Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Passing Show: Churchill at Omdurman (1960)

The Passing Show column from the January 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Churchill at Omdurman
In his book My Early Life (quoted in The Observer, 6/12/59) Sir Winston Churchill talks of his part in the Battle of Omdurman. Just before the battle he was on patrol:
Talk of Fun! Where will you beat this! On horseback, at daybreak, within shot of an advancing army, seeing everything. and corresponding direct with headquarters.
Yes, it must have been exciting. Too exciting, perhaps, for some tastes. After taking part in the battle itself Churchill records what he saw:
But now from the direction of the enemy there came a succession of grisly apparitions: horses spouting blood, struggling on three legs, men staggering on foot, men bleeding from terrible wounds, fish-hook spears stuck right through them, arms and faces cut to pieces, bowels protruding, men gasping, crying, collapsing, expiring . . . In all out of 310 officers and men the regiment had lost in the space of about two or three minutes, five officers and sixty-five men killed and wounded, and 120 horses-- nearly a quarter of its strength.
But the men killed and maimed had not been sacrificed for nothing. The battle at Omdurman was a triumph for the British ruling class over the native Sudanese leaders, and meant that henceforth the British workers and the Sudanese peasants would labour for the same masters. It was not surprising that British Capitalism hailed this waste of life as a glorious victory.

The Bishops
In these decadent days bishops are always complaining about their half-empty churches, and it must be disappointing to them to find that their brand of aspirin is not selling so well as it once did. They can be forgiven, then, if like other firms they try a little self-advertisement now and again. Their managing director, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had this to say the other day (The Guardian, 20/11/59):
(The bishops) have no other means of directing or steering the clergy or laity except by their own quiet, loving pastoral discretion, and 1 believe that if there arc people who stand out far and away for their grace and wisdom, it is the bishops of the Church of England.
Since Dr. Fisher is the head bishop, he should know.

Poaching
Mr. D. L. Blunt, the Kenya Minister for Game and Fisheries, has warned the Kenya Legislative Council of the serious effects of the “large-scale poaching” of Kenya's wild animals (The Times, 9/12/59). He said that poaching had become “systematically organised and a commercial money-making racket.” No one would wish to see the wild life of Kenya slaughtered to extermination, but two comments may be made. Firstly, when the Kariba Dam was built by the white settlers in the Rhodesias, to provide the power needed for the development of Rhodesian Capitalism, they were not deterred by the thought of all the wild animals that would be drowned as the waters rose. And secondly, can the Kenya whites complain about the poaching of wild animals when they themselves have poached an entire country?

All-Powerful, All-Good?
According to the Italian commission of inquiry, “the 31 people—26 passengers and five crew—killed when a British European Airways Viscount crashed near Anzio in October last year after a collision in daylight with an Italian jet fighter, died because of ‘‘an act of God'" (The Guardian, 25/11 /59). The commission also found that a “further cause” of the disaster was that the Viscount had gone off its course, and was flying in an area reserved by the Italian Government for military activity.

Ruling classes have found since the beginning of civilisation that the idea of a God was very useful to them—no doubt one of the main reasons why the idea has survived, instead of vanishing along with the other frightened imaginings of primitive man. They still find it useful. The real cause of this disaster appears to be that the Viscount flew into an area reserved for war preparations: those killed in it were among the first casualties of the next war. But the Italian authorities could not be expected to admit that. It isn't the first time a ruling class has sheltered behind a God

Sweet Music
The latest move to “improve” factories is like reforms: ostensibly it is for the workers’ benefit, but really the advantage goes to the Capitalist class, or that section of the Capitalist class which introduces it. This new development is the continuous playing of background music, piped into the factory or office by any of half-a-dozen companies in this field. The aim is simply to increase production and therefore profits. As The Guardian says 110/12/59): “The pace must be stepped up at the times when workers flag.” No doubt our reformers, those staunch allies of “progressive" Capitalism, will lash themselves into a fever of enthusiasm in support of this step forward as well. Socialists will prefer to work for a system in which those who want to listen to music will be able to, and those who don’t want to listen won’t have to.
Alwyn Edgar

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