Saturday, December 14, 2019

Wages in War-Time (1939)

Editorial from the December 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

Not only in a military sense has this been a "strange war." It has been strangely disarming on the home front also. The politicians and employers and the trade union officials have all remarked on the “good relationship" existing between masters and men.

The Government gave orders that the Departments of State were to seek co-operation with the unions. No big strikes are threatened, and conciliation and arbitration appear to be the order of the day. Primed with the experience gained in the last war, it must seem to those in authority that no cloud can arise to darken this fair scene. Have not the Government declared against profiteering and against a serious rise of prices? And has not Mr. Arthur Greenwood answered that the “trade union leaders have made no attempt to make class capital out of this war"? (Daily Express, November 17th, 1939).

Can anything go amiss with so happy a union? The answer is that it can and certainly will. Rising prices will break down the seeming harmony. Up to November 1st the cost-of-living, as measured by the Ministry of Labour Index, had risen by 14 points, equivalent to nine per cent., or a loss of purchasing power of 1s. 9½d. in the £. To meet this rise some four million out of 18 million workers have obtained war-time increases of wages; and instantly the Press, the City editors, and the economists—with the politicians waiting discreetly in the background—have struck a stout blow against higher wages and in defence of a lowered standard of living. Mr. Keynes, in his scheme for compulsory saving (i.e., the stoppage of part of wages for payment after the war), stated the case in full detail (The Times, November 14th and 15th), and although his plan has not been accepted, the problem as he stated it remains. With more workers at work there will be “a demand for labour in excess of the supply,” wages will rise, and overtime will be worked—in short, the normal peace-time capitalist check on wage increases will not operate.

The working class, as a whole, will have more money to spend just at a time when it is considered essential that productive capacity should be concentrated on war purposes. If workers have this additional money, and spend it, the result will either be a shortage of the goods workers buy or a big rise of prices—a shortage if the prices are kept down by Government action; a rise of prices if they are not kept down by such action.

Mr. Keynes' remedy is to defer payment of part wages until after the war and thus lower the worker’s standard of living while the war is on; in his own words: “It is a proposal . . . nearly as good as a 10 per cent. fall in real wages, while doing no lasting injury to working-class consumption.”

To minimise the effect of the rise of prices the Ministry of Food (Manchester Guardian, November 17th) has already set about showing how a rise in prices can be almost an advantage to the workers. If, says the Ministry, a worker buys margarine because of the increased price of butter he gets “a much, cheaper article, say one-third of the price of butter. The change-over may mean some sacrifice of personal taste, but it is the result of war conditions, and the consumer gets from his lower expenditure on margarine the same vitamin qualities as from his previous expenditure on butter."

Applied all round, this kind of adaptation will, of course, enable the workers to live more cheaply— on a lower standard of living.

Precisely the same argument was used in the last war against workers who complained that wage increases always lagged far behind the rise of the cost-of-living index figures.

But will workers be satisfied to accept quietly a lowered standard of living, either through higher prices or compulsory saving? Or will they be content to make up their wages by working overtime or working more intensely on piece-rate systems and thus suffering in health and vitality? It can be said with certainty that workers will not. The numerous applications for war-time increases of pay indicate already what will happen—an increasingly tense struggle between workers demanding cost-of-living increases because a still lower standard of living is intolerable, and employers resisting the demands.

As the Economist sadly reflects: —
  So far there is no sign that they [the trade unions] have departed from the attitude that, whatever happens to anybody else, the standard of living of their members must not be touched.—Economist, November 18th.
With the aloofness of the economic expert, to whom workers are just “the labour problem,” this writer cannot see the difference between the rich losing part of their superfluous wealth and the poor losing part of their necessaries of life.

Similarly, The Times' City Editor (November 20th) shows a characteristic propertied-class attitude in the matter. His criticism of Mr. Keynes is not on the ground that the Keynes’ plan means a lowered standard of living for the workers but that it would not go far enough.
  Nor does he demonstrate how the maintenance of something not much worse than the pre-war standard of working-class consumption is compatible with the present rate of Government expenditure—except by a correspondingly greater reduction in that of other classes of the population. Most of these people readiest to approve such a plan as this have hitherto assumed that the standards of living of no class could be generally maintained in war-time.
Of course the stock argument of such people is that the war is for national aims and all should be prepared to make sacrifice. To which Mr. Greenwood, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, though he supports the war, is constrained to reply that: ‘‘There is too ready an assumption on his (Mr. Keynes’) part that the workers of this country were having a fair share of its wealth, anyway, before the war started.” And the Manchester Guardian pertinently reminds its readers that: "Before the war, Sir William Crawford estimated, eight million people lacked wages sufficient for the bare minimum of food regarded as essential to health by the British Medical Association ” (Manchester Guardian, November 3rd).

So, war or no war, we are back again at the basis of capitalism, the ceaseless struggle between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Not all the academic theorisings of Mr. Keynes and all the honeyed words of the politicians will prevent the struggle from proceeding, with its customary periodic outbursts of industrial strife.

Mr. Churchill may persuade himself that ours is one of the peaceful parliamentary countries “which aim at freedom for the individual and abundance for the mass” (broadcast reproduced in News Chronicle, November 13th), but he cannot dispute the unchallengeable facts of working-class poverty. Nor can Lord Halifax’s assertion that the Allies aim at a new world which "will enlist the co-operation of all peoples on a basis of human equality . . ." hide the fact that within this democracy, or elsewhere under capitalism, vast inequality is the permanent rule.

All of these people may think they are filled with goodwill towards the workers at the moment, but those who are determined to retain capitalism are maintaining a social system which breeds poverty, strife and class hatred, as surely as it breeds war.

Capitalism for the workers will be no different after the war. Mr. Keynes may promise that the deferred wages (if his plan is eventually adopted) will be paid after the war, but vast numbers of workers will then be suffering from the closing down of war production. Already the City Editor of The Times is considering what will happen “if the usual slump supervenes upon this war as it did upon the last . . .” (The Times, November 16th, 1939).

So this is the prospect for the workers. A struggle to resist a lowered standard of living during the war, and after it a post-war slump in which to celebrate victory.

Here and There: New Words for the Old (1939)

The Here and There column from the December 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

New Words for the Old
It is a cynical world, a brutal world, particularly for idealists. A few years ago millions placed their hopes for peace in the League of Nations and all that it was supposed to stand for: the “rule of law” in disputes between the national capitalist groups and the "independence” of small nations. The great hopes which were centred in the League have foundered on the rocks of reality. The test of experience showed that the "rule of law” was applied in a quite arbitrary fashion; that it was interpreted quite differently in different cases. Abyssinian "independence” was apparently a small matter compared to the ‘‘independence” of Poland. The latter, to the British capitalists, is worth incalculable risks in money and working-class lives. The truth is, of course, that the suppression of Polish “independence” expressed a growing dominance of German capitalism and a threat to the dominance of France and Great Britain. Hence the importance of Polish “independence” to the latter powers. Circumstances alter cases. And the circumstances which influence the greater powers of the world are those which affect their own interests. The fact that Germany swallowed certain small powers which were set up by her enemies under the Versailles Treaty is in itself evidence that the independence of those small powers was part of the defence policy of the powers who imposed the Versailles Treaty. It suited the interests of Franco-British capitalism to support "independence” for these small powers. The constitution of the League of Nations gave the appearance of support for the equality and independence of all nations as a general principle. The strain which the rivalries of the various capitalist groups imposed upon the League in recent years exposed that myth. Consequently, the “idealists” who pinned their faith in the League suffered bitter disillusionment.

