Friday, December 1, 2017

Running : Poland - The Iron Heel (1982)

The Running Commentary column from the November 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Poland: the iron heel
Jaruzelski, the Polish military dictator, has pushed through his Iron Heel Act. Rubber-stamped by the subservient pseudo- Parliament. the Sejm, it made illegal not only Solidarity but all forms of trade union organisation.

This Bismarckian act of repression, backed by the infamous thugs of ZOMO and other security forces, will not solve Poland’s desperate economic crisis, any more than the sacking of several economic ministers will help feed the hungry.

Sympathy for Polish workers is widespread. ranging from the far left to the Foreign Office statement:
The policy of the Polish government is one of confrontation rather than reconciliation. (Daily Telegraph, 9 November 1982)
We go further. The hardships experienced by Polish workers have been extreme. In peace-time Europe there is famine. Capitalism in chaos can — and does — kill. Poland is but one extreme example of this.

In 1981 plant closures and unemployment indicated the continuing decline of the economy. With the economy. the morale of the ruling Party collapsed. The bankrupt Party saw the workers' movement as a political threat. Jaruzelski’s actions in first suspending, and now banning. Solidarity were a reaction to a the movement's assumption of a wider role — "both a trade union and a wider social movement" (Solidarity Programme Resolution. Autumn 1981).

We cannot endorse the demand for a “new social contract" based on cooperation between workers and management in the "national interest". Yet Solidarity was the workers' only defence against the severe erosion of their wagcs and pitiful standard of living.

The class struggle cannot be legislated out of existence. Although this attempt to establish an independent trade union and political movement may have been crushed, we know that there will be others in the future.

We hope that such attempts will benefit from the lesson of the failure of Solidarity — that ultimately every class struggle is a political one.


Court in the act
Magistrates are called (in court, at any rate) Your Worships and their legal advisers are known as Your Learned Clerk and the whole procedure is carried along on a tidal wave of bowing and scraping and forelock-touching, so why they should want any help from On High must be a mystery.

However, there it is. The court in Coventry recently decided that each day's proceedings will open with a ten-minute prayer meeting in which everyone, including the defendants, will be asked to join.

Now this will present some obvious problems because there will be people praying for different things all at the same time which will be very difficult for god who has to hear all and see all and know all.

The police, for example, will be saying a few words in favour of the person in the dock getting the heaviest possible sentence because that is the righteous way of dealing with offenders against the law. But the offenders will be praying to be let off lightly or, if they are pleading not guilty, for the magistrates to believe a perhaps unlikely version of the events.

The magistrates will probably be asking god for some interesting cases, for the court reporter to make a careful note of all their witty asides and to get them in the local rag, for the court to run long enough for them to claim a whole day’s attendance allowance and for lunch time to come around quickly.

But of course it is not all farcical. Courts exist as part of the coercive machinery which enforces the rights and minority privileges of property society. Their job is to assert the fact that there is a class of people in capitalism who own the means of life and whose position must be protected with punishment for anyone who threatens it with breaches of property laws.

Religion is also a prop of this divisive, repressive social system. It teaches the non-owners, the non-privileged, to accept their lot and meekly to consent to their own exploitation. It stands up for the symbols of privilege and repression like the royal family and supports the nastiest aspects of the conflicts of capitalism, like its wars.

So it is entirely appropriate that the two factors — coercive state machine and lick-spittling religion — should come together in such open and unequivocal support for capitalism. In Coventry, the view from the dock could not be clearer.


Adman cometh
Travellers who have booked with British Airways may be having second thoughts since that airline announced that its advertising was being taken over by Saatchi and Saatchi, who masterminded the Tory election campaign in 1979 with the implied promise that unemployment would disappear when Thatcher got to Number Ten. With that record behind them, the new ad agency had better not try any slogans like “We’ll Take More Care of You" or all the passengers will be hastily booking to go by sea.

That famous phrase was followed by the patriotic "Fly The Flag”, which was probably intended to cash in on the Concorde boom which never came. Now more, similar, rubbish is promised; Saatchi and Saatchi have hired one of the advertising industry's (sic) wonder boys just to write the new slogans to persuade people to fly British Airways.

This wonder boy — Geoffrey Seymour — is still in his thirties but is well wise to the cut-throat ways of the advertising world. Seymour’s trade is to spend lengthy periods of time fashioning a few words of dramatic, enduring impact which will result in one product selling more than any others — even if the others are better.

He has already had a lot of success (for such it is called) at this. Products like Hovis bread, Heineken lager and Hamlet cigars are said to have sold better after Seymour's fertile mind had been at work (for such it is called).

Success has come in other ways; Seymour has actually won prizes for his slogans and, probably more to the point, he now gets something like £100,000 a year from the advertising world as reward; This may cause anger and bitterness among, say, Health Service workers who are doing a vital human job and have to struggle to defend an already meagre living standard. But there is another aspect to be considered. We live under a social system which produces its wealth for sale, winch means that the market is all-important.

So salespeople, advertising executives and the like have a very important place in this society. They don’t actually produce anything, their work does not make human life one jot easier or happier; a sane social system will have absolutely no use for what are called their talents. Their gargantuan rewards could happen only under a society in which all values are distorted and crazy, in which profit comes a long, long way ahead of people.


