Monday, July 30, 2018

Notes by the Way: Mr. Churchill won't commit himself (1948)

The Notes by the Way Column from the July 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Churchill won't commit himself.
Conservatives, like the other opponents of Socialism, are fond of asking us for detailed plans of what will be done under Socialism. We reply that it is impossible to give more than the broad outlines of Socialist society. The next time a Conservative scoffs at this he should have his attention drawn to Mr. Churchill’s statement in a speech on 12th June at the Albert Hall when he declined to give details of what his Party will do if it comes to power at the next election, although the latter is only two years ahead.
   “We are asked what we should do. It is a great mistake for a party in Opposition and without executive power to try to furnish precise, elaborate programmes of what they would do at some unspecified future date and in circumstances which no one can yet foretell.
   “By so doing we should only fall into the trap that is set us by our political opponents.
   "But it is only right that we should give in broad outline what we believe to be some of the right and necessary steps.” (Sunday Express, 13/6/48.)
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The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.
In order to get the workers to accept the policy of ‘‘wage-freezing” the Government associated with it a request to companies not to pay a bigger dividend than they paid for 1946, to reduce their prices and profits and thus help keep down the cost of living. Most companies have observed the request not to pay higher dividends but many of them have been showing a vast increase of profits. The record is held by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. which made a profit for the year 1947 of £18,564,000, nearly double the profit made in 1946. the chief reason for the increase was that they have been selling their oil at very much higher prices, the result of the world shortage of oil in relation to a rapidly-growing demand. Although the Company did not increase its dividend, the rate paid on the ordinary shares is 30 per cent.

The interesting thing is that the Government has a big investment in the Company, holding just over half the ordinary shares and a small amount of the Preference shares. The Daily Express (2/6/48) credits Mr. Winston Churchill with having induced the Government to invest £2,000,000 in the Company in 1914 in order to ensure a supply of oil for the Navy. The Government’s shares are now shown in the accounts at the price they cost, £5,001,000 (“Finance Accounts, 1946-7, p.59), but according to the Daily Express “today the State holding is worth £102,000,000 in the markets.” The Government’s income on the ordinary shares for the year 1947 was £3,375,000.

With such fat profits to be made out of Iranian oil no wonder the Russian government has been trying to force Iran to let Russia join in the scramble.

What the Iran government and ruling class think of the arrangements under which foreign capitalists draw off much of the proceeds of the exploitation of the Iranian workers is another question.

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High Profits under Labour Government.
Quoting from the Economist records of profits Labour Research (June, 1948) shows that some 500 companies publishing their trading results in the first quarter of 1948 earned an average of 27.2 per cent. on their ordinary capital and paid an average of 15½ per cent. During the later years of the war the average paid was about 13½ per cent. In the first quarter of 1947 it was 22.9 per cent.

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The Increase of the Cost of Living.
According to the hopelessly inaccurate official cost of living index published by the Ministry of Labour the increase of the cost of living between 1939 and June, 1947, was 31 per cent. At that date the old index was discontinued and a new one started, which, however, only shows the increase since June, 1947, and not the increase since 1939. This latter index shows an increase of 8 per cent, between June, 1947, and April, 1948.

The Oxford University Institute of Statistics (Bulletin, May, 1948), after examining all the available material, estimates that the real increase since 1937-8 is probably more than 80 per cent.

Putting this another way, it means that it costs about £6 6s. to buy what could be bought with a wage of £3 10s. before the war.

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The “Purge” of Fascist and Communist Civil Servants.
The action taken by the Government to weed out Fascists and Communists from certain government jobs is due, no doubt, to the apprehensions caused by the military power and expansionist policy of the Russian government, though an additional reason, that of conciliating the U.S. government, is suggested by the similar action now being taken in Japan. According to the Observer (13/6/48) the Japanese Prime Minister is considering the exclusion of Communists from government employment, and the Observer's correspondent who sends the report adds: ‘‘These and similar steps are to be expected, since Dr. Ashida’s whole policy is built on the hope of securing American capital investment.”

The British government’s intention is to remove Fascists and Communists from work “the nature of which is vital to the security of the State.” It covers not only members of the Communist Party and Fascist organisations but also any civil servant who, though not a member, is associated with one of these organisations "in such a way as to raise legitimate doubts about his reliability.” The civil servant who is removed from his job will ordinarily be found other government employment but if this is impossible because of the specialist nature of his qualifications he may be dismissed.

