Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Covenanters: the Scottish Taliban? (2014)

From the August 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the run-up to the Scottish referendum we conclude our three-part series exposing the myths of Scottish nationalism.
Over 18,000 and possibly as many as 30,000 Scottish Presbyterian Covenanters gave their lives for their beliefs during the seventeenth century. To understand the background to this, we have to remember that religion and politics have been interwoven throughout Scottish history. For instance, there was the Calvinist Reformation where John Knox was able to bend much of Scotland to his will and control Parliament. From the signing of the Scottish National Covenant of 1638 to the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 there was a movement to make Scotland a theocratic state. These dissenters were the staunch supporters of Presbyterianism, the radicals of their day, who strictly followed the rules of John Calvin, John Knox and latterly Andrew Melville. It was their desire for a theocratic government and rejection of the king`s claimed supremacy of the church that branded them as zealots and a threat.
The Kirk was the focus for the Presbyterians in which the senior members of a congregation were elected as the Elders. They and the minister held great sway through the ‘Kirk Session’ – the local church court. It was through the workings and authority of this court that the day-to-day life of the congregation was overseen. The Kirk Session was responsible at local level for matters of conscience and religion which in practice ranged across practically everything. Their role extended to dealing with excesses and behaviour of all kinds, whether drink or style of dress, fornication or lewdness, oppression of the poor by over-taxation or deception in buying and selling. The local nature of a punishment, both the publicity and enforcement locally, meant that action was swift. The most common civil penalty imposed by the Kirk Sessions was the fine. In some places this was according to a set table, in others there was a quite enlightened approach to fines according to the estate of the offender (proportionality as we call it today). Non-payment of fines could result in imprisonment or being locked in the ‘jugs’ – a lockable metal collar attached to a wall by a length of chain, for the duration of the sermon. The penalty for adultery was to stand dressed in sackcloth, bare headed and bare feet at the kirk door; then sit on the stool of repentance in front of the congregation for perhaps six months or longer.
Sometimes the punishment included fines and whipping too. Few resisted as under a law of 1581 the adulterer who refused the kirk`s punishment could be put to death. In the period 1574 to 1612 Puritanism and the zealous Presbyterianism of Andrew Melville gained a foothold that punished a wide range of alleged excesses. This Puritan zeal included attacks on Christmas and traditional holidays such as Midsummer Eve. Pilgrimages, dancing, carol singing, merrymaking at weddings, and wakes; and failing to work on Christmas Day, were all subjects of condemnation. In 1579 a law was passed banning Sunday travel, recreation and drinking. A second and more intense phase of Puritanism appeared after 1638 when much of the country was imbued with fervour following the National Covenant. The Puritan vigour was subsequently endorsed by Oliver Cromwell when he subjugated Scotland during his republican rule. In 1656 the ultimate law was passed that forbade frequenting taverns, dance, listening to profane music, washing, brewing ale or baking bread, travelling or conducting any business on a Sunday. This, for example, led to the punishment of children for playing on a Sunday, and a public warning about carrying water, sweeping the house or clearing ashes from the fire place.
The National Covenant was drafted by Sir Archibald Johnstone, and Archibald Henderson. It was in three parts – a reproduction of the Confession of King James VI (later James I of England) in 1580; a detailed list of the Acts of Parliament which confirmed Presbyterianism and condemned Popery; and, thirdly, a protest about the changes in worship which was an attempt to force episcopal reforms on the nation. King Charles over-reacted and regarded the Covenanters as rebels. In June 1640, during an uneasy truce, the Scottish Parliament assembled in defiance of the King's attempts to postpone its sitting. A number of acts were passed that radically altered the constitution of Scotland. A new Committee of Estates was appointed to govern Scotland when Parliament was not in session. The Committee's primary responsibility was the defence of Scotland, for which it was granted powers to borrow money and to raise taxes. The Committee was dominated by Covenanters. The Committee remained in power whenever Parliament was not sitting throughout the turbulent 1640s. The fundamentalist Kirk Party became the dominant political force and governed Scotland as a theocracy from 1648-50, characterised by regular purges of officials and soldiers regarded as ungodly or ‘malignant’. The Kirk's desire to stamp out sin and to enforce moral reform, in accordance with the principles of the Covenant, resulted in one of Scotland's periodic ‘witch-crazes’ during 1649-50, in which hundreds of alleged witches were persecuted, with many burned at the stake.
