we. But it just shows how language can change, or can be changed to suit the interests of capitalism.

A current advert is appealing for male instructors for the Army Cadet Force, and if we are gullible enough to believe it, we will rush to lend a hand. Did you know, for example, that a youngster in the A.C.F. “uses his leisure well?” That the A.C.F. “ . . . is concerned with producing good citizens rather than with training future soldiers, but it does this by fostering soldierly qualities? ” There is a picture, too, of a smiling uniformed youth at camp with a rifle slung over his shoulder. (“ . . . worthwhile open-air activities ”)! Search as you may through this prime piece of double think, you will find no allusion to its object, which should be as obvious as a sore thumb, i.e„ to interest youngsters in joining the regular army, where they will have opportunities of exercising their “soldierly qualities" on the battlegrounds of the future.

Nowadays, the armed forces have to compete with industry for manpower, and rates of pay have been increased in an effort to attract youngsters. But despite the various improvements in pay and conditions, the dirt, discomfort and disciplines, to say nothing of the possibility of a violent death at sonic time or an". . .  professional.” In the Royal Signals, for instance, he speaks to his commander "in the capacity of professional adviser.” It says so in another advert. The place of our fresh-faced cadet has been taken by a good-looking young man in his early twenties, whom the camera catches in earnest discussion with his superiors during manoeuvres. Oh yes, they do discuss this officer's function in battle, but with a subtle air of detachment, deftly balanced against glamour and flattery, thus: -
And because he is first and foremost a soldier, he has also the most rewarding responsibility of all —the lives and welfare of his own men.
We can guarantee that never in any of the recruitment adverts will you find even a hint at the real purpose of the armed forces. Nowhere will you be told just what a really dirty job it is, in every sense, to be a soldier, sailor or airman. That whatever the inducements they hold out, the object is still to protect the interests of British capitalism at home and abroad. And that means sooner or later, killing other workers.
Eddie Critchfield

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