Monday, December 31, 2007

The thoughts of Premier Brown (thirty years ago) (2008)

From the January 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1975 Gordon Brown edited The Red Paper on Scotland, a collection of articles by leftwing Labour activists. He wrote the introduction (“The Socialist Challenge”) from which the passages below are taken.

“[T]he basic questions which face the Scotland of the nineteen-eighties remain unasked as well as unanswered: who shall exercise power and control the lives of our people? How can we harness our material resources and social energies to meet the needs of five million people and more? What social structure can guarantee to people the maximum control and self management over the decisions which affect their lives, allowing the planned co-ordination of the use and distribution of resources, in a co-operative community of equals?”

“It is argued that what appear to be contradictory features of Scottish life today—militancy and apathy, cynicism and a thirst for change—can best be understood as working people's frustration with and refusal to accept powerlessness and lack of control over blind social forces which determine their lives. It is a disenchantment which underlines an untapped potential for co-operative action upon which we must build.”

“[T]he discontent is a measure of the failure of both Scottish and British socialists to advance far and fast enough in shifting the balance of wealth and power to working people and in raising people's awareness—especially outside the central belt of Scotland in areas where inequalities are greater—about the co-operative possibilities for modern society.”

“[T]he question is not one of structures not of territorial influence, but of democracy — how working people in Scotland can increase the control they have over the decisions which shape their lives and the wealth they alone produce — and in doing so aid the struggle for a shift of power to working people elsewhere.”

“If the prospects for the least fortunate are to be as great as they can be, then they must have the final say—and that requires a massive and irreversible shift of power to working people, a framework of free universal welfare services controlled by the people who use them.”

“But socialism will have to be won also at the point of production—the production of needs, ideas and particularly of goods and services. And that demands ending the power of a minority through ownership and control to direct the energies of all other members of our society.”

“[T]he experience of the sixties shows that the market can no longer be seen as the efficient allocator of resources and indeed that the productive forces within our economy have outstripped the capacity of the market.”

“The more automation there is, the greater is the need to deal with the social consequences by increased public expenditure; yet the more the government raises in taxation, the more urgent is the need for more automation. Thus, increasingly, the private control of industry has become a hindrance to the further unfolding of the social forces of production. Consequently, Michael Barratt Brown has convincingly argued that increased state intervention in social and economic affairs implies that it is no longer realistic to envisage a socialist commodity exchange market in a transition from capitalism to socialism . . .”

“Workers’ Power”

“What has often been cited as an irresoluble clash in socialist theory between regulating material production according to human needs and the principle of eliminating the exploitative domination of man over man can only be met through producers controlling the organisation of the production process.”

“Gramsci's relevance to Scotland today is in his emphasis that in a society which is both mature and complex, where the total social and economic processes are geared to maintaining the production of goods and services (and the reproduction of the conditions of production), then the transition to socialism must be made by the majority of people themselves and a socialist society must be created within the womb of existing society and prefigured in the movements for democracy at the grass roots. Socialists must neither place their faith in an Armageddon of capitalist collapse nor in nationalisation alone. For if the Jacobin notion of a vanguard making revolution on behalf of working people relates to a backward society (and prefigures an authoritarian and bureaucratic state), then the complexity of modern society requires a far reaching movement of people and ideas, acting as a stimulus for people to see beyond the immediacy and fragmentation of their existing conditions and as a co-ordinator for the assertion of social priorities by people at a community level and control by producers at an industrial level. In such a way political power will become a synthesis of—not a substitute for—community and industrial life. This requires from the Labour Movement in Scotland today a positive commitment to creating a socialist society, a coherent strategy with rhythm and modality to each reform to cancel the logic of capitalism and a programme of immediate aims which leads out of one social order into another. Such a social reorganization—a phased extension of public control under workers' self-management and the prioritising of social needs set by the communities themselves—if sustained and enlarged, would in E.P. Thompson's words lead to ‘a crisis not of despair and disintegration but a crisis in which the necessity for a peaceful revolutionary transition to an alternative socialist logic became daily more evident.’”

