Thursday, January 12, 2017

Cameron’s Selections (2017)

The Greasy Pole column from the January 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Driven out by Brexit from 10 Downing Street and then from the Tory benches in Parliament David Cameron will be written into history through his talent for composing a welter of vacuous, discreditable phrases which did nothing to avert his decline. An early example of this was his assurance that with him in charge there would be ‘no more Punch and Judy politics’. No more performances in the House of Commons when his reluctance to deal appropriately with some genuine problems of the people – the workers, the children, the voters – outside served only to provoke the Tory hooligan benches into a storm of bellows and false laughter designed to blank out all discussion. In 2010 there was his trumpeted conviction that ‘. . . if you trust people and give them more power and control over their lives, they become stronger, and society becomes stronger too, and I believe profoundly that we are all in this together’. Those final six words were to be repeatedly quoted as evidence of his enduring duplicity.  There was not even a hint that he feared his government would be bitterly remembered for repressive, impoverishing measures such as the Bedroom Tax as the cause of so many desperately homeless people. Or the maliciously sprouting figures of those who need their local Food Bank to sustain them. And the degradation of JAM –  the masses who, conforming to all the demands of the  politicians, are compelled to exist on the basis of Just About Managing – in other words through the charity of  Next To Nothing.
A List
The Conservatives won the 2015 election, in the process wiping out the Coalition Lib Dems, through gaining a majority of seats which encouraged Cameron, as only the second Prime Minister to have increased their majority while in power (triumphantly, the first example was of course Thatcher) to proclaim that they were ‘…on the brink of something special’ – which in reality was a government of false claims and pledges. And among the forecasts of a frighteningly successful future for them was the strategy of building a refashioned party more in tune with this vision. This was the origin of the so-called A List, an idea which had been in discussion since Cameron became leader in 2005. A few months later a party committee set out to reduce the 500 hopeful candidates to between 100 and 150 on the assumption that this was the way to ensure a party which would be free of the prejudices which had hampered its prospects in the past.
Portillo
The response among party members was varied. There was approval from Michael Portillo, on the grounds that at the time the Tories did not have a lot to lose as ‘. . . much of the Parliamentary Party is reactionary and unattractive to voters’. But Portillo was once the ‘darling of the Right’, in the days when he was MP at first for Enfield Southgate and then Kensington and Chelsea and a well-fancied candidate for the Party leadership. After a series of frustrated ambitions he resigned from Parliament in 2005 and turned to an alternative type of entertainment by dressing in flashy trousers and presenting TV programmes mournfully quoting from Bradshaw’s Handbook of railway history. The other side of the debate was scathingly represented by Ann Widdecombe, another ex-MP (and in fact no less than a Minister of Prisons) who condemned the List as ‘an insult to women’ which was ‘storing up huge problems for the future’. But Widdecombe’s TV experience was rather different to Portillo’s because there was no chance of her influencing opinion by her few but wretchedly clumsy appearances as a contestant in Strictly Come Dancing.
Broxtowe
But there were enough hopefuls in the List to persuade Cameron that it had introduced some hope and fertility into the Party. Andrea Leadsom, Priti Patel and Amber Rudd are among those who wriggled their way onto the Front Bench although not all of them have been impressive enough to avoid the conclusion that their selection was more a matter of appeasing Cameron than impressing the voters. One of them has been Anna Soubry, who sits for Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire. This is a marginal seat, re-created in 1983 and held by the Tories until it swung to Labour in the Blair landslide of 1997. Soubry won it in 2010 by a majority of 389, which she increased in 2015 to 4287. She went through the process familiar to precariously elected A Listers in that she held a series of minor governmental posts until she chose to return to the Back Benches in July 2016, by which time she had done enough to justify the opinion of Sam Carr in the Independent that she had‘ . . . a record of unusually free speech’, among a few other embarrassments. During her original attempt at election, for Gedling in Nottingham in 2005, she declared herself to be ‘ashamed’ at living in that city because of what she perceived as its serious reputation for crime. During her early time as an MP she was embarrassed to be informed that she had employed a party member who campaigned for the return of slavery.
Farage
In the EU Referendum she came out as a firm supporter of the Remain side, which may have persuaded her to deal with Nigel Farage as an opponent who ‘ . . . looked like somebody has put their finger up his bottom and he really rather likes it’ – an assessment she later excused as a ‘light hearted comment’. Which could not have applied to her rather less colourful opinion of Alex Salmond whose participation in government was a prospect which provoked ‘absolute horror’ in her. (Salmond rated her as ‘demented’ and advised her to ‘behave yourself woman'). So there can be no surprise at the record of Soubry’s favourite causes. She supports the Trident submarine renewal; developing private treatment rather than the NHS; university tuition fees; the deployment of British Armed forces abroad in theatres of war such as Iraq and Afghanistan . . .  No doubt David Cameron was proud of originating the idea of the A List as evidence of his place in history as an enterprising and dynamic leader. But we have had enough of such conceits. It would be better if in such matters we began to work our way through the alphabet.
Ivan