Some show signs of having learned from the events of the past twenty years: others are chasing new panaceas. One such is the proposal for Federal Unionism. Several prominent people are toying with it. The basic proposals are world government on a federal basis. One writer (W. B. Curry) instances the Federal Government of the U.S.A. as an example of the form the proposal might take. If the governments of the world could enter a federal union and accept the authority of the Federal Government much in the same way as the states which comprise the U.S.A. accept the authority of their Federal Government, then world peace would be secured. The limitations to the application of the idea are enormous. And to do them justice many of the authors of it are not unaware of some of them. The baffling task, for example, of persuading nations with different traditions and in varying stages of development to be. bound by Federal decisions is met with the suggestion that the Federal Union should at first include Great Britain and its self-governing dominions, France, the U.S.A., and the smaller “democracies.”

What the supporters of Federal Unionism do not realise is that the proposals contain no principle which has not already broken down very pathetically in the League of Nations. It would not be difficult for all capitalist governments to accept “the rule of the law” as a form of words. It would be in the interpretation and application out of which the conflicts would arise. There could be no guarantee that those nations which refused to accept the “Federal Government’s” decisions would not break away and form alliances opposed to it, as happened in the League of Nations.

To expect the capitalists of the world to accept the judgments of a Federal Government regarding their rivalries is romanticism. What decisions would a Federal Government make different from those the League of Nations made on the Manchuko, Abyssinian and Spanish disputes? None whatever. What law would compel a nation in the Federal Union to go to the assistance of a “victim of aggression” when that nation sympathises with the aggressor and not the victim? Advocates of Federal Unionism would argue, of course, that these difficulties would not arise. That the markets of the world and raw materials would be open and available for all capitalists, that the resources of colonies would be pooled. In short, those capitalist powers who have the dominance and the power to use it would share their advantages with the weaker powers.

We can imagine the great capitalist powers accepting a form of words which gives the appearance of that rosy picture. But giving reality to the fiction is as conceivable as Unilever sharing its advantages with a village soap-boiler.

The authors of the Federal Union proposals suggest that Great Britain should take the initiative in starting the new Federal era. Unconscious humour? Perhaps. Anyhow, Mr. W. B. Curry, in particular, might try his arts of persuasion on the gentleman who recently broadcast for the British Government and boasted that Great Britain had been at peace for only a few weeks in the past three hundred years!

An easier task for him would be to get to grips with the implications of the Socialist case: that the rivalries and wars between the various groups of capitalists in the modern world are conflicts which arise out of the competitive private property basis of capitalist society and can only finally disappear with the abolition of capitalism and the introduction of common ownership in the means and instruments of production and distribution.

Mr. Brockway Learns
 “The Labour Party are defending capitalist interests in this war, not working-class rights. They are failing completely in their duty to the nation now and to the memory of the men who, in the past, fought, were imprisoned and banished, and who died to secure us the right of democratic representation.
 “This Bill (Government Bill, suspending local elections) is thoroughly reactionary. rockwTwenty years ago I would not have believed that I would live to see a Labour Party agreeing to a measure for the defence of the ruling class in war.
  “The right of the electors is a safeguard that ought to be retained, unless the Government wants to drive the people and their discontent into channels of insurrection.”
Life must be full of painful surprises for Mr. Brockway. We should hate to add to them deliberately. But we must remind him that the Labour Party did agree to measures for the defence of the ruling class little more than twenty years ago. And little less than twenty weeks ago the I.L.P. were negotiating with the Party that does not defend “working-class rights” the conditions for the re-affiliation of the I.L.P. and Labour Party.

Nasty? Well, Mr. Brockway, it somehow does not seem to square.

The “Real” War
Mr. Alexander, City Editor of the Evening Standard, has no illusions about the cause of war: —
   How goes the war behind the war? Most of us know that real wars, with their gunfire and bombs and bloodshed, are due largely to the breakdown in our commercial arrangements to secure a proper exchange of goods and services between nations. Normal trade itself is not war.
   It is only when the failure to exchange persists for a considerable time that trade takes on the nature of war. . . .
    More than that. We must carry the trade offensive into the enemy’s former territory . . .    Where shall we strike with this weapon, deadlier than any secret one that Hitler holds? Let us go through those German trade returns! Let us find out where they sent their chemicals and their machinery, their iron and steel goods, and then go into those markets in such a way that every ship that leaves these shores will be packed with British goods—and if needs be under a merchant captain who also knows how to sell. (Italics are Mr. Alexander’s.).—Evening Standard, November 2nd, 1939.
Enthusiasts in the fight for democracy and against aggression might do worse than letting the implications of the above really sink well in.

Squaring the Circle
The following, reproduced in the New Leader (October 27th), is a copy of a memo, issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party dealing with that Party’s recent support of the war policy of the Government: —
   Actual practice proved that the “struggle on two fronts” was a contradiction in terms. The only way of carrying on the struggle on the front against Hitler was by supporting the military measures of the Chamberlain-Churchill Government. How could we support those military measures and at the same time fight Chamberlain?
  Those contradictions quickly landed us in difficulties which resulted in the weakening of the fight against Chamberlain, shown markedly in the fact that (a) the Party lagged behind in the struggle of the workers against the capitalist offensive in Britain which quickly assumed enormous proportions; (b) no fight was waged against the Imperialist aims of the Chamberlain Government and the Party propaganda even tended to support the Churchill group, the exponents of the war to the knife policy.
We like that “ . . . even tended to support the Churchill group, the exponents of the war to the knife policy.”

Very delicately put. But it was the Communist Party which, only six months ago, wanted Churchill in the proposed Popular Front Government.

Anyway, most observers would say that it was the Communist Party who set the pace, not Churchill. In Communist Party propagandist jargon it is always they who formulate the correct line; others merely follow.

Mr. John S. Clarke on Revolution
Mr. Clarke, in Forward (October 14th), brings Marx into a controversy in support of the British capitalist class. The Labour Party, he says, "has followed the dictum of Karl Marx—to fight side by side with the bourgeoisie when it acts in a revolutionary way” (Mr. Clarke’s italics).

With Marxism and Christianity to inspire them, the British ruling class certainly appear to have a wide moral support.

However, Mr. Clarke amplifies his argument: —
   When the late Herbert Spencer wrote his memorable attack upon Socialism, "The Servile State,” even he did not foresee the full horror of a Nazi regime. He did not foretell the utter malignancy of the “Socialist” bureaucrats—the padlocked tongue, the family divided against itself, the imprisoned conscience, the tortured body, the concentration camps with their electrified barbed-wire entanglements, and the hangings, shootings and beheadings for political peccadilloes.
One can understand the point of view, though it is difficult to understand Mr. Clarke sharing it.

Mr. J. S. Clarke might ponder the question: Will the sacrifice he and others call upon millions of young workers to make achieve its purpose ?

At least he ought to be sure!
Harry Waite

Answers to Correspondents (1939)

Letters to the Editors from the December 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent (Miss H. S., Cheltenham) asks the following questions: —

(1) “It has been explained to me that it is theoretically impossible to institute Socialism until the country involved has passed through a period of capitalism. I realise the immense practical difficulties involved, but fail to see why this should not be theoretically possible on the basis of Marxism.

(2) "It has been said also, that, on the basis of Marxism, the Russian October Revolution could not have been a proletarian revolution, and was bound to degenerate into state capitalism, because of the comparatively small size of the Russian proletariat and the immense number of peasants.

“Would you kindly explain this, and say if you think it is wrong to consider that, with the innovation of collectivisation in agriculture, the peasant stands in the same relation to the proletarian state as the industrial or factory worker ?” 

Regarding Marx’s own view of this impossibility, see his preface to the First German Edition of ”Capital,” Vol. I. Towards the end of the preface he points out that a country cannot leap over the normal phases of development.

