Saturday, May 13, 2017

Costa proletaria (1987)

From the October 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Following the annual fortnight’s parole I, like thousands of other workers, am now once again chained in the bondage of wage slavery. During the long winter months we eagerly looked forward to the forthcoming sun, sea, sand and sangria experience. This was fuelled, as it is every year, by a television advertising blitz that began on Christmas Day immediately following the Queen talking about her unemployed family and the difficulties of managing on the pension and two thousand million quid.

Swayed by the alluring images of sun-soaked beaches, swimsuit clad models sipping bacardi, and the prospect of another year ahead full of the same old problems, we rushed off to the travel agent. We staggered back with all the brochures. Capitalism isn't so bad you know, especially if you can afford two weeks away from it all. The trouble is that all the problems and frustrations that we want to leave behind will still be here when we get back.

Come the big day and at the airport we discover why Package Holidays are so called. Hundreds of other packages are all waiting to depart too. Why do the companies selling holidays studiously avoid showing how crowded a beach or a hotel can get when everyone seems to be going to the same place at the same time?

Having been processed through the airport and fed plastic food, eaten with plastic cutlery, on the plane we finally arrive. When R. L. Stevenson wrote that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive, he had obviously never been on a jam-packed Boeing 737.

As we transfer to our hotel (30 minutes by coach the brochure said but only possible in this time because of Spanish driving) how many of us give a thought to the many Ronan Points along the way which house Spanish workers? Does it occur to us that they suffer under capitalism too?

The entertainment opportunities afforded in the sunshine are myriad. Providing you can afford them. Spain may have a "socialist" government but try getting a drink from a bar without engaging in an exchange transaction and see how quickly the municipal police arrive.

What with crowded beaches, crowded bars, fighting for a table every time we take our buffet type meals, it's almost a pleasure to be able to rest in the airport for 11 hours because the aircraft taking us home has broken down through overwork.

And when we finally arrive home. 18 hours later than planned, to find a welcoming pile of bills on the door mat, we sit down, have a cup of tea and prepare to sell our labour power for the next 50 weeks to pay for our next holiday.
Dave Coggan

The Unknown Question (1958)

Film Review from the September 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recently many film critics and many picturegoers have clapped their hands at the end of films that deal with war; the war with all the dead and wounded, the war with all the bullets and shells. Somewhere in these films we find the hero mumbles something that clearly shows how “confused” or “unnecessary'’ wars really are. “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Paths of Glory,” and “The Young Lions” are a few examples. “The Unknown Soldier” (shown at the Academy) has more bullets fired, and more blood spilled than any of them. It also provides a record of war that is seemingly harsh but really quite accurate in its two-hour-plus description of the Finnish army's advance and subsequent retreat in Russia during 1941.

The director, Edvin Laine, employed a largely unprofessional cast in the making of this first war film from Finland. There are no real heroes, certainly not in the Hollywood U.S. Marine tradition, for it is obvious from just ten minutes of this film that however unflinching heroes may be they rarely live to see the medals handed out.

A handful of agricultural workers forming a National Service machine gun detachment are the centre of the film’s interest. They are shown from their first time in uniform as awkward recruits, to their final savage battles in retreat from the overwhelming Russian army.

Presenting a faithful picture of war it does not employ any of the patriotic devices usual to most war films. Most noticeable is the absence of the enemy—the Russians. They are seen here and there marching or advancing as a body, but never are they identified as the aggressors by means of propagandist tricks showing the enemy as the rapers, monsters, and barbarians which is also common to war films. A typical example of the portrayal of the Russians is a marching column in the snow, vague figures in heavy uniforms. Two Finns sit behind a machine gun ready to fire upon the unsuspecting soldiers; one speaks, “If that bastard has a maker, start forgiving his sins now, and quickly!" This sums up the attitude of the film to the enemy.

Finns are not shown as brave and relentless fighters, everyone of them living proof of the term “plucky little Finland.” Many of them are shown as fools and cowards, two of them are shot for indiscipline.

A bitter humour pervades the film. As the detachment force their way into Karelia then suffer severe losses during the retreat the soldiers become unmoved by violent death; it has no real significance..

In a review in the Observer (Sunday, June 13) C. A. Lejeune says: “‘The Unknown Soldier’ is a rough work with certain qualities of greatness, but to watch it is a great ordeal.”

No punches are pulled, and scenes are brutal and horrifying in an arms-and-legs-all-over-the-screen fashion.