Lenin's Legacy (part 1) (1979)

From the January 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The purpose of the following article and that in next month’s issue is to examine aspects of Lenin’s political theory and discuss his role as revolutionary leader. In disagreeing fundamentally with Lenin the Socialist Party of Great Britain is marked off from almost every avowedly revolutionary party since 1917, including most of the left in Britain today. Within the obvious space constraints, we will seek to expose some of Lenin’s errors by reference to his better known writings. (All page references, unless otherwise stated, are to the One Volume Selected Works, Moscow 1975.)

Lenin as Political Thinker
In What Is To Be Done (1902) Lenin—correctly— wrote: “Without a revolutionary theory there can
be no revolutionary movement”; it is our contention that his incorrect political theory led to his incorrect practice. Lenin’s work illustrates well the impossibility of introducing a society based on free co-operation without an understanding by the working class of the tasks involved. It is true that he often talked in terms of mass participation (witness for example his slogan “to the masses”) and even believed that he had the support of the majority of workers and peasants. Almost four years after the Bolshevik coup he said:
We were victorious in Russia not only because the undisputed majority of the working class . . . was on our side, but also because half the army, immediately after our seizure of power, and nine-tenth of the peasants, in the course of some weeks, came over to our side.
and
For victory and for retaining power, what is essential is not only the majority of the working class—I used the term working class in its West European sense, i.e. in the sense of the industrial proletariat—but also the majority of the working and exploited population.
(Collected Works, Vol. 32 pp 471 & 475)
But in fact the majority of Lenin’s writings deny the need for socialism to be a mass movement and support the belief that it can be established by a minority of determined revolutionaries.

The need for capitalism
Marx held that without the presence of capitalism, socialism was not on the agenda. He maintained that capitalism is necessary to develop the means of production to the extent that would allow a society based on human needs to be established. Lenin too appreciated this. In Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution (1905) he refuted the view, held by his Menshevik opponents, that the bourgeois revolution can only benefit capitalists:
It is quite absurd to think that a bourgeois revolution does not at all express proletarian interests . . . this idea disregards the elementary propositions of Marxism concerning the inevitability of capitalist development . . . it follows that the idea of seeking salvation for the working class in anything save the further development of capitalism is reactionary. (p76)
Lenin is here arguing for the capitalist revolution, the Russian equivalent if the French revolution of 1789-93. He is arguing for it out of necessity, acknowledging the requirement of capitalism at the particular time he was writing.

Nor did Lenin always confuse socialism with state control or nationalisation. He was fully aware that any form of large scale ownership, be it state or private, is still capitalism. Just before October 1917, in The State and Revolution, Lenin thought it necessary to emphasise this point because of "the erroneous bourgeois reformist assertion that monopoly capitalism or state monopoly capitalism is no longer capitalism, but can be called ‘state socialism’ and so on . . . (p309) Furthermore, he was quite clear that the revolution he was advocating could only hasten the process of capitalist development and not of itself introduce socialism. The revolution would be unable to affect the foundations of capitalism: "a victory will not by any means transform our bourgeois revolution into a socialist revolution.” (p 82)

And that is roughly the position. Lenin is there talking like any "progressive” politician. In the work from which the last quote comes (Two Tactics . . .) he offered the workers and peasants improvements in their standard of living and greater freedoms (the irony here is of course enormous). This being capitalist progress, as Lenin himself frequently acknowledged, what is all the fuss about? Capitalism throughout the world is a system of comfort and privilege for the rich and toil and misery for the poor.

