Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Constructing Division (2019)

The Woods for the Trees Column from the February 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Donald Trump and his supporters probably think of themselves as political innovators finding solutions to capitalism’s intractable problems with ‘Trump’s Wall’ being an example of dealing with the perceived Gordian Knot of ‘border security’. Part of the populist mandate is to respond to capitalism’s periodic crises by blaming foreigners for economic hardships. For this reason immigration is a convenient scapegoat and sometimes promises made during elections have to be seen as being acted upon once power is achieved; not that the more astute members of the political establishment believe necessarily in the effectiveness of any of their manifesto policies but not to implement at least some of them would injure the public image so carefully created by their PR department. Donald’s affection for his wall seems to be an example of this – together with the tax cuts for the super-rich this is another populist policy that his ego demands must be seen to be implemented. That it represents any kind of political innovation is found to be, as with most reactionary answers to practical political questions, historically without foundation.

One of the earliest examples of such a political edifice is, of course, known as ‘The Great Wall of China’. Started in 220 BC during the reign of the first emperor of China this famous structure was rebuilt time and again until 1644 AD. At its apogee the 20 ft. high wall stretched for an amazing 5,500 miles. Built as a defence against the marauding steppe tribes it also served as a border control that regulated taxation from those who traded on both sides of the wall. As such it represented a statement of power for the empire combined with a flourishing source of income for the emperor. The same was true, on a much more modest scale, of the wall attributed to the Roman Emperor Hadrian in England. Begun in 122 AD its walls were clad in a white plaster that made it prominent for miles and it too represented both a statement of power combined with the facility of border taxation. Not conceived of as primarily an absolute defence against any concerted invasion (whose army could have, presumably, used boats to circumvent it) it did at least end the casual raids of plunder by the Pictish tribes. It also represented the ‘limits’ of the Roman Empire in the northwest together with the Black Sea in the east, the river Danube in the north and the Sahara in the south. Although the preceding examples are located in what is called ‘the ancient world’ the implication to some minds that the world has always been divided by borders must be corrected by historical perspective; our species has existed for some 250,000 years and the construction of defensive barriers is only found, at first in cities, in very restricted parts of the world some 10,000 years ago. The ‘Neolithic revolution’ enabled an agricultural surplus to be created which in turn needed to be protected from raiding nomads by the new ruling classes who owned it – hence fortification.

What do the walls of the modern era represent? The two most depressing examples were the Berlin Wall and the present wall in Gaza. After the Second World War Germany was divided by the victorious allies into two zones of east and west. The Russians took the eastern sector but agreed to western access to the capital of Berlin. This proved to be a centre for those wishing to escape to the west and in response Stalin built a fortified border that included the infamous wall in Berlin. When the Russian empire fell the destruction of the wall became a symbol of ‘freedom’ for those oppressed by the one-party state of East Germany. Completed in 1996 the wall that separates the Palestinian Gaza Strip from Israel is also an echo of the Second World War and what happened to the Jews. After that war a militant group of Zionists agitated and fought for a Jewish state to be set up in what they claimed as their ancient biblical homeland. Not surprisingly those Palestinians who had been there for hundreds of years objected to the confiscation of their homes and have fought a guerrilla war with the Israelis ever since. The wall represents this unresolved conflict and for some Israelis is an uncomfortable reminder of their predecessors’ own incarceration behind a wall in the Warsaw ghetto built by the Nazis in the 1940s. Our last example of a political wall is much less notorious on the world stage but was a contemporary of the Warsaw wall and was to be found in a small town called Cutteslowe in Oxfordshire, England. Nine feet tall and topped with spikes two walls were built to separate a private housing estate from the nearby council dwellings. An embarrassment to a country supposedly fighting for freedom and justice one of them was ‘accidentally’ demolished by a tank during war exercises – it was rebuilt only to be brought down, this time officially, in 1959.

Walls and the borders they guard are only made possible by the illusion of a divided world. Some of them pretend to be mere extensions of the natural barriers that have given rise to the multiplicity of human cultures; this is one of the great lies of nationalism which masks the real economic motives of ruling classes and the political ignorance of those who actually construct them. The great paradox is that we live in an integrated world economy which makes the nation state an anachronism that is only sustained by the propaganda of those who need the excuse of the ‘foreign’ threat when capitalism experiences one of its inevitable economic cataclysms. That elements within ruling classes are also trapped in their own nationalistic ideology is very evident in the Brexit fiasco. The unintended threat that leaving the EU poses to one of England’s last colonies (Northern Ireland) in terms of its border with the rest of the island is yet another example of how little some of the propagandists of the ruling class understand the political reality of the twenty-first century. As fast as capitalism is integrating the world economically it is tearing it apart politically – a contradiction that can only be resolved by global socialism.
Wez.