Pretty radical-sounding stuff. We can’t go so far to say that he was a socialist, but he did employ the language of socialism, talking in terms of “ending the power of a minority through ownership and control to direct the energies of all the other members of our society”, of “eliminating the exploitative domination of man by man”, of “the producers controlling the organisation of the production process”, of “the wealth that they [working people] alone produce”, of “workers’ power”, and that “the market can no longer be seen as the efficient allocator of resources” as well as the solution as lying in the establishment of “a co-operative community of equals”.

His present views, as Chief Executive Officer of British Capitalism PLC, are far, far from those expressed here. But the question is: is this is a personal failing of an individual who has betrayed their earlier views or a predictable consequence of the views outlined in the last extract?

In that extract Brown outlined a gradualist strategy for getting from capitalism to what he called socialism, a series of reforms “to cancel the logic of capitalism” and “a programme of immediate aims which lead out of one social order into another”. That was the original aim, many years ago, of those in the Labour Party who wanted to do more than just trying to tackle immediate problems as they arise, as any government has to. But instead of the various Labour governments – since the first one under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 until the last but one under Callaghan voted out in 1979 – taking measures to cancel the logic of capitalism, they were obliged by economic and political circumstances to apply the logic of capitalism. Which involved giving priority to profits and profit-making and taking various anti-worker measures in pursuit of this aim (wage freezes, strike-breaking, anti-union laws, benefit cuts). Having no mandate to do anything else but govern capitalism, they had do this, inevitably on capitalism’s terms. Gradualism didn’t, doesn’t and can’t work.

In the end the Labour Party itself came to embrace the logic of capitalism and to drop all pretence of trying to replace capitalism with some other social arrangement. Under Blair, and with the full support of Gordon Brown, Labour became the open supporter of the market economy and capitalist economic system that everyone today can see it is.

There will also have been an element of opportunism involved. The Labour Party is a party of professional politicians, and one thing professional politicians want is to be able to enjoy the fruits of government office from time to time. Some time after Labour lost the 1992 election Brown must have decided that Labour was unelectable with the sort of programme he had embraced in the 1970s and 80s and that any such talk had to be abandoned if he was ever to become a Minister of the Crown. Which he duly did, but his past is still there to haunt him.
Adam Buick

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Film and the Anarchist Imagination

Book Review from issue 54 of Organise, theoretical journal of the Anarchist Federation

Film and the anarchist imagination by Richard Porton (Verso 1999)

It's quite rare to come across an academic work with anarchism as its subject matter. It is rarer still to find an academic work that exhibits any in-depth understanding of the authentic history and developing theory of anarchism. Most academics don't get past calling the IWW the International Workers of the World. Those who do are usually happy to repeat the lies of the ruling class and to maintain the 'anarchist' caricatures that serve to maintain a false image of what we actually are.

This book, however, written by a teacher of cinema studies at the College of Staten Island in New York, exhibits an unusually deep understanding and wide knowledge of the historic movement and the political arguments within anarchism. The author in fact sets out to consciously deconstruct the stereotypes of anarchism and anarchists that have appeared in both mainstream and 'alternative' cinema.

Extremely readable, the text rarely uses pretentious-git-speak to intentionally, or otherwise, obscure the core meanings of the arguments. The introduction gives a good historical background to the development to anarchist ideas during "¼ more than a hundred years of labour agitation and revolutionary struggles" (p2), and offers the reader who has not come across anarchism before an informative background to the subject matter of the book. It is obvious from the beginning that the author actually knows what he's talking about!

There are five sections: Anarchism and Cinema: Representation and Self-Representation; Cinema, Anarchism, and Revolution: Heroes, Martyrs, and Utopian Moments; Anarcho-syndicalism versus the 'Revolt against Work'; Film and Anarchist Pedagogy and The Elusive Anarchist Aesthetic. Each section can be read independently which makes it a great book to dip in and out of.