“But wait a minute” Lenin answers. “Of course I introduced socialism. Our Marxist revolution established a form of society fundamentally different from capitalism!” “What!” we might reply in disbelief. “You mean that having talked about the establishment of capitalism you are going to call it socialism?” In Left-Wing Childishness and Petty-Bourgeois Mentality (1918) he wrote that what they had done was to “establish ‘state capitalism' which under Soviet power represents the threshold of socialism, the condition of its firm advance ” (p449). His claim was that the revolution had created a new form of social organisation fundamentally different from that which existed in the West. The details of this can be more clearly understood if we turn now to a second aspect.

The So-Called Transition
Much of the theoretical confusion that abounds in Lenin’s work relates to one question: Is it possible to go directly from capitalism to a socialist (or communist) society as defined by Marx? Lenin’s answer was a very definite “No”. His view was that it was necessary to have an intermediate stage (“the dictatorship of the proletariat”) which he called socialism (notwithstanding that, as already shown, he admitted that this stage was in fact capitalism). He claimed it would operate on the principle: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work.” Only after this form of society was well established would it be possible to move to the higher stage, which he called communism. Here, said Lenin, the principle would be: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” The Russians claim to have reached the first stage, although the former principle bears no more resemblance to the reality of Russia than it does to society in the West.

Lenin partly justified the claim that the revolution would need two stages by reference to various passages in the Communist Manifesto and the Critique of the Gotha Programme. In The State and Revolution he argues the case at length. On the question of Marx’s (rare) references to a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, we would contend that the phrase is synonymous with the conquest of political power by a socialist working class, and cannot be quoted as justification for repression. This is not to say, of course, that Marx’s holding of a particular view necessarily makes it correct. Socialism (or communism) is a classless, propertyless society, in which wealth will be used for the benefit of all. There is no possibility of achieving this in stages. Marx talked of stages because the means of production had not in his time reached the level required for the establishment of a society of free access. In Critique of the Gotha Programme he states that “defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development is conditioned thereby.” At the time of the Russian revolution (42 years later) there was no further justification for the two stages distinction, society being technically capable of creating the necessary abundance of wealth.
Lenin, however, needed the two stages idea. Somehow or other he had to convince the people in Russia (and elsewhere) that what had been achieved was more than a bourgeois revolution. He had to satisfy his own “subjects” that the suffering and deprivation, past and to come, were acceptable because they were building a better future. (How many other politicians have made similar claims!) So, Lenin was able to speed the process of capitalist accumulation in the name of communism. “Until the ‘higher' phase of Communism arrives”, he wrote in The State and Revolution, “the socialists demand the strictest control by society and by the state over the measure of labour and the measure of consumption . . .” (p331). In other words, the workers would be forced to work and strictly rationed in what they could consume. All good capitalist principles. And the fact that he went on in the same sentence to say “but this control must start with the expropriation of the capitalists” is little more than window dressing. It is true that some capitalists did find their property expropriated; but from the workers’ viewpoint what happened was that one group of exploiters took the place of another.

After the revolution, Lenin had the functions of a ruler to carry out. In The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, written in April 1918, he claims that a socialist revolution has been achieved (p399) and goes on to say that the task now facing the Bolsheviks is that of organising the administration of Russia. (The same problem, incidentally, that faces any minority that wishes to impose itself on the population.) Listen to the capitalist slogans he offers:
Keep regular and honest accounts of money, manage economically, do not be lazy, do not steal observe the strictest labour discipline—it is these slogans, justly scorned by the revolutionary proletariat when the bourgeoisie used them to conceal its rule as an exploiting class, that are now. since the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, becoming the immediate and the principle slogans of the moment, (p 401/2)
Confronted with severe economic problems following the revolution (one of them inflation!), Lenin introduced the infamous “New Economic Policy”, claiming that this would be “a totally different method”. And what was this new method? Was it some way of advancing socialism? Did it promote an understanding of the requirements for the overthrow of capitalism? Not likely! It meant entrenching capitalism! The new method would be:
. . . a reformist type of method: not to break up the old social-economic system—trade, petty proprietorship, capitalism,—but to revive trade, petty proprietorship, capitalism, while cautiously and gradually getting the upper hand over them . . . (p647)
Presumably the idea of “getting control” over the workings of capitalism was a joke (and not a very funny one in the circumstances). Lenin knew full well that capitalism by definition was uncontrollable.