It is not theoretically (or practically) possible for Socialism to be instituted without Socialists, and the widespread acceptance of Socialism by the workers presupposes a highly industrialised society, which alone makes Socialism economically possible. In short, the idea of Socialism, to be widely accepted, must rest upon a solid foundation of industrial development. Some workers can, it is true, dream of equalitarianism, and so on, although they live in a society which is only at the beginning of capitalist development, but they have not the economic and human material with which to make Socialism a practical possibility.

In October, 1917, the overwhelming mass of the Russian population did not understand Socialism or want Socialism. A minority of town workers did so, but the great mass of peasants wanted their problems solved, e.g., reduction of taxation, dividing up the estates of the landowners among the poor peasants, etc. Therefore the Bolshevik Government had no Socialist mass behind them.

Subsequent events have proved this. If the Russian town workers and collectivised peasants understood and wanted Socialism, the various developments of Russia now noticeable would be impossible, e.g., the pact with Hitler, the big and growing inequality, and the creation of privileged sections of the population, the piece-work systems, etc., the alleged or real conspiracies and purges.

Of course, in time Russian town and rural workers will turn more and more to Socialism, but that development will be slow, as in other countries.
Editorial Committee

The Russian Invasion of Finland (1939)

From the December 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx Condemns Stalin's Policy of Conquest

The Russian excuse for invading Finland is that military considerations necessitate frontier revision. Marx, writing in 1870, had something to say about such claims when put forward by Germany towards France.

The passage below is quoted in “Karl Marx,” by I. Berlin (Home University Library, 1939. P.223).
  “If limits are to be fixed by military interests there will be no end of claims, because every military line is necessarily faulty and may be improved by annexing some more outlying territory: they can never be fixed fairly or finally because they always must be improved by the conqueror or the conquered, and consequently carry within them the seeds of fresh wars. History will measure its retribution, not by the extent of square miles conquered from France, but by the intensity of the crime of reviving, in the second half of the 19th century, the policy of conquest ” (italics Marx’s)

Friday, December 13, 2019

Sting in the Tail: Working Lunch (1996)

The Sting in the Tail column from the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Working Lunch (1)
Boots the Chemists recently commissioned research about office workers taking lunch and came up with some alarming figures:
  The survey found more than 25 percent of office-based workers take a break of 30 minutes or less and 20 percent regularly skip lunch altogether. Four out of five regularly eat lunch at their desk. Of these, more than 70 percent continue to work while they eat, and almost 90 percent still answer the phone (Independent, 7 August).
So much then, for those opponents of socialism who claim that socialism won't work because it is “human nature to be lazy”!

Plain Speaking
George Orwell in 1984 speculated about a language called “Newspeak” that would make clear thinking impossible. This allowed those in power to describe the Ministry of War as the Ministry of Peace.

In the Herald (1 November) we learn of a Mr Marcus Harrison sending out electronic mail messages supporting the Gun Lobby against the views of the Snowdrop group. It is a prime example of Ncwspeak in action:
  As a professional communicator. I know how to distort information and manipulate facts . . . Of his offer ‘to distort facts' he argued that was no different from what the media, political spin doctors, or PR people do. 
Mr Harrison describes himself as “a writer/director/producer with 20 years experience in marketing and PR”. He may describe himself as a "professional communicator” and liken himself to “spin doctors and PR people”. but, like the rest of that media circus, he is just a bloody liar.

Working Lunch (2)
A photograph on the front page of the Herald (25 October) depicted the Queen and a rather elegant lady in designer clothes. The caption explained all:
  The Queen and Mrs Jolanta Kwasniewski, wife of the President of Poland, prepare to go into a working lunch at Buckingham Palace, Prince Edward was also present. The Queen later made President Aleksander Kwasniewski a Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George. 
The last working lunch Scorpion attended the gaffer threatened us all with the Order of the Boot and the P45.

It is about time the Queen, Prince Edward, the Polish President and his elegant wife were given the same Order by the working class.

Papal Progress
The Roman Catholic Church has a dreadful record of scientific suppression. Nicholas Copernicus, the 16th century Polish astronomer, was threatened by the Inquisition because of his heresy of proclaiming that the earth orbited the Sun. instead of the other way about. Indeed less than sixty years after Copernicus' death, the Italian scholar Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for similar ideas.

The modern RC church is very adaptable. It now embraces the Copernican view, and a hundred years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species it even accepts evolution!
  The Pope has lent his support to the theory of evolution, proclaiming it compatible with Christian faith. It is likely to cause controversy among the religious right.
  His recognition that evolution is 'more than just a theory' came in a written message he sent to a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a body of experts that advises the Roman Catholic Church on scientific issues ”
(Herald, 25 October).
Wow. what next! A papal endorsement of Marx’s Labour Theory of Value or The Materialist Conception of History? We think not!

Let’s face it, critics are an unloved bunch. With hindsight, everyone can look back at those critics who sneered at Van Gogh. Stravinsky and Darwin. They got it all wrong.

But criticism is a very important social function. Everyone should criticise everything. The basis of all progress is criticism. All of those critics who got it wrong were frightened of change. The socialist critic embraces change and says that we live in a society that must be changed.

Well researched, knowledgeable and practical criticism is a pre-requisite for a better society. But even an artist such as Van Gogh can rage against the inequalities of property society. Read his letters to his brother; you may then appreciate just how valid some of his criticisms were whatever your view of his paintings.

A Modern Tragedy
We understand, from those who know such things, that politicians seldom write their own speeches. Recognising this, and being of a kindly disposition towards the beleaguered in our midst, we offer the following lines to the leader of the Tory Party:
"Friends, Tories and Countrymen
Give me your vote
You did love me once
Whence this most foul calumny ?
Have sudden lost you. sweet reason?”
A reference to anything as flattering as reason appertaining to his Tory supporters may convince them to support Honest John again—however briefly.

If we were given to prediction we imagine a nice comfy seat in the House of Lords for John Major. Meanwhile, beyond this farce, continues the tragic reality of workers working for wages and heaping up profits for the owners.

A Vision for Our Time (1996)

From the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Capitalism is in crisis, but not so much on the economic front as in the political arena. There was a time when those who opposed capitalism could put forward an alternative vision — albeit one based on state-capitalism — but now both Labourites and Leninists have given up completely and the only vision remaining is the one put forward by Socialists — real Socialism!
What George Bush, with the verbal inelegance of an aristocratic drunk addressing his deepest thoughts to his tired servants, called “the vision thing”, is distinctly missing from world politics right now. When Bush used the term, in the midst of the 1992 presidential contest against Grinning-Boy Bill, he was referring to his recognition that elections had come increasingly to be no more than extremely expensive battles to win power in order to achieve no particular political goal. Politicians more than ever are concerned with winning power, regardless of any belief that their use of it can meaningfully change very much. Hie recently televised debates—less gladiatorial battles then flea races—between Clinton and his grandfather (Dole) had about them all of the intellectual sustenance of an advertising war between McDonalds and Burger King. Both cost loads to sell, not much to buy, tasted the same and were horrible. Is it any wonder that approximately half the electorate in what prides itself as being “the biggest democracy in the world” did not even bother to go out and vote.

Not only between the American political midgets has vision disappeared. It is now almost a cliche to say that nothing divides the main parties in Britain Years ago socialists would speak of voting Labour or Tory as a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee; we were regarded as cynics for refusing to distinguish between the two major parties of capitalism. Now we are in the majority. Voters who elect Labour to power will do so on the firm understanding that this is a party not significantly different in outlook and policy from mainstream Toryism. The Murdoch Empire can rest contented that the next British general election will be held within a virtual one-party state: whoever is elected will be Murdoch’s man. But even the Murdoch Empire is bereft of vision: its sole interest is in making more profits out of public misinformation, but has no fundamental concern whether the profit system or the structure of disinformation is governed by parties of the right or the left. Indeed, they have realised, as socialists did long ago, that the left and right wings are merely symmetrical parts of the anatomy of a single vulture: The Capitalist System.