Charles II was proclaimed King of Scots in February 1649, but the Kirk Party insisted that he should first accept the Covenant and promise to establish Presbyterian church government throughout the Three Kingdoms. Realising that he needed a Scottish army to help him regain the thrones of England and Ireland, Charles was obliged to sign the Treaty of Breda in May 1650 and reluctantly took the Covenant upon his arrival in Scotland the following month. The Kirk Party struggled to keep Charles under its control by banishing most of his closest advisers and by insisting upon purging the Scottish army of all but strict Covenanters in the weeks before the Battle of Dunbar against Cromwell. Up to 80 veteran officers and 3,000 experienced soldiers were judged unfit to serve and were replaced by inexperienced recruits, which contributed to the Scottish defeat at Dunbar and discredited the Kirk Party. The Kirk Party was further weakened when hard-line Covenanters broke away to form the Remonstrant movement.
On 14 December 1650, the Commission of the Kirk decreed that it was Parliament's duty to employ all lawful means to defend Scotland against the English invaders, which opened the way for the re-admission of Royalists and Engagers into the army once they had undergone suitable penance. Pro-Royalists were known as ‘Resolutioners’ because they supported the resolutions of 14 December. They were opposed by ‘Protesters’, a group which was led by Remonstrants but included many who had not supported the original Remonstrance. The Protesters continued to object to the relaxation of the strictures against ‘malignants’ but the Royalists rapidly gained influence in the military and civil administration of Scotland after the coronation of Charles II culminating in the fall of the Kirk Party.
The Restoration of Charles II in 1660 was greeted with some euphoria among the general populace who had endured over twenty years of almost constant war. But it was short lived. Charles turned upon the Kirk and its leaders who had given him such a tough time in 1650 - 1651 when he had tried to take up his throne following the execution of his father (Charles I). At his Restoration he took his revenge, executing the Marquis of Argyll, James Guthrie and Archibald Johnstone. He next caused legislation to abolish all that Presbytery had achieved and restored episcopacy along with compulsory attendance at the approved church on pain of heavy fines for non-attendance.
From about 1670 the country was under military rule as Charles intensified the persecution of the people and prompted the ‘Killing Time’ of 1684-5. To quell unrest in south-west Scotland some 3,000 Lowland militia and 6,000 Highlanders (the 'Highland Host') were billeted in the Covenanting shires. The Highlanders were responsible for many atrocities, robbery and rape, pillage and plunder. Covenanters were flushed out and hunted down as never before and the common soldier was empowered to carry out summary executions of any suspect without the requirement of a trial. A Covenanter once caught by the King's troops was shot on the spot. Usually it was done without any evidence. Brutality in these days defied the imagination and the persecution had no mercy on man, woman or child, irrespective of circumstances. These policies provoked armed rebellions in 1666 and 1679, which were quickly suppressed. Following the Battle of Bothwell Brig some 1200 prisoners were taken and incarcerated in a make-shift prison at the Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, where many died of suffocation. Of these prisoners, 257 ringleaders and ministers were sentenced to be transported as slaves. The vessel set sail but struck rocks off Orkney. It is said that the captain despite the pleas of the prisoners ordered the hatches to be chained. Thus it was on December 10, 1679, that 211 Covenanters went to a watery grave.
Cameronian was a name given to a section of the Scottish Covenanters who followed the teachings of Richard Cameron, and who were composed principally of those disavowing allegiance to Charles II and the government of Scotland, in the name of ‘true Protestant and Presbyterian interest’. They opposed government interference in religious affairs, and were anti-Catholic, refusing to take the oaths of allegiance to an uncovenanted ruler. They wished to restore the ecclesiastical order which had existed between 1638 and 1649. The Cameronians saw themselves as early Christian martyrs by holding steadfastly to their beliefs in the face of torture and death. It was from these rebellious religious militants that the famous Cameronian Rifles regiment was formed, not as some suppose, from the family clan Cameron, and it was why each new recruit to the regiment was issued a bible.
Were the Covenanters essentially Protestant theocrats? Or were they really democrats challenging an absolutist regime? Presbyterian beliefs meant an opposition to the King`s claim of supremacy in church matters, although they acknowledged his supremacy in civil matters. Yet to safeguard their religious rights required a clerical influence on the civil government. Covenanters stood up to the powers of the Crown but never, at any point in time, challenged the Crown's right to rule.
Some historians have tried to portray the Covenanters as an early revolutionary movement. The Covenanters are regarded by some as freedom fighters who bravely opposed attempts by the English crown to destroy the Scottish religion, culture and identity and it is also claimed that those Protestant rebels were sidelined in Scots' history. The King had indeed been defeated in his attempt to dictate the religion of his subjects, but it was, nevertheless, the Covenanters’ intention to deny the religious freedom they sought for themselves to all others. Being Episcopalian wasn't good enough; to be Catholic was unforgivable. Inspired by the theocratic spirit, the bigoted creed of the Covenanters sought to create a fundamentalist Scotland. In many ways, they can be seen as a sort of tartan Taliban, our very own Scottish ayatollahs, who tried to turn Scotland into a theocratic state, with its communities controlled by the church. In that respect, they do not deserve too much of our sympathy.