May people still think that Russia is, or was, something to do with socialism, and that Lenin was a socialist. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Ronnie Warrington

(to be continued)

Races without winners (1982)

From the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 8 December last, a judge at Manchester Crown Court sentenced to gaol a sociology lecturer and eight students who had formed a left-wing hit squad armed with a “fearful array of weapons" and to crusade against their fascist rivals from the National Front. So. the right wing thugs won that battle 9-0 without having to cross their front doors. “Daddy, where are you going with that sledgehammer?” the child of the sociology lecturer might have enquired. “I’m going out to persuade those fascists of the need to establish a society of peace and harmony”, comes the reply.

As people become increasingly frustrated with the inability of the “respectable” political parties to solve major problems like unemployment and poverty, fascist ideas gain popularity. Today, both main political parties are riven with internal disputes. Neither can present to the electorate a united and confident parade of leaders in order to capture trust and votes, and both have records of miserable failures in government. As the recession aggravates social problems, so the appeal of fascist ideas grow stronger. “What we need is a clean break . . . stronger leaders . . . firmer discipline . . .  a firm movement to bring order where there is chaos . . .  to re-establish some of the old virtues like obedience and fear of God . . .  a clean Britain, a pure Britain ... a White Britain . . .  ”, runs the rhetoric of the dons of ignorance.

Organisations like the National Front and the British Movement have been churning out propaganda, aimed particularly at young people, to foster racial antagonism between between black and white. In recent years, minority ethnic groups have suffered an increasing number of racially inspired attacks. Temples, mosques, synagogues and burial grounds have been vandalised and daubed with fascist slogans and emblems; left-wing bookshops have been raided and bombed and people have been attacked in the streets and abused with racialist insults. This alarming trend is only the tip of an iceberg of popular and institutionalised racialism and romantic para-military left-wing expeditions to root it out will not only fail but could have the opposite effect.

The frequency and seriousness of racial attacks reached such a pitch last February that the first official Home Office study of racially inspired crime was commissioned by the Home Secretary. William “short, sharp shock” Whitelaw. The committee issued its report (Racial Attacks, Report of the Home Office Study 1981) last November.

The problem of racial tensions is usually approached from the assumption that we should be devising plans to enable ‘different races’ to exist co-operatively. Although on the face of it this is an anti-racialist attitude, it is in fact quite the reverse. There is, of course, only one race, the human race, and no one has a “pure racial make up”of one stock. Peoples of the world do enjoy many diverse cultures but there is no necessary link between ‘race’ and ‘culture’. A white Caucasian born and bred in an Indian village will acquire an Indian language and culture and, conversely, an Asian born and bred in England will acquire an English language and culture. The culture of a country is not a fixed, static entity, but rather something which constantly changes with the arrival of new ideas and people from different cultures. Today’s so called “British stock” in fact trace their ancestry to a great variety of groups who settled on this island including the Celts, Jutes, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Romans and Normans. Each of these groups was, similarly, the result of a mixture of people of different geographical and cultural origins. So, many of the philanthropic reformers who today advocate measures like “positive discrimination” as ways of improving the relations between the “different races”, are in fact proceeding from the same fallacious racial assumptions as their fascist opponents.

The problem of police brutality, harassment and infringement of personal liberties is usually approached from the point of view of wanting to organise the police force to do their job kindly and unobtrusively. Like trying to design the gallows in the best interests of those sentenced to hang. It is the job of the police to act against the interests of most of us. Their main function is to protect property which means making sure that the great majority of us who actually create wealth don’t take back more of it than we can buy with our wages.

Since its organised beginnings in the eighteenth century, the police force has been their police force, not ours. Like banks or national armies, police forces are an integral part of modern capitalism. They can only be swept aside once their reason for existing – the protection of private and state property –has been removed. That is once a majority have established common ownership of social wealth. With the enormous oppression of the working class that the police force as such represents, it would be silly for us to campaign for trivial changes to police organisation. At the end of last year that party-of-a-thousand-demands,the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), launched a nationwide campaign to have the Chief Constable of Merseyside. Kenneth Oxford, sacked after the police behaviour leading up to and during the Toxteth riots. At a recent public meeting in Manchester, the SWP were asked in what possible way the removal of one Chief Constable (and, of course, his immediate replacement by another Boy in Blue) would help to establish socialism, or even benefit the working class. “Well, you've got to start somewhere” was the reply — not by some drunken joker, but by Tony Cliff, one of the leading theoreticians of the SWP.