Voodoo economics
In the 1980s the Big Vision was capitalism itself. This was capitalism’s most audacious political moment, for it involved an attempt to win not mere tolerance but popular support for the system of institutionalised class exploitation. For a while the politics of audacity appeared to succeed. Remember the news reports of elderly pensioners queuing in the cold to buy gas shares and ex-miners setting up personal computer businesses in stagnant pit villages and newly-married suckers jumping for joy at the right to buy their council slum? With a mixture of much champagne and cocaine, the Falklands slaughter and a fair bit of economic good luck, the small minority who own this country had reason to smile in the heyday of Thatcherism. That was before the recession; before they started closing down the small businesses, repossessing the mortgaged homes and discovering that neglect of the inner cities had created veritable war zones amongst the dispossessed. The vision collapsed. The Magic of the Market, as the Eighties witch doctors called it, now stinks in the nostrils of those who were its victims.

Theoretically, the 1990s should have been even better times for the capitalist vision than the Thatcher/Reagan years had been. After all, the greatest single ideological bogey-man of the Cold War popped his clogs and buried himself in the ice. Socialism was declared to be dead, dumped somewhere amidst the rubble of the Berlin Wall. That it was state capitalism which imploded and that its Leninist creed was inimical to the Marxist vision mattered little. Triumphalism was in the air. To be sure, the Old Left, wedded religiously to the Leninist project, collapsed into defeatism in exact timing with the Right’s triumphalism. But it was as hollow a defeat as it was a triumph. Leftists started writing articles conceding that the fall of the Kremlin Empire meant that visions of transcending the market had been proved wrong. But Russia had never sought to transcend the market; even within their own rhetoric of lies and distortion it was only ever pretended that they were successfully planning the market. So, the Left, without market planning as a vision, has fallen into bed with any old tart from the Stock Exchange. The Right is still cleaning its wounds after its equally spurious and nefarious exercise in running a “free market" which was far from free. In reality, there are not that many ways of running capitalism. The scope for dressing up policies for its administration is remarkably narrow. The death of vision is no more than a recognition of this truth.

Given up the ghost
So, capitalist politics has run out of ideas and stands dull and visionless. The 1996 edition of the Socialist Register (edited by Leo Panitch and published by Merlin Press for £12.95) has as its title, “Are There Alternatives?” The book contains a good chapter on Australian Labour governments and their attacks on the working class and a “Santa Claus Doesn’t Exist!” — type essay by Colin Leys who has discovered that labour “no longer think of socialism as an alternative social and economic system to capitalism” (p. 8). There is an odd debate towards the end about forming a new party and Arthur’s SLP (a cross between the disgraced CP and the exhausted ILP) is floated as a possible lifeboat for the demoralised left. But all in all, if the contributors to the volume were entirely honest, they would have added one word to the front title: “NO”. They clearly have no alternative.

Mind you, at least they have retained their sanity if not their candour. Jacques Derrida, the principal cabaret act of the new post-modernist circus, is evidently off his rocker. His new book. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, & the New International reads as if it was composed under the influence of seriously hard drugs. Derrida’s thesis (which is rather like speaking of the philosophical theme of a Jeffrey Archer novel) is that Marx’s reference to the spectre haunting capitalism should be seen as a metaphor for a study of ghosts. Here is the first paragraph of the first chapter:
   Maintaining now the specters of Marx. (But maintaining now [maintenant] without conjuncture. A disjointed or disadjusted now, ‘out of joint', a disajointed now that always risks maintaining nothing together in the assured conjunction of some context whose border would still be determinable.) 
It does not improve. One can imagine the sagaciously nodding heads of the sincere and gullible audience at the University of Califomia where Derrida first gave the lectures that were to become his great work of Marxist ghost-hunting. Did a little boy at the back whisper even slightly audibly that the Emperor is naked? Was he asked to leave lest he disturb the concentration of the post-modern disciples? Or did he go away, buy a handgun and say as the bullet went through his head “If that’s the answer, who wants to live to find out the question?” Derrida and his fellow post-men are the Rasputins of the late twentieth century. Just as the Russian fraudster offered metaphysical hope to a ruling class in the midst of Checkhovian despair, so the post-modern con-men sustain an illusion of intellectual nourishment within a system which has become bulimic about any ideas which are not accompanied by a business plan. Post-modernism is the clairvoyance of an end-of-the-pier intelligentsia; the perfect characters for an end-of-the-system drama.

For where can capitalism go from here? Sure, it can reform its constitutional arrangements, re-organise its power blocs, fight here for markets and kill a few million there over ancient territorial rivalries. It can resurrect the zeal of medieval religious madness (in the USA one-in-five people declare themselves “born again”; the naked ignorance of the mullahs’ rule spreads here and there), but these are aberrations of the lost or the backward or both. In the end Saudi businessmen will drink whisky and follow Murdoch into the secular depravities of mammon, just as Americans will jump finally with an adulterous crook like Clinton rather than a moral fascist like Buchanan. The big, bad, bulldozing old visions of capitalism will not succeed. It’s Pepsi and Oprah that rule the house of yawns now.

The only credible alternative vision to running capitalism is to not run capitalism at all and thereby not let capitalism run our lives. What is important about this enduring and exciting socialist vision is its profound credibility. Firstly, it has never been tried. Secondly, the idea of production for use rather than profit is simple and makes sense to millions of people. And thirdly, it is the only conceivable way that society will not get worse and worse to five in. The practical alternative to living under capitalism, with all of its inevitable problems, is to establish consciously and democratically a different system of society in which production is owned by all, controlled by all and making wealth and services available to all. The Old Left has never advocated this, being too busy in its tactical efforts to win reforms of capitalism, elect Labour governments and defend the indefensible regimes of state capitalism. The Right opposes the socialist alternative, but always gets a metaphorical bloody nose when it engages in debate with the case for socialism. For the truth is that the Right is intellectually uninspired and can only ever win arguments when they are fighting against opponents with radical visions for capitalism.

New Labour, whatever it might want, does not want socialism. Socialism is an alternative which Blair has rejected. That he has done so is a sign of his limited vision, but also of his honesty and socialists should have no reason to berate the man for that. When three years into the next government society is still in a mess, or is in worse mess than now, nobody with any integrity will be able to blame this as the failure of socialism. On the contrary, the socialist vision will still be there, as urgent for the twenty-first century as it was in the wasted decades of this tragic century.
Steve Coleman

Was Labour ever Socialist? (1996)

From the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
 Now that Blair has openly proclaimed the Labour Party to be just another party seeking to run capitalism many on the Left are looking back with nostalgia to the days when Labour was supposedly a Party with a radical programme for abolishing capitalism and establishing socialism . . .
All too common nowadays is the sigh from disillusioned Labour Party supporters and ex-members (Scargill included) that the Labour Party is “no longer” socialist. Some claim Labour stood for socialism in 1945, while others will say Labour’s socialist credentials can be traced back to 1918 and the adoption of the old Clause Four. And there are those who believe that Labour was bent on socialism at its foundation in 1906.

Let us, therefore, look to the foundation of the Labour Party—the Labour Representation Committee as it was in 1900—to see whether socialist ideas were in circulation amongst its founding fathers.

On a depressingly cold day in late February 1900, in the Memorial Hall on Farringdon Street, London, 129 delegates gathered for a conference. They represented some 568,000 discontented, but organised workers. They had been sent by 65 trade unions, the Social Democratic Federation, the Independent Labour Party' and the Fabian Society.

The conference was the result of a resolution passed at the TUC the previous September, a resolution moved by the Railway Servants, to “bring into being an alliance of the trade unions and new socialist societies which would be strong enough to fight the political battles of the working classes in parliament".