Family party
Margaret Thatcher, it is reported, sent her key ministers and advisers off on their holidays during the parliamentary recess with the instruction to Think About The Family. But protective parents need not worry; it is unlikely that the Prime Minister intended Geoffrey Howe to reflect on the effects of poverty on family relationships, or Norman Tebbitt to write a paper on the degrading frustrations in both employment and unemployment.

What Thatcher wanted from the Tory thinkers was some ideas on how to exploit electorally the concept of the family as a cosy, protective element in social stability. This may be shrewder than it at first appears. The present phase of property society encourages everyone to strive for an ideal in their personal relationships, based on the assumption that the human family must be a private, monogamous, exclusive unit.
 
In fact the style of family — whether monogamous or polygamous, whether nuclear or extended, whether patriarchal or matriarchal — can and does vary according to the basic social arrangements in force at the time. There is no evidence that the contemporary family is ideal, or beneficial, or that it will endure.

What is clear is that the present day family conforms with capitalism, with a social system based on the private ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution and the consequent production of wealth as commodities. This form of family places no obstacles in the way of the organised, widespread wage slavery or the savage conflicts of capitalism. The restraints it imposes are on human freedoms — sexual, social and moral. Its privacy is only extended where a market can be created, where each family unit has its own private home having its own car. washing machine, TV .   .  .  .

A sane society will have a very different family. If the repressions, neuroses and exclusions of the capitalist family are so comforting to those who endure them as to be an electoral asset to some capitalist party, then that is apt comment on this system’s distortion of human relationships.

Russia 1917: As We Saw It (2017)

From the December 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Saviours of Russia
In September 1918 the Socialist Standard commented on the invasion of Russia by 'the Allies'.
The hand of the capitalist is slowly but surely revealing itself in Russian affairs. It will be remembered with what haste the capitalist Governments rushed to congratulate their triumphant (as they thought) fellow thieves upon their overthrow of the monarchy. They did not then stop to lecture on the enormity of "internal dissension" in the midst of war. No, they tumbled over each other in their anxiety to deliver their congratulations – because the 'victors' were of their own kidney.

They made a mistake, however. In the ultimate it proved to he more than the revolutionary capitalist class in Russia could do, once they had broken the tyrannical organisation which had kept the conscripted forces in subjection, to regain for themselves control of those forces. It was not for the want of trying that they failed. They soon got busy butchering soldiers who refused to go on with the war which they had not made, which they had never wanted, and which they realised could bring them no benefit. So the revolutionary capitalists, who were never for a moment strong enough to establish their authority over the forces and powers of State, were 'recognised' and accepted by their fellow capitalists as the 'representatives of the Russian people,' as the Russian people, as the natural successors, quite as a matter of course, to Bloody Nick and his crew. That they had no power as a Government made no difference.

How different, however, was the conduct of the capitalist Governments toward the Bolsheviks when the latter took the reins from the palsied grasp of the 'triumphant bourgeoisie' ! Their accredited envoys received only 'unofficial recognition, for the purpose of communication.' (. . .)

Fearful that if the Bolshevik enterprise should meet with success it might prove contagious, they have determined to crush it and restore their friends and allies, the Russian capitalists, to dominance. So we have a 'league of nations' in being against the Bolshevik Government. Under the plea that they are going to save Russia from the Germans they invade the country at various points. 'We come as the friends of Russia,' they declare, and disown any intention of interfering with 'the internal politics of the country.' (. . .)

As to the claim that they go into Russia as 'the friends of Russia,' this must be translated into 'the friends of Russian capitalists' if it is to have any truth at all. It is only by the continued exploitation of the Russian working class that the Allied capitalists can ever hope to recover the many millions which they have advanced, both before and since the outbreak of the war, to Russia, with the object of strengthening her against Germany.

(Full article here)

Russia: the left-wing fantasy (1982)

From the December 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sixty-five years ago a myth was born. A Dictatorship of the Russian Proletariat had been set up amid the chaos of World War 1. The simple slogan Peace, Land and Bread echoed from the cities to the remotest villages.

As the dust settled, facts emerged. The peasants had seized whatever land they could while the landlords, rightly fearing a repetition of the French Revolution, packed up and fled. Peace broke out as far as Russia's involvement in the World War was concerned but only temporarily: civil war was to follow. Bread was to be very scarce for a long time. The workers' councils, the Soviets, had no real power. The Bolshevik Party were in power and they meant to stay there. Within weeks the Cheka took the place of the Tsarist Okhrana — with unlimited powers. This was not a dictatorship of the proletariat, it was a dictatorship over the proletariat, and shortly over the peasants too.

The myth of a classless society — as socialism will indeed be — was widely publicised. Yet the reality was a society split by irreconcilable antagonisms. The Bolsheviks were desperate for food for the starving cities and sent raiding parties to rob the peasants, who fought back.

This conflict came to a head sixty years ago. The winter of 1920-21 was terrible; food in the cities was very scarce, rationing was arbitrary and chaotic, many workers fled the cities to join relatives in the countryside while those who remained starved on wages which were less than 10 per cent of the 1913 level.

