Friday, February 1, 2019

50 Years Ago: Target Hanoi (2017)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

The start of this year was considerably dampened by the flood of crocodile tears provoked by the admitted bombing of civilians in Hanoi.

The tears flowed strongly as the eye witness accounts came in, especially those from Harrison Salisbury, assistant managing editor of the New York Times. Harrison’s reports also provoked a slight, but distinct, surprise that an American newspaper man should actually tell the truth about the results of his countrymen’s military exploits.

It is difficult to imagine anyone really believing the Pentagon’s assurances that only military targets were being bombed. This is a well worn fiction of modern war; even the RAF tried it in the last war, until the evidence to the contrary became overwhelming.

In any case, why the indignation about civilian deaths in wartime? The “advance” of capitalism’s war-making machine has brought everyone into the front line.

War is now very much a social business, with many civilians playing a more important part in the war effort than many men in uniform. It is also important for a side to break the morale of the other’s civilians — usually by bombing or blockade.

The people of Hanoi, then — its children, its old people. its hospital patients — are all legitimate targets.

Does this sound callous? War is never an agreeable business and those who complain about its effects while they support the system which produces it, or those who demonstrate about the military activities of only one side, they are the callous ones.

As long as capitalism lasts there will be no end to war and we may expect it to become more and more fearsome.

The solution is not to wave banners about one incident or one aspect of war. It is to build a new society in which the cause of war no longer exists.
(Socialist Standard, February 1967)

Dear Theresa . . . (2019)

From the February 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

15th January 2019

Dear Theresa

Thank you for your recent letter.  I’m sorry to hear that you are still being tormented by Brexit.  You can blame that nincompoop predecessor of yours for that!  I’m sorry, as well, to hear that you received short shrift following your overtures to Len McCluskey and the other trade union lads.  You should have asked me to make the approach for you.  It might have been better coming from a socialist than from someone who has participated in the wholesale destruction of trades union rights and of their members’ living standards in recent decades.  Not that I want to get involved in anything to do with Brexit.  In fact that’s why I’m taking the opportunity to write to you today – whilst the pantomime of the Brexit vote unfolds in the hallowed chambers of Westminster – to avoid even a glimpse of that dismal spectacle.

And while I remember, Happy New Year!  How are you generally?  All pigged out on the Christmas food and all maxed out on the credit cards?  You’ll be joining the growing number of poor if you’re not careful.  Ha, ha!  There seems to be a lot more poverty around nowadays.  It’s a burgeoning industry so to speak, with 120,000 social murders attributed to austerity since it began in 2010; including 3,000 deaths from hypothermia and 600 deaths of rough sleepers each year, with four million people resorting to food banks.  Given that the UK is one of the richest countries in the world and the fifth largest economy this is a staggering achievement by your government.

I suppose one shouldn’t underestimate the important contribution which poverty makes to our national economy.  Without those huge corporate charities our GDP would be significantly lower, unemployment would be up and the valuable opportunity to demonstrate our compassionate national character would be considerably diminished, as pointed out recently by the Keeper of the National Conscience, Jacob Rees-Mogg.  Some liberal-minded MPs are even calling for the appointment of a Minister for Hunger.  How progressive of them.

We in the Socialist Party have what some might regard as a rather quirky approach to poverty.  There won’t be any.  Under capitalism poverty is an inevitable, indeed an essential, component, arising out of the very essence of the way in which the wealth created by the working class is appropriated by a ruling elite, leaving the rest of us to scramble around for the crumbs.  Socialism would end this modern day form of chattel slavery by ensuring that wealth is shared according to need and would benefit everyone, not just the 1%;  thus rendering poverty an anachronism to be pondered over by bemused schoolchildren exploring the history of a bygone era.

Anyway, that’s all for now!  I’ll drop you a line again next month.  In the meantime, if you change your address please let me know . . .

Yours sincerely,

Tim Hart

‘Rosa Luxemburg on Socialism’ (2019)

Pamphlet Review from the February 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rosa Luxemburg on Socialism’. Edited by The Socialist Party of Great Britain (50 pages. £2.50)

This pamphlet has been published to mark the centenary of the death (murder) of Rosa Luxemburg after the ill-fated and ill-advised Spartacist uprising in Germany in January 1919.

The pamphlet examines her contribution to socialist theory, especially her analysis of the so-called ‘right of nations to self-determination’ as the demand of a national capitalist class to have its own state and so unworthy of socialist or working class support. It also brings out her insistence that socialism cannot be established by a conscious minority leading a merely discontented majority whether in an insurrection, as envisaged by Lenin and Trotsky, or in a parliamentary election, as envisaged by Labourites and Social Democrats. Socialism, she argued, could only be established by conscious majority action and participation, not excluding, contrary to the anarchists and other anti-electionists, sending delegates into parliament.

On the other hand, the pamphlet explains the fallacy at the basis of her theory that capitalism could not exist without external, non-capitalist markets and would collapse economically at the point when all these had been exhausted. Not that this requires theoretical refutation as this point was reached years ago yet the capitalist economic system is still functioning.