Pseudo-Marxist SDF
Of the four groups represented, the SDF claimed to be the true standard bearer of socialism. Their claims, though, were largely spurious. H. M. Hyndman, the party leader, was well-known for his autocratic rule. Marx had found him totally obnoxious and had made every attempt to avoid him. Engels saw Hyndman as having “ossified Marxism into a dogma”.

Hyndman was not only a sad victim of self-aggrandisement, he was also over-optimistic, carrying about his person at all times a list of names for a revolutionary cabinet—himself as the big boss—should the glorious day come.

Marx believed that the task of overthrowing capitalism had to be the sole responsibility of the working class itself, acting in its own interests and, consequently, in the interests of the entire human race. Hyndman, however, could not accept this. He held an arrogant contempt for the intelligence of the working class believing, like Lenin, that the workers had to be led by professional revolutionaries like himself.

Hyndman was, in reality, an opportunist, a romantic interested only in the prestige and power a working class victory would afford him. He had shown his true colours during the 1885 General Election. Then, the SDF had been low on funds, and Hyndman and friends thought it would be a good idea to enter into negotiations with the Conservative Party, working on their fears of a Liberal victory, and persuading them to invest in a plan to split the Liberal vote by financing the campaigns of two SDF candidates. The Tories agreed, and when news of the scam got out it caused such an uproar among workers that the two SDF candidates, John Williams and John Fielding, secured only 59 votes between them.

There were some socialists in the SDF but they were opposed to the concept of a “Labour party” and left in 1903 and 1904, some to set up the Socialist Party which has published this journal ever since.

In any event, the SDF soon withdrew from the Labour Representation Committee.

Elitist Fabians
Another group represented at that February conference, and who also shared Hyndman’s opportunism and contempt for the working class while claiming to be “socialist”, were the Fabians.

Engels described the Fabians as a “clique . . . united only by their fear of the threatening rule of the workers and doing all in their power to avert the danger”—a statement that in hindsight appears mild.

The Fabians had some 861 members in 1900, of whom only one was an actual wage slave, albeit a retired wage slave. Sidney Webb was right to famously declare that “we personally belong to the ruling class”. These sentiments were taken a stage further by his wife, Beatrice, who despaired of the working class and believed that the Fabians could find “no hope from these myriad of deficient minds and deformed bodies that swarm our great cities—what can we hope for but brutality, madness and crime?” Twenty years later, Beatrice was to hold the same views, seeing unions as “underbred and undertrained workmen”. For Bernard Shaw, the situation could only get worse and he thus proposed “sterilisation of the failures” in an attempt to stop the rot infecting further burdensome generations of workers—sentiments to be expressed by Winston Churchill in 1904 and Hitler some 30 years later.

Engels was quite right to detect in the Fabians a fear that a working class revolt would dislodge them from their privileged positions. Such fears had been panicking the British well-to-do since 1789. By the mid-1890s, the Fabians had become influenced by the Liberal Party, and by Joseph Chamberlain, a Tory, who believed that some kind of welfare system was essential if the propertied class wanted to survive. The Fabians argued for social services and improved conditions for workers not out of genuine altruism, but in the belief that this would help stave off unrest.

Unlike the SDF who fostered a prophecy of impending revolutionary doom, the Fabians, as Bealey puts it in his introduction to The Social and Political Thought of the Labour Party, “foresaw a peaceful, gradual change by constitutional means from capitalism, through collectivism, to socialism”. Rejecting the Marxian view that the state was a manifestation of the domination of the propertied class, the Fabians believed that the state was “a neutral apparatus that could be utilised by anyone who could legitimately become a government”. For the Fabians, though, the idea of the workers taking control through the state apparatus was anathema to everything they represented.

The Fabian idea of socialism was that of a stale run by experts and professionals like themselves, trained in the emerging modern human and emerging social sciences. They were in fact technocrats, believing that the technical administration of society should take the place of party politics. Like the other confusionists of the period, the Fabians were also oblivious to the idea that “the upsurge of popular feeling and action that alone could transform society must come from the working class themselves”, as the Labour journalist Francis Williams put it in his history of the Labour Party in 1945, Fifty Years March.

Like true opportunists it mattered not, of course, which political party took on board Fabian ideas, for they “expected by tactics of permeation and education to sell their programme to the leaders of the Conservative and Liberal parties” (Bealey, p.5). Thus, elitist in their tactics and aspirations, they were further open to the charge of being prepared to collaborate with openly capitalist parties.

Anti-class struggle ILP
The Independent Labour Party (ILP), founded in 1893, was another of the nascent working class organisations to declare themselves socialist. They had, however, “no very well defined set of ideas” other than they called for an “industrial commonwealth founded upon the socialisation of land and capital” and that they demanded workers “be given a place in the national set up" (Bealey, p.6).

Like the Fabians, they too feared a workers’ revolt would severely upset the status quo, and they warned in 1895 that should there be a workers’ revolution in Euroec “there is nothing save a narrow strip of sea betwixt us and what would then be the theatre of a great human tragedy” (quoted in Bealey, p 16).

Philip Snowden, the party’s economic expert, was of the opinion that the propertied man “could not enjoy his riches in the knowledge of the misery of the men and women and children around him . . . it is to the cultured and leisured classes that socialism, perhaps, makes its strongest appeal”.

Socialism meant, for the ILP’s leaders, that the propertied would run society in the interests of the workers, granting them just so much reform that they could be kept at bay. In return, the workers would be imbued with ideas “drawn straight from the wells of capitalism” (Bealey, p. 17). The ILP’s declared objective was “the collective and common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”, i.e. state and municipal capitalism.

As to the socialist, or rather so-called socialist, credentials of ILP leaders Ramsay MacDonald and Keir Hardie, it should be remembered that both men joined the Labour movement not out of any deep-rooted conviction that the capitalist system must come to an end, but because they both had been rejected as Liberal candidates.

Whereas class consciousness, a realisation by workers of their objective position in the relations of production was, for Marx, a prerequisite for social revolution, for Hardie, who often stressed the common interests of worker and employer, the ILP did “not want class conscious socialists”. Hardie actually believed that the “socialist” movement was being undermined by workers fighting their capitalist employers as their class enemies. MacDonald would come to his aid, arguing that “class consciousness leads nowhere” and that the buzzword should in fact be “community consciousness”.

The New Unions
The three “socialist” societies, then, that sent delegates to the February conference, a conference that was to form the Labour Representation Committee which six years later became the Labour Party, were in fact putting a lid on working class discontent—from the outset not wanting to abolish capitalism, but to ameliorate its harsher effects.

The idea of the 1900 conference, as has already been mentioned, was the result of a resolution passed at the TUC some five months earlier. What remains significant is that the resolution was only passed by 546,000 to 434,000 votes. And it is also interesting to note that only a few years earlier the TUC had passed a resolution aimed at extricating the trade unions from “the influence of socialist adventurers”. The September 1899 resolution was, therefore, “no trumpet call to social revolution” (Williams, p.9).

In the late 1880s, the unions had enjoyed some significant victories—victories that had perhaps lulled them into a false sense of security. Most notable was the inspiring Match Girls victory at Bryant and May in 1888 which “succeeded because it mobilised behind it forces far greater than the match girls could command (public opinion)” (Williams, p. 10). Within two years, optimism had given way to pessimism, as employers, with the backing of the state, hit back at militancy with a vengeance. Between 1890 and 1892, membership of the “new unions” fell from 320,000 to 130,000. Disillusionment was further compounded when 70,000 were battered into submission in Scotland in 1894 and with the crushing of the Boot and Shoe Operatives and the Amalgamated Society of Engineers the following year.

There had been since the 1880s a growing awareness that the state was too big an opponent to be tackled by the trade union movement and that the trade unions now needed their own political voice. The Reform Acts of 1867 and 1884 had widened the franchise and it was with this in mind that George Shipton would write in Murray’s Magazine in 1890 that “when the people were unenfranchised . . . the only power left to them was the demonstration of numbers. Now, however, the workmen have votes . . . the ‘new trade unionists’ look to Governments and legislation—the old look to self-reliance”.

