Friday, April 19, 2019

Obituary for the phoney alliance (1988)

From the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Much water has flowed under the bridge in the decade since the Dimbleby Lecture was delivered on BBC TV by Roy Jenkins, the archetypal Labour opportunist with an expensive taste for wine and an undisguised contempt for socialism. Jenkins had been Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Wilson government which had dragged the idea of socialism through the mud as it pursued some of the most cynically anti-working-class policies in British political history. Now Jenkins had become a convert to a new, even more opportunist, more cynical, vision: the belief in what became known as the political "centre ground". No longer should politics be stained with the extremities of ideological fervour. In moderate, comfy, common sense, men of good reason (capitalist timeservers like Jenkins and George Brown and assorted other careerists) would unite in the political "middle ground". As the 1970s turned into a new decade with a new Thatcher-led government a growing campaign emerged to realise the Jenkins dream of a new Centre Party — a dream which, if history is to be written accurately, Jenkins pinched from the 1960s' Liberal leader Grimond who in turn stole from the post-war Butskellite tradition in which all three major electoral parties co-habited within the intellectual slum of vaguely comprehended Keynesian reformism.

By the early Eighties the cry for a Centre Party was motivated by impatience at the dogmatic obsessions of the Tory monetarists and the tired rhetoric of the pro-state-capitalist Labour Left, then passing through one of its illusory moments of ascendancy. The cry for the new party was deafening. But wherefrom came the cry? Not from the factories or offices or pubs or dole offices or anywhere that you or I are likely to be found. It came instead from the media and from the academics who had run out of ideas, from the Liberals who had lost all hope of power and the Labourites who were tired of having to go to the bother of singing the Red Flag once a year so that the troops would fight for them.

The new party would "take the politics out of politics", while offering the workers what they believed we had always been used to: smiling leaders and capitalism without the ideological wrapping paper of the Left or Right. The rest is history. In 1981 a bunch of squalid Tories in drag walked out of the Labour Party (which had been very happy to have them) and took up residence in TV studios. There they spent the early 1980s looking through the camera into the living rooms of workers who were told repeatedly that what we all really want is "moderation" — a term which, like decency and apple pie, is uttered with an appearance of great meaningfulness by politicians and which means absolutely nothing.

After the Labour split of 1981 came the Gang of Four: a gang of bores who told us that they were old-fashioned, "moderate" socialists who would stand for Social Democracy. This meant, in fact, that they stood for a combination of sterile Labour reformism and half-baked Tory management of the profit system and that they would do this in unison with the Liberal Party which had been suffering from a serious illness, probably terminal, for about sixty years. The Alliance was born. In Warrington Roy Jenkins won a spectacular by-election success when he lost the election and came second. The TV pundits did brief interviews with the candidate who had the audacity to win and then spent weeks celebrating the victory for moderation which Warrington apparently signified.

In 1983 the "social democrats" (by now the SDP) went into the general election with the Liberals as an Alliance. They lost, enjoying the dubious success of sometimes damaging the Labour vote and providing the Tories with the best election victory of any British party since 1945. Jenkins was removed as SDP leader within weeks of the result. He was to make way for the man who had always personified the real face of moderation: David Owen. What did this real moderate face look like? Well, as a face it looked pretty good — the sort of face which would not have been out of place on one of those TV hospital dramas where the surgeons are always handsome and arrogant. So much for the man himself. The face of moderation politically could not have been better portrayed than by David Owen: a smug, supercilious man for whom pragmatism was all, principles of no account and capitalism as inevitable as socialism was instantly dismissable. At the Labour Conference in Wembley in 1981 (the one where Owen quit) our late comrade, Jim Glitz, approached Owen and offered to sell him a Socialist Standard "This is the only paper which puts the case for the abolition of the wages system" said the ever-optimistic Glitz, the sort of bloke who would have tried telling Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams to stop wasting time on trivialities and unite for world socialism. "When are we going to have this socialism, then — next weekend?" retorted Owen, whose definition of an ideal is embodied in his devout support for the obscene power of the NATO murder machine. Owen epitomises most of what stinks in capitalist politics; the bits which he does not yet epitomise he is ambitious to descend to.

In 1987 the Alliance went into the general election as two parties in fundamental coalition. Steel and Owen presented themselves as the inseparable dream ticket. Seven million workers were conned into voting for them. Of course, the worst of it was that they voted for capitalism which can never be run in the interest of the workers. But that was not all that constituted the Alliance confidence trick. The campaign of Liberal-SDP coalition within the mysterious "middle ground" which was presented to the voters last year was erected on the basis of the most cynical and contemptible fraud. While Steel and Owen posed as friends they were in reality bitter rivals for power; they appeared as advocates of an unstated Centre vision but it now turns out that they were both looking in different directions, both hoping that those scrutinising their case were too stupid to see the transparent sham of their phoney alliance. Even within the usual context of capitalist political trickery the Alliance politicians played a dirty trick; they deserve everything that has happened to them in the days since the election as their tacky Alliance has fallen to pieces before the public gaze. They deserve the contempt which millions of workers will show them.

What pleasure we have all had — we who were not taken in by them — to watch the Alliance committing public suicide in the months since their defeat in the last election. How pleasing it has been to see that, despite all the advertising hype for which they could afford to pay thanks to their millionaire backers like David Sainsbury, despite all the media support which has none too subtly been offered to them, despite all the phoney rhetoric about "middle ground" and "the Centre" and "breaking the mould", they have ended up in a squalid battle over a merged party which thousands are planning to leave and nobody looks very anxious to join.

The Alliance has shown that a party without principles or ideas descends to a level which is truly laughable. Look at the Liberal merger debate in Blackpool where for many of the speakers the main objection to merger was that Social would come before Liberal in the new party's name (the SLDP). Then, on the eve of the SDP merger conference in Sheffield, an internal war broke out over which faction could use the conference hall on the Saturday night. The SDP leaders (the pro-mergerites) threatened to take their opponents to court to stop them using the hall. Meanwhile, the non-merger SDPers (irritatingly referred to as the Owenites: a profound insult to the memory of the ideas of Robert Owen, a political thinker whose boots David Owen would not be fit to polish) are offering the chance of a free fortnight in Portugal to SDPers who resist the yawn-inducing temptation of going into the SLDP and stay in the SDP rump. Such people might as well go away for good, for their political futures will be doomed after the SDP minority has had its nose bloodied in a few by-election defeats by the SLDP. How long will it be before Owen, and perhaps some of his fellow SDP hacks, swallow what pride they have left and accept the offers which are certainly made to them to enter their natural home in the Tory party?

Whatever happens to Owen, Maclennan and the rest of the SDP timewasters, one thing is certain: after one hundred and ten years as an oflicial party (and rather longer as a political tradition) the Liberal Party is now dead. Like jolly decent Liberals they booked a hall in Blackpool and voted with tears in their eyes to shoot themselves through the head. Some Liberals will be too “progressive'' to be allowed into the new party — which will be the only party in Britain to impose a constitutional obligation on its members that they support NATO. Others will join reluctantly, mourning the days in which they at least had a reason to be in oblivion which they could justify to themselves. Others will join the new set-up willingly, pursuing the sordid struggle for a lick of power. Paddy Ashdown will be leading the Give Us A Lick tendency, followed not far behind by those nonentities in search of greater nonentities to worship them, Alan Beith and Malcolm Bruce.