Why the War Was Not Worth Shedding a Single Drop of Working Class Blood (2014)

From the August 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

The introduction to our new pamphlet Strange Meeting: Socialism and World War One which brings together articles published in the Socialist Standard at the time.
Although the First World War (28th July 1914-11th November 1918) was not quite the bloodiest in history, it must surely be a leading contender for the most futile, wasteful and calamitous. That is not to say that nobody benefited from it, for wherever and whenever there is human tragedy you may be certain that there will be demand for ever more efficient and lethal weapons and rapid technological advance. It led to the creation of at least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires in the USA alone via the arms industry. As a League of Nations report concluded: ‘Wars are promoted by the competitive zeal of private armaments firms.’ Or, as the deeply disillusioned Major-General Smedley Butler, more succinctly put it: ‘War is a racket.’
With the advent of its hundredth anniversary, establishment apologists will be seizing every opportunity to justify this truly appalling war in the name of remembrance, seeking to glorify this callous implementation of state violence as a laudable defence of freedom and democracy, neither of which most of the combatants would ever have enjoyed in their lifetime. In reality, of course, the recurring purpose of war is the preservation of the particular financial and territorial interests of one set of capitalist powers against the encroachment of their equally ruthless rivals seeking a different outcome. Substituting ‘power and markets’ for ‘freedom and democracy’ in every history book would yield a narrative embracing far greater clarity and veracity.
In pursuit of capitalist self-interest, members of the working class are routinely regarded by their rulers as a disposable commodity, all too easily seduced into compliance with war by appeals to patriotic duty and cynical promises for a brighter future – only to discover that the ‘land fit for heroes’ is a mirage.
Unlike the French and German armies, the UK units of the Territorial and Regular Army consisted entirely of volunteers. So effective was the British recruitment campaign that between July and September 1914, the number of volunteers rose from 100,000 to 400,000 plus. When Lord Kitchener was appointed Minister of War in August, he announced the formation of a new army (Kitchener’s Army). Within 5 months numbers increased by well over a million; nevertheless conscription was introduced in January 1916.
The new army was first deployed at Loos and in 1916 fought at the Battle of the Somme – the initial catastrophic assault on 1st July unfondly remembered as the ’Big Push’. Lasting until the 19th November, the amount of territory gained was a paltry seven miles of muddy terrain. The 4½ months of brutal exchanges resulted in a combined total of almost a million casualties; the British losing nearly 60,000 men on the first day to move forward less than a mile. When Commander-in-Chief Douglas Haig finally called off the attack, the first day objectives of Bapaume and Serre were still three miles distant.
The original 400,000 volunteers formed part of the British Expeditionary Force – the ‘Old Contemptibles’. The horrendous carnage reaped during the many bloody battles of WW1 serve as a grim reminder that, so far as the ruling √©lite are concerned, the  ‘Old Contemptibles’ were the ‘Old Expendables’. According to the French Army Commander, General Phillipe Petain ‘…success will come to the side that has the last man standing’. Given the large number of animals also sacrificed, as was the case, he should have added  ‘… or pigeon, or horse, or dog’. His gloomy prediction was made in 1916, the year that the Battle of Verdun was fought between the French and German armies. In the space of 10 months around a million or so soldiers were killed or wounded and the French forces finished up back where they started.
It has been well said that in time of war truth is the first casualty, an observation emphatically endorsed by all governments in the course of WW1. The state propaganda machine immediately sprang into action, ably assisted by the loyal cohorts of the press. Especially by Lord Northcliffe, proprietor of the Times and the Daily Mail which, in view of its mass circulation and mostly conservative readership was a useful outlet for promoting the official line. Indeed, Northcliffe himself was to be the director of propaganda bureau in enemy countries and became known to the Germans as ‘the Minister for Lying’ (the Allies were dubbed ‘the All-Lies’). As early as September 1914, a War Propaganda unit was set up utilising the literary talents of respected luminaries such as H.G. Wells, Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling.
Earlier still, on 8th August 1914, the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) was passed by parliament. This afforded the government enormous powers, enabling them to take over the coal mines, railway and shipping. Newspapers and magazines or any other publication could be censored or shut down and any land, factory or workshop placed under state control. A list of restrictions was published for public digestion. No one was permitted to buy binoculars, purchase brandy or whisky at a railway refreshment room, give bread to horses or chickens, stand a round of drinks in a pub or use invisible ink when writing abroad – an immense relief to all those in the habit of doing so at home. Publicans were allowed to water down beer, a practice widely assumed to have preceded the government edict. Any civilian in violation of the new laws could be put on trial. To ensure maximum daylight for the production of essential supplies such as food and munitions, British Summer Time was introduced.