Among the 65 unions that sent delegates to conference there was a lot of reluctance from the older trade unions “who feared the consequence of any move that seemed to be directed at changing their own conception of a trade union as a craft organisation primarily concerned with safeguarding the interests of its workers by direct negotiation with individual employers” (Williams, p. 15).

The initial motivation behind the conference was "to secure better representation of the interests of labour in parliament”, as the 1899 resolution had stated. The “new unions” were not motivated by any socialist vision of the future. Their aspirations were economistic and immediate. For them “socialism” meant higher wages and shorter hours and a hoped-for redistribution of wealth. “They were,” as Bernard Shaw observed, “out to exploit capitalism, not to abolish it” (quoted in Bealey, p.6).

So again, any suggestion that the new trade unions, any more than the “socialist” societies, provided the early labour Party with a socialist ideology is highly dubious. In fact, by the end of the first day of the conference, the delegates had passed a resolution stating that any Labour MPs should be prepared to co-operate with the already existing capitalist parties: “That this conference is in favour of establishing a distinct labour group in parliament, who shall have their own whips and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to co-operate with any party which, for the time being, may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour” (quoted in Williams, p.24).

Furthermore, that same day, the conference elected as its chairman a Fabian, W.C. Steadman, who was “not by any means a convinced socialist. On the contrary he was himself a Lib-Lab MP . . . who in general worked and voted with the Liberal party in the House of Commons” (Williams, p.19).

The next day the conference elected a 12-man executive committee consisting of 7 trade union representatives, two from the SDF, two from the ILP and one from the Fabians. They agreed to call their new movement the Labour Representation Committee. They were not, however, to act together as a political party. If anything they were a federation of trade unionists and political organisations, each retaining their own identity. All four groups were less motivated by socialist theory than by the growing awareness that capitalism had raised the stakes. They were slowly coming to terms with the social, economic and political pattern of the times, vaguely grasping the fact that capitalism can only be tackled politically through the ballot box where workers had the power to vote for the social system they wanted. However, they only wanted political action to try to ameliorate capitalism rather than to abolish it and replace it with socialism.
John Bissett

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Moral Factor? (1996)

The Greasy Pole column from the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

At last we know. After all the time and cerebral energy expended on looking for the reasons for problems like poverty, homelessness, and crime it has become clear. As we might have expected, the politicians had the answer. At last they have told us. We are suffering from a moral deficit which undermines all the efforts by masses of people of goodwill to build a secure and prosperous society. We should all be grateful about this because it means that morality is likely to be an issue at the general election, which cannot now be long delayed. In the excitement of the hustings we shall be able to debate this desperately important issue and then, it is to be hoped—most of all, by the politicians—we shall give our leaders an overwhelming mandate to lay the foundations for a new morality.

Of course there will be some draw backs in this preoccupation with moral issues. One is that it will focus attention on individuals or groups of people who are open to be labelled as immoral. People like single mothers, who are a perpetual obsession of one prominent Cabinet minister who thinks the women deliberately arranged their pregnancy so that they would have a case for living on one of those nice estates where other immoral people sell drugs, burgle houses, steal cars . . .  People like those who fail to buy a TV licence so that they can legally watch morally sustaining shows like Blind Date. People who try to supplement their Income Support at the local Sainsbury, where Good Food Costs Nothing if you shoplift it.

And while attention is focused in these ways the real issues are overlooked. This is probably very reassuring to the politicians because it saves them from constructing those long, boring election manifestos in which they promise to eliminate all sorts of problems. Now they can narrow it down to one simple issue. It is rather like when they told us the most important thing was to win the war. Except that now the war is against immorality.

So why is there this moral deficit? We may well ask. Why, for example, is society supposed to be in such an uproar when the present government have had 17 years in which to control it? According to Norman Tebbit, the Thatcher government turned Britain from ". . . the sick country of Europe into one of the most successful and respected in the world . . . Our policies have become the standard against which others are measured" (Upwardly Mobile). But now we are told that there is something basically wrong with this successful and respected country. We are told this by Tebbit’s successors in the Tory government and by Labour leaders like Jack Straw and Tony Blair, who obviously fear the Tories have a vote-winning bandwagon, which they are desperate to clamber onto, in the morality issue.

Well the easiest resolution to this is to blame the parents and the teachers, who are now being criticised for not wearing suits (the male teachers) and not wearing shirts (the females). Parents are being condemned for an alleged preoccupation with the business of survival which cripples their influence over their children, who run riot as a consequence. If only they were all like our politicians, who are always so appropriately dressed and who never deceive or betray us.

There is, however, a question to be answered here. If the present generation of teachers and parents are so deficient in their morality that they have little of it to impart to the children, how did they get to be like that? Were their teachers and parents lacking? And if they were, what responsibility for this rests with those who taught and raised them? It does not take long for this line of questioning to bring us back to the times when, it is implied, society operated on a strong moral basis—when everyone knew their place and mostly asked for nothing more than a life in the slums and a death in the workhouse.

If this kind of question begins to make the whole issue of morality look distinctly dodgy, it can be because it is hardly the time for the Tories to produce it in the hope of winning votes. It is not necessary to go into the wearisome catalogue of sleaze for which this government is notable to conclude that we are ruled by one of the most disastrously exposed bunch of wanglers in recent history. Of course much of the exposure has been possible because of the inept way in which the sleaze has been operated—at times almost as bad as the bank robbers leaving their fingerprints on the safe door. Equally inept have been the attempts to protect the sleaze merchants which have so often had the effect of aggravating the government’s problem—and this does not say much for the supposed skill of those people who claim they can effectively run this social system.

The cover-ups and excuses are designed to protect the entire institution of governmentand political leadership. If there are too many examples of MPs and ministers breaking the rules to line their own pockets there may be a reluctance by the voters to trust them. In fact, voters trust their leaders in face of a mass of evidence which should dissuade them. For example, the recent release of government documents relatingto 1956 has finally confirmed what was obvious—but always vehemently denied—about the Suez war in that year. It has always been clear that the invasion of Egypt was justified by a series of official lies. At the time the excuse for the landings was the separation of the Israeli and Egyptian armies when in fact the Israeli attack was planned in conjunction with the British and French governments, to give them an excuse for landing in Egypt. At the time the House of Commons was assured by the British Prime Minister—elegant, handsome Old Etonian Anthony Eden—that no such collusion had taken place. Eden lied, which no MP, let alone an Old Etonian, let alone a Prime Minister, is supposed to do. So they fitted him up with a peerage and a nice house in the West Indies.

And what are we to say about the morality of the present bunch of political leaders? About John Major’s pose as the nice guy? About Tony Blair’s waffle about Britain’s future under a Labour government? About the morality of the whole, persistent deception that these people can organise capitalism so that it can exist without poverty, homelessness, crime. About the morality of them turning when they are exposed, on vulnerable groups in the hope of winning a few votes from the more bewildered and despairing among the electorate?

50 Years Ago: The Slippery Slopes of Labourism (1996)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the home front the Labour Party is in wholesale—though, as yet, not fully recognised—retreat. As long as the Labour Party has been in existence its most prominent propagandists have given lip-service to the Socialist condemnation of the capitalist system for its “profit motive”. Now a changed line has been announced without any attempt being made first to get it endorsed by the members of the Labour Party. This line was defined by Mr. Herbert Morrison in a speech at Birmingham, reported in the Daily Herald (October 28th, 1946). “There is no need,” he said, “to abolish the profit motive,” all that is required is to rid it of abuses. Three days later the Daily Herald told its readers that one of the reasons for the Labour Government’s drive for increased production and the most economical use of labour was that these are essential “to preserve the real value of both wages and profits” (Daily Herald, 31/10/46). Many Labour voters will be astonished to learn that one of the objects of their Party is to “preserve the real value of profits.” Some may ask themselves, too, how the present policy of discouraging wage increased fits in with the pre-election promises and with the increase of M.P.s’ salaries from £600 to £ 1,000 a year in April last.
(From editorial in Socialist Standard, December 1946)

Who'll mourn the Emperor?