Also discussed is her ambiguous position on reforms. While in her Reform or Revolution pamphlet she powerfully argued that socialism could not come about through a series of social reforms enacted by parliament, she was nevertheless in favour of a socialist party having a minimum programme of social and political reforms to be achieved under capitalism as well as the maximum programme of winning control of political power to establish socialism as the common ownership and democratic control of the mean of production. In Britain we in the Socialist Party always rejected this, arguing that it would lead to a party which did so attracting the support of those who only wanted the reforms and becoming their prisoner, ending up a mere party of democratic and social reform. To be fair, Luxemburg did begin to realise this a few months before she died when analysing what had gone wrong with the German Social Democratic Party.

There is an unfortunate error on page 38 which has her explaining ‘to the National assembly’ when in fact she was explaining in an article on the National Assembly. Also, the second quote that follows, mentioning Lenin, is not from the same article but from another from the same month in which she criticised some of the actions of the Bolshevik government in Russia.
Adam Buick

Order copy from: The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 7UN. Price £2.50 + £1.50 post and packaging. Send cheque for £4 (made out to The Socialist Party of Great Britain) or by Paypal to spgb@worldsocialism.org

Film Review: ‘Peterloo’ (2019)

Film Review from the February 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Peterloo’, directed by Mike Leigh

Over exuberant
Mike Leigh, writer and director of Peterloo, cut his teeth in the 1970s with episodes of Play for Today at a time when the BBC was introducing a smattering of ‘progressive’ programming in a futile attempt to soften criticism that it was an establishment mouthpiece peddling state propaganda. Peterloo is his first foray into the big screen epic. Subsequently Mike Leigh’s mix of social commentary and satire has included Nuts in May, Abigail’s Party, Secrets & Lies and Vera Drake. Peterloo is his first foray into the big screen epic.

The film depicts the events in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, in 1819 where, under the instructions of the local magistrates and with guidance from the bigwigs at Westminster, the cavalry rampaged through the 60,000 strong crowd of men, women and children with sabres drawn, killing 15 and injuring between 400 and 700 of those who were peacefully protesting their lack of political power and general privation.

Mike Leigh grew up in Salford, very close to St Peter’s Field, and says that the project arose from his personal resentment that he was never taught about the event in school.

In Mike Leigh’s exuberance to inculcate the importance of Peterloo he has reduced the film to burlesque. It was almost like watching a pantomime, with the wicked witch as the evil British Establishment on the one hand and the stoic downtrodden working class on the other. The stereotyping even extended to the geography, with everyone up North a by gum, honest hard-working salt-of-the-earth type and everyone down South an opulent decadent popinjay. In his self-imposed obligation to accurately portray the history (apparently he researched it for four years) Mike Leigh seems to have forgotten the importance of building meaningful characters and weaving them into an entertaining story.

The only character portrayed with a degree of nuance was the orator Henry Hunt, (Rory Kinnear). Of the others there were too many and they were one dimensional.

It would be fair to describe the reviews as ‘mixed.’ Some lauded the cinematography of Dick Pope, who is a frequent collaborator with Mike Leigh. Others applauded the film’s historical accuracy. Some reviewers bemoaned the fact that the film ended on such a bleak note of the massacre; presumably trying to breathe life into the moribund notion of the Whig view of history, that of inexorable human progress. Some ‘Guardian type’ reviews drew sombre parallels with today, encouraged by Mike Leigh’s statement that the film highlights the ‘have and have nots’ and thus has some contemporary relevance.

Peterloo was undoubtedly an event worthy of historical note. But not what Maxine Peake (who played Nellie in the film) exclaimed  at the premiere in Manchester: ‘Peterloo was an outrage of which humanity recoils with horror and which is a foul stain upon our national character.’ I assume by ‘our national character’ she is referring to the British Empire which, for more than 200 years, subjugated a quarter of the world’s population by mass murder, torture, starvation and other nefarious means.  For me this is the film’s most egregious characteristic. It elevates this episode of violence to a degree of  disproportionate importance. By depicting Peterloo as an aberration, out of character with British values, it obscures the reality that this was business as usual, at home and abroad, then and now. Rather than holding the Establishment’s feet to the fire the film is an insidious example of propaganda by treating Britain’s miscreant behaviour as exceptional.

If this is what counts as ‘resistance’ in the film industry, then we need to look elsewhere for inspiration for the revolution.
Tim Hart

Resistance is not enough (2019)

Editorial from the February 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

One thing you can be sure about within capitalism is that the antagonism between those who own and control our society and the majority of us who don’t, will not go away. The ongoing industrial disputes by rail workers are a high-profile example of this and currently university staff are being balloted in a pay dispute based on their claim that their real pay (taking inflation into account) has fallen by over 20 percent since 2009.

