Monday, February 9, 2015

Under the Iron Heel. (1922)

From the May 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the Big War, on one occasion when a crowd was dispersed in Turin for demanding bread, by the simple expedient of dropping bombs on them from airplanes, the present writer gave it as his opinion that this method would be resorted to in future disputes between the oppressors and the oppressed, and that this occasion marked its introduction as a permanent feature under capitalism. Events since then have fully born out that statement.

Wherever we turn—India, Egypt, Africa, in fact, any place where "rebellion" is in progress—there you will find this latest instrument of slaughter freely used. So far, this method has not been employed in this country, but it is not too much to say that if the capitalist class take it into their heads that this method is the best and most effective for producing "order," its introduction will not be long delayed. A few mass meetings of the out-of-works and strikers, and the unemployment problem would be solved!

Its use on the Rand, where hundreds of Trade Unionists were in the midst of a trade dispute which had developed into a test of violence, is sufficiently recent to be remembered.

However justifiably workers may have acted in taking any particular line, the point to be remembered is that the master class is determined to smash up such efforts, and will not scruple to use any means to effect that end.

The writer has been asked his opinion regarding the scenes depicted in the novel by Upton Sinclair, "King Coal," as to whether they were, or were not, exaggerated. Readers of that book will remember that Mr. Sinclair describes the system supposed to be in operation in the mining districts of the Western States, where hired thugs, spies, and other evils are employed by the capitalists against the workers. I gave it as my opinion that these evils were in way exaggerated, and the recent reports from the States conform the correctness of that opinion.

The mine owners in West Virginia seem determined to stamp out the movement for organising the workers into the United Mine Workers' Union. More than 45,000 miners are already enrolled in this Union, and the organisers were determined to get another 45,000 non-unionists in. These are mostly located in the Logan and Mingo counties, where, it seems, the mine owners are in complete command of the county administration, with the sheriffs also in their pay. As most of the houses tenanted by the miners are owned by the companies, naturally the first thing the latter did was to threaten with eviction every man joining the Union.

This they did, utilising for the purpose detectives of the Baldwin-Felt Agency, who are notorious gunmen. Fights were the result, with the loss of life on both sides. On one occasion, during a march of Union men, they were met by troops and mine guards, which resulted in a battle in the mountains lasting for days.

Whenever things are not lively enough for the gunmen, they proceed to "shoot up" a town or two in order to strike terror into the hearts of the miners and their families. The State Attorney-General himself admits that the mine owners hold the entire machinery of administration in their grip, so that the miners in their quest for "justice" find themselves "up against it" at every turn. The latest reports show that efforts are being made to have the United Mine Workers declared an illegal association! ("Manchester Guardian," 28/10/21.)

Another account, taken from the "Toiler" (New York), says: -
The mines, stores, churches, schools, hospitals, homes, Press, and the entire governmental machinery are owned outright by the coal barons. The salaries of deputy sheriffs are paid by the operators, and the State Constabulary is picked from lists prepared by them. All the mining area is under the domination of the Baldwin-Felt Detective Agency's gunmen and murderers. These armed guards watch the pay rolls, collect rents, evict workers, run miners out of town, and serve as general thugs and hangmen for the capitalists. The workers are robbed going and coming . . . any defiance of this system of slavery, any sign of workers' resistance, is met with club, bayonet, and machine gun . . . Finally, Harding was appealed to for a conference. In reply to this appeal came Federal troops, aeroplanes, gas bombs, and machine-guns to crush the workers." (Quoted from the Worker, Brisbane, 2/2/22.)
Very similar to this was the way in which the workers were treated during the recent strike in the San Joaquin oilfields of California. After striking against the reduction of a dollar a day and the abolition of the Arbitration Board, they found themselves against a very formidable and well-organised resistance. The strikers themselves formed a body of pickets, whose business it was to see that no strike breakers were brought into the district, and at the same time to prevent any disorder taking place, so that a straight fight on principle could be waged. This, however, was futile. Guards were rushed in and the Press made the most of the affair—in the interests of the bosses, of course. Like the West Virginia coal owners, the oil companies had their hired thugs and spies, who conducted their operations clandestinely. Appeals to the Government were useless, and the strikers soon found themselves down and out, with the result that the strike collapsed and the men decided to return to work without having secured any advantage. When they offered to return, however, they were informed that they were not needed. It was then discovered that a very elaborate system of blacklisting had been prepared during their absence. Each company apparently possessed full particulars of every applicant for work, and on every occasion he was turned away. This soon had the effect of creating a large body of moneyless, jobless men. To make matters worse, the strikers soon discovered that the names on the black list had been circulated by the companies among the traders of the town, so that it was an impossibility to obtain credit. As in most disputes, the Press endeavoured to show that the trouble was due to the agitation set up by the Bolsheviks, Socialists, and what not. Raids made on the homes of individuals resulted in the finding of quantities of seditious literature, which, as is usual in such case, had been carefully concealed beforehand by the "finders." These facts I have taken from "The Golden Age," Brooklyn, N.Y. (15/2/22).

Altogether, what has been reported lately from the various industrial centres of America leads me to believe that what Sinclair was rather under-estimated, if anything.