The Home Office Report on Racial Attacks, recognising the upsurge of such incidents in recent years, and the way in which certain parties like the National Front are fostering a climate of antagonism between ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’, makes a number of recommendations. One is that in investigating and dealing with alleged racial attacks the police should be more “sensitive” to the issues involved. This is not very helpful. An organisation of uniformed men and women, armed with truncheons, handcuffs, private interrogation rooms and with the full force of the law behind them, even with the best will in the world (forget Blair Peach, Liddel Towers, David Moore) could not operate sensitively. With the huge job of methodical tyranny that they have to carry out, the police have to act on wide, clumsy and insensitive rules of thumb. For instance, in his book The Signs of Crime: A Field Manual for Police (1977) David Powis, then Deputy Assistant Commissioner to the Metropolitan Police, included in his list of indicators of suspicious people: “People of an untidy or dirty appearance –especially with dirty shoes” (even manual workers, if honest, he says, are clean and tidy!) Also included were “political radicals” particularly if they “spout extremist babble” and “groups of young people in cars”.

That Great Crusader for racial harmony, William Whitelaw after he had finished singing the praises of the overtly racialist Nationality Act and showing such concern to re-unite Anwar Ditta with her family, chipped in his little bit of piety to the Report by writing its introduction. He said he would be exploring ways of combating racialist propaganda. Perhaps he will be consulting the expert wisdom of members of the British judiciary like Justice McKinnon who, presiding at the trial last year of John Kingsley Read (Chairman of the British National Party) for inciting racial hatred, commented that he (McKinnon) saw nothing inflammatory in calling somebody a “wog” as he had often been called that himself at school. Justice McKinnon is a ‘white’ man who was educated in Australia. Exploring how best the law can deal with racial attacks, Whitelaw may also wish to tap the discretion of Lord Justice Lawton who was a parliamentary candidate for the British Union of Fascists in 1936 in Hammersmith.

The profit system does not operate on any moral code, and we cannot say that as capitalism continues it will progress to smoother and more harmonious ways of working. Governments will tend to discourage or promote racialism to suit the requirements of the profitability of industry. During the last World War much of industry and many services were destroyed. After the war there was much work to be done, and with about 30,000,000 workers killed in Europe, there was an acute shortage of labour. The capitalists needed an enlarged workforce quickly, and they weren’t fussy about where the ‘hands’ came from. In the Economic Review of 1947 the [govern]ment set out its policy.
Foreign labour can make a useful contribution to our needs . . . foreign labour is the only substantial additional source of manpower which is open to us–especially for the undermanned industries.
Apart from using refugees and displaced persons after the war as European Volunteer Workers (Britain took about 200,000 of these) the colonies were also used as a new source of immigrant labour, particularly the West Indies, India and Pakistan. Now that Britain along with other industralised countries is in the throes of another crisis and there is high unemployment, the government is less keen on immigration. Hence Thatcher’s “they’re swamping our culture” scaremongery, and measures like the Nationality Act.

From the Zionists, who proclaim they are the ‘Chosen People’, to the neo-Nazis who believe that honour is theirs, all racialism feeds and flourishes upon ignorance. Today, the most significant historical division of people is that by which a small minority (from all cultural origins) own and control the means of life, while the overwhelming majority of us (from all cultural origins) create wealth and run society primarily to produce profits to further enrich the rich.

Today, the great majority of workers are struggling under the weight of holding a privileged minority above their heads. When they look down and observe that we are blaming our poverty on each other, because some are “black” and some “white”, they must enjoy a contemptuous laugh and feel comfortably secure above us. The real tyranny today is not that of the police, the army, judges and politicians. They are a small minority. It is a Tyranny of Ideas which makes the minority mighty and the majority meek.
Gary Jay

What "Labour" is Doing (1926)

From the February 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Advanced” people urge the workers to support the different Labour Parties on the plea that they represent the progressive element in society, and are hastening us onward to the much-desired solution of all our troubles. Times out of number we have shown that the Labour Parties act in reality as obstacles, hindering the enlightenment of the worker and do little more than aid the capitalists in their more delicate schemes.