Some people may be surprised that we regard the Liberal Party with such hostility. After all. are they not a basically "radical'' force? Indeed, in its years of decline the Liberals have won to their ranks many workers who oppose the worn-out policies of both left-wing and right-wing and they have been responsible for raising within the Liberal Party many issues which would be ignored in more pragmatic circles. But no, the Liberals are not radical in any meaningful sense of the term. The Liberals have never addressed themselves to the root cause of the problems which they sometimes sound concerned about: they do not get to the root because the root is the capitalist system and it would not do for a capitalist party to have to pull up that root, would it? So for years now, the Liberals have plodded away in a smug world of thinking themselves rather radical and nonconformist but in reality being wedded irremovably to the futile old politics of capitalist reform. Ian Aitken of the Guardian was on the ball when he described them as being "cocooned in a comfy mood of self-esteem" (25 January 1988).

The Liberal Party 's delusion of radicalism is based, like so many of the other great myths of capitalist politics, on very selective memory. To be sure, the Liberals have made progressive-sounding noises when they have been out of power, but what have they done when they have been in? Are we to forget that they were the government which grossly intensified the arms budget to prepare the way for the monstrous slaughter of the First World War? Liberals supported that waste of millions of workers' lives because as supporters of capitalism they cannot extricate themselves from the system's inevitable by-product: war. They did it then and now again they have merged into a new movement which sees preparation for war as a priority.

The Liberals now make much noise about the wickedness of the Tories' so-called free market dogma. But this was not an invention of Thatcher's or one of her crazy advisors. The essence of Liberal economics was free trade and the unregulated market. And let it not be forgotten that the Liberal Party in power was the last government in Britain to fire on and kill striking workers. In 1910, when Winston Churchill was Liberal Home Secretary. 7.000 troops were sent to Liverpool to coerce the dockers who were on strike. Tom Mann, the chairman of the transport workers' Joint Strike Committee, told the Liberal tyrant. "Let Churchill . . . order ten times more military to Liverpool and let every street be paraded by them, not all the king's forces with all the king's men can take the vessels out of the docks to sea". In fact. Mann was right: the might of organised labour was greater than the Liberal government and their armed thugs and the dock authorities gave in to the dockers' demands.

Liverpool was only part of a general strike wave to which the Liberal oppressors had to respond in 1910: in Tonypandy in the Rhondda Valley massed police attacked defenceless strikers, and in Llanelly they fired on a peaceful demonstration, killing two workers. So much for the radical record of Liberalism. The history of the Liberal Party is one of failure to tame the beast of capitalism and success in accommodating itself to the anti-social ferocity of the beast. If that is the legacy which they take with them into the SLDP, workers should keep clear of the new party like the plague.

Many Alliance supporters will be disappointed that their hopes which had been raised by Owen and Steel have been so suddenly dashed. It was inevitable for there is no such place in politics as the middle ground. The concept of the centre is an illusion. To those tired of the boring old left-right struggle the illusion is a seductive one, offering the chance of capitalism without having to think about ideology. The hard fact is that there are only two camps which serious political parties may join. One can either stand in open defence of capitalism — as the Tories and the Owen faction and many Liberals do — or one stands against capitalism. The reason for the lack of credibility of the Labour Party and the other lefty "moderates" is that they pay occasional lip service to opposition to capitalism but are in fact supporters of running the system. Kinnock and the vast majority of Labourites are as much victims of the illusion of the political soft centre — of capitalism in moderate doses — as was the Alliance.

There is no room for fence-sitting in the class war. You are either for the millionaires or for the workers who are robbed. You either favour bombs, of whatever kind they might be, or you refuse uncompromisingly to fight their bloody wars. You either stand for production for sale and profit or for production for use and free access. Either revolution or reform. There is no middle way. Let those who are licking their wounds in the obscurity of political disgrace remember that the creation of a sane society is always going to be more important than the miserable dealings for power in which they have all just been the losers. The workers have a world to win and that is just a little more important than whether Paddy Ashdown is to become leader of the party with no name and fewer principles.
Steve Coleman


Swansea election campaign (1988)

Party News from the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

For the second year in succession Swansea Branch of The Socialist Party are putting up a candidate in the City Council elections. As last year, we will be contesting the Uplands Ward of the city, which has approximately 11,000 voters. The election takes place on Thursday 5 May and our candidate is Howard Moss. Our activity will consist mainly of canvassing and of free literature and manifesto distribution to all the houses in the ward. We would especially welcome members or supporters from outside Swansea to help in the campaign. Now that we are known in the area from last year's campaigns, we hope to make a bigger and more sustained impact. Below is the election manifesto that will be received by all the electors in the ward.
Swansea Branch


Limiting food supply (1988)

From the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Like their American counterparts a few years ago, European farmers too are going to be paid not to grow food. This was one of the decisions of the summit of Common Market Heads of Government in Brussels last February.

Known as "set aside", this scheme is no doubt destined to become as notorious as the comparable US Soil Bank scheme which President Kennedy once frankly admitted to be one of "planned underproduction". Under it, farmers who take at least 20 per cent of their land out of cultivation will be paid an annual subsidy of between £170 and £1,020 an acre, financed partly by their government and partly by the EEC. The full text of the decision, which we record for a no doubt incredulous posterity, reads as follows:
 Withdrawal of land (set-aside): The European Council agrees to accept a mechanism for limiting supply by withdrawing agricultural land from production. This will complement the other stabilisers; application will be compulsory for the Member States, but optional for producers. Regional exceptions to compulsory application will be possible.
  In order to qualify, a producer must set aside at least 20 per cent of his arable land for at least five years. A producer who sets aside at least 30 per cent will, in addition to the premium, be exempted from the co-responsibility levy for 20t of cereals marketed by him.
 The minimum premium will be 100 ECU/ha and the maximum 600 ECU/ha; the Community contribution will be 50 per cent for the first 200 ECU, 25 per cent for the following 200 to 400 ECU and 15 per cent for 400 to 600 ECU.
  If the arable land is used for fallow grazing or converted to certain types of protein plant production, the premium will be approximately 50 per cent of the amount granted for complete set-aside.
  The Community contribution will be financed 50 per cent from the EAGGF Guarantee Section and 50 per cent from the EAGGF Guidance Section
It is estimated that at least two million acres of land will be taken out of production under the scheme, which will be introduced on 1 July.

Such a scheme had first been officially proposed when Britain held the presidency of the EEC in the second half of 1986 when it was put to a conference of Common Market agricultural ministers in September of that year by the then Minister of Agriculture, Michael Jopling. The scheme was also anticipated in a consultative document issued by the present Minister of Agriculture, John MacGregor. last December in which he floated the idea of paying cereal producers between £60 and £80 an acre to take their land out of production. Predictably, the National Farmers' Union said it wasn't enough. They wanted to be paid more not to grow food, thus confirming that farms are places where the main aim is to make money not produce food. They ought to be happier about the EEC scheme.

Basically what the EEC has decided is that, instead of paying farmers to grow food which cannot be sold, they will pay them not to grow the food in the first place. The aim is to save money on storage costs. In capitalist logic, where food like everything else is produced to be sold on a market at a profit, this makes some sort of sense. There is no point in producing food that can't be sold, despite the fact that it might be needed, as there is no profit in this. In terms of the logic of human interest, however, it is quite indefensible. As we were reminded, only a few weeks before the EEC Heads of Government made their decision, by (other) clowns wearing red noses, there is a crying need for food in certain parts of the world such as Ethiopia and Mozambique where people are literally dying of starvation.