The Civil Service Unions that have seen in this the possibility of individuals being victimised for trade union activities, either under the present or under some future government, are only following ordinary trade union practice in trying to get safeguards, including the right of an individual who is charged to know precisely what are the grounds of the charge, the setting up of some form of appeal, and the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative when the appeal is heard. The government refuses to concede what the Civil Service unions wanted, in particular the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative when the Advisory Board is deciding on the facts.

Not content with this, however, the Civil Service National Whitley Council Staff Side included in its resolution a clause noting with satisfaction that the government intends taking action to safeguard State secrets. Socialists, of course, are not concerned with selling the secrets of one government to another government but here we have an illustration of the backwardness of the trade union movement and the gulf that separates the present state of organisation and outlook from the often proclaimed, but little understood, belief in Socialism and Internationalism.

If the workers of the world clearly understood the need to base their organisation on a recognition of the class struggle they would be internationalist in outlook. They would understand that their loyalty is not to any national capitalist states but to the international working class. Their aim would not be to help one capitalist State (even if administered by a “Labour” government) against the others, but to overthrow capitalism everywhere and replace it by Socialism. The Labour Party’s supporters, faced with a division of loyalty, have decided the question by lining up behind the Labour government on the supposition that their interests as British workers are tied up with British capitalism. As they are not Socialists that decision was inevitable. It is not so much that the British workers considered and rejected Socialist internationalism but that they have not yet understood what the latter means. What they or the majority of them have rejected is the alternative which they feel is associated with the Communist Party, that of supporting the Russian government against the British Labour government; which brings us to the hypocritical indignation voiced by the Communists and their defenders.

The social system in Russia is not Socialism but a form of State Capitalism and there is no case whatever for the workers anywhere to give allegiance to that regime or to the Communist Parties which exist to support it. And in view of the dictatorship imposed on Russian workers by their rulers it is the height of impudence for the associates of the Communists to protest against the activities of other governments. Among these individuals is Mr. L. C. White, General Secretary of the Civil Service Clerical Association and also a member of the Editorial Board of the Daily Worker. In his latter capacity Mr. White condones in Russia the worst form of tyranny while in his trade union capacity he protests against a less objectionable form of it in this country. As General Secretary of the C.S.C.A. he has been demanding of the government an assurance “that a civil servant could hold any lawful political opinion and belong to any party.” Is Mr. White so woefully ignorant that he imagines the Russian government would for a moment give such an assurance? And if he knows the facts has he ever protested? In Russia no worker, whether a civil servant or not, may belong to any political party at all except the Communist Party. All other political parties are suppressed. We leave it to Mr. White to explain his curious position.

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Russia’s Industrial Progress.
It is not always easy to get information on the extent to which Russian industry is catching up with the output of such countries as U.S.A. and Britain but interesting figures that have just been released about the Russian automobile industry can be compared with similar figures published here and in U.S.A.

Soviet News (27/5/48) states that by 1950 the annual output of the Russian motor industry will be 65,000 passenger cars and 428,000 trucks and 6,400 buses and that this will be a 50 per cent. increase on 1947 output.

In Great Britain production during the first four months of this year is at the annual rate of 320,000 passenger cars and 156,000 commercial vehicles. It will be noticed that while Russian production of commercial vehicles greatly exceeds their production of passenger cars, in Britain, where production of cars is at present largely for export, the passenger cars are double the number of commercial vehicles. If for purpose of comparison we reckon one commercial vehicle as equal to two passenger cars (a relationship that is borne out by official value figures in the “Monthly Digest of Statistics,” May, 1948), and if we allow for the fact that the Russian figures are what is planned for 1950 after a 50 per cent. increase on 1947, the figures indicate that at present Russian motor production is about equal to that of Great Britain.

When we come to comparison with U.S.A., Russia and Britain are both dwarfed. According to figures in “The Motor Industry of Great Britain” the production of automobiles in U.S.A. in 1946 was 2,148,677 cars and 940,830 commercial vehicles. This total output is about six times as great as present output in Russia or Britain.