Which Way for the PD? (1969)

From the April 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

After the police brutality in Derry on the night of October 5, a group of Belfast university students met and set up a militant civil rights body, the People's Democracy. In the recent election PD put up eleven candidates and did surprisingly well, nearly winning a seat from the Nationalists. As a new movement, without any clear aims or theory, PD is wide open to two dangers: evolution into a reform party or take-over by those who would put the clock back by leading them into the dead-end of Republicanism.

No-one, least of of all socialists, can object to PD’s professed aim of a genuine democracy in which all the people would have a free and equal say in the conduct of political, economic, and social affairs. That, more or less, is our aim too. But we say it can be achieved only on the basis of the common ownership of the means of life. For as long as the means by which society must live belong to a class there will be the exploitation, oppression, and social inequality that frustrate democratic control today.

The class ownership of the means of production and their use to make profits is the basis of modern, capitalist society. It means there are two opposed classes: those who own and those who because they don't own must work for those who do. Mere democratic reform that leaves untouched this class basis of society is not nearly enough.

We are not really surprised that many who want a new and better society should tend to steer clear of the word ‘socialism’. We ourselves are only too painfully aware of what it means to many people—the oppressive regimes of East Europe, the discredited Labour parties, the swindle of nationalisation. The World Socialist Party has always tried to keep alive the real meaning of Socialism as a democratic world community based on the common ownership of the means of life where the one aim of production will be to satisfy human needs. With the end of class ownership everybody will be socially equal and free to take part in the running of social affairs. The oppressive government machine, which is needed only to maintain ‘law and order' in class society, will be dismantled and replaced by the democratic administration of industry. With common ownership and production for use, the barriers to abundance will have been removed so that society can rapidly go over to “from each his best, to each his need”. People will work as best they are able and then take from the common store whatever they need. This is Socialism.

Dangerous course
Because full democracy can be achieved only through Socialism it is futile to separate the pursuit of the one from the pursuit of the other. To fight for democracy alone, as PD does, could mean the achievement of neither Socialism nor democracy. Efforts should be concentrated on the struggle for Socialism.

Of course ‘one man, one vote’ is a desirable, though, minor, democratic reform (since it already applies in Stormont and Westminster elections and even without it workers still make up the vast majority of the electors). Of course socialists are against the Special Powers Act—we have ourselves been victims of police intimidation. But in adding social reforms— an emergency housing drive, rural co-operatives, direct state investment, non-sectarian comprehensive education — to its programme PD has embarked on an even more dangerous course than struggling for democracy alone. It has taken the first step towards becoming just another reform party. A new, non-sectarian radical party is indeed what some civil rights leaders, and even some Unionists, would like to see emerge out of the current agitation. But many in PD arc anxious to avoid this.

They argue that the way to do this is to build up their movement as a militant opposition outside parliament and imply that it is contesting elections and getting into parliament that leads to reformism. This is why PD was so apologetic about contesting the recent elections. This was, they said, only a tactic to keep civil rights in the public eye; PD had no wish to win any seats (they nearly failed in that aim!). But there was no need to apologise. It is not from contesting elections, but from advocating reforms, that the danger comes.

Power of the vote
People who have been beaten and bullied by the police should have a good idea of the nature of the state machine as a coercive instrument for maintaining ‘order’. At present, its main job is to keep the private property basis of modern society though the RUC is also used by the Unionists to crush any threat to their link with Britain. The state, for whatever purpose it is used, is nothing but an organisation of armed men. In Northern Ireland, as in Britain and Eire, it is controlled by a cabinet responsible to an elected parliament. The RUC takes its orders from the Home Affairs Minister. The Special Powers Act is on the statute book only because at one time a majority of MPs voted for it and it will be repealed only when the MPs vote against it. Again, the Public Order Act will be strengthened only if the newly-elected MPs vote for the proposed amendments. Parliament, which makes the laws the police enforce, is a body those who want to reform capitalism, let alone replace it by Socialism, must capture. A socialist majority outside parliament, using their votes to elect a socialist majority inside parliament, could use political power to institute the common ownership of the means of production. That in fact is WSP policy and we have ourselves had candidates in the past.