The final conclusion is that all the killing, all the dying, all the shooting and all the fear has been something of a waste of time. Forlorn and pathetic the soldiers stand in the trees of a vast forest, last shots have been fired, the sun shines through the tree tops. Voices swell in a last triumphant anthem and everybody is glad because of peace. Peace that is silence and the sun shining—the only trite device used by the director.

The Unknown Soldier” is a war film that shows men, who have worked all of their lives, suddenly fighting. They fight because they have to. But no reason is given for war, nobody knows why, because if they did they would not be fighting.

“For religion and home" the soldiers cry together, a scared group of men who yell because it gives them courage. They fight so they can go home to their families and work hard and forget about it. The violence and fear are to be forgotten, put aside, just as any attempt to think why the soldiers fought was to be put aside. They would have no other choice but to go home and work after the war, but they would not think of that either.
Robert Jarvis.

Labour Governments and armaments (1965)

From the March 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Party has always prided itself on being different from the Liberals and Tories it its attitude to armaments and war. It charged the Liberals with having been responsible for the First World War and has often called the Tory leaders war makers. It declared its trust in the League of Nations and later in United Nations as means of preventing war, and condemned the Tories in particular for lack of enthusiasm in supporting the League and UNO. It was always to the fore in declaring its belief in disarmament and in securing peace among the nations through peaceful discussion to settle disputes. It attracted and tolerated a fringe of self-styled pacifists. In its early days it gave a certain amount of lip service to ideas of international working class action to prevent war. One of its best known leaders, Keir Hardie, writing in 1907, claimed for the Labour Party and the parties in other countries with which it was associated that the evil of war was already on the way to being eradicated.
   "Whatever differences there may be in the International Socialist Movement concerning the tactics to be pursued in achieving Socialism, there is perfect agreement on two leading points of principle: hostility to militarism in all its forms and to war as a method of settling disputes between nations is the first. In countries where the Socialist parties are a real influence in the councils of the nation, the war spirit is suffering appreciable eclipse. It would, for instance, be a difficult task, and one yearly becoming more so, for the rulers of say France and Germany, to again embroil these two nations with each other. Probably the first effective service to which the growing forces of International Socialism will be put will be to make war upon war. The Holy Alliance which Socialism is achieving is not that of crowned heads but of homy hands and therein lies the only real hope there is of peace on earth. The other point of agreement concerns the essential principle of Socialism" (From Serfdom to Socialism).
These were the beliefs and hopes of Keir Hardie at that time: and all of them were wrong, as events were soon to prove. When the war came in 1914 the French and German governments had no difficulty at all in rallying the majority of the workers for war, including the majority of members and supporters of the parties Keir Hardie was writing about. They —and this included Keir Hardie—let themselves be tricked by the plea that in each country “National interests" were at stake and that these involved the working class.

The collapse of the International was represented as a failure of the Socialist movement to stand the test, a charge which was examined and shown to be false in lengthy article in the Socialist Standard fifty years ago. in the issue of March 1915. It was the collapse not of parties grounded in Socialist principles but of parties which, in the pursuit of mass membership, had turned aside from the hard task of spreading an understanding of the problem of replacing capitalism by Socialism, to follow the seemingly easy and fruitful road of chasing reforms of capitalism. They were parties aiming merely to take on the administration of capitalism and to show that they could do it as well as their Liberal and Tory rivals.

But the belief still persists among millions of Labour Party supporters that their party can indeed run affairs differently and in particular that they can bring a new attitude towards the avoidance of war. Yet all the evidence of the past Labour governments shows this to be a vain hope.

The Labour Party supported the war in 1914 and joined the coalition government to fight the war. In 1924, in office as a minority Labour government dependent on Liberal votes, they were responsible for expanding the navy and air force though claiming that by concentrating on more deadly but cheaper weapons they were able to cut the overall cost. And at the Labour Party Conference a year later (1925) the Executive was able to defeat a motion to support disarmament with the plea that “they could not afford to ignore the question of defence.” Ironically the “enemy" the delegates were asked to fear was not on this occasion Germany, but France.

The Labour Government had, to quote the words of one of their leaders Mr. J. H. Thomas, taken on the job of governing "while accepting the present order of society.” They were administrating capitalism, and armaments and war are an inescapable responsibility of those who do so. They carried on in the same way in the second Labour Government 1929-1931.