This reviewer must admit to not having heard of, never mind having seen, many of the films mentioned and it is fascinating to learn that Malatesta, for example, has been the subject of a highly sympathetic movie (Peter Lilienthal's Malatesta, 1971) or that Alexander Berkman unsuccessfully hawked a 'swashbuckling' screenplay based upon Nestor Makhno's life around Hollywood! It's also interesting to see how some film makers who consider themselves 'sympathetic' to anarchism have played a role in reinforcing the stereotype of the anarchist as irrational and impulsive, if not slightly mad (Wertmuller's Love and Anarchy, 1973 for example).

But far from merely being an encyclopaedia of anarchists in the cinema, the book discusses the contradictions within anarchist film-making and anarchists/anarchism as subject matter. Few perspectives aren't tackled intelligently and the research is exhaustive. Critics might suggest that this is a simply an academic exercise and that the cinema is Spectacular representation at its worst. However, to have such a clued-up and sympathetic text in circulation which may bring revolutionary ideas into areas where they don't usually see the light of day, can only be useful.

Try and get it into your local public or college library.

Food to make you fast (2008)

Book Review from the January 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Chew on This. By Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson

Schlosser is the author of Fast Food Nation (reviewed in the Socialist Standard for November 2002), and this book covers some of the same ground as the earlier one. That's to say, it looks at the power of fast food companies, especially McDonald's, and the nature of the food they serve.

McDonald's is the largest purchaser of beef in the United States, and this position has enabled them and the other big meat-packing companies to drive down the price paid to ranchers, many of whom have gone out of business. The raising and slaughtering of pigs, cattle and chicken has been aimed squarely at making profits, with little regard for the conditions of the animals or the workers. Chicken, for instance, will live barely six weeks and never see a blade of grass. They die increasingly of heart attacks, caused by a thick layer of fat around the heart.

Of course the fast food companies don't want their customers to think about where the food comes from and how it's made. They'd rather you didn't reflect on the manufactured flavours that are added, or the fact that food for children is made as sweet as possible. Massive amounts of advertising are aimed at kids, who are naturally very susceptible and can influence where their parents take them to eat. Further, the advertising isn't confined to food, as giving away or selling toys is another means to get the kids in.

The employees are often not much older than children, given the fast food industry's reliance on teenage labour. Teenagers are simply cheaper and easier to control. They mostly earn the minimum wage, which in the US is worth less in real terms than it was fifty years ago. There is a large turnover of staff, and the derogatory label 'McJob' sums things up well.

It may even be a McWorld that is developing, as the fast food chains expand outside the US and Europe. The first Burger King opened in Baghdad just nine weeks after the US-led invasion in 2003. The UK has long been part of the McDonald's empire, with 2.5 million people eating there every day.
Capitalist-style fast food treats appallingly the animals that it raises and kills. It's also bad for the workers it employs and bad for the consumers who eat it.
Paul Bennett

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why the Green Party is wrong (2008)

Editorial from the forthcoming January 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

People are right to be concerned about what is happening to the environment. Materials taken from nature are being transformed by human activity into substances which nature either can't decompose or can't decompose fast enough. The result is pollution and global threats such as the hole in the ozone layer and global warming.

There really is a serious environmental crisis. The issue is not whether it exists but what to do about it. The Green Party has one view. We have another.

The Green Party sees itself as the political arm of the wider environmental movement, arguing that it is not enough to be a pressure group, however militant, like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth. Greens, it says, should organise as well to contest elections with the eventual aim of forming a Green government that could pass laws and impose taxes to protect the environment.

We say that no government can protect the environment.

Governments exist to run the political side of the profit system. And the profit system can only work by giving priority to making profits over all other considerations. So to protect the environment we must end production for profit.

Pollution and environmental degradation result from the inappropriate ways in which materials from nature are transformed into products for human use. But what causes inappropriate productive methods to be used? Is it ignorance or greed, as some Greens claim? No, it is the way production is organised today and the forces to which it responds.

Production today is in the hands of business enterprises, all competing to sell their products at a profit. All of them—and it doesn't matter whether they are privately owned or state-owned—aim to maximise their profits. This is an economic necessity imposed by the forces of the market. If a business does not make a profit it goes out of business. "Make a profit or die" is the jungle economics that prevails today.
Under the competitive pressures of the market businesses only take into account their own narrow financial interest, ignoring wider social or ecological considerations. All they look to is their own balance sheet and in particular the bottom line which shows whether or not they are making a profit.