Giving the food away to those who need it is too simple for capitalism, as it would upset the operation of the sacred market mechanism on which the system is based and which everyone including the Labour Party is now saying is the best way of distributing goods and services. In fact the market mechanism is a quite irrational way of distributing food, as the example of EEC food production shows. The capacity to produce the food to feed the starving is there but cannot be activated because the starving, not having any money, do not constitute a market. Until now the unsaleable food has been allowed to go rotten in storage. From now on farmers will be paid to cut back on the capacity to produce food. Both are equally irrational ways of solving the problem of poverty amid plenty but they are the only ones possible under capitalism.

Solving the problem in the obvious way of free access to food won't be possible till socialism has been established. Indeed, this will probably be one of the first things that socialist society will have to do. Once socialism has been established, food everywhere will be produced not to make money but to satisfy the need for it. Capitalism with its food mountains in one part of the world while people are starving in another part will remain solely as a memory of humanity's barbaric past.
Adam Buick

Why Waldheim? (1988)

From the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

So, according to available evidence, Kurt Waldheim did not actually commit any atrocities, but he lied. He tried to hide the fact that he knew about them, and the witch-hunters who had wanted a burning are having to concentrate their energies on trying to get at least a banishment.

It is perhaps little known that a higher percentage of the Austrian population voluntarily joined the Nazi Party than even in Germany and it is not surprising therefore that an attack on Waldheim's Nazi past is considered by many there to be an attack on themselves. A result, which could easily therefore be foreseen of this belated attempt to bring him to "justice", is that latent anti-Semitism has been aroused and is making itself heard and felt to the discomfiture of Jews who either survived in, or have since returned to, Austria.

The question which no-one seems to ask is "Why Waldheim?" The Allies reinstated many in the German judiciary and civil service into jobs held during the Nazi regime; indeed evidence has been forthcoming from time to time that even some who had participated in concentration camp atrocities are holding responsible positions in Germany and are generally held in high esteem. It is safe to assume that, as so well expressed recently by one of Britiain's eminent public persons, they too are "economical with the truth” about their past.

The western powers who are aiding and abetting Wiesenthal's Nazi hunting are obviously also suffering a loss of memory. Perhaps they should be reminded of Tom Power's The Paperclip Conspiracy (Michael Joseph. £14.95), published as recently as 1987. This well documented book, the contents of which no-one has refuted, tell how all the Allies, shortly after the end of the second World War. went through the files of Nazi doctors and scientists. Those considered useful, however notorious their past, were marked with a paperclip. New personalities, even new nationalities, and false papers were prepared to enable them to start serving their new masters. Ardent Nazis were denazified — on paper — and given American citizenship. Among these was a doctor who had experimented on inmates in Dachau concentration camp. Their findings shaped American Air-Sea rescue operations and helped to put American men into space. Among the many pictures in the book is one of these doctors in laughing conversation with John Glenn, America's first space hero. The Nazi team who pioneered the fastest submarines were taken, en bloc, to Barrow-in-Furness by the British Admiralty; Nazi aviation experts similarly went to Farnborough. They, and those who brought them to their new homes, may safely be assumed to be hiding their past and identity.

So the question remains "Why Waldheim?" Was it a trade-off to ensure Wiesenthal's silence about others more useful, or embarrassing, to western leaders; the head on a platter of a prominent public person who, however, is easily expendable to those who are doing the backdoor bargaining? If so, the foreseeable consequences for Jews living in Austria and possibly elsewhere have been completely disregarded not only by those who offered up Waldheim as sacrifice but even more so by the self-appointed avenger. That depth of cynicism would be difficult to equal, even by the double standards of so-called morality we have become used to under capitalism.
Eva Goodman

The Green Party’s Market Economy (1988)

From the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Green Party sees the solution to the environmental crisis as lying, correctly, in the achievement of “a system of human activity which is in harmony with the Earth’s life-sustaining systems” (1987 General Election Manifesto), only they imagine that this can be done while retaining production for the market.

The Green Party’s basic policy statement Manifesto for a Sustainable Society looks forward to a society “in which small, relatively self-sufficient, self-governing communities can coexist harmoniously within the framework of a greater nation and the world as a whole”. Each of these self-governing communities would be encouraged to be as self-sufficient as possible in primary products — those taken directly from nature such as food and minerals. But “goods and resources which cannot be obtained or manufactured locally would necessitate trade with other communities” and communities “would need to trade primaries by selling manufactures (e.g. calculators for wheat)”. There would be trade within communities too:
  The self-employed will come into their own. Cobblers, comer shopkeepers, smallholders, small farmers, craftsmen and repairers of all kinds, and anyone to whom independence and the satisfaction of a job well done is more important than high financial return will find that the Green Party National Income Scheme allows them to cut their charges to customers, leading to an increase in demand for their services.
This is not socialism (not that the Green Party claims to stand for this) but the sort of simple market economy without capitalist profit that was advocated by some critics of capitalism in the 19th century. It was unrealistic then and it is still unrealistic today. The problem is not the decentralised structure based on self-administering local communities — this is one among many possible forms that democratic decision-making could take in socialism — nor even that districts and regions should produce more of their basic foodstuffs but that these communities are seen as exchanging goods with each other, whether this be for money or by barter.

Such a system would not work in the way the Green Party expects because whenever wealth is produced for sale on a market it acquires a commercial exchange-value in addition to its use-value, or capacity to satisfy some human need, and this unleashes economic forces which come to dominate production and orient it away from production for need. The goods, whether primaries or manufactures, that the self-governing communities would be producing for exchange with other communities would be commodities, or goods having an exchange-value, and so would be subject to the same laws of commodity production as apply in any market economy.

The rate of exchange between wheat and calculators — to stick to the example in the Green Party’s pamphlet — would tend to reflect the comparative amounts of labour required on average to produce them from start to finish, an average that would be established by the market, i.e. by the competition (for this is what searching around and bargaining for the best deal would amount to) between communities to buy and sell wheat, calculators and other products to each other. In this competition it would be those communities able to offer their goods at the lowest prices that would tend to do best.

The self-governing communities would therefore have an interest in keeping the labour content of their products to a minimum and, as in a normal capitalist economy, the way to do this would be to employ new, more productive machines. But these cost money, which could be obtained by maximising sales. So the Green Party’s communities would come under exactly the same pressure as are today’s private and state capitalist enterprises to seek to maximise sales and accumulate the money obtained as capital invested in new means of production.

The Green Parry evidently hope that this pressure could be resisted by limiting exchange either to barter or to the exchange of goods simply with a view to obtaining money to buy needed use-values that communities could not produce themselves. The experience of cooperative-type enterprises operating within a market context, such as the kibbutzim in Israel and the cooperative societies in Britain, has shown however that sooner or later, under the pressure of economic circumstances, such enterprises are forced to act in the same way as any more typically capitalist enterprise.

Production for the market, even if at the beginning the purpose was merely to obtain money to buy useful things, inevitably develops into capitalism where production comes to be carried on to obtain money, not to buy goods for use, but to be invested in production with a view to making more money. Wherever there is production for the market on any scale, the economic laws of capitalism inevitably come into operation and impose profit as the aim of production.

A sustainable productive system as one that respects the laws of ecology can only be instituted if production for the market is completely abolished through the establishment of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and replaced by production solely for use. The relations between productive units — and between local communities — then cease to be commercial ones and become simple relations between suppliers and users of useful products without the intervention of money, buying and selling, trade or barter.
Adam Buick

Comic Relief (1988)

From the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Remember February 5th? — the momentous day we all donned our red noses, bow ties and other silly attire, for comic relief. Yet another day of activity to raise yet more funds for charities and worthwhile causes. Millions of people bought red noses; some walked backwards on pub crawls, others ate worms or threw jelly; all supposedly to alleviate suffering here and around the globe.