Among the minor problems that occupy a principal place in Labour programmes is that of small nationalities.

When nothing can be done, prominent Labour leaders wax eloquent over the depressed position of subject nations, but when their opportunity comes, they do exactly the same as the governments they condemn. We witnessed this in the handling of Egypt and India by the English Labour Party during their brief period of office.

The “New Leader" (15.1.26.) sheds further light on this subject in a reference it makes to the treatment of Indians on the eastern coast of South Africa, as the following quotation will show : —
“Race antagonism, here as elsewhere. Is pressed into the service of economic jealousy. There is a voluntary repatriation scheme for Indians now in force, but it is found that those who take advantage of it are labourers, whom the planters are sorry to lose since they are more docile and efficient than Zulus. Indian traders, on the other hand, do not willingly seek repatriation, and they compete all too successfully with the Whites. It is the acknowledged intention of the Union Government that these new harrying measures should drive them out of the land, and for this South African Labour—to its shame—is jointly responsible. Yet Indian immigration to South Africa was stopped on the understanding that Indians already domiciled there should be justly treated.” (Italics ours.)
And these are the kind of people we are expected to support and assist into the seat of power at election time !
Gilmac.

Socialism or Barbarism? (1948)

From the April 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is barely three years since the joybells of peace were ringing and yet already war is again casting its shadow over the world. Again and again we were told that peace was impossible until Germany had been reduced to a state from which it could not rise again to threaten the peace of the world. Well, Germany is certainly deep enough in the mire now, but in spite of that the spectre of war has again raised its ugly head.

So, after all, it is not Germany that was the criminal; the real criminal was, and is, the system of production and distribution under which goods are produced for sale. It is this system that breeds the struggle for markets, for trade routes, and for sources of supply. While this system lasts, war will always be the final resort between conflicting capitalist groups.

The present war threat is a result of the falling out of the victors in the last war, and is a scathing commentary on the emptiness of the brotherly sentiments with which the world was deluged at the end of the war by spokesmen of the allied nations. Modern capitalist conditions are a jungle in which competing groups are like tigers, always ready to spring when their booty is threatened; but unlike the tiger it is not the owners of the means of production who themselves appear in the heat of the battle, but the blind producers of the booty, the working class.

As Socialists we are opposed to war; Socialism cannot be obtained by war, nor by armed resistance to oppression, nor can it be helped on by either. Socialism signifies the acceptance of majority decisions, freedom to form and express opinions, rivalry without rancour, peaceful discussion and the amicable solution of differences, and the absence of violence in any form. In order to arrive at this outlook the workers must realise the fundamental identity of their interests all over the world as against the private property interests of the capitalists and the supporters of capitalist conditions, no matter what false colours the latter may masquerade under.

War has never solved, and will never solve, any working-class problem; it can only make the workers’ position worse in the long run. It brutalizes all those concerned in it, cheapens the feeling for human life, develops cynicism and replaces reason by force in the settlement of differences. The end of a war sees the carrying over into peace-time of the pitiless., brutal and destructive characteristics that were glorified during war-time. We are already experiencing this in full measure, just as we were doing after 1918.

Society develops, but that does not mean that it becomes less savage in its ways; in fact the more cultured society has become the more barbaric have been the means adopted by the ruling classes to retain and enlarge their privileges, and the more devastating have been the means devised to carry on warfare; and this is no less true of the Russian dictatorship, which has so often been falsely hailed as the harbinger of a paradise upon earth.

The present situation is a repetition of the previous ones with just a change in the sides taken up by some of the participants as well as the power they wield. Since the end of the war each of the leading powers has been jockeying for the most favourable place in the scramble for markets for the profit of its propertied class. This struggle has been complicated by the devastation left behind by the war as well as by the secret agreements that were entered into and the promises made to their respective workers to beguile them into the slaughter. In the meantime the great game of international bluff has been played with gusto, and Russia, the latest and one of the most unscrupulous bandits, has been accomplishing its imperialist designs by creeping southwards and westwards and threatening to exclude the other powers from important markets and sources of raw materials. In spite of all the boosting of the United Nations, capitalism knows only one final answer to the problem of trade rivalry—war, for which they are now preparing, and to the capitalists of the West Russia has taken the place Germany occupied for so many years as the principal enemy.