Women, whose skills and potential had hitherto received scant attention from the state were suddenly deemed vitally important – that is to say important to the war effort. They were speedily recruited for jobs in government-owned munitions factories (munitionettes), in farming (Women’s Land Army), as fire-fighters, as bus conductors and for various non-combatant roles in the WAAC, WRNS and WRAF or the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY). Needless to say, as soon as the war was over the government was keen for them to return to their ‘traditional’ role as homemakers.
Reporting of the war was strictly controlled to ensure that only ‘good news’ was shared with the general public. A Ministry of Information was established and also a War Office Press Bureau. Any reports from the front were suitably watered down before being released. In essence, the ‘news’ consisted of a mixture of silence, distortion, half-truths, fantasy and misinformation (downright lies). Ludicrous rumours, purporting to be evidence of inhuman atrocities carried out by the Germans, were circulated by the various propaganda agencies. Special magazines were published that reinforced the picture of the war that the state wished to paint, drawing in readers by titillating titles: The War Illustrated, The War Pictorial, The Illustrated War News.
To stimulate recruitment to the army and boost morale on the Home Front a series of posters was commissioned that directly appealed to patriotism and duty. Ironically, the best remembered image, that depicting the pointing finger of Lord Kitchener, may not have been used. It was originally printed as a front cover for London Opinion magazine, 5th September 1914 and would have been seen by many people, but doubt has been cast that it was reproduced as part of the poster campaign. The official war slogan was ‘Your King and Country Need You’, but other posters were produced with the specific intention of invoking a sense of guilt and shame. One such example showed a little girl on her father’s knee asking: ‘Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?’
Music and song were also employed most effectively, appealing to a range of emotions. Comfort and reassurance: Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag; Nostalgia: Keep The Home Fires Burning; Duty: Goodbye Dolly, I Must Leave You and Pride: We’re The Soldiers Of The King, My Lads. Those would be performed nightly in music halls by strutting self-satisfied entertainers, oblivious to the conditions at the front. Their smug theatrical displays of flag-waving chauvinism prompted an enraged Siegfried Sassoon to write in one of his most scathing poems:
I’d like to see a Tank come down the stalls,Lurching to rag-time tunes, or ‘Home Sweet Home’,And there'd be no more jokes in music-hallsTo mock the riddled corpses round Bapaume.
All possible means were employed to generate anti-German sentiment – even board games and toys – and in 1916 a film was released entitled ‘The Battle of the Somme’. Sanctioning its showing was a massive risk as it contained footage of actual battles, including troops being killed. It was calculated that the shots of British soldiers cheerfully advancing would inspire a mood of optimism that trumped any negative reaction. It was judged to be a success, but almost certainly it proved to be a double-edged sword. By the end of 1916, as ’bad news’ was also starting to filter through the propaganda smokescreen, public perceptions were changing.
Regrettably, these changing perceptions did little to soften the hostility towards anyone who opposed the war. Indeed, the burgeoning resentment of those unfortunate enough to have lost loves ones – in some cases an entire generation of male family members – often led to the adoption of even more uncompromising attitudes. Men, eligible for military service but choosing not to enrol were commonly ostracised by their own families. The longer the war went on the more aggressive became the intolerance towards conscientious objectors, conscription dodgers and deserters.
At the commencement of the war things were not too unbearable for them; after all, as everyone believed, it would all be over by Christmas. Few paid attention to the contrary opinion voiced by Lord Kitchener. Also, prior to the 1916 Military Service Act, those who did not volunteer were in no way breaking the law. But after conscription was made compulsory for all fit men between the ages of 19 and 41, an exemption certificate was required to escape it. The grounds for exemption were few and some were more readily granted than others. There were four basic categories: 1) Men required for alternative work on behalf of the state. 2) The prospect of serious hardship due to exceptional financial or business obligations or domestic position. 3) Infirmity or ill health. 4) Conscientious objectors.
The reasons for conscientious objection were various; some objectors were pacifists, often but by no means always through religious conviction. Some were politically motivated and some by a combination of these and other factors or who remained unconvinced about the validity of this one particular war. Every conscientious objector was obliged to appear before a tribunal to face cross-examination. This procedure was rarely sympathetic and the questions were designed to trap the petitioner into giving an uncertain answer. A favoured technique was to demand a rational answer to a hypothetical question about an irrational situation. One such question that was very often triumphantly invoked asked ‘Would you save your mother if a German was going to kill her?’
Much of the unpleasantness sustained by objectors was fanned by the role played by women’s organisation like the Mother’s Union and the zealous, high profile support of the National War policy by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst. The Mother’s Union and some other women’s associations encourage their members to persuade anyone of call-up age to enlist without delay and were an integral part of the government recruitment drive. One of the cleverest, but most insidious posters produced by the state propaganda team declared: ‘Women of Britain say – GO!’ Such was the impression made by this and other similar slogans that it was not unusual for a mother to shun a non-serving son out of shame.