The Kronstadt revolt highlighted real grievances, demanding better food supplies and new elections. “The Communist Party, master of the State, has detached itself from the masses . . . Countless incidents have recently occurred in Petrograd and Moscow which show clearly that the Party has lost the confidence of the working masses. [1] . . . Our cause is just. We stand for the power of the Soviets, not for that of the Party. We stand for freely elected representatives of the toiling masses. Deformed Soviets, dominated by the Party, have remained deaf to our pleas. Our appeals have been answered with bullets.”[2]

At the same time, peasant risings showed opposition to grain procurements. Lenin did a U-turn. In 1921, within weeks of Trotsky’s massacre of the Kronstadt garrison, he instituted the New Economic Policy. The collapse of Russian agriculture was halted and grain harvests increased through the twenties until the first Five Year Plan brought compulsory collectivisation and attacks on so-called kulaks. Food production nose-dived in the years 1928-32 and peasants slaughtered their livestock. Millions were liquidated or disappeared to concentration camps, others fled the hungry, terrorised countryside for the overcrowded cities. The gap between theory and practice widened:
  “From their bloodstained platforms they shout that the soil belongs to the peasants and the factories belong to the workers . . . [But] a new Communist serfdom arose. The peasant in the Soviet farms became a slave, and the worker in the factories a day-labourer.” [3]
From the time of the first Five Year Plan, which ended 50 years ago, we may date the completion of Russia's capitalist revolution. This was the third Russian Revolution. The first, in February 1917, toppled the Tsar and brought about a liberal bourgeois government under Kerensky; the second was the November coup by the Bolsheviks with promises of “Peace, Land and Bread". Between 1927 and 1932, the number of wage-workers in Russia increased by 30 per cent and the expropriation of the peasants proceeded by leaps and bounds.

Marx wrote of the “primitive accumulation" of capital — the process by which a landless proletariat is brought into being, with no means of livelihood except the sale of their labour power, renting themselves out for hire by the hour, the day or the week for wages. He pointed out that everywhere the methods employed "all employ the power of the state, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hothouse fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition "[4]. This ruthless, enforced process, was as cruel in the steppes of Russia as in the Highlands of Scotland. For Highland Clearances, read “de-kulakisation and collectivisation.”

But Russia, it was claimed, was different. There was no exploitation — it was illegal for individuals to own factories or mines, or to enrich themselves by employing a workforce. If there were no individual capitalists, there could be no capitalist class. Therefore this was not capitalism.

But. as Marx, Engels and Bukharin explained earlier, the wages system does not require individual capitalists. The capitalist class as a whole collectively exploits the working class as a whole. This can be done by means of institutional or corporate ownership of the land, factories, mines and so on as had already happened in the 19th century. (When Bismarck nationalised the railways, this had nothing whatever to do with socialism, as Engels pointed out.) Lenin's view was that in Russia what was needed was state capitalism, on the Prussian model. Yet to this day, it is generally believed that Russia's nationalisation is characteristic of socialism in practice. Later, Khrushchev tried to explain away the so-called "dictatorship of the proletariat". This, he said, had been superseded by a “government of the whole people": there was still to be coercion "but not in a class sense, since it was no longer necessary to suppress entire social layers and classes, but only criminals and individuals who violated Soviet laws.”[5]

Now. however, this policy is disavowed in Moscow. On a recent visit to Russia we were invited to take part in a discussion with two official spokesmen at the Marx-Engels Institute. In response to this point — that Russia had developed beyond the dictatorship of the proletariat and had become a classless society, a "government of the whole people” — the official spokesmen were anxious to reassure all present that nothing so terrible had happened. Khrushchev, he scoffed, talked a lot of twaddle. Yet this position had been endorsed as part of the CFSU's programme at the 22nd Congress (1961): “(the party had) transformed the state of the proletarian dictatorship into a state of the whole people"[6]. Evidently, the CPSU also talks twaddle.

Another Leftwing fantasy is that in Russia there is no unemployment. But with deportation to Siberia, pass laws which fix where any individual is allowed to live, black-listing of the system's critics, a paternalist state, gross waste of human resources in the overmanned and hopelessly inefficient farms, large scale unemployment would be unlikely. Yet there are unemployed workers in Russia.

Workers may be sacked for absenteeism or other infringements of the Labour Code. They may be sacked and blacklisted for complaining or protesting against abuses by management [7]. The only difference is that in Russia, unemployed workers cannot get any unemployment benefit and there are no published statistics. In any case, with or without unemployment, the wages system exploits workers.

If Russia is Utopia, it is Utopia only for the Male Chauvinist Pig. On my first visit, twenty-five years ago, I saw Moscow in sweltering summer. All the people queueing with buckets for water at standpipes were women — never men: This year I visited three cities (Moscow, Kiev and Leningrad) in the winter. In each city, snow was being shovelled off the pavements by women and only by women. I asked why such hard work is done only by women and why women do not reach the higher decision-making strata. The official response: "We don't like our women to be put under stress"!
Russia is said to represent a “transition stage’’, not capitalist (no individual capitalists) but not yet communist. But how long can a transition be expected to last? This one qualifies for the Guinness Book of Records: sixty-five years is an awful long time to be in transit.