The capitalists who own the means of living in society derive their wealth from the unpaid labour of the working class, that is, the amount of labour produced over and above the labour time that they pay for in workers’ wages and salaries. Thus it is in their interests to extract the maximum amount of this surplus labour. In the early days, they attempted to achieve this by lowering wages to the lowest level they could get away with and extending the working day for as long as possible. Women and children were drawn into the production process and were exploited ruthlessly. To resist this encroachment of capital, workers combined to form trade unions. Strike action and collective agitation were their weapons. In the nineteenth century, agitation by British workers successfully forced the government to concede the reduction in the working day to 10 hours and later on to 8 hours. The historic examples were the East End matchmakers’ strike of 1888, the London dock workers’ strike of 1889 and the UK General Strike of 1926. In more recent decades there were notable strikes by the UK coalminers in the 1970s and 1980s and currently we also have the Gilet Jaunes movement in France that has been making the headlines.

With the increasing application of technology to production, capitalists have been able to increase the productivity of workers and extract more surplus value without extending the working day. Although the workers work shorter hours on average and have seen improvements in their living standards, they still, in many ways, come into conflict with their employers over pay and conditions. Public sector workers have also organised strikes against their employers, the state. We have also seen the struggles of more marginalised workers – women, ethnic minorities and gays – against discrimination and for greater equality.

Socialists support workers being organised in trade unions to defend their interests. Many gains have been achieved by collective action, but they do not alter the position of workers as an exploited class within capitalism. Trade union and other collective activity cannot eradicate the problems of poverty, unemployment and homelessness. Moreover, gains may be reversed over time; in the 1960s, British banking unions successfully secured the ending of Saturday working, only to find it being reintroduced years later.

For workers to end their exploitation and secure real freedom, they need to take the next step and organise for socialism, a worldwide society of common ownership where there are no employers or employees and everyone can participate equally with free access to what they need.

Rear View: Constipated reformists (2017)

The Rear View Column from the March 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Constipated reformists
‘ANAL squatting collective takes over Qatari general’s £17m London townhouse’ (rt.com, 2 February). With a name like that, the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians have achieved one of their aims – exposure! They wish to draw our attention to the ‘problem’ of growing homelessness alongside thousands of properties in London alone, and over 200,000 in England, which have been unoccupied for more than six months. ANAL is supported by a number of groups concerned with housing and homelessness, including Architects for Social Housing who tweeted Homes for people, not for profit. Indeed. But because housing is produced for profit there is no possibility of a rational approach to housing within capitalism. Engels made this clear as far back as 1872: ‘As long as the capitalist mode of production continues to exist, it is folly to hope for an isolated solution of the housing question or of any other social question affecting the fate of the workers. The solution lies in the abolition of the capitalist mode of production and the appropriation of all the means of life and labour by the working class itself’ (The Housing Question).


Clueless
‘Comments President Donald Trump made Wednesday at the White House during a Black History Month event left some people scratching their heads.

During a listening session, Trump praised abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895. He mentioned Douglass as ‘an example of somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice,’ Trump said’ (kansascity.com, 1 February). On this performance alone, Trump’s future is certain – as presenter of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. He could well be joined by the anarchist Professor David Graeber, who thinks that the clown Trump’s victory ‘had proved that anarchists’ diagnosis of society’s ills was correct’ (nytimes, 2 February) – not to mention their disdain for democracy – and that ‘people want something radically different’. The Doctor sees only symptoms – hence his fervent support for Occupy who ‘had elevated income inequality to the top of the Democratic political agenda’! – not the disease. Douglass was better informed: ‘The old master class was not deprived of the power of life and death, which was the soul of the relation of master and slave. They could not, of course, sell their former slaves, but they retained the power to starve them to death, and wherever this power is held there is the power of slavery. He who can say to his fellow- man,  You shall serve me or starve, is a master and his subject is a slave….Though no longer a slave, he is in a thralldom grievous and intolerable, compelled to work for whatever his employer is pleased to pay him..’ (Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1892)


$ex and the 1%
‘One of the world’s most exclusive sex clubs for the rich and powerful has opened its doors to the public – but it will set you back a hefty £1,500-a-night. You’ll also have to jet to Los Angeles, where members at the Snctm sex club in Los Angeles – who sign a blood oath to join – are also splashing out an eye-watering £60,000-a-year for unlimited access to special rooms and privileges at the orgies’ (mirror.co.uk, 2 February). We the 99% are expected to find the means to raise the next generation of the working class. This has been so for centuries. Who better to comment on this situation than the Marquis De Sade: ‘Everywhere I could reduce men into two classes both equally pitiable; in the one the rich who was the slave of his pleasures; in the other the unhappy victims of fortune; and I never found in the former the desire to be better or in the latter the possibility of becoming so, as though both classes were working for their common misery…I saw the rich continually increasing the chains of the poor, while doubling his own luxury, while the poor, insulted and despised by the other, did not even receive the encouragement necessary to bear his burden. I demanded equality and was told it was utopian; but I soon saw those who denied its possibility were those who would lose by it…’ (Aline et Valcour, ou le Roman philosophique, 1788)


Shafted
‘Canadian Mint Worker Sentenced To 30 Months For Smuggling $140,000 Of Gold In His Rectum’ (zerohedge.com, 2 February).

A headline you will not see in a socialist world without workers and crime – or your money back!