Shortly after the start of the war, Admiral Charles Fitzgerald founded the Order of the White Feather, which Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst enthusiastically embraced. The feathers were meant to be presented only to those positively identified as young men avoiding military service. But, so indiscriminate did their distribution become that the authorities were forced to requisition special badges bearing the legend ‘King and Country’ for civilians working in state industries or government departments. Also, those servicemen discharged through injury or sickness were issued with the Silver War Badge. Unfortunately they failed to prevent challenges and sometimes physical attacks being directed at the wrong targets with a White Feather once famously presented to a holder of the Victoria Cross.
Fenner Brockway, a pacifist member of the Independent Labour Party, and later a Labour Party MP, claimed to have received enough white feathers to make a fan. There were some cases, however, of men deciding to enlist subsequent to White Feather embarrassment.
The treatment of conscientious objectors was undeniably harsh, and universally so. In the UK alone they numbered over 16,000, though most were not absolutist and elected to do some form of voluntary service such as ambulance driving or agricultural work. 6,000 were given prison sentences and generally endured brutal treatment, abuse and extremely poor conditions. A number were sent by the army board to France, where they were classified as being on active service. Under French military regulations 36 were sentenced to death, later reduced by Earl Haig to 10 years’ penal servitude, but some were released as early as 1919. No conscientious objector was ever executed in Britain but 41 died in custody as a result of inhuman treatment.
There were a thousand women conscientious objectors as well and since they included a high percentage of absolutists, half of them were sent to prison. Interestingly, most of the soldiers who fought in the trenches were better able to understand and respect the stand taken by the conscientious objectors than those civilians who behaved so vindictively towards them at home.
Between 1914 and 1920 over three thousand British soldiers were sentenced to death for ‘cowardice’, ‘desertion’, ‘striking an officer’, ‘falling asleep on sentry duty’, ‘casting away arms’, ‘refusing to obey an order’ or various other violation of military regulations. Of these, 306 were executed for purely military offences. A further 40 were shot for committing offences of a criminal nature, including murder, in addition to breaking military laws.
Many of the 306 charged and found guilty of purely military violations were among the estimated 80 thousand British soldiers who were suffering shell shock, a condition not recognised by the military courts martial. Some were simply overwhelmed by sheer fatigue or, unable to cope with the sustained mental pressure of unrelenting conflict, lost their nerve. While it is true that they were granted legal representation of a sort, the trials rarely lasted longer than half an hour, often no more than 20 minutes and no appeal was allowed. Military justice was assuredly swift.
Surprisingly most of those executed were volunteers which, by itself, is sufficient to suggest that they were hardly unwilling to do their ‘duty’. Following a prolonged campaign all of the 306 were posthumously pardoned in August 2006. The death penalty for such ‘crimes’ was banned by parliament in 1930. In his fictional story (based on fact) of just such a soldier, entitled The Secret Battle, the author A.P. Herbert provides a poignant epitaph in the very last lines:
"This is the gist of it, that my friend Harry was shot for cowardice – and he was one of the bravest men I ever knew."
Although there were 16,000 individuals who, commendably, took a stand against WW1, it was the Socialist Party of Great Britain alone who did so unequivocally as a matter of political party policy. We argued that this conflict was not caused by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, or by German military imperialism, or by an arms race. These happenings were offered as justification at the time, but were nothing more than the consequences of a deeper underlying and ongoing cause. Sadly, truth is not a requirement for ‘A’ Level history. The abiding reality is that this war, as others before it and since, was the result of the ever-present struggle by competing national powers and alliances for territorial supremacy and market dominance. Nothing has changed!
WW1 was not only the inevitable result of rampant class-riddled capitalism, but it provided graphic evidence of the obscene lengths to which those who support such a system are prepared to go to perpetuate it. This ridiculous war involved over 30 countries and resulted in over 9 million soldiers being killed and 21 million injured. A mind-boggling 12,000 miles of tunnels were dug by both sides, creating a rat-infested, disease-ridden environment. For this purpose the British and French between them used no fewer than 140,000 Chinese labourers (Chinese Labour Corps). Coal miners were recruited to dig tunnels and place explosive devices in enemy territory - tunnels in which some remained entombed.
Poison gas was employed as a weapon of war (used first by the French) and an act of genocide by the Turks eliminated 1½ million Armenians. In addition, of course, it brought untold grief to thousands of families. Nothing was resolved by the war; it ended in stalemate rather than checkmate. But further seeds had been sown that would yield an even more destructive conflict.
Few, if any, lessons have been learned about the fundamental flaws of a society which continues to be run by a few to the detriment of the many. For as long as the abundant resources of our planet are exploited for profit rather than produced for need, wars will continue. Just as the Socialist Party has been pointing out for over a hundred years. We will keep on doing so until common-sense prevails.
Richard Headicar
Copies of the pamphlet are available from the Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 for £4.50 including postage and packaging. Cheques to be made out to ‘The Socialist Party of Great Britain’.