Bokassa's coronation in 1976.
From the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1920, France took full control of their tiny African colony Ubangi-Shari (later the Central African Republic) and immediately leased 50 percent of it to 17 French companies, giving them freedom to exploit the indigenous population in whatever manner they saw fit.

This exploitation would take the form of forced labour, torture and hostage-taking in an attempt to force the population to collect rubber vine.

It was at the hands of the guards of one of these French companies that a certain Chief Mindogen was flogged to death for failing to provide sufficient rubber vine collectors.

Against this backdrop, Jean Bedal Bokassa, son of Chief Mindogen grew up with a superstitious fascination for French power and an obsession with French history, particularly the Napoleonic era, an obsession which led him to enlist in the French army and which played some part in his sycophantic rise to the rank of lieutenant during French campaigns of the 40s and 50s.

On leaving the army, Bokassa quickly found a position in David Dacko’s corrupt and chaotic government as Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Defence.

At this time the French were a bit uneasy about Dacko’s corrupt government, fearing for their businesses and strategic interests should a potential "Marxist"-led uprising occur and though the country was officially independent—it had been since I960—France still retained the right to interfere at their leisure.

They had in fact been planning a coup when Bokassa, catching a whiff of their intentions, out-manoeuvred them and took control of the capital with forces loyal to himself.

Although the French did not at first take too kindly to this wagon-jumping, Bokassa seemed such a pleasant enough old Francophile that it seemed a shame to oppose him, and besides, he was anything but a "communist”. So they sat back and left the affairs of the Central African Republic to the new president, confident he could fare no worse than Dacko.

However, as Ian Schott points out; "There was little to distinguish Bokassa from any other confused, violent and corrupt post-colonial regime. It was run on the simple maxim ‘to the victors—the spoils”' (World Famous Dictators, 1992, P-78).

Anything resembling democracy was trampled upon and nepotism was rampant. Those loyal to Bokassa were rewarded with promotion and huge salaries and those who upset him met an early death.

Still France backed him, to the tune of $20 million per year. Most of this, though, was bi-lateral aid which tended to increase France’s interests in the country. It was followed by the donation of French paratroopers to Bokassa’s army.

From then on the country’s budget was treated by Bokassa as his own personal bank account. He privatised state assets, had shares in every national business including the diamond industry and secured a total monopoly on foreign trade. None complained. The entire civil service had either been bribed or were too afraid to speak out.

Twelve years later the country was almost as bankrupt as it had been on 31 December 1965 when Bokassa assumed the tide of President of the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Information and Ministry for Justice.

In December 1976, Bokassa decided it was time his 2.5 million population needed an Emperor—himself. Almost 35 percent of the state’s $70 million budget was subverted to the ensuing Napoleonic-style coronation.

No expense was spared. Bokassa donned a velvet ankle-length sword. He trailed a 30-foot-long crimson velvet, gold-embroidered and ermine-trimmed mantle and was carried to his gold-trimmed throne, backed by a huge golden eagle with outstretched wings, in a gilded coach drawn by eight white Normandy horses.

Although the event was frowned upon by the British and the US, invited representatives of both countries returning their golden invitation cards—the US so infuriated they cut off aid—the French expressed their approval by donating $2.5 million to the event, in order that the 2,500 imbecilic international guests could be ferried about in a huge fleet of limousines escorted by 200 BMW motorbikes.

The world had apparently given Bokassa the legitimacy he had sought and he revelled in it. From this point his extravagance was now only to be matched by his inhumanity.

When he discovered an attempted break-in at his palace, he drove in a fury to the local prison and personally beat three innocent victims to death. When schoolchildren protested at the compulsory wearing of expensive uniforms made at a factory owned by himself, he sent the troops in who promptly massacred between 150 and 200 of them. And when teachers and students distributed leaflets condemning his personal wealth, his "Imperial Guard" rounded up hundreds who were later beaten to death. Bokassa participating fully at Ngaragbi prison—all this in the International Year of the Child!

These and other such episodes finally began to embarrass the French government As they pondered their predicament they set up a five-nation African Mission of Inquiry to investigate the many charges against Bokassa. including cannibalism, whilst at the same time desperately seeking a means of ousting him before he could be found guilty and world opinion turned against a French government that has sponsored him.

The inquiry found him guilty and. a month later, sanctions already beginning to bite, Bokassa went cap-in-hand to Libya’s Colonel Gadaffi for help.

In his absence the French launched "Operation Barracuda", a bloodless coup, brought David Dacko out of retirement and installed him in Bokassa's palace as president.

Gadaffi soon got fed up with Bokassa, just as he had with Amin years earlier. Homeless, friendless, Bokassa roamed about until settling down on the Ivory Coast to sell tropical fish. After an even more depressing spell in France, Bokassa returned to his homeland, where his death penalty had been passed in his absence. This was commuted to life imprisonment

Six years later Bokassa was released and immediately applied for the post of president. Amazingly his offer was turned down!

On 3 November 1996 Bokassa died at the age of 75, in a country where the average life expectancy is 48. There is little doubt that there will be few more delighted to see him go than the French government As long as he lived he served as a poignant reminder of France’s imperial excesses.

Bokassa’s type still exist however, in Libya, Zaire and Nigeria and a host of other African countries where the colonial experiment still reverberates down the years—stark reminders of the true nature of capitalism and how the seemingly benevolent gift of "independence" blossoms all too often into abject tyranny and terror when ill-educated dictators try to run a country in a manner in which their colonial forbears also failed. 
John Bissett

Whiff of Gold (1996)

From the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
  We publish below, without comment, a translation of an article that appeared in the Belgian paper "Le Soir"on 14 November under the heading "THE GREAT LAKES WAR HAS A WHIFF OF GOLD ABOUT IT”.
One would have to be naive to believe that the motivation behind the interest currently being shown by the major powers in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa is purely humanitarian. In reality, Rwanda and Burundi are two countries which, although tiny, are of strategic geopolitical importance, located as they are on the borders of the immense state of Zaire, whose eastern provinces constitute an almost uncapped store of strategic mineral wealth.

Rwanda and Burundi are two pivotal states on the fringes of the French-speaking zone of influence which stretches from Western to Central Africa, incorporating the Zaire of President Mobutu, who, since the end of the Cold War, has skilfully exploited the French language link. Although in cultural and linguistic terms Rwanda and Burundi may be classed among the French-speaking countries, economically speaking they belong to Eastern Africa,all their exports and imports passing through the Indian Ocean ports of Tanzania and Kenya.

For several years, the centre of gravity of Kivu province has also been shifting. Most of the local companies have post office boxes in Kigali and Bujumbura, and their business operations are conducted via Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean ports. If Kivu could elude Kinshasa's control, other eastern provinces might follow suit. In Shaba too, rebel movements are preparing to go into action.

At a recent press conference, the Zairean Minister of the Interior, Kamanda wa Kamanda, relayed soon afterwards by his colleague responsible for the Mines, stressed that "the war In Kivu has a whiff of gold about it".

And it is not just gold, although the gold mines of Southern Kivu have given the rebel movements quasi-autarky up to now. Several opposition movements had bases in the Fizi Baraka region and even signed "non-aggression pacts" with the military, each of them exploiting the region’s gold for their own account, and exporting it via trading posts in Burundi.

