Thursday, April 18, 2019

Passing Show: Democracy (1961)

The Passing Show Column from the July 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

We make no apology for returning to the subject of Sir Thomas Moore, the Conservative M.P. for Ayr Burghs. Sir Thomas is the man who advocates a return to flogging and more frequent hanging as the answer to our troubles. But he only supports these punishments in cases of petty violence. Where a dictator is able to carry out a long and widespread campaign of violence, then Sir Thomas (provided he agrees with the tyrant’s brand of politics) is all for it. In the early days of Hitler's regime he was an outspoken supporter of German Nazism; and he is still a loyal champion of Spanish Fascism. On June 7th he wrote to The Times defending General Franco's regime, on the grounds that he imposed "law and order" on the country when, in the thirties, Spain was threatened with "communism on the march to impose its usual stranglehold on freedom”.

Only a week earlier, on May 31st, there had been the news of the sentencing of thirty-two agricultural workers to terms of up to 15 years' imprisonment by a Madrid military court, on the charge of "spreading communist propaganda" (a blanket term which, in Spain, covers any criticism of the regime). This is only the latest of a long series of trials of political opponents which Franco's courts have held since he—having shown himself more successful at violence and killing than his opponents—came to power in the Civil War. These thirty-two farm workers, and the thousands of others in Franco's political jails, would no doubt be interested to learn of Sir Thomas’s contention that Franco seized power in order to forestall an attempt to put a "stranglehold on freedom" in Spain. To defend Franco on these grounds is like giving a medal to a man who saves a child from drowning, only to stab it to death immediately afterwards.


Democracy
But, of course, political freedom need not be Sir Thomas's concern. If the Communists were in power in Spain, they would probably (not necessarily, of of course, as Yugoslavia shows) ally themselves with Russia—which is now the main overseas enemy of the British ruling class. Franco and his Fascists, on the other hand, would come in with the British ruling class in any war against Russia. So Sir Thomas supports Franco, and Mr. Butler goes to Spain as Franco's guest, saying it is a shame that Franco Spain has been left out of things for so long. What do they care for the fact that the Spanish people are deprived of democratic freedoms? Democracy is a useful catchword in time of war: but if the interests of the ruling class demand it, democracy is shrugged off without a second thought.


Borgwards
Just as state control was applied here to rescue the coal and rail shareholders from the complete loss of their investments, so nationalisation—or municipalisation—is used for the same purpose in other countries. A news item from Germany in The Times (7-6-61) ran:
  Dr. Johannes Sender, who took over the direction of the Borgward car manufacturing company in February, said today that the firm would have to cut its staff by another 2,500 people. In March the board empowered the management to dismiss up to 2,500 workers. Borgwards was taken over by the Bremen municipal authorities earlier this year after it ran into financial difficulties.
The local Social Democrats would find the sacked five thousand workers a troublesome audience, if like the Labour Party here, they tried to persuade them that municipatisation was really for their benefit.


Raw material
An advert aimed at capitalists has recently been appearing in the more expensive newspapers. It tries to persuade industrial concerns to move to Durham, or at least to open new works there. Headed “All the workers you need in County Durham," it goes on “good hard workers, ready and willing to learn new skills".  It gives a picture of a crowd of them.

This offering of human beings as promising raw material to employers bent on the extraction of surplus value is surely degrading both to the men themselves and to those who planned and those who read the advertisement. One might advertise cart-horses in much the same way. One of the many advantages of Socialism is that human beings will be considered as human beings, not simply as so much factory-fodder.


Expense accounts
The next time you read figures showing the gross inequality of incomes— after tax—in this country, the next time you hear of the handful who get £120 and £140 per week after tax, compared with the millions who get less than £20 and the millions more who even get less than £10, remember that this is by no means the whole story. The directors' fees, the share dividends are only part of the real income of the owning class Besides the actual money, which is taxed, there are the large allowances on the expense accounts, which are untaxed. So excessive have some of these junketings on expense accounts become in America that the American Treasury investigated the position, and has now released some evidence showing what has been happening. “Safaris in Kenya, lavish living in Las Vegas and in the Caribbean and the maintenance of yachts have all been tax deductible " (The Times 8-5-61). An insurance man was allowed 97,500 dollars for “personal expenses ”. The president of a dairy went on a six-month safari, and took his wife with him: he was allowed $16,443. A corporation which owned luxurious facilities on a sub-tropical island, including its own fishing cruiser, and aircraft to take its executives and their guests down there, was allowed $375,000. A supply firm had its own yacht, ranch and hunting lodges, and was given a tax-allowance of £473,140 to cover its expenditure on them and on night club entertainment. If we can be sure of anything, it is that the ordinary workers in these firms never saw these sub-tropical islands, or the hunting lodges. These devices are simply ways in which owners of firms obtain the means of luxurious living without having to reveal too enormous personal incomes. For to confess their real incomes (apart from the extra tax) would show too clearly to the workers the vast gap which separates the upper from the lower class.
Alwyn Edgar

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