The claim that in Russia there is no class struggle is fraudulent. In 1956-57 there was a wave of strikes (especially “Italian strikes", a form of go-slow); in 1962, the Army machine-gunned demonstrators, including children, protesting at food prices and work norms; and about ten years ago, 30,000 workers struck at the Kiev car factory. What has developed is a form of capitalism where most capital is state property.

As Engels wrote: “State ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict . . . The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage workers — proletarians.” [9]

The history of Russia in the last fifty years has demonstrated the truth of this proposition.

Workers have learned to associate Marxism and socialism with a totalitarian dictatorship, ruthless and corrupt. The damage done by this to the socialist cause is immeasurable. Yet there is some cause for hope. Moscow’s magicians find it harder to support the illusion of a Workers' Paradise. In the last twenty-five years, the publication of samizdat material has become well established. The early critics wrote poems and novels. Later came scientists, historians, economists and engineers, and in the last decade a number of shop-floor workers. These usually follow Sakharov, who described the system as state capitalism. as in the 1972 leaflet:
   It is not towards communism that we are heading: all that is idle talk. Our system is state capitalism — the very worst, the most wretched political system possible . . . The Kremlin bosses and their hangers-on live better and richer than many Tsarist noblemen did before the Revolution — and yet they call themselves ‘the vanguard of the Soviet people', its servants! [10] 
Just as forthright are the comments of Pohyba arguing for independent trade unions: “ultimately it is the state which is the exploiter along with the State-party bourgeoisie which is in its service and which is the one wielding real power in the country . . . Our country is actually a State capitalist society with a totalitarian form of government’’. [11]

How can Left-wingers explain the existence of profits in what they claim is a socialist society? The Kremlin’s tame economists worry about new methods of measuring “the true rate of profit for each enterprise” (Nemchinov), and Liberman's Kharkov plan stipulated that a factory's rewards should be linked to the profits it could earn on its capital investment. [12] If there are profits, they can only come about by the exploitation of the working class. Profits arc part of our unpaid labour. Yet the myth of this “socialist state” confronts us still and debunking it is still a necessary chore for every socialist speaker or writer.
Charmian Skelton

References
1. 1st issue of Kronstadt Izvestya (3 March 1921) — see Ida Mett The Kronstadt Uprising.
2. Final Kronstadt appeal (same source).
3. Kronstadt Izvestya, quoted by Kautsky Bolshevism at a Deadlock (1930).
4. Capital I ch. xxxi (Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist).
5. Pravda, December 1964.
6. Quoted by Gollan in C.P. Pamphlet Socialist Democracy — some problems (1976) from The Road to Communism — The Proceedings of the 22nd Congress (Moscow, 1961).
7. See Workers Against the Gulag (Pluto Press 1979).
8. Censorship rules ban publication of information on accidents, epidemics and unemployment.
9. Socialism Utopian and Scientific.
10. An Underground Leaflet, June 1972. published in full in Socialist Standard. January 1973.
11. Cf. Nove, An economic History of the Soviet Union.


Race-Prejudice in Washington D. C. (1949)

From the January 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the chapters in our pamphlet, “The Racial Problem,” deals with race-prejudice in the United States. In this chapter, as an example of the fantastic and utterly stupid lengths to which race-prejudice can take some human beings, we refer to the fact that, in certain parts of the U.S.A., there are separate cemeteries for Whites and Negroes.

It now appears that we were not ridiculous enough. From the Manchester Guardian (11/12/19*8) we learn that in Washington D.C. a cemetery for dogs has refused to bury dogs belonging to coloured people!

This masterpiece of stupidity is one of the items mentioned in a report on race-prejudice in, of all places, the District of Columbia, which is Federal Territory, contains Washington, the capital and centre of State power, and is itself under the direct control and administration of the U.S. Government! After alleging that the Government itself is a chief offender and that “Its practice of systematically denying Negroes equal employment opportunities sets a bad example,” the report is further quoted by the Manchester Guardian as follows:
   “Sharing the blame, says the report, are Congressmen who champion ‘white supremacy’ and real estate, commercial, and financial interests which consider segregation is a 'matter of good business.’ Discrimination against Negroes in Washington, the report says, is now more widespread than it was five years ago. Segregation is practised not only in hotels, theatres, restaurants, and housing developments, but in Government posts and even in churches, schools, and hospitals.
   “The largest churches, Protestant and Catholic alike, followed a policy of discouraging attendance by Negroes. ‘The exclusion of Negro Catholics from white-Catholic churches is one of the most disturbing aspects of segregation,’ the report said. It also claimed that Negro doctors could attend patients in only one local hospital, and the schools for coloured children were inferior to those for the whites.
   “It said that 260,000 Negroes—about one-third of the population of Washington—were crowded together in ‘black belts’ which had become some of the ugliest slums in the country. Because of these conditions, a Negro living in Washington had an expectation of life 12 years less than that of a white person.”
A copy of the report, says the Guardian finally, has been sent to President Truman, who has promised to read “with close attention” this account of the racial discrimination prevalent on his own back doorstep.
Stan Hampson

Letter: A Dissatisfied Reader (1949)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

A reader of the Socialist Standard (O.V.F., Rickmansworth) writes explaining why he did not renew his subscription.
“I agree with your ‘Object’ completely. But is there not too much of the old obsession about class? Working class, master class, etc. It seems to me that the change to a Socialist basis is progressing steadily and satisfactorily. Perhaps there is too much hurry in waging war against all other political parties to help the movement on quick enough!”