So, it’s not elections in themselves that are dangerous. Far from it. It is vitally important that those who want to change society should take part in elections. The danger comes from fighting for reforms of capitalism, outside as well as inside parliament.

Socialism, as a democratic community based on the voluntary co-operation of its members, can be set up and run only by people who are fully aware of its implications. It can be set up only when a majority understand and want it. Support built up for reforms cannot be turned into support for Socialism, for most of those who want the reforms will have illusions about what present-day society can offer. They will assume that all that is needed is the will to do something—end the housing scandal, stop unemployment — and that implementing this is just a simple administrative matter. Capitalism, however, is not a rationally-organised community, but a class society subject to its own economic laws. Because it is based on the profit motive and on the exclusion of the workers from ownership it cannot be made to serve human needs and can never solve the housing or health or education or employment problems of the workers. Capitalism is a class system that can work only one way: as a profit-making system in the interest of the class that lives off profits.

PD is in error in campaigning for democracy apart from Socialism but is even more in error in campaigning for reforms as well.

We would, however, commend PD for declaring that they “regard the border as irrelevant”. Since, up to now, the Border has been the great dividing issue in Northern Ireland politics this is a great advance. The Border was put up in 1921 as a tariff barrier between the British market, to which the big industrialists of the North wanted free access, and the Irish Home market, which the small businessmen of the South wanted to protect from British competition. Stripped of all emotion a tariff barrier, whose removal would make no difference to the workers’ problems, is all the Border has ever been. The WSP pioneered this view declaring in our 1949 Manifesto of the Socialist Party of Ireland:
  The removal of 'the Border’ will not remove one social evil from which the working class suffer; and so, it is obviously not a problem which concerns the working class.
Unfortunately, the two rival sections of the Irish owning class, whose vital interests were at stake, were able to rally behind them the workers whose interests were not affected at all. In order to prevent their incorporation behind the tariff barriers of a Home Rule Ireland the industrialists of the North deliberately stirred up religious animosity between Protestants and Catholics. Now, especially since the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area Agreement of 1966, the split has to a certain extent been healed and the Northern industrialists (and titled landowners!) are embarrassed by the Protestant extremism which not so long age they did so much to encourage.

The legacy of the split between the two sections of the Irish owning class has been the Nationalist/Unionist split among the workers of Northern Ireland, a split which does not and never did have any meaning from their point of view. Unionism was the ideology of the Northern industrialists and Nationalism (and Republicanism) the ideology if the up-and-coming Southern businessmen. It is high time both were discarded by the working class and replaced by unity for Socialism.
Adam Buick


The Great Non-Event (1969)

From the April 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Now the tumult and the shouting, real and phoney, has died; the news-hounds have gone to re-live the scene elsewhere; the successful candidates breathe affably from the upholstery of the Members’ Lounge; the tickman regains a place of prominence in the workers’ troubles . . . it’s all over! Tragically, most of those who played parts, especially the voters who gave point to the exercise, knew precious little of what it was all about.

Captain O’Neill and his supporters perhaps come nearest to an appreciation of the situation. They have inherited a state and a party which emerged from the power struggles of Irish capitalism in the 20s fully clothed in the trappings of bigotry and intolerance. The material conditions of capitalism which then needed that bigotry and intolerance have changed, and continue to change rapidly as capitalism in Eire acquires a political maturity in keeping with its rapid post-war economic development.

The situation does not only allow for, but in fact demands, a de-escalation of all the old fictions if the new circumstances are to yield their obvious economic advantages in cross-border trade and the like. The Stormont parliament, with its parish-pump status, need not be an impediment. Indeed, all the leading political spokesmen in the South agree that a future ’united Ireland’ will allow Stormont the retention of its present powers.

This is the main factor that has determined the O’Neill Wing of Unionism on a more moderate course just as, ironically, it has caused a complete political about face among leading Northern Irish Nationalists — who are today as vociferous in their demands for “British standards for Northern Ireland” as they were yesterday in wanting to break the British connection! These people, ably abetted by the Labour Party and the large ’non-political' but pro-O’Neill group of businessmen who make up the New Ulster Movement (formed to support O’Neill candidates in the recent elections) represent ’responsible’—in the capitalist sense—political opinion.