The whole of production, from the materials used to the methods employed to transform them, is distorted by this drive to make and accumulate profits. The result is an economic system governed by uncontrollable market forces which compel decision-makers, however selected and whatever their personal views or sentiments, to plunder, pollute and waste.

Governments do not have a free hand to do what is sensible or desirable. They can only act within the narrow limits imposed by the profit-driven market system whose rules are "profits first" and "you can't buck the market".

The Green Party is not against the market and is not against profit-making. It imagines that, by firm government action, these can be tamed and prevented from harming the environment. This is an illusion. You can't impose other priorities on the profit system than making profits. That's why a Green government would fail.
The Green Party fails to realise that what those who want a clean and safe environment are up against is a well-entrenched economic and social system based on class privilege and property and governed by the overriding economic law of profits first.
If the environmental crisis is to be solved, this system must go.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (26)

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 26th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

We now have 1127 friends!

Recent blogs:

  • Modern Technology and Socialism

  • Religion: dying but not yet dead

  • Anthropology and politics

  • This week's top quote:

    At length the hour of shutting up the counting-house arrived. With an ill-will Scrooge dismounted from his stool, and tacitly admitted the fact to the expectant clerk in the Tank, who instantly snuffed his candle out, and put on his hat.

    "You'll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?" said Scrooge.

    "If quite convenient, sir."

    "It's not convenient," said Scrooge, "and it's not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you'd think yourself ill-used, I'll be bound?"

    The clerk smiled faintly.

    "And yet," said Scrooge, "you don't think me ill-used, when I pay a day's wages for no work."

    The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

    "A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!" said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. "But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning." Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Julius Martov and the Anti-Bolshevik Approach To Revolution

    From the Inveresk Street Ingrate blog:

    Final talk from the 'Socialist Thinkers – People Who History Made' lecture series and, aptly enough, the lecture dates from 25 years to the day.

    Socialist meetings on a Boxing Day? Those were the days.

    The sound quality of the recording is not the greatest but, remember, when I did originally introduce these old recordings on the blog, I did introduce them as, The SPGB: the basement tapes. The political quality of the recordings has been immeasurable, and I hope that other comrades in the SPGB tradition will look to upload further talks and debates on the Party website and/or their blogs.
    Martov was an important socialist thinker and activist from the first two decades of the twentieth century, and I hope that readers will also take the time to check out the links below for further information about Martov and the period under discussion.

    First Part
    FILE NAME: martov part one.mp3
    FILE SIZE: ~67.40 megabytes

    Second Part
    FILE NAME: martov part two.mp3
    FILE SIZE: ~27.24 megabytes
    LENGTH: 29:34

    Further Reading on Julius Martov:

  • Julius Martov on the Marxist Internet Archive

  • Julius Martov page at Spartacus.Net

  • The State and the Socialist Revolution by Julius Martov

  • Review of Martov's 'The State and the Socialist Revolution' (From an issue of the Socialist Standard that dates from 1940.)

  • Martov: a Russian Social-Democrat (A review of Israel Getzler's biography of Julius Martov that first appeared in the November 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard.)

  • The role of the soviets in Russia's bourgeois revolution: the point of view of Julius Martov by Adam Buick (Originally published in the French political journal, Economies et societes, cahiers de l'ISMEA, Paris, serie S, Number 18, April-May 1976 issue.)
  • Tuesday, December 25, 2007


    From the Marx and Coca-Cola blog:

    From Reuters:

    "Between railroad tracks and beneath the roar of departing planes sits "tent city," a terminus for homeless people....The noisy, dusty camp sprang up in July with 20 residents and now numbers 200 people, including several children, growing as this region east of Los Angeles has been hit by the U.S. housing crisis."

    It's not just people who have lost their houses who are facing hardship. The housing crisis has caused a slew of problems for everyone. The abandoned houses have become a magnet for drugs and other crime, lowers property values, and property tax revenue which could force cities to cut spending in areas like policing or fire prevention. And renters could face homelessness themselves due to an increase demand for apartments. Foreclosures are even started to affect public health.