Reply.
Our correspondent’s two statements, that he agrees with our ”Object,” and that the change to a Socialist basis is progressing steadily and satisfactorily, bring into the open a misconception that is very common. The Socialist objective is a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution. Is it true that progress towards that basis is going on? Obviously what this critic has in mind is the fact that coal, transport, electricity and gas have been nationalised and steel is about to be nationalised. He will be astonished to learn that this is not common ownership and is not the objective of the Socialist Party. It is not the intention of the Labour Government to nationalise more than a small part of industry, but even if it were their intention to nationalise all industry it would not be Socialism or progress to Socialism. The act of changing the capitalist investor from an owner of coal shares or railway or steel shares into an owner of government bonds does not end or even essentially alter the class relationship of capitalism. It still leaves the capitalist class living by owning, and the working class exploited fur capitalist profit. The Socialist objective of production solely for use instead of production for sale and profit making, does not at all enter into the Labour Government’s plans, not even as a most distant objective. If the ”obsession” about class was justified before Labour Government (and our correspondent appears to imply his agreement that it was) it is just as necessary now. Nothing has changed except that in a certain proportion of capitalist industry the State exploits the workers directly and hands over the proceeds of exploitation to the capitalist bondholder. An interesting sidelight on this can be seen in the ‘‘Daily Mail Yearbook.” For many years the Yearbook has published a list of millionaires who had died during the year. It is just the same under Labour government. The 1949 issue (page 138) reports:
  ‘‘There have been ten millionaire estates published since the last issue of the 'Daily Mail Year Book.’ ”
Here follows a list of 10 estates totalling over £16 million, together with a further list of 22 estates of between £500,000 and £1,000,000 which together total another £14 million.

If our critic can view capitalism with its millionaires at the top and its workers struggling to make ends meet, and can find it satisfactory because now a huger proportion of the capitalists’ property-income reaches them in the form of interest on Government bonds, it can only be because in spite of his opening remark he does not agree with our object at all.
Editorial Committee

Editorial: May Day in Hyde Park (1949)

Editorial from the March 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a report about plans for a May Day procession to Hyde Park the Daily Worker (14/1/49) had the following:
  “And the Ministry of Works has told the 600,000-strong Trades Council it cannot use loudspeakers in Hyde Park on May Day unless it can come to an agreement with the tiny Socialist Party of Great Britain which had already applied to use loudspeakers on that day. The Council decided to hold the meeting in Hyde Park if permission could be obtained for loudspeakers, otherwise in Trafalgar Square.”
The Ministry of Works take the line that they will not allow more than one organisation to use loudspeakers, presumably because of the noise, and it happens that this year the S.P.G.B. got in its application first. We are, however, not in favour of loudspeakers being permitted to one organisation and not to others and we have so informed the Ministry. Equally, we would be satisfied if no loudspeakers were used by any speaker in the Park.

There is, however, an entertaining side issue. A Russian Communist journalist, a Miss Catherine Sheveleva, after visiting Hyde Park in 1948 informed her Russian readers in the columns of the Moscow Bolshevik that “democratic” (i.e. Communist) speakers do not get a chance of addressing meetings in Hyde Park. She wrote:
   “I was told that in Hyde Park I would see British democracy in action. Yet, in reality, it is full of cranks, behaving like showmen at a village fair. And when a real democrat starts speaking he is nearly always pulled down from the platform by the police.” (Cable from Moscow, Manchester Guardian, 18/5/1948.)
If Miss Sheveleva’s yarn were the truth the British Communists shouldn’t want to waste their time vainly trying to mount a platform in Hyde Park. It was, however, only a bit of the usual dope fed to the Russian workers by their government-controlled press. Did Miss Sheveleva invent it herself? Or was it perhaps innocently accepted by her from her British comrades?

Housewives: Let Us Face the Future (1949)

From the April 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Party 1945 Election pamphlet, “Let Us Face the Future," states that "by good food much ill-health can be prevented,” (P.10.) That’s what Socialists have been saying for years. What the sponsors of this aforesaid pamphlet overlooked is that food is produced primarily for profit. In the Daily Telegraph (3/12/48) a report was published dealing with an inquiry into the health and welfare of housewives made recently by members of the New Sussex Hospital (Brighton), It disclosed that ”88 per cent. of the 61 volunteers showed signs of fatigue ” and “ more than 77 per cent. of the wives were under-nourished.” The inquiry further disclosed that “the effects of fatigue in the housewives exceed those of fatigue in any other worker.” Let us try to imagine the housewife, often with several children, living in tenements or sublets. Her vitality is diminished by repeated childbirths and the daily struggle to cook, wash, shop, clean, and care for her little ones in unsatisfactory surroundings, living on “filler” foods such as bread, margarine and fish and chips.