Our peace policy (2003)

From the April 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

It requires no crystal ball, no advanced degree in foreign affairs, to observe that the “healthy competition” of capitalist rivalry has become more vicious and ruthless recently. The increase in US military expenditure this year is greater than any previous year ever, signalling not only that there are profits to be had, but that they will be fought over. The current US-led military campaign for control of Iraq's oil is just part of a wider game plan for the Western corporate elite.

The foolish and the fearful might delude themselves that this new weaponry might never be used, that it is defensive. The reality is that the US arsenal of the 21st Century is being built for use, and the reasons for its use are increasing with new challengers, armed with their own weapons of mass destruction, fast arriving on the scene. It is only a matter of time before capitalism turns very nasty and threatens to blow us all up. The ticking of this potential time-bomb is all too audible to those whose fingers are not placed tightly in their ears. The world is a dangerous place

All of the major parties have “defence” policies which are really war policies. Even if they are opposed to an attack on Iraq, as the Liberal Democrats were, they are more than ready to give a nod to a different war elsewhere. Or, to be blunt about it, they all have strategies for killing large numbers of people. That is what they are doing when they ask you to vote for their “defence” policy: choose their strategy for murdering people you have never even met in preference to that of the next party. To vote for these parties is to become a willing accomplice in the preparations for mass murder. The current and absurd deterrence strategy is best described by the dictum, “If you want peace prepare for war”. That is the policy accepted by most of the parties aiming to run capitalism. It is like saying if you want virginity among teenagers build brothels in the schools. You do not achieve peace by preparing for its opposite: if you prepare for war there will be a war.

Nobody should be taken in for one minute by the Labour Party lie that they are, by acting pre-emptively against Saddam, presenting a more peaceful policy. On the contrary, theirs is an alternative war policy—a policy dependent on conventional methods of mass murder, while at the same time remaining in loyal alliance with the NATO nuclear murder gang. It is like a gang of muggers saying that in the future they will give up using knives and will rely on beating up the same people with wooden sticks. But at the same time they will remind their victims that their friends in the bigger gang still have knives. If anyone sides with the warmongers of New Labour in the belief that conventional weapons are about decent warfare they should go and talk to the conscript soldiers of Iran and Iraq, or the victims of the Falklands war.

Wars are not the result of workers in Iraq, Russia or China falling out with workers in the USA. Most of the British workers who unthinkingly accept Labour's line that “we must defend ourselves effectively” do not have any enemies in Moscow or Baghdad or Beijing or Pyongyang. Most workers in Britain have never met an Iraqi, let alone fallen out with one sufficiently to want to blow them up. Most Iraqis have never met an American. If you repeat a lie often enough people may begin to believe it and so they keep telling us that we must be defended against Iraq and other errant Islamic countries. After a while “Iraqis” are seen as monstrous, threatening, inhumane begins, blind followers of a mad dictator fit only to be killed. And to many Moslem workers, indoctrinated by the same lies from their owning class, workers in the West are perceived similarly as a wicked enemy, often a satanic enemy. What you must never forget – because then you have been finally brainwashed – is that there is nobody out there you need to kill and there are no enemies out there with a grievance against you. War is not about our interests, but those of the bosses who rob us so that they can be rich and powerful. War is about the competition between capitalists. If we are to die it will be for them. Ponder that as the masters of war ask for your support in the coming weeks.