But yesterday’s slogans and red herrings still have many thousands of active supporters, mainly (tragically) among the most impoverished sections of the working class. These are the people whom successive generations of ’responsible’ Unionist politicians brought up on the slogans “Home Rule is Rome Rule” and “Catholics are Disloyal”. In the fierce pace of change they have been slow to adjust and are easy prey to the ignorant slobberings of the firebrand Paisley. Their movement, insofar as it accepts the present social order, is capitalist, but it serves no need of capitalism today and can continue for only a time on the bitter slogans of yesterday. Assuredly, as opportunities for hooliganism and violence get less, it will atrophy and pass into history.

This leaves the various movements for civil rights that rapidly appeared and coalesced into an effective political weapon within the last two years. These groups were forged largely by the younger workers in the schools and university, in the factories and on the dole. More intelligent in ambition and political direction than previous movements born locally from frustration, political humbug, and fear, they were nevertheless hamstrung from the outset by their failure to get beneath the surface of the political events and institutions against which they militated and to appreciate that their real enemy was not Unionism or Nationalism, sectarianism or discrimination, but the system of class ownership that brings these things into being throughout the whole world of capitalism.

If we allowed a degree of comparison we should say that undoubtedly the Peoples Democracy movement, emanating largely from Belfast’s Queen’s University, came nearer to an appreciation of the situation than did the Civil Rights Association or the Derry Citizens’ Action Committee, and it is, incidentally, worthy of note that while some of the better known civil rights leaders obviously used their position to get into parliament, the PD contested, with distinction and courage, eleven constituencies without regard for the religion and politics traditionally popular in such constituencies, and with a policy that surrendered nothing to traditional conservatism.
Richard Montague

The Other Militants (1969)

From the April 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Car stickers are one of capitalism’s latest growth industries. No protest campaign, whether it is against the Concorde, or road tax, or the breathalyser, is complete without them. This method of obstructing the rear view of a driver includes one which urges us to “Save the Argylls”. These stickers are not, of course, a charity appeal for the famous Argyll family who, since they are among the great landowners of Scotland, can survive without any declarations of loyalty from grubby little Anglias and Minis.

The Argylls in question are the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, a regiment in the British army which, unless present policy is reversed, will be disbanded early next year. The end of the Argylls will not mean the frustration of anyone who wants to join the military defence of British capitalism; there will still be an army. The protests arise because the Argylls, for reasons we shall shortly discuss, have a place in many working-class hearts.

The regiment originated in 1794, which was some time after Pitt the Elder had made his boast about turning the Highlands into a reservoir of blood to serve the British crown in every part of the world. The Argylls have lived up to that; apart from the two world wars they have done their bit for the British ruling class in the Peninsular Wars, in South Africa, the Indian Mutiny, and the Crimea. At the battle of Balaclava they alone among the British infantry stood up to the attacks of the Russian cavalry, which reckless act earned them the famous name of the Thin Red Line. Since 1945 they have fought in Palestine, Korea, Cyprus, Borneo, and South Arabia. Now, as the tentacles of British capitalism have withdrawn from these places, the Argylls are taking their reputation off to another area of sensitive dispute—Berlin.

Just the boys
Perhaps the climax of the regiment’s recent activities came just before the British withdrawal from Aden. The Argylls re-entered the Crater district in a lightning operation which, it was leaked, was not approved by the policy-makers. The man in command of the Argylls—Colin Mitchell—resigned from the army soon after the incident and so from Mad Mitch became deified into Mitch the Martyr. The latest news of him is that he will be on the platform at Duncan Sandys’s May Day meeting in Trafalgar Square.

The petition to save the Argylls attracted a million signatures and many of them were undoubtedly inspired by indignation at the fate of Mitchell. Another factor was admiration for the Argylls as a tough lot, united by bonds of manliness and militancy. Just the boys, in other words, to send in against a lot of jabbering foreigners who have the temerity to say that they would rather live without the presence of the Argylls or of any other British occupation force.

Probably none of those workers who thought the best method of dealing with independence movements in the colonies was to send in the Argylls to crush them stopped to think that there are other units who would do an equally efficient job. The NKVD, for one, should have some highly trained detachments just suited for it. And there must be plenty of ex-SS men who would welcome the chance to renew old comradeships and re-apply their racism.