The problem is one of poverty, a problem which repeatedly asserts itself as the cause of bad health. Despite a world of potential plenty Capitalism destroys food and creates shortages in order to safeguard profits when it becomes necessary. According to a December issue of the Daily Telegraph, hundreds of tons of onions have rotted and only half the 40,000 tons of onions grown on the Cambridgeshire Fens has found a market. Again the Sunday Observer (12/12/48) reported that there is a glut of cabbages and they are ”being ploughed in or fed to livestock." No modification of capitalism can alter this condition of affairs. The solution is to abolish capitalism. Capitalism is only one of the forms of society which have evolved, and Socialism must succeed it if poverty, privilege, slavery, are to give way to comfort, equality and freedom. Unite for Socialism.
Cyril Acton

Dublin Letter (1949)

From the May 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is some weeks now since the world heard the result of the General Election in Northern Ireland—though how much the world really cared about that election result, we, of course, can’t say. The election issue, however, was said to be a clear one. "King or Republic?”—that is, maintenance of the constitutional status quo or incorporation in an all-Ireland Republic. For the King and continued union with Gt. Britain, were the ”Ulster Unionists” (Tories); for the Republic, the Nationalists. Uncomfortably straddling the constitutional fence, swaying, now this side, now that, were the Northern Ireland Labour party, and a few “Independents.” Though the result was never in any doubt—the return to power of the Tories—the utter debacle of the Labour party came about as a complete surprise to most people. Not one of their nine candidates were elected, including three fighting to retain their seats in Belfast; all told, the Labour party lost about 35,000 votes. And McCullough, the one Communist party candidate, only got 688 votes as compared with his 5,802 in 1945—in the same constituency, and against the same opponent. Lord Glentoran, one of the foremost Tory leaders.

To Socialists, the ups and downs of the Tory and Nationalist votes are unimpressive by comparison with the disintegration of the “Leftist and Progressive” ones; for these went, overwhelmingly, to the Tory party. Apologists have said that the supporters of the Labour party and the "Leftist” groups were stampeded. into voting Tory because of the jingoism and sabre-rattling of the Orange (Freemason) Lodges and the alleged threat to their Protestantism, etc., of absorption in a Papist-dominated all-Ireland Republic. Be that as it may, what volumes does it not speak for the Socialist attitude on reformism in general and, to Socialists in Ireland, on the "Partition question” in particular? That one-time adherents of the Labour party can be persuaded that a new national flag is a greater threat to their interests than the continuation of the capitalist economic system constitutes, indeed, a pitiful and sad commentary on the efficacy and worthwhileness of that tragically mis-named party, the Labour Party. But then, what are we to say of the lamentable decline of the alleged "revolutionary” vote, the Communist Party one ? Of McCullough’s [3.9] per cent. depleted vote, can we justifiably attribute it to the same cause? We think so, for no other fits the facts.

So, in this respect, the Northern Ireland elections have afforded one more demonstration of the uselessness of reformist votes as a means of effecting any real change in the worker’s position vis-a-vis the capitalist. Such votes are as easily lost in the next election as they are won in this. Though Hitler won quite a proportion of the Communist and Social Democrat parties’ votes, to a large extent by outdoing their promises of "social betterment,” any analogy between that phase of German history and the recent Tory victory in Northern Ireland would be not only misleading but involve the paying of false compliments to the Labour and "Leftist” parties. For the truth is that Sir Basil Brooke (Tory leader) and his party were under no great pressure to defend existing social and economic conditions in Northern Ireland. When, now and then, they did do so, it was only by way of superficial comparison with Eire, saying: "Look how worse off you’d be in an Irish Republic!” But that all they had to do, for the most part, was to wave the Orange flag and beat the Orange drum, is due to the pusillanimity of the Labour party and others, and their inability, because of their capitalist-reformist base, to point the way out to the Northern Ireland workers.

That the workers there, no less than their fellows down here in Eire, and elsewhere under capitalism, are “getting it in the neck ” all of the time, is ably borne out by an examination of the available social and economic statistics. With a population of 1,330,000, Northern Ireland has, at present, 37,000 men and women on the Unemployment Register. And this unemployment figure is not only proportionately higher than Britain’s—it was two-and-a-half times the British rate in 1947—but higher even than Eire’s, with 83,766 unemployed. This very large and ugly social blot on Northern Ireland is not of recent occurrence either. Except for the war periods, unemployment has always hovered round the 20,000 mark, and in more recent years, between 25,000 and 35,000. As a matter of fact, in March, 1947, it actually reached the 45,000 figure.

Working class housing and health conditions are, in general, no better than they are here in Eire—and that comparison is, indeed, an odious one. The number of houses officially estimated as unfit for habitation in Northern Ireland is 27,000. In Belfast itself (the Northern Ireland capital), where there were over 17,000 applications for houses by January, 1948, the Corporation and Housing Trust had between them built only 322! A survey recently undertaken by the Northern Ireland Council of Social Service (a semi-official body) revealed appalling conditions existing in this area of the "King’s Dominions.” Those conditions are all too graphically detailed in the work embodying the Council’s findings, "Rural Life in Northern Ireland ” (Oxford University Press, 1947).