Capitalism is the cause of war in the modern world. The Socialist Party is unequivocally opposed to the world-wide capitalists system. We are opposed to it in the Middle East as much as in Britain, Africa or the USA. The rivalry over profits, trade routes, markets and raw materials which is generated by capitalism makes war inevitable. It follows from this that you cannot simply oppose war unless you are out to end capitalism. Sadly, all too many workers, who are sincere in their belief that war is an outrage, nevertheless unwittingly support capitalism's conflicts by simply voting for capitalist politicians at election time, by remaining within political parties which are out to defend the capitalist system in its various forms and guises. It is futile to try to remove an effect without removing its cause. Thus campaigning against war now, whilst not objecting to capitalism, simply means that you will be out again protesting when the next war breaks out.

Workers have no country. Nationalism is based on the lie that workers have their own country; that the British have an obligation to Britain and likewise with the workers of the USA and Iraq. Workers who do not own or control Britain have no obligation to the bosses who do own and control it. Our sole interest is in co-operating with our fellow workers across the world who similarly have no country. Why should we die defending what is not ours and which we will never benefit from? On the contrary, our object is to obtain what is not now the possession of our class - the earth and its natural and industrial resources. The only war that need concern us is the class war between the parasites who possess and the workers who produce over the ownership and control of the Earth's resources. But to win we need not initiate the violence which is characteristic of capitalism's wars.

What we advocate is a war on war to be waged on the battlefield of ideasfor the hearts and minds of the world's people. And once we unite there will be no force that will stop us taking the Earth into our common possession.

Socialism will allow humanity to co-exist in peace. There is nothing natural about war. Are we born with a desire to kill people who speak a different language or who have a different skin hue? No! In fact, peaceful co-operation is more fitting for human beings, who are potentially rational beings. Once we live in a world of common ownership and democratic control of resources there will simply be no reason to kill one another. No Empires to build or markets to expand or profits to increase. Socialism will be a social system in which war will be pointless. Peace will be the norm. There will be no socialism without socialists to bring it about, just as there will be no capitalism or war without workers to support such insanity.

Stop and think the next time you hear Bush and Blair present their case for this war, the next time you read a tabloid headline supporting the government line and praising “our boys”. Think of the peace which could come about and think of the screams which are the human sound effects of war, and for your own sake, think hard!

John Bissett

Cooking the Books: The Falling Rate of Profit (2) (2014)

The Cooking the Books column from the August 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
The May/June issue of Philosophy Now also mentions the ‘law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall’ (as it’s called in the first English translation of Part Three of Volume 3 of Capital). In a generally fair article on Marx in their Brief Lives series, poet Roger Caldwell ventures into the field of economics:
‘Marx takes over from economist predecessors such as Adam Smith the notion of the falling rate of profit, although he is nowhere able to show that such a tendency exists, not least because, in the buoyant economy of the middle to late Victorian period, rates of profit were manifestly rising.’
It was indeed the opinion of Classical Political Economy that in the long run capital accumulation would theoretically eventually come to a halt because the rate of profit would have fallen to nearly zero. Adam Smith thought this would happen because capital would become too abundant (a view shared by some moderns, Keynes for example). Marx regarded this as merely a passing phase of the business cycle which would not be permanent.
David Ricardo thought that it would happen because of diminishing returns from agriculture which would eventually lead to all surplus value (to use Marx’s term) being absorbed by ground-rent at the expense of profits. Marx wanted to explain the phenomenon from the internal working of the capitalist economy, not from some external ‘natural’ phenomenon such as Ricardo was suggesting.
Starting from the basis that surplus value arose only from that part of capital invested in the purchase of labour-power, and noting that as capital accumulation proceeded the proportion of capital invested in this would fall as more was invested in plant and machinery, Marx deduced a theoretical tendency for the rate of profit, as newly created surplus value as a percentage of total capital invested, to fall because total capital would increase at a faster rate than total surplus value.
This was Marx’s contribution to the debate amongst the Classical Political Economists. But no more than Smith or Ricardo would he have thought that the rate of profit would actually fall to zero, simply that there would be a ‘tendency’ for it to move in this direction. The very fact that he chose the word ‘tendency’ shows that he did not think that there would be a steady downward movement. This is confirmed by his listing of a number of ‘counteracting’ tendencies that would work to increase the rate of profit, the implication being that at one time the tendency might win out and that at another the counter-tendencies might.
Any such fall for the reason Marx gave would be a long-run tendency, discernible only in generations rather than decades (not that Marx expected that the workers would wait generations to overthrow capitalism) and is to be distinguished from the short-term falls that occur for different reasons just before and during the economic downturns that capitalism regularly goes through from time to time.
Marx was well aware that profits were rising in ‘the middle to late Victorian period’ and notes this not only in Volume I of Capital but also earlier, in 1864 in his Inaugural Address of the IWMA. But an increase in the amount of profit is not the same as an increase in the rate of profit. Not that Marx was particularly concerned to show that the rate of profit had been falling during this period, nor did he need to be. A ‘tendency’ is only ever a tendency and does not have to manifest itself all the time. That’s why it’s called a tendency and not an iron law.