After the second World War, when again they were part of the National Government, they had six years of rule, this time with a large majority but again without any mandate for Socialism. Before they left office if had fallen to them to be involved in the Korean War and to initiate the great rearmament which sent expenditure up from £777 million in 1950-1 to £1,110 million in 1951-2. They were responsible for the development of nuclear weapons. In office again since last October they have made a special feature of their aim to reduce armaments but, according to forecasts of the forthcoming budget (Sunday Times 8.1.65.) the expenditure in the coming year is likely to reach the record figure of over £2,000 million.

The Labour government have already found themselves committed to sending troops to Malaysia, with the Navy Minister, Mr. Christopher Mayhew, voicing the possibility of sending additional forces to strengthen the 50,000 men and 70 warships already there. They may before long be involved in Vietnam.

Is it that they want war? Of course not, any more than Keir Hardie did in 1907. But they are pursuing a course which is equally fatal. Capitalism is a jungle of warring capitalist states—on both sides of the Iron Curtain- and in this jungle all governments live by the same rule of force in the pursuit of markets, raw materials etc. The only way out—half glimpsed by Keir Hardie—lies in united working class action to abolish capitalism and establish Socialism, not in alliance with the governments of the separate countries but against all of them. Far from endorsing the Socialist view on this, the Labour Government, like its predecessors, accepts the function of representing British capitalism against the rival capitalist groups.

The Government, and its supporters, devote their efforts to the task of gaining markets for British exports. As a first step towards understanding something about the nature of the capitalism they disown with words but support with deeds, they might ponder a wartime declaration of the late Sir Stafford Cripps, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the earlier Labour government:
  If after the coming of peace, we were to start once again the vicious circle of international trade competition we should be lost, and in a few years would be confronting another war.
Edgar Hardcastle

Know your place (1984)

From the January 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard
    "I can't cope with it. Sometimes I have to go hungry in order to feed the child. For two or three days at a time, I go without food. I just drink a cup of tea” (a single parent, Breadline Britain. LWT, 1983).   
  "Roland Waller (Tiny) Chairman and Managing Director of Lonrho, according to the company's latest set of accounts, picked up £266,034 in salary (1982). plus £3,990,513 in dividends. His income of £4,250,000 is the equivalent of £82,000 per week" (Labour Research, 1983).
What is wealth? It is the result of human effort being applied to the material environment. In order for human society to continue it needs to produce wealth. As our technology to operate on the environment has been changed in character, so the system of social relations in which we combine to produce wealth has changed. Very early forms of human beings arranged their production and distribution of wealth on a communistic basis. They suffered under no governments. They had no notion of individual property by which one person could exclude others from access to the wealth which many of them had taken part in helping to produce.

When, for reasons of scarcity of raw materials, competition between communities arose, the phenomenon of property took root. Since the emergence of property society the ways in which we have related to each other in the process of producing wealth have been changing. One epoch in human history was characterised by most of the wealth producers being physically owned and possessed by the ruling class. These were the ancient slave societies: what the doublespeak history books describe as the “ancient democracies of Greece and Rome".

Another era in our history worked on the basis of a pyramidal hierarchy with the monarch at the pinnacle and beneath him aristocrats, knights, serfs and peasants. The modern set of social relationships in which we work to produce wealth are those of the profit system — capitalism. We have reached a stage where we have developed a very efficient means of producing and distributing wealth, but the system (the set of social relations) that we use to produce and distribute wealth is one which conflicts with the needs of the majority of people. Today the factories, farms, offices, transport and communications networks are owned by a small minority of people and state bureaucracies. In return for wages and salaries the majority work for the minority. Each worker is paid less than the value of what he or she produces and the capital-owning minority live off the surplus value thus donated by the workers.

So the rich get increasingly rich by not working, while the workers remain in a constant state of poverty as wages and salaries are used up before the end of each week or month. Production in this system is aimed at the goal of profit. From the point of view of the capitalist there is no reason to allow commodities to be produced if there is no prospect of being able to sell them for a profit. This explains why millions of human beings die each year from starvation although society has the capacity to produce more than enough for everyone.

The nineteenth century social investigators Booth and Rowntree exposed and commented on the wretched poverty of Victorian society. Many subsequent improvements in society were, and still are, measured against this sort of backdrop. But the argument that “at least we are better off than we used to be" is not very helpful. You could say that compared with the workers of a century ago. the workers of today are not poor. But poverty is not measured by reference to the past. It needs to be measured by reference to the present. Bearing in mind the sort of prosperity that most people could enjoy today because of what we could produce, the majority are poor. There are, of course, degrees of poverty ranging from the millions who are destitute and starving to the millions who exhaust themselves each week in order to varnish the mediocrity of their lives with artificial fun.