Working as I do from five in the morning at a newsagents, I had it all day. First half-a-dozen sleepy eyed, red nosed newsboys/ girls — then school kids in an assortment of madcap outfits, and later on even a horse paid a visit asking for donations. These brainwashed children from seven to seventy, convinced that this was the way to end famine and other needs, kept asking me “where is your red nose?” Charity, I replied, is futile as the problems are always recurring. I was told not to be a bore and asked what I would do about these problems.

Well, while Bob Geldof helped raise some one million pounds for famine relief over two years, the Common Market spends more than two million pounds every week on its unwanted food mountains. In Britain’s 248 grain stores there is enough wheat and barley to feed six million people for three years. There are 47,000 tons of beef, 23,000 tons of skimmed milk powder and 248,000 tons of butter, much of which is more than two years old and useless. According to This Week (TV 4 February) and other sources, it is the civil war in Ethiopia which prevents relief agency supplies from reaching areas stricken again by drought. Agonisingly the agencies are ready but they cannot transport the food to where an estimated five million people are at risk of starvation.

On top of this is the fact that over one million pounds is spent every minute on the most destructive, grotesque weapons ever created. “Well, that’s fair enough” the clowns reply, “so what do you propose?” What about a society where all the resources are commonly owned and democratically controlled — where factories, farms, offices, mines and media belong to the whole community regardless of race or sex? A world in which people have free access to all goods and services, giving according to their ability and taking according to their self-defined needs?

At the nearby library red nosed readers were served by red nosed librarians as cars passed by outside with red balloons on their bonnets. The school children dressed as penguins and peasants, threw jelly and streamers, the clowns joined the horse on the backwards walk to the pub. And they call socialists crazy.
Brian.

Birth Pangs (1988)

From the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

It's true what they say, "If men had to bear children, there'd never be more than one in a family". The infusion pump bears a small plaque that says, "Donated by . . . , Fun Run. 1985". There is no bean-bag, no birthing- stool. no background Mozart or Barry Manilow, just an interminable time that gives us a new insight into the concept of "labour". When Eleanor, our daughter, finally emerges, our relief is quickly followed by wonder at the sight of the techni-coloured baby who has just joined the human race.

Like the proverbial Martian sent to discover whether there is intelligent life on the Planet Earth, a baby starts life with a completely open mind about the new world s/he now inhabits. Our Martian day-tripper, being a completely rational being, flees back to his own planet after half a day, convinced that the inhabitants of Earth all belong to a huge lunatic asylum. Research has been unable to pinpoint the exact features of life here that upset the alien so. but there is some evidence to suggest that exposure to Murdoch's tabloids. coupled with soaps and game-shows, exerted an unbearable stress on the Martian whose sense of good taste is much more highly developed than ours. Some commentators wondered whether a glimpse of a social system that keeps millions in poverty and hunger might not have affected the visitor but this analysis was dismissed out of hand by Prime Minister Thatcher on the basis that Martians don't pay the poll tax, and therefore can't vote.

But for the new-born there is no escape from a society where people are trained to think that individuals are powerless to alleviate hunger, or poverty, or homelessness, or misery. Instead, they are led to think that giving a few pounds to charities is the limit of their ability to change the order of things. It's not that people don't recognise the need for a better system, the infant could do that. But unlike the infant who has still to be conditioned, society's rulers have persuaded the rest that there is no alternative. You don't have to read the Sun, and you don't have to watch Eastenders or The Price is Right. You can probably avoid having fairy-stories preached at you by some reactionary, misogynist in a pulpit. But unless you happen to be a member of the capitalist class you will find it almost impossible to provide food, clothing or shelter for yourself without allowing capitalism to exploit you.

A child who, on entering the world, discovers that his/her parents belong to the ruling class, is hardly likely to squallingly demand to be instantly handed over to a working class family. As s/he lies in her/his cot dreaming of the life of privilege and luxury stretching ahead — benefits derived from the exploitation of those forced to sell their labour-power in order to live — does it occur to the infant to question why a majority continue to run capitalism for the benefit of a minority?

Asked for my occupation when registering the birth I am sorely tempted to state "Wage Slave". Driving home from the hospital I slot Lindisfarne into the cassette and sing loudly to Lady Eleanor. Then I think about my future reply to my daughter's unasked question. "What did you do in the Class War, Daddy?".
Dave Coggan

Housing division (1988)

Book Review from the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Property Owning Democracy? Housing in Britain. M.J. Daunton (Faber and Faber. London 1987)

In the hierarchy of needs that confronts humanity, housing or shelter is a fundamental requirement. It has been at the forefront of Conservative Party thinking since 1979 as being the so-called right of people to own their own property. This has been a very fashionable concept but it ought not to be forgotten that the pattern of house ownership has undergone many changes, as Daunton points out in his conclusion:
  There is nothing sacrosanct or immutable about the pattern of provision and ownership of housing . . . The last 70 years have seen the fall of the private landlord, the emergence of the owner-occupier to dominance, the rise and fall of the council house.
Owner occupation is not the dream that it might appear to be. We are confronted with soaring house prices, easy credit and high levels of foreclosures. It is no easy matter to enter the house buying market for the first time, particularly when your over-extended commitment may be gazumped by someone more fortunate or more foolhardy. We live in a period in which we are told that "popular capitalism" means access to share ownership allied to home ownership. More importantly it may simply represent an attempt to "break down the antithesis of profits and wages and to create an identity of interest between entrepreneurial success and social benefit".

Public housing has suffered as a consequence of the image of the grotesque and repulsive high rise developments which have been seen as an economic and social nightmare. The changes arising out of the new pattern of home ownership have had their costs with private housing expenditure, in conjunction with fuel and power, accounting for 21.7 per cent of household budgets in 1981 compared to 15.8 per cent in 1964. The comparable figures for Germany and France for 1981 stood at 17.9 per cent and 17 per cent respectively. A consequence is that employers are pressurised to provide increased wages which conflict with the need to produce maximum profit. Nor should it be forgotten that, as employees, home ownership may represent a fetter to social mobility at a time when employment and home location are at variance. It should also be remembered that, according to the Nationwide Building Society, 30 per cent of the population cannot afford to move into owner occupation.

An attempt to manipulate the population through housing into the processes of the system may be the aim of current legislation. This is no new concern. The production of housing by industrialists in the nineteenth century can be seen as an attempt to instil control and discipline in employees. A national commitment to housing provision and standards can be interpreted as the state s concern with the social efficiency of the nation in contributing a healthy workforce to ensure the productivity of the firm. The debate in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries between those arguing that wages should rise in order to pay the rents as against those advocating lower rents consistent with wages is typical of the reformist arguments which obscure the actual needs of those who simply continue to suffer. The reality was and still is that many workers cannot afford access to adequate housing.