Socialism or Managing the Peace? (1995)

Book Review from the October 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

England Arise! The Labour Party and Popular Politics in the 1940s. by Steven Fielding, Peter Thompson & Nick Tiratsoo. (Manchester University Press. £12.99)

The thesis of this book is that the leaders and activists of the Labour Party saw their election victory in 1945 as the beginning of a transition to socialism which they genuinely wanted to achieve, but that the attempt failed because most people, even those who had voted Labour, didn't want socialism.

It's a point of view, but how do the authors back it up?

First the easy part-showing that most people didn't want socialism, even in the sense Labour meant it. Basing themselves on opinion polls and social surveys the authors are able to demonstrate that what most people wanted was a steady job, good wages, decent housing, a comprehensive health service and improved social benefits. At the level of aspirations most people's ideal was to own their own home—a house with a garden in fact, and a fence around it to stop neighbours prying—an ideal that had more in common with the Tories' rhetoric of a property-owning democracy than Labour's collectivism.

People, the authors say, voted Labour in 1945 not because they wanted socialism but for pragmatic reasons. They felt a Labour government would manage the transition to peacetime economy better than the Tories and they liked Labour's promised social reforms in the fields of health, social security and housing. Even the miners "supported nationalisation because it was bringing better wages and security of employment, not a new set of socialist relationships".

But did the Labour leaders want socialism and see themselves as trying to achieve it? In chapter 4 on "The Vision of Socialism", the authors argue that they did. The 1945 election manifesto declared that the Labour Party's "ultimate purpose at home is the establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain", but then underlined quickly that this was an "ultimate" purpose not an immediate aim: "Socialism cannot come overnight, as the product of a weekend revolution." In fact, they didn't think it would come by any sort of revolution but gradually over a longish period of time. How long? According to Fielding, Thompson and Tiratsoo, "some suggested that socialism would be achieved by 1960 at the very earliest, others talked in terms of it taking at least a generation", i.e. within 15-30 years.

Why the delay? The authors suggest that the Labour Party held the following position: Socialism required two conditions, a developed industry that had outgrown the stage of individual ownership and a majority who wanted socialism; the first existed but the Labour Party could seek power before the second condition was met and use it to create a framework for socialism (taking industry out of private hands and setting up a welfare state based in need, not ability to pay) while at the same time seeking to win over the population to socialist ideas and values.

It is doubtful if most Labour leaders and activists did in fact theorise their views to this extent, but it does sound plausible as the sort of answer they might give if confronted with criticism from people like ourselves that in practice all they aimed at was to try to humanise capitalism.

Apart from committing the mistake of believing in "socialism in one country" where this view went wrong - if, for the moment, we concede the Labour leaders really did have a strategy for achieving socialism rather than state capitalism, admittedly an enormous concession—was in imaging that the cause of socialism could be furthered by assuming government responsibility while a majority remained non-socialist.

You can't win power first—nor by winning an election on a programme of reforms to capitalism (as proposed by Labour) nor by armed insurrection (as proposed by Lenin)—and then educate a majority into wanting and understanding socialism. If you try this you just end up governing capitalism in one form or another because one of the essential preconditions for socialism—a conscious, participating socialist majority—is not there.

People can't be led into socialism; nor can it be imposed on them against their will. There can be no socialism without a socialist majority, and a majority must have come to want and understand socialism before the political party they form win control of political power.

This book's thesis may be partially wrong but it is still a useful contribution to understanding the period of Labour government from 1945 till 1951 when, contrary to the expectations in 1945, the Tories were voted back in again (and on two subsequent occasions) and any dream of "establishing socialism" by 1960 or 1975 evaporated.
Adam Buick