Since the implementation of Beveridge's plan for social security by the Attlee government of 1945-50 some people have opposed the urgent need for socialism — that is classless society — on the grounds that you could, after all, make capitalism run well for the working class. Because capitalism works on the principle of continuous impoverishment of the working class it can never work in our interest, any more than a prison can be designed to work in the interest of the prisoners. The welfare state provides a careful system of indoctrination to produce literate, numerate. punctual, obedient and docile wage- slaves: state education; and a cheap medical service to keep workers just healthy enough. In a House of Commons debate on the Beveridge Report. Quintin Hogg MP (now Lord Hailsham) remarked that.
Some of my honorable Friends seem to overlook one or two ultimate facts about social reform. The first is that if you do not give the people social reform they arc going to give you social revolution . . .
(Parliamentary Debates. 17 February. 1943, Col. 1818)
In fact, Beveridge himself saw his plan as a means of making the existing social services “more economical". He observed that.
It is to the interest of employers as such that the employees should have security, should be properly maintained during the inevitable intervals of unemployment or of sickness, should have the content which helps to make them efficient producers.
(Beveridge Report. Social Insurance and Allied Services, p. 109)
In the same vein Samuel Courtauld, millionaire chairman of the great rayon company. said that he was.
   . . . strongly in favour of the principles and almost all of the proposals of the Beveridge Report . . .  I have not the faintest doubt that if we can survive the first severe business contraction which arises after the war, social security of this nature will be about the most profitable long-term investment the country could make. It will not undermine the morale of the nation’s workers: it will ultimately lead to higher efficiency among them and a lowering of production costs.
(Manchester Guardian, 19 February 1943).
The relative poverty of the majority is endemic to capitalism. The majority under this system will have to live second-rate lives. And being in this condition of poverty cannot be easily escaped from. Generally, you do not get rich by working hard. You just get tired.

Poverty is a social problem today not because there are insufficient resources. We can project laboratories into space. We can construct thriving cities where once there was desert. The current state of agricultural and industrial technique enable us to adequately feed and clothe all of the world’s 4.2 billion inhabitants. The political parties which stand to operate this present social system do not have a solution to the problem of poverty. According to the “virtuous" Victorian values advocated by vocal members of the Conservative Party it is individual frailty or idleness which is the cause of poverty although not perhaps in the case of the House of Lords and the top exclusive gentlemen's clubs.

Throughout its history, including prior to the seven occasions when it has formed the government, the Labour Party has made promises about reducing poverty. Perhaps more so than the other parties, it is seen as the party to do away with poverty. But because it has only ever stood to run capitalism the Labour Party has always, as a government, acted against the interest of the working class. During their last period of office, according to the Department of Health and Social Security, the number of poor families increased by 37 per cent between 1974 and 1977. Over the same period the number of individuals living in poverty increased by 43 per cent. The social service cuts introduced by the last Labour government meant the loss of 25,000 hospital beds. In its first two years, the share of the nation's wealth held by the top five per cent of people increased from 43.1 per cent to 46.2 per cent, while that of the bottom 50 per cent of the population fell from 7.1 per cent to 5.6 per cent.

Although the SDP/Liberal policy is difficult to discover, it appears that the Alliance is moderately in favour of moderately reducing poverty to an acceptable level. Before it eliminates poverty from society, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) seeks to sack Thatcher, reform the Labour Party and create more jobs. As jobs, or employment, or exploitation, were the cause of poverty in the first place, voting Labour to abolish poverty is about as logical as jumping into the bath in order to get dry.

The only solution to poverty is for the majority of people to act democratically and to put the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth into the hands of the whole community. With production carried out on the basis of "from each according to ability, to each according to need” there will be no poverty, just one prosperous world community. There will be no antagonism of economic interest between those who produce but do not possess and those who possess but do not produce. With one worldwide community democratically using the earth's resources to provide for our needs, we will finally have stepped from the contradictions of property society. The most painful and stark contradiction we suffer now is that the profit system itself has created a single, world-integrated society of production. Labour and resources come together from all over the planet to constitute many goods. Commerce has accelerated the development of highly efficient communications networks (including telephones, television communication, computer link-ups and holographs) and transport systems. But standing in the way, preventing this technology from being used to satisfy our needs, is the tyrannous idea that we need to have a social system with property owners, money, profits, wages, policemen, prisons, passports and nations. In his essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism, Oscar Wilde observed:
There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else. That is the misery of being poor.
Gary Jay