The current Conservative hostility to council housing is a new perspective in the party. The Labour Party continues its commitment towards council housing although they have not rejected the apparent political popularity of private home ownership. What the Conservative Party has achieved is a reduction in council housing by limiting its commitment to construction and by selling existing stocks. Daunton argues that since 1980:
  reductions in the contribution of central government to local authority housing, and changes in accounting procedures have led to an increase in the basic rent. This provides an added incentive to better-off tenants to buy, the increase being offset for the poorer tenants by means-tested rent rebates.
Owner occupation seems to be considered morally superior and to engender the correct social attitudes. This is not seen as being granted a stake in the system but of engendering social acquiescence as a result of mortgage commitments. One myth that Daunton does destroy is the notion that owner occupation is a "natural right”. The study shows clearly that the desire for property "can only be understood in the context of a housing market which was biased in certain ways by government policy" and that this has been an ongoing debate. The reality of home ownership has not drastically altered. Wealth and security of income represent the only guarantees of safeguards in this society. The promise of home ownership is only another burden to bear. As said above it may even be a guarantee of continued disadvantage in reducing mobility or by over-extending limited income in offsetting repairs, deterioration and debt repayments. We might even question the whole notion of owner occupation and its function within society. In 1980 Switzerland had 30 per cent owner occupation whereas the Philippines had achieved 89 per cent by 1970. West Germany had 37 per cent owner occupation in 1978 whereas Bangladesh had 90 per cent in 1981 Daunton argues that there is little similarity between owner occupation of a terraced house in Liverpool and a detached property in Surrey:
  the experience of the tenure does not emerge from the tenure itself so much as from the tenants’ income level and social status which define the way in which the tenure is experienced.
Yet even this is only partially correct. Those who are marginalised by the system may suffer disproportionately yet the relationship between individuals and access to property is the same regardless of the level of provision. A consequence is to create another divisive way in which competition is enforced between sections of workers. The struggle for access to property and participation in the process of maintaining property values diverts attention from the profit system. Any notion of an allegiance arising out of methods of housing provision or levels of that provision are as arbitrary and as contrary to working-class interests as allegiances based on race or sex. Houses are a commodity. As a commodity housing has been manipulated by the demands of different political persuasions. One irony of the present administration is that although advocating a free-market economy it has engendered "a financial system which distorts in favour of one type of asset". The reality of housing as a commodity for the present administration in its notion of "popular capitalism" has been a reduction of commitment of central government to provide housing for those unable to buy. "Between 1979/80 and 1983/4 expenditure on housing was cut by 39 per cent in money or 89 per cent in real terms." There has been a price to pay for the dream of owner occupation — a partial abandonment of those least able to survive in the housing market. For those participating in the struggle for owner occupation there is the increased burden of financing the venture and the likelihood of suffering the consequences of social acquiescence to a system whose existence is contrary to their real interests.
Philip Bentley

Letters: Were we censored? (1988)

Letters to the Editors from the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Were we censored?

Dear Editors.

Following the article "Hate and its Causes" (Socialist Standard, March 1988) I noted the comment: "The views in this article are not necessarily those held by Calvert s Press".

My first reaction was "So what!! They're printing the paper, not editing it!" Quite often a printer disagrees with what a paper says. Then, I asked myself: "Why the comment anyway? Are your printers trying to censor the Socialist Standard?"

My second reaction was: "It is very sad, after all this time printing the paper, that they do not agree, particularly as the article is such a clear condemnation of capitalism in Ulster, the "men of violence" and the local politicians who, if anything, tend to make a bad situation worse".

It is also a pity that the printers do not agree with a socialist analysis, since for much of its existence, the Socialist Standard was set up and printed by people sympathetic to socialism — Jacomb, Taylor and even, to some extent. Brocks.
     
     Yours,
Peter E. Newell 
Colchester, Essex


Sexual harassment

Dear Comrades

In the February Standard Janet Carter asks why we attack insecure, immature males for sexual harassment at work, instead of "passive, compliant females who are far greater in number". By the same token, perhaps we should attack defenceless pensioners for getting themselves beaten up by active, young muggers. Sexual harassment is a problem facing many women workers as a direct result of their economic position; if it's the boss touching them up they can't afford to say no. The trade union movement has shown signs of taking this issue much more seriously, and it is entirely appropriate that the Socialist Party should.

To say that the destructive behaviour of individuals should be left to Ben Elton is to miss the point that it is in such behaviour that they reveal their acceptance of existing social relations. If we ignore all the different problems of different working groups, they will continue to ignore us.
     
     Yours for socialism.
Keith Graham 
Bristol

Hate and its Causes (1988)

From the March 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the difficulties facing terrorist organisations is the fact that they leave their dead and their maimed on the spot to repel their supporters and anger and increase the resolve of those who oppose them.

That is one essential difference between the act of dropping bombs from aeroplanes onto "enemy" cities and planting duffle bags stuffed with lethal manure. When aircraft crews dropped their bombs over Germany or Britain, during the last war, despite the fact that they were doing exactly the same thing — in a much bigger way, of course — as the IRA are currently doing, and for the same imagined reason, it was easy for the people at home to laud them as heroes. Not only had the population at home been hyped up with hate propaganda based frequently on lies that government would not have to admit to until thirty or fifty years had passed, but the corpses, the maimed bodies and the wrecked homes that the local population witnessed were the work of "the enemy" and, as such, reason enough for "our boys" to retaliate.

Neither we, nor the Germans, were exposed to the handiwork of our respective "heroes". The sight of innocent people slaughtered needlessly, the vision of dead children and maimed people condemned to live would not have been in keeping with the view that the war was between good and evil.

IRA bombers have no such protection from the consequences of their bloody deeds. Incidents like Enniskillen leave them openly exposed as brutal killers. The barbaric incident at Enniskillen not only brought horror and sadness to the Unionist community in Northern Ireland, it brought remorse and genuine grief to the great majority of the nationalists and it had an undoubted effect on the level of support amongst the latter for the IRA. But it brought more — the most cynical exploitation of the dead and the injured who became a mere propaganda ploy in the hands of the government and the leadership of the Ulster Unionists.

With the active assistance of the media, the idea was promoted that Enniskillen was the definitive horror, a new dimension in the magnitude of terror. As a matter of bloody record, of course, there was less than half the number of casualties at Enniskillen than there was on the occasion when the UDA bombed Dublin and Monaghan and less than on the occasion, in Derry, when an obviously calculated political decision was taken by the British government to stop embarrassing protests once and for all by allowing paratroopers to open fire on innocent protest marchers.

The utter hypocrisy of politicians, like Paisley and Molyneaux, was revealed a few weeks after Enniskillen when they publicly mourned the death of an assassinated leader of the UDA — the IRA's opposite number in terror and the perpetrators of murder by both the bullet and the bomb.

Every week, since Enniskillen, brings its quota of victims of murder or maiming from one "side" or the other. But without exception, all the victims are from the ranks of the working class. The politicians may breathe fire from their protected homes and their armoured cars but all the active participants in this remorseless war of attrition are people whose life is governed by the need for a job or by the meagre limits of state hand-outs. All are members of the working class.

Shorn of the callous hypocrisy, the tribal slogans and the insidious righteousness of the politicians, this surely is the central point. If the conflict, that draws on the loyalty and sacrifice of its working class participants and is fuelled by the murder and maiming of people who share a common class identity, serves any purpose, that purpose must be the belief that victory will bring some benefits, at least to those in whose name the victors claim to act.

Members of our class are dying; members of our class are being maimed; members of our class are being sentenced to long periods of imprisonment; members of our class are becoming increasingly imbued with bitterness and hatred of other members of our class.

Like the people who cheered on "our boys" during the war. without being exposed to their handiwork, so there are those in Britain and elsewhere, who have never heard a bomb go off, never seen a bullet-riddled corpse and never seen the smashed knees or the hooded body of a kid sentenced by a terrorist court for "anti-social" behaviour. It is easy for such people to have notions about a revolution in Ireland and to fit such notions into their crazed jig-saw of revolutionary romantics. Such nonsense might prove ego fodder for the left-wing heroes of the public bar. But, surely, it behoves workers here, in Northern Ireland, and especially those workers who give active or passive support to the political violence of any "side", to examine the options and. especially, to look at how victory for one side or the other will affect their way of life.