Apart from gold, Kivu has other mineral riches. Particularly substantial methane gas deposits lie beneath the bed of Lake Kivu, and American companies might be interested in working them. Even back in colonial times, strategic minerals were discovered in the region. Southern Kivu is rich in silver, beryl, bismuth, iron, cassiterite, tantalum and tungsten. Northern Kivu, in addition to gold, cassiterite, iron, diamonds, platinum and tantalum, also has large deposits of niobium, already worked by a German company.

Kivu’s resources are particularly important, since niobium and columbotantalite are materials used in the high-tech aeronautical and computer industries, and will be ever more highly prized in the future. Certain sources even maintain that oil has been discovered under Lake Kivu, but because of the distances involved, it is apparently unprofitable to exploit it at the present time. It must in any event be assumed that such riches, which will one day be of strategic importance, cannot be a matter of complete indifference to the industrialised countries (Canada included) currently waiting in the wings to bring humanitarian aid to this disaster zone.
(translated by MD).

Which Way To Organise? (1996)

From the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Socialists aim at common ownership and democratic control of the world and its resources and the consequent abolition of class society. We also recognise that until this is achieved we have to organise ourselves for class struggle along the most militant and democratic lines. Mainstream trade unions increasingly fit neither of these descriptions. So is it time for a new beginning?
The leaders of the trade union movement are devoid of a class understanding of society, so lacking ideas of how to get out of their present rut that they see no alternative, indeed no other policy, than supporting the return of a Labour government.

Blair and Blunkett have left no doubts about their attitude to organised labour: the anti-union legislation must be continued. If elected a Labour government will place yet further curbs on strike action, especially in the public sector. Binding arbitration or a system whereby unions will have to re-ballot their members every time an employer makes what it terms as an improved offer will be introduced.

There was also a rumour that if a Labour government was to be faced with an outbreak of strikes in the public sector, this might result in the party balloting its members on the question of ending the link with the unions. This so-called threat, which is more like the best thing the Labour Party would have ever done for the working class, was later denied by senior party officials.

The direction mainstream trade unions are heading is very similar to that of New Labour, with an emphasis on a social partnership between unions and employers. In general the reaction of the union leaders to Blair and Blunkett’s proposals was, to say the least, muted. Official trade unionism is like a toothless tiger that when attacked has no choice but to cower in a corner.

A class issue
The need to engage in collective organisation emerges in a society which is divided into two classes, a minority class who own and control the means of wealth production and distribution and a majority class who have to sell their abilities to work for a wage or salary in order to live. On an individual basis the relationship between employer and employee is one of gross inequality to that to defend themselves against the inevitable encroachments of capital, workers have to organise collectively.

This need has nothing to do with rights, but has everything to do with economic necessity, a vital weapon for workers in the class struggle. Collective organisation and immunities from prosecution in trade disputes were conceded by the state through years of working-class struggle. In recent years these immunities only remain if workers and their organisations abide by a whole set of restraints in organising their disputes with employers.

Unions which were never exactly revolutionary organisations, are now beginning to lack any trace of being class-based organisations. The question must seriously be asked: are unions, who subscribe to the so-called “New Unionism” of the late 1990s, adequate tools for workers to rely on in their struggle with the bosses’ class?

Whether by deliberate design or not, many unions seem to have abandoned sections of the working class who are suffering from the worst aspects of modern capitalism. Many workers are employed on part-time contracts or limited to temporary or casual employment and find the comparatively high subs unions ask difficult to afford.

The unions now seem totally resigned to working within the reactionary industrial relations legislation which has developed, particularly during the last seventeen years. This acceptance makes them less effective organisations for workers in their struggles with employers.

The Liverpool dockers dispute has shown that to pursue a dispute via solidarity, and in this case international solidarity, means acting outside the channels of official unionism. After a weekend of activity in late September, it seems the TGWU threatened to end what little support it was providing to the dockers on the grounds that they had been associating with “anarchists”.

If workers are having to spend as much time fighting the union bureaucracy as they are their employers, then many may start, indeed, surely will start, to think about the need to form or join industrial organisations which are controlled by the membership and not paid officials.

Democratic struggle
What socialists support is sound collective industrial working-class organisation not particular institutions of trade unions. We have always stressed the need for workers to control their own disputes, to democratically decide when to take action, what that action should be and at what stage their dispute has been satisfactorily settled or is no longer worth pursuing.

It is workers themselves and not officials divorced from the workplace who should decide whether to make agreements with employers and what such agreements should be. Collective industrial organisation also needs to reach out beyond the workplace to include community involvement. The need for such organisation was evident in the 1984-5 miners strike and in the current Liverpool dockers dispute. Is this possible in bureaucratic-dominated unions?

Even in the defensive struggle to defend ourselves within the capitalist system, let alone an offensive one to help end it, the business-type unions which dominate in Britain at the moment offer little more than employment insurance and personal services. They are losing, or have already lost, their capacity for workers to use them as organisations of self-defence and are seemingly too bureaucratic to change. For groups of workers who have retained good militant anti-official unionism, it may be possible to build something within their existing organisations. For those who lack this base, alternative forms of industrial collective organisation may need to be built.
Ray Carr

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

These Foolish Things: Progress (1996)

The Scavenger column from the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard


In 1886, the bottom 10 percent of manual workers earned 69 percent of the median manual wage, while the top 10 percent earned 143 percent. Despite the huge shifts in manufacturing over the next 90 years—the growth of new' industries, the rise of trade unionism, the impact of two world wars—the relative position remained virtually unchanged. But since 1977 the relative position has worsened for the bottom 10 percent of manual workers who now get just 61 percent of the median against 161 percent for the top 10 percent. 
Guardian, 10 October.

Oh God!

The Reverend Stanley Mast, of the LaGrave Avenue Christian Reform Church, offered an invocation that should become the official fund-raising prayer of both parties. “O God. as we gather together tonight to honour important people in our country', we pause to acknowledge that you are master of the universe and Lord of the nations.” the Reverend prayed. “As we focus on finances and politics, we give you thanks for the gift of wealth, we thank you for the privilege of living in America, this great land of freedom, a land that not only allows but even encourages the individual pursuit of wealth. We thank you, O God, for the success so many of us have had in that pursuit. . . . Bless our guests of honour. May their generosity and faith inspire us all. Bless these upcoming elections. May the right people be elected. And God bless America. Amen.” 
New Yorker, 5 August.

The City Editor says . . .

Much more hot air, and some acute cases of handwringing have been prompted by a United Nations report that the combined wealth of the world’s 358 billionaires equals the combined incomes of the world population’s poorest 45 percent, or 2.3 billion. Leaving aside the mismatch between wealth and income in that comparison, so what? It is not ownership that is important so much as what the owners or controllers of wealth do with it.
William Kay, Financial Mail on Sunday, 28 July.

Twice kicked

A Midland care assistant was unceremoniously sacked by health chiefs after being injured in an attack at work, it was claimed today. Jenny Jennings, of Solihull Lodge, said she was so badly kicked in the knee by a resident at a Chemsley Wood home that she was unable to do her job . . . Mrs Jennings said it was the second time a member of staff had been badly injured by the resident but the trust management had not acted to prevent it happening again . . .  Solihull’s Healthcare’s director of personnel Mr Nick Gillard said the resident’s care would have been addressed following the first attack. “Having gone through channels and followed policy to the letter Mrs Jennings’ employment was terminated due to ill health,” he said. 
Evening Mail, 16 August.

Now you see it . . .

The Saudi government has tightened its controls on satellite TV, forcing viewers to dismantle dishes and subscribe to its own TV network. On offer is a mixture of Arabic and international programming selected by the Ministry of Information. A five-minute delay has been introduced on foreign channels so that “unsuitable material” can be censored.
           What Satellite TV, 13 October.

      The Scavenger