In our view war is not yet a prospect of the immediate future for many reasons. But where a situation is fraught with possibility of a resort to arms there is always the risk that some unforeseen circumstance may precipitate conflict even against the intentions of the participants; where there is a powder magazine a chance spark can bring catastrophe.

One of the most shocking aspects during the past year or so has been the fatalistic attitude of many workers who have accepted the coming of another war as something that is inevitable. It has not yet sunk into their understanding that without their active cooperation war in the modern world would be impossible. Yet another war, with the means of destruction now available, would be of such a devastating nature that the mind is appalled at the thought. The war that is now threatened bids fair to convey the world into one gigantic graveyard from which recovery would be difficult, if not impossible. But not a single Government spokesman can guarantee that there are any means available to avoid the coming catastrophe. So little value is the United Nations Organisation that the manipulations of Russia, America and the Western Union are carried on outside its councils!

One lesson the workers must learn, and that they must learn soon, that the development of society has now reached a stage where nothing but the establishment of Socialism can save society from collapsing into ruins. Capitalism is doomed by the fact that it inevitably produces wars; only by the replacement of the present order by the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production in the near future can society be saved. Failing this solution to the social troubles that afflict us the possibility of a complete social breakdown and a relapse into barbarism is a not impossible end to present social development. The future depends upon the workers understanding the source of social misery and taking the only course that can end it. That they will do so is our conviction in spite of the ugly shadows that are gathering.
Gilmac.

What we say (1984)

From the May 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Human beings have very complicated systems of communication; a facility for spoken and written language. What is language? One helpful analysis describes it as a code that we develop to organise, interpret and communicate our experiences to each other. Human languages have developed historically in a way which is related to what we have experienced. Although languages, including people's native language, are taught formally in schools, we always learn the first and most important aspects of our language by listening and experiential learning. Babies are generally not taught the basics of language with a grammar book.

Because language is rooted in experience, it usually makes little sense to describe particular accents or dialects as superior or inferior. They are simply different. We are traditionally taught that a particular variety of the English language is superior to all other varieties. The grammar must be the sort which is described as Standard English and the pronunciation should conform to a style known as Received Pronunciation. This is the sort of English used by newscasters. The reason this brand of English became elevated to the status it now occupies are historical and geographical, not linguistic. London became a key location because of the suitability of its ports for commercial and military purposes in relation to Western Europe. With the growing strategic importance of London from about the fifteenth century, various governmental, military, commercial and financial institutions settled in that city. These were the factors which endorsed the type of language which was used by the Establishment, although at that time a very different sort of language was used including a form of court French. If Liverpool or Newcastle-upon-Tyne had been a more advantageous base for the ruling class, then Standard English would have evolved in a different fashion.

Although we are taught otherwise, it is pointless to judge the inherent qualities of one grammar, accent or vocabulary. There are many examples in English which illustrate this point. The regional accents in English which stress the letter “r” when it comes after a vowel are by formal standards looked on as rural and inferior, for instance the way a person from the West country might pronounce the word “cart”. The same stressed “r”, however, in some North American dialects is regarded as refined. Linguistically, Standard English is no better or worse than Cockney or Geordie, no more so than French is better or worse than Italian. All languages and dialects are complicated, rule-governed systems whose rules are known to and used by their speakers.

The fact that languages arise from experience is significant. Many contemporary aboriginal communities live on the basis of sharing the work they need to do and then sharing the product of their work according to need. They have a word to express the idea of all that they have, common property (naolimba) but no vocabulary for “tax- man”, “UB40” or “neutron bomb”. Similarly with another contemporary group, the Panare Indians. The lifestyle of this group in Venezuela is characterised by the principle of cooperation and sharing. Apart from the enjoyment they find in their work they thrive on a great variety of songs, dances, drinks and festivals. They completely reject the principles of the commercial system and are free from all of the neuroses it produces in the people who suffer such a society. An American evangelical organisation, the New Tribes Mission, which recently attempted to convert the Panare and to make them become meek, fearful and obedient wage-slaves, met with some difficulty. There is no vocabulary in Panare to describe “guilt”, “sin”, “punishment" or “redemption". Nor, because these ideas are outside their social experience, was there any adequate way of paraphrasing these notions. Tragically, some of the Panare have been converted through some peculiar guile from the missionaries. The fables in the Bible were rewritten in Panare casting the ancestors of the Panare as the killers of Christ. The missionaries then said that unless the Panare were obedient to their every instruction they would be burnt alive in hell forever.