The nationalists have their dreams. The Provisional IRA leadership may try to translate those dreams into the politics and economics of a modern welfare-capitalist republic but their followers, and most of their active cadres, know even less about the economics of capitalism than their leaders. To the followers, the Republic is a Brit-free fairyland where the unionists, if they stay, are for evermore silent.

Poverty, jobs, economic crisis, homes, crime, all the social problems that are present in every state of capitalism, including so-called "socialist" republics, are not on the agenda. In the cultural euphoria of a victorious tomorrow, there will be solutions; Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison will come up with answers that no politician, alive or dead, has so far come up with to solve these problems.

The hated RUC will be gone. If the new police are modelled on the current IRA custodians of law and order, hooded corpses and youthful cripples will be commonplace. But that won't happen. The new force that would succeed the RUC would have different uniforms and different personnel, but their work and their methods would be exactly the same: ensuring that the laws on which capitalism's property rights are founded were rigidly enforced on the working class.

Sinn Fein's social and economic policy consists of a number of statements airing Sinn Fein aspirations for the future. Fortunately for Sinn Fein and the IRA. their supporters and most of their activists accept the bait of sectarian and racist propaganda and are not too concerned about the social realities of life in a future Sinn Fein Ireland. According to Sinn Fein, those social realities would be based on "a social and economic system which would strike a balance between Western individualistic capitalism with its poor and hungry amidst plenty on the right, and Eastern Soviet state capitalism (or any of its variations) with its denial of freedom and human rights on the left"! (Eire Nua p4)

So Sinn Fein policy for the future of its supporters and the people of Ireland is a synthesis of “free" capitalism (which Sinn Fein, rightly, claim allows poverty amidst plenty) and Russian-style, state-capitalist tyranny. It is for this, an even more brutal and even less democratic form of capitalism than we endure now. that men, women and children have had to die; for this that men and women are imprisoned; for this that Enniskillen happened!

If the loyalists, like the republicans, have their dreams then either their hopes for tomorrow are dismally limited or their memory of yesterday seriously flawed! Unlike the republicans, who think they can go forward to an Alice-in-Wonderland future where economic realities will be blotted out by ubiquitous tricolours and street names in Irish, the dream of those who lead the loyalists is to go back!

The ambition of both the Unionist Party and the megalomaniacal Paisley is to see Northern Ireland return to the method of government that existed before the troubles. Doubtless Molyneaux and Paisley each see themselves as Prime Minister and each is prepared to make certain concessions to the nationalists in order to achieve their political ambitions.

Amazingly, despite the fact that it is less than twenty years ago since the Unionists did rule at Stormont, they have managed to create the myth among many working-class Protestants that those were the good old days. Were they? What exactly was Northern Ireland like during the period when it was ruled by the Unionist Party?

Perhaps the most attractive memory for those hardened into sectarian prejudice by the troubles is the naked bigotry of successive Unionist governments. The brutal, repressive laws may not have affected those who supported the Orange state; they may have been as oblivious of the evils of sectarianism and repression as the law-abiding South African white is of the evils of apartheid. But, even the most case-hardened bigot must now realise that it was fifty years of sectarian posturing, of discrimination and vote rigging, that prepared the ground for the savagery of the Provisional IRA.

Nor were the working-class Protestants of Northern Ireland the beneficiaries of the vicious sectarianism promoted by Unionist politicians. Certainly, some puny peripheral rewards were handed out to working-class supporters of the government in order to feed the illusion that they were looking after those workers who were Protestants.

The facts were different. Unionist Ulster had a poorer standard of living than that endured by workers in the rest of the UK Unemployment was higher, the anti-trade union Trades Disputes Act was retained long after it was scrapped in Britain, slums were the worst in western Europe and the Unionist Party showed its distaste for social welfare legislation when its Westminster representatives opposed the extension of British welfare schemes to Northern Ireland.

The staunchest Unionist working-class supporters have only to look at the wee streets of the Shankill and Newtownards Road, at the rural slums of south Antrim and north Armagh to realise the contempt and neglect that they received from the successive Unionist governments for their loyalty and support. Slums, unemployment, and general poverty may have been marginally worse in Catholic working-class areas but these miseries were general and any working-class Protestant who thinks the Unionist state conferred any real benefits on him or her must surely suffer from an acutely impoverished imagination.

The Unionist Party was guilty of promoting bigotry and distrust among the working class but. contrary to the fictions generated by nationalists and republicans, the general poverty of working-class life in Northern Ireland was not caused by the Unionist Party. It had the same cause as poverty in the rest of Ireland and elsewhere; capitalism. The bigotry and the fictions surrounding it were simply part of the varying strategies that governments employ to conceal that cause.

Northern Ireland is just one of the many trouble spots of capitalism. The Lebanon, Israel, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Korea, Nicaragua, to mention but a few, are others. The slogans and "cultural" battle-cries may be different but behind these is the poverty that gives validity to the aspirations of the contending forces.

Irish and British politicians and their obedient servants in the media refer to the "two traditions" in Northern Ireland and that idea has been promoted into general acceptance by the public at large. Certainly, the political and, more particularly, the economic history of Ireland has created illusions of traditional differences that have a grim reality in the events of the present. That those “two traditions" did arise largely from economic causes is borne out by the present phase of political strife.

The Provisional IRA was not born out of popular consensus among northern Catholics for an all-Ireland gaelic state. On the contrary, it was the rejection of the demand for jobs and homes and a widening of the franchise, to put them on a basis of perceived equality with Protestants within the northern state, that created the conditions out of which the Provos emerged.

The government did abolish the property qualification that limited local government franchise — a qualification that discriminated against working-class Protestants as well as Catholics. Even if the government had had the will, there was no way in which, within capitalism, it could have provided jobs and homes for everybody.

In other words, had the Unionist government been able to abolish unemployment and solve the disastrous housing problem in 1969. the Provisional IRA would never have emerged and incidents like Enniskillen would never have happened.

The various Unionist governments that ruled Northern Ireland repeatedly showed their contempt for the working class as a whole. They can hardly be blamed, however, for failing to solve the poverty problems which underpinned the present troubles. These are the normal, insoluble problems of capitalism; the problems that governments of all political complexions throughout the world have repeatedly failed to solve.

That is something that workers in Northern Ireland should bear in mind when the politicians, green or orange, or the hard men of the paramilitary organisations, canvass their support or assistance.
Richard Montague

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Calvert's Press

Blogger's Note:
The Calvert Press Workers' Co-operative were the typesetters and printers for the Socialist Standard at this time.

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Le Chienlit de France (1968)

From the July 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Barricades in Paris! Paris, the storm-centre of every 19th century European insurrectionary wave—1830, 1848, 1871—once again the scene of street battles. Is this the beginning of a new revolutionary era? Many would like to think so but let us look at the facts.

De Gaulle retired from active politics in 1953 and retreated to his country house at Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises awaiting the call to come back. For the previous six years he had been the leader of a movement demanding strong government. He had long realised what, from the French capitalists’ point of view, was wrong with the parliamentary regime of the Fourth Republic. After an enthusiastic new start in 1945, within a few years politics was back to what it had been in the Third Republic (which began with the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune and ended when Petain took over). Prime Ministers came and went at frequent intervals; parliament overthrew governments rather than accept tough economic measures. The parliamentary regime, with the Communist Party (PCF) in permanent isolation and opposition, gave power to the most backward elements of the French capitalist class, the small provincial bourgeoisie drawing their profits from out dated productive methods. The tax system also favoured them at the expense of modern industry, including the large nationalised sector. Any deputy had the right to propose financial legislation. Thus, just before an election, there was a spate of measures to cut taxes. The French state could never be sure what funds it would get, and inflated the currency. In all the state was weak and unable to take decisive action.