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Another Russian Line on Religion.
The Manchester Guardian (16/6/48) reports another change in Russian government policy towards religion:
   "During the war anti-religious propaganda almost disappeared and the Orthodox Church was given a new privileged position in the State . . . Now, though the Orthodox Church is still given certain privileges—largely, one suspects, to impress believers in East Europe—there is a sudden renewal of anti-religious propaganda in the Moscow broadcasts.”
Possibly the Russian government fears that its handmaiden, the Russian Church, is making too many converts; in a country where the mass of the population are unaccustomed to think for themselves the mysticism and symbolism of religion may be proving too attractive by comparison with the State religion of patriotic-militarism. The Ikon and the worship of Christ may be ousting the Hammer and Sickle and the mummified body of Lenin.

Only last month the head of the Russian Church informed Reuter’s correspondent (Manchester Guardian, 13/5/48) that "Church communities . . . are increasing, as are equally the number of Churches’’ and that it is planned “to extend the printing of Church books and literature needed for Church consumption and for believers.”

Nowadays nobody ought to be surprised at shifts in Russian policy but it looks as if the British Communists have once more been caught on the hop. Just when it seems that anti-religion is the new Party line they announce (Daily Worker, 17/6/48) a new pamphlet, "Catholics and Communism,” in which Mr. Gallacher, M.P., "discusses the Vatican policies and shows that there is every reason why Catholics should be members of the Communist Party.”

Or can it be that the Russian Pope has given the British Communists a special dispensation to hold that "Religion is the opium of the people” but not in Great Britain?

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Democracy In U.S.A.
Under cover of the alleged fear of Russian infiltration the authorities in U.S.A. are busy learning from Russia some of the arts of suppression of minority opinion. Mr. Alan Moorhead, writing in the Observer (16th May, 1948), writes:
  ‘‘One hears constantly of the Federal Bureau of Investigation checking up on people who are probably no more than mild Liberals. The arrest of Mme. Joliot-Curie recently was no accident. To be 'screened’ by the F.B.I. is apparently nothing remarkable. Nor is it regarded as particularly strange that the F.B.I. should tap the telephone calls and open the private mail of a suspect—or even seek information from his banker or doctor or employer.
   "Even in the far south-west I found patrols on the roads picking up tramps and out-of-work men who were suspected of being the wrong political colour, possible agitators. And this censorship has been taken up spontaneously as well by many employers, and by the committees of the many social clubs. It would not be wise for a clerk in some business houses to wear a Wallace button if he wished to keep his job.”

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The Fabians In Difficulties.
The Evening Standard (2/6/48) quotes from the Annual Report of the Fabian Society about their financial difficulties and stagnation of membership. A drive for members produced 123 recruits in the year 1947-8, but “the total net gain was only 13 members.” In 1947 the Fabian Society’s membership as shown in the Labour Party's Annual Report was 3,367.

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Tobacco Workers Drop Nationalisation.
Two years ago the Tobacco Workers’ Union voted in favour of the nationalisation of the tobacco industry. At their Conference at Bristol, early in June, they reversed the decision. The Daily Mail (11/6/48) reports the General Secretary, Mr. Percy Belcher, as saying: 
   "The 1946 decision was made in good faith, but in the light of experience now before us we feel it wise and good to rescind it" 

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A Queer Defence of Russian Imperialism.
Writing in Forward (5/6/48) Mr. W. P. Coates of the Anglo-Russian Parliamentary Committee pleads for Russia to have control of the Dardanelles. His plea rests on three main points. The first is that the Czarist governments tried for centuries to get it. The second is that it was promised to Russia in the Secret Treaty made by Britain, France and the Czar’s government in 1915—a sordid bargain that the Communists loudly denounced and repudiated in 1918. Thirdly, he argues that it should be done because it is no longer true, if it ever was, that Russian control of the Dardanelles “would cut across the throat of the British Empire lifelines.”

He pleads for a "friendship policy” on the basis of "a joint British-Soviet naval collaboration" in that area, but does not tell us against whom this proposed pact of the two Imperialisms is to be directed.

Communists nowadays are indeed reduced to some curious arguments in their support of the Imperialism of their choice. There was a time when Lenin denounced all Imperialisms.
Edgar Hardcastle

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