    "All those empty swimming pools in California's Inland Empire have become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which can transmit the sometimes deadly West Nile virus, Riverside County officials say."

    Sunday, December 23, 2007

    Belfort Bax and the "Ethics of Socialism"

    From the Inveresk Street Ingrate blog.

    Down to the final three talks in the 1982 'Socialist Thinkers – People Who History Made' lecture series. Once again, the speaker/lecturer is Steve Coleman, and this time the socialist thinker under discussion is Ernest Belfort Bax.

    Down the years, Bax is someone who has been pretty much written out of the history of the nineteenth century British Socialist Movement.

    Whilst Hyndman is always on hand to take on the role of the Victorian villain for the failure of the Marxist Left in Britain for not fully integrating into the wider Labour Movement, and William Morris gets rediscovered every generation via a new biography and/or a new exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Bax, who was a comparable heavyweight figure in the Social Democratic Federation in the 1880s and was a major player - alongside Morris, Aveling and Eleanor Marx - in the Socialist League split from the SDF in 1885, if he is known at all, is best known these days for his virulent anti-feminism in the latter years of his political life, and his capitulation to British chauvinism at the outbreak of the First World War.

    In recent years, Old Skool Trotskyist, Ted Crawford, (Officer Class), has done sterling work in creating a Bax archive on the Marxist Internet Archive which is comparable to many of the better known socialist writers on the website. And more background on Bax is available via Ted's autobiographical sketch on the Marxist Internet Archive website.

    First Part

    DOWNLOAD LINK: Belfort Bax and the "Ethics of Socialism"

    FILE NAME: 02 belfort bax and the ethics of socialism part 1.mp3

    FILE SIZE: ~59.47 megabytes


    Second Part

    DOWNLOAD LINK: Belfort Bax and the "Ethics of Socialism"

    FILE NAME: 01 belfort bax and the ethics of socialism part 2.mp3

    FILE SIZE: ~41.88 megabytes

    LENGTH: 56:01

    Further Reading on Ernest Belfort Bax:

  • Bax on the Marxist Internet Archive

  • From the August 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard: Eleanor Marx, Belfort Bax and "the Woman Question"
  • Friday, December 21, 2007

    Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Critique of Religion

    From the Inveresk Street Ingrate blog:

    Another talk in the 1982 'Socialist Thinkers – People Who History Made' lecture series. Once again, the speaker/lecturer is Steve Coleman.

    Don't mind the accompanying picture for the post. Thought I'd indulge myself by using the front cover of Dick Geary's 1987 biography of Kautsky that was published as part of the 'Lives of the Left' series.

    Those were the days . . . when I used to read books.

    First Part

    DOWNLOAD LINK: Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Critique of Religion

    FILE NAME: 02 karl kautsky and the socialist critique of religion.mp3

    FILE SIZE: ~46.17 megabytes


    Second Part

    DOWNLOAD LINK: Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Critique of Religion

    FILE NAME: 03 karl kautsky and the socialist critique of religion part

    FILE SIZE: ~51.61 megabytes

    LENGTH: 56:01

    Further Reading on Karl Kautsky:

  • Kautsky on the Marxist Internet Archive
  • Thursday, December 20, 2007

    Christmas Gifts For Africa

    From the Socialist Banner blog:

    Ethical gifts are billed as the perfect antidote to the conspicuous consumerism of the festive season. Whether buying a goat for a family in Africa, or the materials to build a toilet, we are told that these simple items can make a big difference to people in developing countries.Such presents have been growing in popularity and last year Oxfam sold £3.9 million worth of ethical gifts . The charity has this year launched a celebrity-led campaign to encourage more of us to send useful gifts - which may include items such as dung, condoms or even a can of worms - to help communities in the developing world.

    However UK-based education charity Worldwrite says that far from being welcome, these gifts are often seen as "demeaning and patronising". Worldwrite also argues that far from encouraging development, buying someone a goat or a hoe for Christmas only conspires to keep recipients at the same subsistence levels year after year. "People in the developing world are like us - they know the sorts of things we have and they want them too " . They felt some projects epitomised "low horizons" and irritated locals who say they are offered "peanuts" with endless "accountability" and "target" forms to fill out.

