Wednesday, October 4, 2017

News In Review: Martyrs Wanted (1960)

The News in Review column from the April 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Martyrs Wanted
THE railways have been carrying a deficit for many years, although it is possible that at some time in the future they will again become a direct profit-making concern. In the meantime, the railways are vital to the smooth running of industry generally.

The railway deficit was a useful propaganda weapon which the Railway Commission wielded in an effort to stave off the railway men’s claim for higher wages last month, along with the well worn slogans like “the welfare of the rest of society,” and “the good of the country.” It is unrealistic for the Railway Commission to expect that one section of the community should martyr itself to ”the national interest,” that is to say, to the interest of the capitalist class as a whole, when workers generally are involved in a constant struggle to secure a living wage. The railwaymen should not be misled by these meaningless catch-phrases, or be swayed in their determination to increase their pitifully low wages. They would be enjoying a much higher standard of living if they had gone about achieving this in a more militant way, with unity and greater purpose.


Clause Four
The Labour Party’s present wrangle over the possible revision of its constitution is merely a further commentary on this party’s reformist character. Mr. Gaitskell has hit back at his critics who object to his plan to alter the clause which pledges the party to 100 per cent. nationalisation. The rank and file are now told that a revised constitution is essential to enable the party to win the next election—which is an interesting comment on the way the Labour Party leaders’ minds work. Gaitskell’s opponents have called his plans “a betrayal of Socialism.” But since nationalisation has got nothing to do with Socialism this criticism is very wide of the mark.

In an article entitled “ The Future of the Left” (Encounter, March, 1960). C. A. R. Crosland, M.P. explains that the Labour Party now accepts a “mixed economy” and is no longer committed to “complete public ownership of all the means of production, distribution, and exchange.” He goes on further to say “Mr. Gaitskell’s (Blackpool) speech came as a great surprise to many of the rank and file who have not grasped what the leadership have been saying for the past ten years." But what have the Labour Party leadership been saying for the last ten years? They have been very busy in offering suggestions and assisting the present Government to run capitalism or, as they would now have us believe, a “mixed economy.”

The battle over clause four has nothing to do with Socialism. Whether clause four is revised or not, capitalism, under Tory and Labour Governments, will continue to produce its nightmares of insecurity and threatened mass annihilation.


Mining Disaster
The beginning of 1960 has seen two major coalmine disasters, first in South Africa, and then in East Germany. In the South African case, the disaster was in the Clydesdale Colliery at Coalbrook, where 435 miners were entombed. It may be thought that disasters in South African mines of the magnitude of this one are isolated, but although not involving so many men at a time, there are many accidents each year, the 1959 figures showing non-white deaths in the mines as 733 (Johannesburg Star, 29/1/60). However embarrassing it may be for the South African Government with its policy of apartheid, five of the 435 men buried together in the mine were white. Separate religious services were held at the pithead at the time of the disaster, one for the five white men and one for the 430 Africans. Under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, which covers African and white mine-workers, there is a grant of £40 for burial expenses for whites but only £15 for Africans. The compensation payable to widows and dependants of the dead men will also be reckoned with due regard to the colour of their skins. Widows of Europeans will be entitled to £13 4s. per month if childless, with an extra £6 12s. per month for each child, but a maximum of £33 per month, regardless of the number of children. African widows will be entitled to a lump sum, handled by a trust fund in Pretoria, which only produces between £3 and £4 a month (Johannesburg Star, 4/2/60). Apartheid still operates even after death.


Four Minutes
Some years ago the phrase "I’ve only got four minutes” was made popular as the opening gambit of a music-hall comedian. Little did he know that in a few short years his phrase would take on a new and terrible significance.

Four minutes, we are told, is all the time that we will have between the warning of an approaching enemy rocket and its arrival on target. For this purpose the Government is spending something in the region of fifty million pounds, so that we can be informed in advance of our impending demise.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with this venture, it seems a pretty hopeless prospect to know that the possibility for destroying us all has now been reduced to a four-minute job. Man's destructive capacity is now such a fine art, with push-button rockets and hydrogen bombs that can devastate a whole country, that the mind boggles at this latest madness.

Thus it is not surprising that people feel totally inadequate to cope with this kind of insanity, and tend to rationalise these happenings by thinking that atom bombs would never be used anyway. In this situation, to be an optimist where such tremendous grounds for pessimism exist, becomes necessary for one’s own sanity. Socialists themselves are not free from this, but at least they are trying to do something about it. What about you?


Jackboot Revival
During the current period of boom and peace old enemies have been forgotten, but recently there has been a slight stir on the western front. Germany has revived, and with this revival have come insidious outbursts of anti-semitism, and more recently, negotiations between Adenauer and Franco with the aim of setting up military bases in Spain. Hands have gone up in horror, as one might expect, and although these negotiations have come as a surprise to ordinary people, it is clear that the British Government have known about this for quite a time.

“Why the secrecy?”, one may ask. Indeed, it is a puzzle which would to many people be too involved to fit together. However, the explanation is not too difficult to find. Britain and France are in a sticky position. The world situation is now one of “West” versus “East,” with Western Germany belonging to the West and East Germany belonging to the East. In these circumstances, Allied countries are prepared to forgive and forget old enemies, and recruit them against old friends. However, no-one has quite forgotten the last war and that Spain was the training-ground for the German soldiers used in World War II.

Herr Strauss, the German Minister of Defence, in charge of the army, discussing uniforms for the new West German Army, was reported to have said: “Jackboots will march for Democracy/' What a paradox! One can envisage the logical conclusion of this view and see racial extermination and the establishment of concentration camps carried out in the name of democracy as well. It is also well to note that Herr Strauss was one of the small minority in the West German Parliament that voted against reparations for Jews who suffered under the Nazi regime.

Where will it end? Our friends are our enemies and our enemies have become friends. It seems reasonable to suppose that these crazy paradoxical antics of the politicians will continue until the British working class abandons completely the pernicious nationalisms that are foisted on them by their leaders, and comes to recognise their identity of interests with the working people of all countries.


Spare a Penny
A cyclone in Mauritius kills thirty-nine, wrecks forty thousand buildings, makes a hundred thousand homeless, and destroys much of the sugar crop on which the economy of the island rests. An earthquake devastates the town of Agadir in Morocco, killing over twelve thousand people. Now appeals are launched on behalf of the disaster areas. This rattling of cans under the noses of the public is the way misfortunes are dealt with under capitalism. In a Socialist society the care of the injured, and the support of the dependants of the dead, would not be left to charity. They, like every other member of the human society, would participate freely in the goods produced by society.

1 comment:

imposs1904 said...

There is scant information on the net about the East Germany mining disaster - at least in English, that is. However, from what I can gather, it was an explosion at the Coalnwerk Karl Marx in Zwickau, occurring on February 22nd, 1960, and - according to one source - resulting in 123 deaths.