But serious problems there were requiring such action, notably the wind-up of the French Empire in Indo-China and Algeria. The parliamentary regime was unable to solve either; a strong man was called in both times. The first was Pierre Mendès-France, prime minister from 1954 to 1955, whose tough measures with regard to the withdrawal from Indo-China earned him some respect, but also the hatred of the other politicians who saw his power as a threat to theirs. They threw him out. The second was Charles de Gaulle. Almost exactly ten years before the recent crisis, on 13 May 1958, the army and settlers in Algeria rose up against the parliamentary regime. The revolt spread to Corsica, and the government was panic-stricken. Reluctantly President Coty appealed to de Gaulle. De Gaulle dictated his terms to the frightened politicians and took over. At the time many saw de Gaulle as the figurehead for a military-fascist dictatorship. This was a mistake. It is certainly true that de Gaulle came to power on the backs of reactionary elements, but they soon turned against him. Witness the many OAS attempts on his life.

De Gaulle was a strong man, not over French capitalism, but for it. The constitution for the new Fifth Republic, drafted by Debré (then prime minister), provided for a great strengthening of the executive at the expense of parliament. The traditional parties, too, were got at. The complicated system of proportional representation was replaced by the second ballot in single-member constituencies to encourage the emergence of a two-party system. Thus the power of parliament, where the backward elements of the French bourgeoisie were entrenched, was weakened.

The first act of the Gaullist regime, then, was to reshape the state in the interests of big business. This done, they set about solving the many problems of French capitalism that had accumulated over the years of weak government: peace in Algeria, tax reform, currency reform, modernisation and centralisation of industry. These were all carried through. The Gaullist regime seemed to have succeeded, so why the insurrection?

De Gaulle against the politicians of the Fourth Republic was not an issue that interested (or concerned) the French working class. They scarcely lifted a finger to defend the parliamentary regime in 1958. The French workers, weak organisationally, have always made up for this with bouts of enthusiasm. The Gaullist regime, of course, governed in the interests of French capitalism, and any capitalist government is inevitably brought into conflict with the workers. De Gaulle and his Ministers adopted the same arrogant attitude toward the working class as to the old parties and politicians. Last year, for instance, after scraping home in the elections to the National Assembly, the government took powers to rule by decree to deal with the economic situation. It is interesting to note that a token general strike called by the unions at that time was only moderately successful. One of the first economic decrees was aimed at reforming the social security system. The unions were removed from its national management and benefits cut. Coupled with mounting unemployment and wages lagging behind prices, these were the ground for discontent.

As the working class in Britain has shown, although workers now see no alternative to capitalism there are limits to how far they are prepared to be pushed around by a capitalist government. In Britain they refuse to vote Labour. In France, with its tradition of “direct action” and weak organisation (the two go together), the reaction has been more dramatic: sit-in strikes, monster demonstrations, far- reaching wage demands.

The whole thing was sparked off by student unrest and violent student-police clashes. The students in France, overcrowded, subject to petty rules of discipline and central control, certainly had grounds to complain. But their leaders —the Cohn-Bendits and others—have wider aims than mere university reform. They are out no less than to topple the government or, as they would put it, “to smash the bourgeois state” and open the way for “the workers to take power". These demagogues call themselves “revolutionary socialists” and “anarchists”, and are greatly influenced by the mistaken and dangerous views of Debray and Che Guevara: that it is a vanguard that makes history. The reaction of the workers, with the younger ones pushing the more conservative union officials, seemed to confirm their theories. They had created “a revolutionary situation”. Now, to exploit it. In Trotskyist theory—and if reports were correct leaders of trotskyist groupuscles found themselves addressing thousands rather than hundreds; they were heard with respect by students while the PCF speakers were jeered — what is needed to do this is a Bolshevik-type party, centralised, highly-disciplined and ruthless in pursuit of its aims. No such party — thank goodness! — exists in France. That is why the student demagogues and their trotskyist friends are so annoyed at the attitude of the PCF. Cohn-Bendit has called them “stalinist scum". They should not really have been surprised. The PCF has long been a patriotic, reformist party. Yet they are still expected to act as if they were an organisation of professional revolutionaries! But the PCF, and its trade union wing the CGT, have also been timid over wages and working condition! One thing is clear. Out of this, the PCF will emerge as discredited as the Gaullists.

A crisis may have existed in the sense that for a time the Gaullist regime seemed to be breaking up (but it still controlled the army), offering an opportunity for a determined vanguard to seize power — and if that happens, heaven help the French workers. But as the French workers are not socialist-minded the outcome will not be the start of a world-wide socialist revolution. The key opposition figures are leaders of the other two so-called socialist parties in France. Mitterrand, of the Left Federation of Democratic Socialist (FGDS), an alliance of the Social Democrats and some radicals, and Mendès-France of United Socialist Party, (PSU), a small leftwing breakaway from the old Social Democrats. Ironically, both have only recently embraced “Socialism”. Before that they were Radicals (very roughly the equivalent of the Liberals in Britain).

What Mendès-France is doing in a party that is to the left of the PCF (Barjonet, economic adviser to the CGT, who resigned because of its timid attitude, joined the PSU) is a mystery. He, like de Gaulle, believes in strong government. He, too, saw what was wrong with the Fourth Republic. He, too, is not linked with the discredited pre-1958 politicians. Mendès-France talks of the “new Socialism” which is recognised even by some of his fellow party members to be merely state capitalism.

If a new government emerges under Mitterrand or Mendès-France, perhaps with PCF participation, what then? In the initial stages it will be friendly to the workers and their organisations. Social reforms will be made. But capitalism is capitalism and sooner or later that government must itself come into conflict with the working class, especially when it faces the problem of the competitiveness of French goods in the world market. Then will begin the failure of yet another Left-wing government to make capitalism work in the interests of the workers.

The shaking of the Gaullist regime should be a standing warning to governments everywhere not to push the working class too far, and certainly not to push the students at the same time. It shows too how, in the end, every government depends on a certain amount of popular assent.
Adam Buick

Letter: Wildcat debate (1988)

Wildcat magazine.
Letter to the Editors from the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors.

I am writing to add a few points to the letter my comrade, MB, has already sent you in response to the article in the December Socialist Standard criticising the Wildcat pamphlet Capitalism and its Revolutionary Destruction.

Steve Coleman alleges that Wildcat "seems to think" that "revolutionaries will be in a minority at the time of the revolution". Had he read our pamphlet a little more carefully, however, he would have noticed that the sentences he quotes to supposedly support this allegation refer, not to the situation at the time of the revolution, but to the class struggle at its present-day stage. Later on we state quite clearly that the "primary aim" of revolutionaries "must be to get more and more people actively involved in the struggle", and also that "if revolution is to succeed, the great mass of the working class must become conscious communists".

To say that "No Leninist would disagree" with Wildcat's views on this issue is as foolish as stating that no Christian would disagree with the SPGB's attitude towards religion.

The question remains, however, how are the mass of the working class to become conscious communists?

One of the basic arguments of our pamphlet is that the seeds of the future struggle for communism are contained within the working class's struggle of today. Riots and strikes are part of this struggle. Steve Coleman scorns these as mere street fights and reformist sectional disputes. This dismissive concentration solely on the negative aspects of the class struggle throws the baby out with the bathwater.