    Worldwrite's views are echoed by Ghanaian De Roy Kwesi Andrew, a teacher and translator, who says: "Our people and government have become merely the passive, obedient pupils to be preached to."

    As a local teacher in Ghana , Godbless Ashie , puts it : "Africans have big brains, big aspirations and want to live in liberty."

    We at Socialist Banner say the best Xmas present for everybody would be for all of us to put an end to capitalism and for us all to achieve socialism and put an end to exploitation and pauperism .

    Alan Johnstone

    American Nightmares I & II

    From the Socialist Courier blog:

    American Nightmare (I)

    The so-called American dream wherein once poor immigrants became wealthy is turning out to be a nightmare for many American workers.

    "The current deflation of home prices is changing America. It's a real estate storm that made landfall like a slow-moving Gulf Coast hurricane here in south Florida and in other once-booming housing markets last year. In recent months it has gathered momentum and spread, shaping up to become perhaps the worst home-price slump since the 1920s and '30s. The bust promises to have lasting effects. Among them: It is defining the limits, for now, of what President Bush has called the "ownership society." A surging foreclosure rate means that the rate of home ownership, after a historic rise, is falling." (Yahoo News, 10 December)

    American Nightmare (II)

    "More people are requesting emergency food aid and more homeless families with children are seeking shelter, concludes a 23-city survey released Monday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Four of five cities say requests for food aid rose an average of 12% from the previous year, according to the survey for the period covering November 2006 through October 2007. Most cities had reported a jump in such requests the prior year as well. Ten of 14 cities with data on homeless families say more families with children sought emergency shelter and transitional housing. About half of the cities say their overall homeless problem increased. Collectively, the cities report giving shelter to 193,183 people." (USA Today, 17 December)

    Richard Donnelly

    Saturday, December 15, 2007

    Socialist Party Meeting: Neighbours (1952)

    The Socialist Party of Great Britain will be hosting a special screening of the classic 1952 short film, 'Neighbours' by Norman McLaren. The film will be followed by a talk on the socialist attitude to war.

    Date: Sunday, 16 December 2007 from 19:00 to 21:00

    Speaker: Gwynn Thomas

    Location: Socialist Party Head Office

    52 Clapham High Street, London, SW4 7UN

    Nearest tube:
    Clapham North

    Nearest rail: Clapham High Street

    For more information about the Socialist Party:



    Friday, December 14, 2007

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (24)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 24th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1073 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • The politics of climate change

  • A challenge to Leninism

  • Is common ownership against human nature?

  • This week's top quote:

    "You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit or it is nowhere." Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed, 1974

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Wednesday, December 12, 2007

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (24)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 23rd of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1033 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Reformism or Socialism?

  • Saving Earth or saving Profits

  • The BNP: a product of reformism's failure
  • This week's top quote:

    "Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified. The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it." Karl Marx, The Grundrisse, 1857

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Sunday, December 2, 2007

    Running riot: Britain’s urban violence (1981)

    From the August 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Bristol, Brixton, Southall, Toxteth, Moss Side, Wood Green, Woolwich, Brixton again . . . A wave of civil disturbances has erupted in England. As livelihoods go up in flames and mindless destruction explodes on the streets, there is a stampede on to the political stage from both wings by politicians and assorted spokesmen. They hold forth loudly to the audience—the “general public”—about what must be done. They shake their fists and point angrily at each other. They make ominous warnings and each tries to win the support of the audience with promises to carry out the right policy. Political commentators arise and plaintive vicars descend to offer their planned remedies in the din.