Mess of delusion
Is this taking it too far? Mitchell thought that when the troops left Aden it was taken over by a bunch of “third-rate, fly-blown chaps”. The television film about the Argylls included statements like: “It is a pity that guts to use a bayonet are not enough; you must have someone else’s guts to stick a bayonet in”. The simple fact is that the Argylls have won theif reputation by their ruthless defence of the interests of British capitalism, wherever and whenever it has needed them. The campaign to save them is based upon respect for that.

This brings us to the matter of militancy — using the word in the strict sense of a readiness to engage in warfare. Militancy is part of the mess of delusion and prejudice which keeps the capitalist system in being. The discipline, uniformity, and harshness which are an essential part of the military machine are widely admired; few workers really question the usefulness of teaching men to kill each other and to look unfeelingly upon lifeless and mutilated bodies. A few years ago Joseph Heller attacked this attitude in his novel Catch 22, which exposed the absurdities — and the deadly purpose — of military discipline. A lot of people laughed at Heller's satire but behind the laughs is this reality:
  “In the last twelve months, thank goodness, we have lost the best of recruiting sergeants because in the last twelve months for the first time this century no British soldier, sailor, or airman has been killed or wounded in action anywhere in the world."
  Whether one liked it or not, he was afraid that a nice little war going on somewhere was good for recruiting.
(Daily Telegraph, March 6, 1969, reporting Gerry Reynolds, Minister of Defence Administration, in the House of Commons debate on defence.)
This is the kind of statement calculated to make any reasonable person doubt either his own sanity or that of the rest of the people. If anyone is foolish enough to join the armed forces the obvious time to do it is when the chances of getting killed or wounded are at their lowest. The fact that the opposite is true only reflects the popular opinion in favour of military organisation.

In other words, the working class accept the need for a vast, socially organised killing machine. They mix this up with the usual bigotries of patriotism — that in wartime their side are always the goodies, that their occupation forces are in another country to bring all the benefits of civilisation and to stop the inhabitants tearing each other to pieces.

The futility of this has been exposed again and again. It was exposed when the British ruling class stubbornly hung on to India, ignoring the fact that in the end they would have to leave. It was the same in many other colonies—Borneo, Cyprus (which one Tory Colonial Secretary said would "never" be independent )and Aden, where the much-admired Argylls rattled their sabres. This policy has not been followed by only the British ruling class. The French followed it in Indo-China and Algeria; the Russians in Hungary and Czechoslovakia; the Americans are following it now in Vietnam.

Each of these military efforts has been supported by the working class in the country concerned thinking that militancy is a virtue. This same attitude has excused all the excesses of war — the destruction of Dresden and Hiroshima, the wholesale slaughter in Vietnam and Biafra. It also justified the genocide of the concentration camps. The Nazis knew how to appeal to the militant pretensions of a frustrated and confused working class and constantly diverted attention from the real issues in pre-war Germany with their massed, raucous, uniformed ranks marching, shouting, drumming, and saluting in one discipline. Under the influence of this hysteria, only the soft-headed ones were worried about what was going on in the chambers and ovens and laboratories behind the barbed wire. Just like fat, asthmatic, unattractive Piggy in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, worrying about keeping the fire going and behaving like human beings while the other boys were intoxicated with the lust of hunting.

If this is what militancy has helped to bring in the past, the next important question is what lies in the future. What, excesses and bestialities will be justified on both sides, if the revolt of the Negroes gathers strength? What will not be possible if the great powers seriously commence the job of trying to eliminate each other?

The world is in desperate peril and what is needed now is not an uncritical acceptance of the qualities which capitalism needs and honours but a penetrating questioning of the social system and its morality. That Guardsman stamping outside Buckingham Palace, for example. Is he an admirable example of disciplined, hardened manhood or just another sadly misled member of the working class? Is he glamorous or ludicrous? What does he represent, in terms of how capitalist society conducts itself?

It will not take many questions to lead us to the conclusion that capitalism glorifies violence and that it could hardly exist without consistent support for blind discipline and militancy. The sad fact is that it is the workers who suffer under capitalism, who so ardently stand up for the system. They it is who thrill to the marching soldiers, who respect manliness and violence, who respond to wars as to a recruiting sergeant. From all this follows their respect for military tradition and for the brutal nonsense that goes with it.

So let the petitioners not despair. If they don't save the Argylls capitalism will organise its workers into other regiments.
Ivan

Lionel Selwyn (1969)

Party News from the April 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

For the last ten years, the vital backroom work of design and layout of the Socialist Standard has been done by one man —Lionel Selwyn.