Strikes, riots and other aspects of the class struggle are also an interruption in the everyday routine of capitalist "normality". In the course of these actions numerous practical problems crop up. In overcoming them, those working class people actively involved find themselves having to develop their own collective solidarity, imagination. initiative and organisation. The development of these powers — all stifled by capitalism — is essential for the working class if it is to have any hope of transforming society.

Furthermore, by changing people's immediate material conditions, collective struggle also contains the potential to alter people's perceptions of the society around them, and place in a new perspective the limited goals they originally set themselves. All of these things can be observed, to varying degrees, whenever working class people take action together to fight back against the miseries heaped on them by capitalism. The wider the struggle, the greater the potential for the development of new forms of organisation directly controlled by those involved in the struggle, and the greater the potential for the development of radical ideas not confined merely to tinkering with society as it is but with the ambition of completely transforming it.

This, then, is the revolutionary strategy proposed by Wildcat: a materialist strategy, based on the working class's pursuit of its material interests, and recognising that the source of ideas — in this case, revolutionary ideas — is material conditions — the working class's active engagement in the class struggle. By contrast, the SPGB's strategy is materialist only in the most abstract, general sense, and tends more towards idealist philosophy, seeing no connection whatsoever between the class struggle of today and the future struggle for communism, and thus abandoning the Marxist view of the class struggle as the historical motive force behind social change.

As a final point, I would like to take issue with Steve Coleman's case in favour of participation in parliamentary elections, which is that the working class must gain control of the state so that the ruling class cannot use the armed power of the state to crush the revolutionary working class. If Steve Coleman really believes that control of the armed forces is automatically guaranteed by control of state power, how does he explain desertions, mutinies and military coups? What use was control of state power to the Kerensky regime in 1917 when its cavalry refused to cut down the insurrectionary workers of Moscow and Petrograd7 What use was control of state power to the "democratically elected" Popular Front government of Spain in July 1936 when half of its troops sided with Franco's attempted coup?

Examples abound throughout history to prove that, to use an appropriate metaphor, the armed forces are not like a gun controlled by whoever has their finger on the trigger of state power. The SPGB believes that socialist ideas will spread throughout the working class, disregarding all "barriers” of nation, race, sex, occupation etc. Why then should it expect these same ideas to halt at the barrack- room door? Which is the more realistic revolutionary strategy: to appeal, as Wildcat does, to our fellow workers in uniform to fraternise with the rest of our class and turn their guns against our common enemy? Or to expect, as the SPGB seems to do, that workers in uniform will forever blindly obey the orders of the ruling class and shoot down their class brothers and sisters who are holding out the prospect of a world free for ever from war and oppression?

The SPGB should apply Steve Coleman's litmus test of what constitutes a revolutionary organisation to itself, and ponder just how "serious" its strategy for the revolutionary transformation of society really is.
Yours for socialism.


Reply to Mark Shipway (of Wildcat)
We have received this and another letter from a member of Wildcat complaining about our criticism of their pamphlet. We are pleased to read that Wildcat accepts that there can be no revolution without a majority of workers becoming conscious; why then are they so frightened of workers' support for socialism being tested electorally? Wildcat insists that "revolutionaries do not. under any circumstances, participate in . . . elections". If they accept that there can be no socialism without a socialist majority why do they state that "the revolution itself will inevitably be a bloody affair'. It is not "inevitable" that a conscious, overwhelming majority of socialists will be resisted by force. And if such a majority is so threatened, the force required to deal with a recalcitrant minority would hardly constitute "a bloody affair". Opposition to all elections and the assumption that revolutionary violence is inevitable are both classical Leninist positions.

Wildcat's support for riots and other futile struggles can be criticised on two levels. Firstly, it is improper for people calling themselves revolutionaries to urge workers to offer themselves as sacrifices to the truncheons of the police — especially as we strongly suspect that Wildcat members, on a day-to-day level, are not so foolish as to engage in riots. How has rioting ever helped workers to "develop their own collective solidarity, imagination, initiative and organisation"? How have they improved "people's immediate material conditions"? Secondly, by associating the struggle for socialism with acts of frustrated violence, Wildcat adds to the general confusion about the meaning of socialist revolution. It is wrong to suggest that our review opposed workers taking strike action. The Socialist Party supports strikes in working class interests which are conducted on sound lines but, unlike Wildcat, denies that strikes are a means to revolution.

The Socialist Party cannot be accused of ignoring the class struggle as the motive force in history. Our attitude is stated in our Declaration of Principles, written in 1904 and still valid today. Of course we are aware that some workers may learn to change history by materially engaging in class struggle. That is a different matter from riots, which are perversions of the class struggle: frequently they involve no more than one section of the working class attacking another.

We agree that workers in the armed forces will not be impervious to socialist ideas at the time of the revolution. That is all the more reason why the revolution will not "inevitably be a bloody affair". We notice that in Issue 10 of Wildcat, under a report about 16.000 attacks on policemen in the last year, there is a caption saying "KILL THE BILL". Does Wildcat regard this also as a useful means of struggle in preparation for the socialist transformation of society? Is killing cops — or just injuring them — a way of showing them that they are fellow workers in uniform? Or is this not sloganising, dangerous if taken seriously?
Steve Coleman

Carry on camping . . . (1988)

From the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

A firm in Stroud has designed and marketed what they refer to as "high-tech tents" of aluminium frames with heat-reflecting panels. According to a Times (15 February 1988) report, the firm last year had sales worth £2.7 million — to Arab states. The firm's managing director has said that the tent is particularly useful in the desert because it is light and easy to erect. The firm has in fact adopted the title "Nomad International Structures". We were at first gratified that, at last, advanced technology had come to the aid of the poverty-stricken nomads of the Arabian deserts — until we read that the tents were being purchased by Arabian governments for sheltering tanks:
  Without the benefit of the tents, which can have camouflage and infra-red reflective coatings, the tanks would become too hot to be serviced comfortably during the fierce heat of the day.

50 Years Ago: The Russian show trials (1988)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

It had been assumed by many newspaper correspondents in Russia that the series of trials of Stalins opponents and potential rivals had ended, and Stalin himself had talked of stopping the judicial persecution at least of the more obscure victims. But the trial of the twenty-one Old Bolshevists is barely ended before there are reports of further public trials involving highly placed generals and others.

The usual confessions were made by these Old Bolshevists that they had been the agents of Japan, Germany, Great Britain, and so on, but with the difference that the dates of the treachery were placed much farther back. Rakovsky "confesses" that he was in the pay of the British Secret Service in 1924. Sharangovitch was spying for the Poles in 1921. Rosenholtz began his espionage for Germany in 1923. Trotsky (but he isn't in Moscow, so someone else had to confess for him) worked for Britain from 1926 and for Germany from 1921. Bukharin confessed that he was plotting against Lenin in 1918.

All of this leads to an interesting speculation. Either the confessions are false or they are genuine. If the latter, then we have to believe that right back in the early days, during and after the Bolshevist seizure of power, the leaders were secretly conspiring against each other. It will be recalled that Lenin and other exiled leaders reached Russia in 1917 in a train which crossed Germany and was placed at their disposal by the German military authorities. The charge was made that Lenin and his friends were nothing but German agents paid by Germany to disorganise the Russian army. The charge was denied by Lenin and the denial was accepted by the working-class organisations generally. But if, as the Communists say, these Moscow confessions are genuine, then many of the men concerned were at the very beginning hopelessly corrupt. If the rest of them, why not Lenin?

[From an article "Another Russian Sacrificial Feast", Socialist Standard April 1938.]