    A stern attitude has been struck by the government: “the law must be upheld, people must be protected” said Margaret Thatcher in her recent broadcast. Such a kind concern for people’s welfare doesn’t exactly square with her policy of closing down emergency casualty departments in hospitals and spending milions of pounds on murderous armoury, but then consistency is not one of her strong points. The Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, is planning measures to suppress the street violence. He advocates the use of water cannon, CS gas and increased power for the police to enable them to arrest anyone found in the area of a disturbance. He suggests that parents of those on the rampage should be punished for not controlling their children. There have also been cries from Conservative quarters to bring back the birch and to introduce the Army to “pacify” civil disorders. The idea behind these sorts of proposals seems to be that if some people become so frustrated with the dehumanising lifestyle which capitalism imposes on the majority that they rebel violently, then you have to teach them that violence is wrong and immoral. And the way you must teach them that violence is wrong and immoral is by beating them with truncheons and spraying them with gas.

    On the other hand, supporters of the Labour Party argue that the real causes of the disorders are the reactionary economic policies of this Conservative government. Inner city decay, urban deprivation and high unemployment are all identified as precipitating the riots and the Tory administration is held responsible for having bred the causes. It is true that the economic policy of this government has done much to exacerbate living conditions for many in the working class, but this government has not caused the problems of unemployment and inner city decay and its removal and replacement by a Labour administration will not solve the difficulties of life in the profit system. Not so long ago there were less than half a million unemployed in Britain. Now there are almost three million living on the dole. There are approximately 30 million workers registered as unemployed across the continent of Europe, in countries operating a great variety of economic and political administrations of capitalism from totalitarian state control to “liberal democracies” with comparatively low degrees of state intervention in the economy. The evidence is clear enough that the trend of high unemployment, during periods of glutted production for the market, is one which moves on largely unaffected by the different economic schemes used in running production for profit. Similarly, the urban deprivation of places like Brixton, Toxteth and Moss Side was not something which grew out of the paving stones after May 1979 when the Tories won the General Election. Squalid housing and unemployment are problems which have been developing for decades and which successive Labour governments have been unable to alleviate. The recent spate of civil violence is the tip of an iceberg of discontent and frustration and it is a delusion to imagine that the problems which face us—the working class—can be eradicated by Labour plans to provide more employment (more exploitation) and more second-rate housing.

    Supporters of left-wing organisations like the Socialist Workers Party have been greatly enthused by brick-throwing at policemen, which is somehow regarded as the kind of anti-establishment action of which revolutions are made, or at least from which they can be begun. The attempts to manipulate this collective aggression and stoke up more disturbance are made by ambitious crusaders who believe that if they could be elevated to positions of power on the shoulders of the angry masses, then they could charitably set to work on implementing revolutionary policies for the good of those who know no better than to oppose capitalism with damage and injury. As people who declare their support for the working class, those left-wingers have an offensively patronising view of the capacity of workers to reach socialist consciousness.

    A similar enthusiasm for the rioting has been shown by the various extreme right-wing organisations like the National Front who, like the Left, regard the fury of the riot as fertile ground from which to recruit violent rebels. The nature of the political philosophy of parties like the SWP and the NF, and the degree to which the role of the rank and file membership is simply to put forward the changing slogans of the leaderships, means that enrolment to membership can be based on having yo” or “The Blacks”.

    The first riot in Southall was different from the others. The violence began there when several coachloads of racialists were ferried into the area, ostensibly to attend a pub concert. Shops owned by Asians were damaged and the proprietors assaulted. The violence was committed amid barked racialist slogans and provocative Sieg Hiels. Local Asian residents managed to organise themselves against their aggressors while the police had taken almost their entire force away to another district, allegedly on a tip-off. In all of the other riots in London, Liverpool and Manchester, black and white workers were in the broil together. They were not race riots but poverty riots. Poverty, that is, both of wealth and ideas. The riot in Southall did not rage because local black and white residents found it impossible to exist peaceably side by side. It was fomented by violent thugs imported for that purpose. And to those who insist that there will always be an underlying tension when different cultures exist in the same district, let them travel to somewhere like cosmopolitan Kensington in London and witness how privileged “Englishmen” have no resentment living in the same community as wealthy Arabs and Nigerians and Iranians. They have no poverty to blame on anyone, and must feel quite safe so long as we blame ours on each other.