Domestic commitments have now compelled Comrade Selwyn to give up this work, although his talents and knowledge will still be available to us and he will always be ready with advice whenever we need it.

The Editorial Committee would like to pay tribute to Comrade Selwyn for the consistent and capable way he has done his work over the years. His passionate involvement gave us many memorable designs and front covers; indeed, he positively transformed the appearance of the Socialist Standard.

Comrade Selwyn can look back with pride on the contribution he made to our journal. Socialists everywhere are in his debt.
Editorial Committee

Economics Against Apartheid (1969)

From the April 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Port Scarcity: 'white' jobs for Africans,” reported the Durban Daily News on February 11.

A Natal University report on Durban harbour revealed that because of a shortage of suitable 'white’ labour about 300 Africans ,were doing semi-skilled jobs officially reserved for 'whites’. Some of the Africans live in compounds owned by Durban Corporation and, says the report, “it is unlikely that these labourers will be compelled in pursuance of government policy (of separate development) to live in the African townships”’

This is but another example of the way capitalism is undermining apartheid. Apartheid is against the interests of the South African capitalist class which wants to be free to exploit all workers as it pleases while the economics, of capitalism bring together what apartheid tries to separate.

Letter: Why Oppose Both Major Parties? (1969)

Letter to the Editors from the April 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Sir.

Thank you for the reply to my letter as printed in the December edition of Socialist Standard. Regretfully, however, it does little to convince me that the policies adopted by the Socialist Party of Great Britain are truly the right ones, at least insofar as your attitude to reformism and the Labour Party are concerned. It seems to me quite impractical to be equally opposed to both Tory and anti-Tory parties even if the latter are pro-capitalism. It is on the basis of this ‘equal’ opposition that you point out that I gave no reason for supposing the growth of the Socialist Party would be at the expense of the Labour Party; the reason being the political temperament of the bulk of individuals supporting Labour as against the Conservative Party.

The attitude which you demonstrate, one of ideological intransigence, scarcely does you credit because it is difficult to see how you can gain from it apart from musing on its nobility. In practical terms to lump differing enemies together is stupid, and it explains how you can later say that as the socialist movement grows so the power of the capitalists is weakened. For my part I cannot see how their power is in any way lessened except in a theoretical way, i.e. the percentage of socialists is higher.

Except in a very minor way as far as action is concerned the SPGB seems to wash its hands altogether of capitalism, even as though it existed outside it. You even state that as the socialist movement grows the “balance of class power shifts in favour of the workers”. This again is surely poetic nonsense. The balance of class power could never shift in favour of the workers until capitalism is abolished, that is. unless you accept that anti-capitalist reformist actions grow equally with the socialist movement. If 45 per cent of Britain supported the Socialist Party and there were no Socialist Party MPs then the Right Wing would have a fine old time. If 45 per cent of Britain supported the Socialist Party and there were an appropriate percentage of Socialist Party MPs then if they sat back in disgust and went to sleep we would have the same position. They would have to adopt a very similar position as the Labour Party when in opposition. that is trying to counteract the downward forces of capitalism within capitalism.

It seems more than obvious to me that whether you like it or not the Socialist Party of Great Britain is merely one of a group of Leftist societies. Its loquacious attacks on capitalism no doubt inspire those within the Labour and Communist Parties and it is doubtful whether except for so aiding reformists it will achieve anything.
R. E. Shimmin 
(Port St. Mary Isle of Man)


Reply:
How does the “political temperament” of Labour Party supporters differ from that of the Tories? Many of them, as we have recently seen, are racists; they are patriotic; they are prepared to support their party although it breaks one promise after another and openly declares its intention of restricting the unions and cutting working class living standards.

Any differences between the Labour and Conservative parties are superficial and, as Edward Heath has recently become aware, are growing ever more difficult to perceive. On fundamentals they are anything but enemies; what differences they have are so slight as to be not worth bothering about.

It would be pleasant to be able to wash our hands of capitalism but we cannot do this—we cannot live outside the system. The reason for this is that at present the capitalist class hold their power by the support of the workers. As this support lessens, as the socialist movement grows, the power of the capitalists diminishes. Their promises, their threats, their sops, which are so readily accepted by workers now, will lose their effect

As the number of socialists grows the class struggle will take on a different appearance. Socialist trade unionists, for example, would never fall for threats and promises from a Labour government and agree to reduce their living standards, as some unionists are doing now. And of course as this situation develops the ruling class would be eager to try to divert the movement with ever more generous reforms.