For instance, taking the Beveridge Report subsistence benefit (and that low enough by any standards) as “ the poverty line,” the Council found that in County Fermanagh, twelve labourers’ households out of twenty-nine fell below this line, as well as nineteen pensioners’ households out of twenty-nine. And in Co. Down, likewise; while in Nth. Antrim, fifty per cent. of the farm labourers exist below this "minimum required to maintain health.” As to housing; not a single labourer’s cottage has been built by any Rural Council in Co. Fermanagh since Northern Ireland became a separate State (1921)! Much the same story is told of the other five counties. Even in Nth. Down, which is claimed to be the "most advanced” area because of its proximity to Belfast, only six per cent. of the houses have a W.C.! Also—and not far from Stormont either, where the "King’s men” legislate in the interests of the linen, brewing and shipbuilding industrialists and big farmers, and rave about the ‘‘prosperity of Ulster and the poverty of Eire”—in Belfast, according to the Council, the main causes of distress in that city were tuberculosis and the housing shortage.

But enough has been said already to show that there are working-class problems in Northern Ireland apart from the capitalist constitutional ones. The solution of these problems, because they are specifically working-class ones, is not to be found in formulae concerned with national boundaries. Neither Statute of Westminster nor Republican Declaration can offer a solution of them. The division which gave birth to these problems—the division of the wealth of the few and the poverty of the many—is, needless to say, conveniently ignored by all of the current publicity devoted to that sorrowing tale, "Divided Ireland.” Even a King and a Republic (and that’s not a piece of Irishry, for through the External Relations Act that was the situation in Eire from 1937 to 1949) holds no hope of the ending of that division. And that Partition is one which will remain until a majority of the workers decide to end the capitalist system—complete with all its Republican and Monarchical paraphernalia—and establish Socialism.
Chris Walsh
(Dublin Socialist Group).


Debate With Conservatives (1949)

From the June 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

The debate with Conservative at Ealing Town Hall on April 4th commenced late owing to the late arrival of the Conservative representative, David Eccles, M.P., and it finished early owing to his request to get away by 9.30.

W. Waters opened the debate for the S.P.G.B. by warning his opponent not to waste time attacking the Labour Party, as most Conservatives do when debating with us. If an indictment of the Labour Party was called for, we could do it far better than any Conservative. The question, “Which Party should the working class support?” prompted other questions, such as. “What is a political party?”; “Why are there many parties?”; “Is it necessary to support any?”, and if so, “ Which one?” A political party is an organisation that seeks to control the machinery of government in order to serve the interests of a section of the community. It was because there are varying interests to be served that there are a number of political parties. Landlords, industrialists, etc., have separate sectional interests, but they also have a common interest as owners of the means of production. The working class had interests opposed to these groups of the capitalist class. It is necessary for the workers to have a political party to express their interests or they would be forever at the mercy of the capitalists. The workers should support the party that aims at the abolition of the social system that keeps them in subjection. Supporting other parties, such as the Conservative Party, would solve no problems for the working class. The Conservative Party had a history of vicious opposition to working class interests, intense exploitation of the workers and suppression of their organisations. In conclusion Waters pointed out that the S.P.G.B. placed a different meaning on the word “support” to the Conservatives. The Conservatives asked for the confidence and trust of the workers, the S.P.G.B. said that the overthrow of capitalism required that the workers should understand and actively work for that objective. The Conservative Party would use the workers, the S.P.G.B. was a party the workers could use.

David Eccles opened by stating that he had, that day, gone into the lobby of the House of Commons and asked three Labour M.P’s. what they knew of the S.P.G.B. Two of them had denied any knowledge of the Party and the third had used filthy language. He admitted that he was unable to understand the object of the S.P.G.B., it was a new animal to him. He could only conceive of common ownership as a system where the state took over industry on behalf of the community. That was what the Labour Party was doing. It was not always in keeping with the interests of the nation. Private enterprise should be encouraged with the state being used to prevent any abuses such as the restrictive activities of monopolies. The small trader was the backbone of the country and he should be assisted. The Conservative Party aimed at a property-owning democracy with everyone owning his own house. Property was power and it was the object of the Conservative Party to spread the power over as wide a section of the people as possible. It aimed at a more fair distribution of property and an opportunity for everyone to get on. Social services were a means of redistribution, they were a substitute for property. Transferring property to the state means more power to the ministers. A property-owning democracy would give a larger freedom of choice. Mr. Eccles said that he could not understand how Waters could carve out a section of the people and call it a working class.

Waters commenced his second contribution by again defining the working class—that section of society which had no other means of obtaining its livelihood except by the sale of its ability to work. His opponent was a man who had been elected to a responsible position—to the job of governing. Any man in such an important job should make himself acquainted with the political ideas that were held by the people that he professed to represent. Despite the warning given, his opponent had spent his time opposing the Labour Party programme of nationalisation but without using the word. The Industrial Charter of the Conservative Party, which had been described by Conservative Sir Waldron Smithers as the most revolutionary document since the Communist Manifesto, was an example of what the Conservatives offered the working class. Boiled down it amounted to a scheme to get more out of the workers without giving them more of the wealth they produced. It claimed to offer new incentives such as dismissal from employment on a seniority basis. A recent employee might only get a week’s notice whilst an older hand might get, perhaps, a month’s. It was for such nonsense as this that the Conservatives sought the support of the workers.