    Priests and vicars have not been slow to get off their knees to give vacuums of sympathy to victims of violence and sinister warnings to the sinners. The practicality of their advice in the aftermath of the violence is well summed up in the words of the Archbishop of Liverpool, the Most Reverend Derek Worlock, who after the destruction in Toxteth proclaimed “Out of the ashes of these last days must come new life and new hope.” But then if you believe that the ultimate control of the affairs of mankind lies with a force beyond the skies, what else can you offer those suffering from socially produced hardship, but hope?

    In certain degrees of poverty, especially at a time of economic crisis when there is no hope on the horizon, pent up frustration will be likely to burst into violence among those who have not considered the cause of their problems and sought to remove it. The dashed hopes and bitterness of most of those in the recent upsurges were not so much to do with the conditions of employment as the condition of unemployment. Hundreds of thousands of young members of the wealth producing class have left school in recent years to go directly on to the dole queue. The feeling of rejection and uselessness which this creates contributes to their resentment of their environment. In Toxteth, to take one example, with thousands of young people leaving school, significantly just about the time the riots broke out, the local career office was offering only 12 jobs. In the city of Liverpool, according to the latest unemployment figures, 81,000 people were chasing 1,019 job vacancies. Other factors like aggressive policing and routine stop-and-search tactics will have obviously aggravated the tensions.

    The fact that the bursting frustration and desperation expresses itself in the ferocity of the riot is understandable. Capitalism is a social system which is shot through with everyday forms of “respectable” and institutionalised violence from the teacher’s cane and the policeman’s truncheon to the government’s tanks and bombs. From the most lighthearted comic book to the late-night documentary on the brutalities of Northern Ireland or Afghanistan we are confronted with images of violence as a method of trying to cause social change. The deeds of those participating in the riots were thoughtlessly destructive. Cars, shops and homes of fellow members of the working class were irrationally ruined. It was a foolish misdirection of anger.

    Where do we go from here? It is possible for capitalism to attempt to quell the areas of extreme deprivation by pumping money into housing, industry and welfare for the poverty to become just endurable. The riots which broke in southern America in the late 1960s had their immediate causes treated with giant expenditure on welfare relief payments to the poorest families and training programmes for ghetto youngsters. The profit-system will not be burnt away, neither will it be dislodged or smashed with bricks. A few riots, even large scale rebellions, can easily enough be quashed by the authorities, and usually the rioters will be in a worse condition after the insurgence than before it. But, to borrow from Friedrich Engels, there is no power in Britain which could for a day resist the British working class organised as a body.
    Gary Jay

    50 Years Ago: Sputnik Lunacy: LET’S LIVE ON THE EARTH FIRST! (2007)

    The 50 Years Ago Column in the December 2007 Socialist Standard

    The sound made by the Sputniks is, in fact, not of man triumphant over nature but of one nation gaining prestige against another. Nobody knows whether Sputniks are weapons or not, but that isn’t the point anyway. The big bangs, the bomb tests and the other push-button horror displays are the nations making muscles, like boys preparing for a fight that each hopes to scare the other out of; and now the Russians have made the biggest muscle of all, the visible proof of incredible technical development.

    The implications go farther than to America and Britain. The “uncommitted” nations – i.e., those which have not declared or had to give allegiance to the western powers or to Russia – have to take notice. The Sputniks, flashing in the Russian shop-window, have made the American one suddenly dull by comparison. The conception of Russia as a backward, semi-barbaric nation has been pushed aside for one – equally mistaken of a great atomic-age civilization. Inevitably the competition has intensified: America now must have satellites at all costs. Did any space-fiction writer envisage a race to the moon?

    There is, indeed, kudos to Russia all along the line, most of all because the Anniversary celebrations served to underline the fact that there were only forty years between the fall of the Czars and the launching of the Sputniks. To keep things in perspective, it should be realized that the development of Russia has been only that of a huge nation in the upsurge of capitalist growth. Within the limits of an earlier time, the growth of Britain in the nineteenth century was equally remarkable; or Germany between 1870 and 1914, from a collection of three-halfpenny states to a great power.

    (From front page article by R. Coster, Socialist Standard, December 1957)