One needn't be surprised, of course, at any of these things. They are not confined to America. The same class is in possession everywhere, and everywhere its methods are the same. It follows that there is only one cure—Socialism.
Tom Sala

Getting down to fundamentals (2002)

From the May 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
There is a spectre stalking the world – the spectre of ignorance.
We are used to hearing horror stories about Creationism, and the religious attack on science, from Mid-West America and the Islamic states. But who would have thought such lunacy would penetrate to here? It has. We've had TM (Transcendental Meditation) schools for years which teach kids to meditate and fly. They're just nuts. But systematic idiocy is on the rise. In a recent article in the Observer (17 March), it was reported that a school in the NE of England has refused to teach Darwinism, and is instead putting Creationist ideas. This is not an isolated incident; it is part of the current attack on knowledge, science and rationality.
There are two questions for us to answer: Why is Creationism still rearing its ugly head, after religion had been marginalised by previous generations and church attendance has fallen? And where do all these loony ideas come from anyway?
Understanding of the world is progress, not just in a technical sense – chemistry, satellites, computers – but also in a historical, thus class, sense. Just as the fundamental change from Catholicism to Protestantism was essential for the rise of capitalism as an ideology – for example, the Calvinist idea that God shows his favour on Earth by making merchants rich – so atheism is fundamental to us, the excluded majority, and our claim that the world is ours to run, without gods and masters, as we see fit. After all, to say that there is no heaven in the bye-and-bye translates as a positive call for revolution in the here and now. The post-modern assault on reason, which allows these wacky religious notions to be presented as just someone else's “narrative”, of equal worth to the scientific worldview, is an attack on us as a class. It is “divide-and-rule” for the mind. Whereas pope, ayatollah and archbishop presided over class rule in days gone by, now all that is required is to deny the scientific worldview any superiority.
Permanent revolution of ideas
How is this possible? It is a function of the human brain to generalise, to take two or more concepts together and come up with a broader concept. For example, feet. Each foot has different characteristics, as you find out when you go to buy shoes. But in order to mass-produce shoes, feet are generalised into sizes, and we are left to find the best fit we can. To a shoe manufacturer, there aren't 12 billion feet in the world but only categories of feet, in sizes, and width fittings if you're lucky. As long as you keep your feet on the ground, this is OK. A size 9 boot only has meaning if it fits a real foot – falling orders will soon tell a shoe manufacturer if they over-generalise and make square shoes. But without this constant reference to reality, generalisations get out of hand. A fundamentalist shoe manufacturer may decide that feet are made by God, in His Image, in perfect sizes, and real feet are only imperfect versions of the original Foot. The idea rules the reality, and the loony shoemaker produces ideal shoes and forces people to wear them, since they are getting closer to God by forcing their feet to deform and fit the shoes.

This is how religion works. You generalise from real conditions, keep the generalisation and bin the reality. The generalisations are now an ideal world, to which reality must conform. As our knowledge of the real world changes, the generalisations become outdated. At first, this seems to mark them as eternal truths, a divinely simple and regular account of a disordered and chaotic world. As time goes on, those people who live in the new, more complex world express their lives in new generalisations, and a new system confronts the old. Thus with Protestantism; thus with the Copernican worldview; and thus with evolution.
The scientific worldview attempts to overcome this; it is, at least in principle, the permanent revolution of ideas. The generalisation process is continually subjected to experimental testing: does the theory match up with the real world? You can generalise as much as you like, as long as you can verify or falsify the idea, i.e. that you test it with relation to the real world.
Institutional ignorance
The post-modern retreat from reality denies this faculty of judgment; it says that there is no way to compare ideas against each other. Each person comes up with their own way of generalising the world; their “narrative”. So someone who thinks that the Earth is flat and the moon is a melon suspended a dozen feet over their head has just as much claim to a correct account of reality as, say, an astrophysicist. Just think of Phoebe in Friends (if you watch that) and her insistence on believing in idiotic stuff like her mother's soul being in a cat, and allowing her idiocy to be unchallenged, by emotional manipulation.

This is damn clever stuff. We run society from top to bottom, so we are required to deal with scientific matters whether it be using a computer, understanding food labels, estimating the amount of paint to cover a wall, or whatever. At the same time, however, the logic of our existence as real, capable men and women who need no gods and masters to rule us is denied. Secretaries, checkout workers, or teachers we may be during the week, but we can still have our minds raped on Sunday. They do this to our children in school. The very existence of religious studies in schools depends on official ignorance. And New Labour is officially very ignorant indeed. Blair and Brown are ardent Christians, and in general this government is much more religious than previous ones. No more “White Heat of Technology”; now the black veil of incomprehension.
What is to be done? The Socialist Party stands for socialism and nothing but. However, we require a democracy for our current revolutionary strategy, and Creationism, plus post-modernism in general, is an attack on democracy in the sense of an attack on the ability to make life decisions based on one's real existence. There is no democracy amongst the brainwashed, nor amongst those whose brains have never been filled.
As students, parents, teachers – as human beings – we must fight this cancer of the mind, putting forward our positive understanding of the world against institutionalised ignorance. This is not an anti-religious crusade, it is the campaign to see the world through our eyes rather than someone else's. Religion is a class issue. We must understand our world as it is, make our own generalisations about it, come to our own conclusions. Then we must put our ideas against existing ones, and make the world in our image. Socialist propaganda is our ideas; revolution is our struggle to make those ideas a reality. Ditch god, flying saucers, yogic flying, Earth Mother Gaia, spiritualism, ouija boards, tantric head-shaving, bead-wearing, and all that other crap and join us for a world made by us, for us.
Simon Wigley