David Eccles said that his opponent’s ideas were the result of a mixture of envy and philanthropic desire and the offspring was a rather ugly dream. How could property be abolished? It was beyond conception. He had travelled to Ealing by train and the railway he came by was property. Was the railway to be abolished? Were houses to have no keys so that anyone could walk in? Who would distribute the goods that were made if they were not owned by someone? The whole proposition was a dream. It was alright to dream, but the Conservative Party was more realistic. If his opponent’s definition was analysed it would be found that all but one per cent, of the nation were members of the working class. He was satisfied that the people wanted something more than a dream. Nine million of them supported the Conservative Party and if only his opponent at the next election would expound the same ideas as Water?, he, Eccles, would feel that his seat was safe.

Waters replied that it was beyond belief that anyone should think that a railway was property just because it was a railway. It became property when some person or group of persons had the right to dispose of it. Referring to the idea that everyone should own his own house. Waters quoted from a newspaper dated February, 1932, when a Conservative Party had a majority in Parliament showing that Welsh miners who had bought their houses during more prosperous times, had to surrender the mortgage when unemployed and drawing relief, and as they had little chance of redeeming it, the house property was lost to them, after a lifetime of saving. The Conservative Party was responsible for the Trade Disputes Act, 1927, the Incitement to Disaffection Act, 1934, the Public Order Act, 1937, not forgetting the Taff Vale Judgment of 1901 and the Means Test of 1931. Waters quoted from Conservative sources to show that the co-partnership idea proposed by the Conservative Party offered nothing to the workers but an inducement to work harder for their employers' benefit. Nine million workers may have supported the Conservative Party but although the Conservatives might fool some of the workers all the time, or all the workers some of the time, they would not fool them all for all the time. The days of the capitalist class were numbered and with its passing would also go its lickspittle lackeys.

David Eccles said that the ideas expressed by his opponent were isolated. The S.P.G.B. would isolate England. We had to sell our goods abroad in order to get the things we needed from other countries. Our great problem was the dollar shortage. His party was concerned with the practical problems of living not with dreams. He was pleased to have been invited to debate with the S.P.G.B. He had learned much and regretted that he must leave early.
D. C.

Editorial: Mugabe - From 'Marxist' Guerrilla to Fat Cat Dictator (2017)

Editorial from the December 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the late 19th century, the major European powers came together at a conference in Berlin to 'carve up' the African territories amongst themselves as part of the 'Scramble for Africa'. European capitalists looted the natural resources and ruthlessly exploited the working population of their African colonies. The racist ideology of white superiority was used to justify their rule. In response, national 'liberation' movements emerged, many of which claimed to be socialist. Robert Mugabe, who led the guerrilla war against the white minority regime in what was then known as Rhodesia in the 1970s, was a self-styled 'Marxist Revolutionary'.
Some have said that socialists should support these liberation struggles. After all, it was argued, victory would bring freedom and dignity to the African people, and according to Lenin's theory of imperialism, with the loss of their overseas colonies the Western Powers would be unable to buy off a section of their working class, thus hastening the workers' revolution.
However, experience has not lived up to these expectations, and what emerged in the new states was not socialism, but the rule of emergent local capitalist elites, who, like their colonial predecessors, lived off the labour of the local population. Rival groups competing for power have led, in some cases, to civil war. Although the new local ruling classes did not employ the racist ideology of the European colonialists, they did, however, exploit the ethnic divisions within their own populations. And far from cutting into their 'super profits', Western states found, in many cases, that they could do business with the new regimes.
A case in point is Zimbabwe. After Robert Mugabe achieved power in 1980, he dropped any pretence of being a 'Marxist' and adopted openly capitalist measures, designed to attract foreign investment. Believing that he was a safe pair of hands, Western Powers poured in financial aid. Under his rule, a new local capitalist elite emerged who bought large mansions, expensive cars and sent their children to private schools. As for the majority working population, life was of grinding poverty and unemployment. Unrest in Matabeleland led to thousands, mainly from the minority Ndebele population, being killed in a state crackdown. As the Zimbabwean economy deteriorated and the living standards of the majority fell, Robert Mugabe's rule became more autocratic and corrupt. In the 2000s, he gave support to seizures of white owned land by armed groups, which were given over mainly to Mugabe's cronies. When he was forced to resign as President in the aftermath of a military takeover, working class Zimbabweans took to the streets and danced and cheered.   
This is not to argue that Africans are unable to govern themselves and were better off under European colonial rule. The new African states, in the absence of a large socialist movement, could only develop capitalism and in the context of the undeveloped state that African economies were left in the wake of colonialism and slavery, and having to compete in a world capitalist market dominated by the western powers, would likely to be insecure, authoritarian and corrupt. For African workers to achieve real freedom, they will need to unite with workers in other countries to fight for Socialism.