A minority of socialist MPs would certainly support genuine reforms in working class standards and conditions but they would not be allowed to make the mistake of becoming reformist — of offering reforms as a political programme and an alternative to Socialism.

There is no evidence that the Labour Party tried to ‘counteract the downward forces of capitalism within capitalism” when they were in opposition. Whenever the interests of British capitalism required it they supported the Tory government— as they did in two world wars, for example—although naturally they went through the usual meaningless farce of ‘opposition’. If it had been their intention to “counteract the downward forces of capitalism” when they were in opposition, why did they act as they did when they took power? Why did they start the British H-Bomb? Go into the Korean war? Introduce the wage freeze? Prosecute strikers? Build the Polaris submarines? Support the Americans in Vietnam? Reduce school milk? The list of their actions in intensifying the downward pressures of capitalism is almost endless.

It is true that at present few people are inclined to grasp socialist knowledge. Some of the blame for this rests on organisations like the Labour Party, which have spread confusion among the working class and have dragged the name of Socialism through the mud. Perhaps our attacks on capitalism inspire Labourites and ‘Communists’. What effect, then, do our attacks on those parties, as pro-capitalist, have on those people? We hope to make them think about society, and about what to do with the power in their hands. This is the positive side of socialist propaganda—every attack we make upon capitalism has two edges and the other is the conclusion, that Socialism alone can end the problems of the modern world.
Editorial Committee

50 Years Ago: What We Want (1969)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

A lot of make-believe capitalist sympathy has been slobbered over the working class recently as the result of the revelations of some of the horrors of working class existence in the mining districts and in the East End of London. That the capitalists may make a genuine effort to improve these conditions is quite possible. The war has shown them that they have a C3 nation of workers, and the latest births and deaths returns have revealed to them the unpleasant prospect that unless they bestir themselves they will soon have no nation of workers at all on which to found the military and commercial supremacy of their Empire. But even if they do improve the workers’ conditions; if they stable them in palaces and harness them in “Workmen’s Charters"; if Lord Leverem finds that he can exhaust his men in six hours and does it, and Mr. Ford discovers anew that high wages, as the Dutch says of paint, cost nothing —what then?

Such things, realised far beyond the realms of possibility, would leave us unmoved. We are out for LIFE for the workers. The world is beautiful. Life is glorious. Even work is joy if a man may, as Morris said, “rejoice in the work of his hand.” Evolution has given us the possibility of producing by work, as distinct from toil, wealth in such abundance that the amenities of civilisation shall be the portion of all, without stint.
(From an unsigned editorial in the Socialist Standard, April 1919).

"Keynes Wrong" Admission (1969)

From the April 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Paul Fabra, Economics editor of the Le Monde, writing in The Times on February 11, joins the chorus of those who now realise that Keynes was wrong. Keynes, in preaching that capitalism could be rationally controlled, provided arguments for those who wanted to reform capitalism, to use against those who wanted to abolish it. In Britain the Labour Party and the Liberals, followed closely by the Tories, were soon won over to the Keynesian brand of reformism which has been official government policy since 1940, the year the great inflation started.

Writing about the problems facing the new Republican administration in America, Fabra points out:
  The Keynesian idea that in order to reduce interest rates one must increase the money supply . . .  has now been proved wrong and even harmful: by accelerating the expansion of credit one achieves not a fall in the cost of money as the supply increases but a fall in the value of the currency in circulation. This had already been demonstrated by Ricardo 150 years ago.
This point was made by Marx too (whom Keynes was supposed to have refuted) and can be understood only on the basis of the labour theory of value.

Fabra was showing in effect that Keynesian monetary policies are a typical reform: they deal with one aspect of the problem by intensifying another. He goes on to nail the lie spread by Keynesians about the results of trade union activity:
  Inflation is surely the result of an ill- considered credit policy. In asking for so-called ‘excessive’ wage increases the unions do not create inflation; they try to defend themselves against its effects.
Whether governments just do not understand monetary theory or whether they are deliberately causing inflation to cut workers’ living standards (as advocated by Keynes) is a moot point. Probably the former, at least in the case of the Labour Party who are notoriously ignorant of how capitalism works.