Today the social experience of most people takes place in capitalism—the social system in which the means of producing and distributing goods and services are in the hands of a minority. In capitalism goods are produced as commodities. Things are produced primarily to be sold on the market. In this system the abilities of the majority of people are commodities (or prospective commodities) because they are bought and sold on the jobs market. It follows that capitalism is a global system existing in state capitalist areas like the Russian Empire as much as in avowedly commercial places like the United States of America. Because capitalism puts the need for profits before human needs the system is constantly creating social problems. The lives of most of us are made unnecessarily miserable and difficult because of the social system which we live under.

Language is directly related to ideas and ideas to language. From the time when we are very young and begin to receive and develop ideas about the world in which we live, we are fed with words and ideas in a way which generally encourages us to make serious misjudgements about society. Two of these misjudgements, if we do not correct them, create a distorted view of society. The first is that we are encouraged not to see the organisation of society as a system. The state of society we are born into is just “the way things are". The fact that humankind has developed through a series of different social systems, like slave society and feudalism, is presented in such a way as to make it seem that our development has now stopped and that the basic principles of the profit system are correct forever. According to this fallacy it becomes acceptable to question the desirability of various aspects of capitalism but not to question the necessity of capitalism itself.

The other perversion we are encouraged to accept is dependence on leaders and employers and politicians to run society in a way that will be best for the majority. All the useful work in society—the design. manufacture, servicing and distribution of goods and services and all of the supplementary work needed to run society — is daily carried out by men and women who are not investors, financiers, politicians or economic experts. The process by which we are indoctrinated to lack confidence is a subtle one. The picture of the world we form from the words directed at us by parents, comics, schools, colleges, churches and the communications media all contribute to this process.

In his novel Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell described the Newspeak principle of “doublethink” as
the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them . . . The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt.
In criticising some of the emergent contradictions Orwell saw in 1948 he chose to have the three Party slogans plastered everywhere in his 1984 society as:

WAR IS PEACE 
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY 
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
 
We notice the type of contradictory thought signified by these slogans around us today. "Join the Peace Movement” the banner headline proclaims from a newspaper advertisement. The small print beneath the headline informs us that the Peace Movement referred to is. in fact, the Army (The Guardian, 25 November 1983).
What of Freedom?
We are all linked by a common belief in freedom and in Britain's greatness. (The Conservative Manifesto 1983)
We urge the British people to reject the Tory drift to catastrophe and to support our alternative strategy for peace, jobs and freedom (Labour’s Call to the People, NEC. 1980)
In these contexts the idea of freedom is bound up with wage-slavery. The freedom to be given employment and to be used to make a profit for a minority. It means freedom in a society of governments and armies and prisons and police forces. The idea of nationalism and of making sacrifices for “Britain" is first installed by the acceptance of a set of false assumptions about property. The vocabulary of possession is instrumental in the inculcation of this myth. We are bombarded with talk about "Our country . . . our need to stimulate trade ... our investment overseas ...” For most people this "our” business is quite inappropriate. It should be "their”. In Britain, according to the Inland Revenue Statistics, the top 2 per cent of the population own 64 per cent of all the land and the top 13 per cent of the population own 91 per cent of all housing.

The idea that ignorance is strength is again one which is repeatedly pul to us in the form of exhortations to trust leaders and politicians and bosses. The notion is that by harnessing your mind to that of a leader you will divest yourself of great responsibilities and, with many people transferring their power to the same leaders, those leaders will become very powerful and the better placed to run society efficiently. Minority power exists by consent because power is always, if only potentially, with the majority. We have only to get up off our knees.

Although language and ideas can influence the majority to be acquiescent in capitalism and to regard change as undesirable or impossible, the dynamic, changing nature of society can never be arrested by language. Socialism will entail a society without nations, armies, the rivalry which causes war, employment, money and all of the paraphernalia needed to support the profit system. The idea of socialism is thus born out of capitalism. When people’s experiences clash with the prejudices they have acquired, they can either reinterpret their experiences to conform with their prejudices or allow their experiences to refute their prejudices. Human history, including the development of the sciences, of technology and of language is evidence that experience is mightier than myth.
Gary Jay