Thursday, June 4, 2015

Cry Freedom (1988)

Film Review from the August 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Richard Attenborough's film, Cry Freedom, tells the true story of white newspaper editor Donald Woods (played by Kevin Kline) who was forced to flee South Africa as a result of his championing of Steve Biko, the black consciousness leader who was brutally killed in police custody. It takes as its central theme the apparent dilemma of a white liberal committed to ending apartheid but who, at the same time, benefits from it to the extent that he and his family live in the kind of luxury (complete with black maid) available for the most part only to whites.

Woods is challenged to go and meet Biko after his paper publishes a story accusing him of being a "black racist". He revises his opinion and the two become friends. However, his political education is less about the realities of apartheid shown to him by Biko, than about the realities of state power that the Minister for Police, Kruger, teaches him. His liberal perspective on the state, while it allows that there is sometimes corruption, "over-zealousness" and individual acts of brutality on the part of the police, does not permit him to see that the idea of "the rule of the law" is little more than a facade; that in fact the state operates in the interests of those with power and will take whatever steps are deemed necessary in their defence.

The high point of the film comes when Woods is forced to question that liberal viewpoint. He realises that his complaint about police thugs smashing up a craft workshop run by Biko has simply resulted in him being dubbed a subversive, banned and ultimately harassed by the police to such an extent that he is forced to leave South Africa for good. That realisation is confirmed when Biko — like numerous other black prisoners — is murdered while in police custody.

Cry Freedom is a glossy, at times sentimental, film which towards the end degenerates into little more than an exciting "escape" story as Woods and his family make their getaway. It's a pity that, no doubt to secure the film a broader audience, its politics ultimately take second place to the sentiment, the gloss and the excitement.
Janie Percy-Smith 

Not another Labour Party (1968)

From the January 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some trade unionists, fed up with Labour's increasingly obvious anti-working class stand, have suggested that the unions should once again set up their own party. For, of course, this was how the Labour Party began. At the turn of the century union leaders, alarmed at the anti-union bias of the Courts, took up the suggestion of men like Keir Hardie for a party, independent of both the Liberals and the Tories, to represent Labour. It was not until 1918 that individuals could join the Labour Party. Before then the Party was little more than a trade union parliamentary pressure group (generally backing the Liberal government).

It has always been Labour's claim to be the political arm of the Trade Union Movement. This claim is wearing a bit thin now. But many unionists still accept that the unions needs some political arm. If the Labour Party no longer represents them, why not set up another party?

In May 1966 Danny McGarvey, the boilermakers' leader, said that the unions might have to put up their own men against some official Labour candidates. Last November, Joe Gormley, the Lancashire miners' leader, suggested that, in view of the Labour government's policies, the miners and others might have to consider forming a new party — "a trade union party". Of course Gormley, a member of the Labour Party's National Executive Committee, did not really mean this. Only a few days later he was elected chairman of the NEC's organisation sub-committee (which deals with discipline). All the same he did start off some discussion. A few miners' lodges did break with Labour. Pottery Workers' Union secretary Alfred Dulson, whose union has already stopped financing Labour, said:
I am sure this is the way trade unionists have got to go. The Labour Party no longer represents the interests of trade unions (Financial Times, 13 November 1967).
But the Scottish miners' leader, Lawrence Daly, wrote in the Morning Star of 17 November:
Withdrawal of the political levy is a mistake which can bring joy only to the Conservative Party and the millionaire press. The suggestion that miners might have to consider forming a new trade union party is totally irresponsible.
Daly's love for Labour is only recent. Unlike McGarvey and Gormley he did not just talk about opposing Labour; he actually did so. After leaving the so-called Communist Party Daly and some supporters set up a "Fife Socialist League". In 1958 he defeated Labour (and Communist) candidates to become a county councillor and in the 1959 General Election he polled nearly 5,000 votes in West Fife against the sitting Labour man or, as he would have put it, the Labourite. One of the reasons he gave as to why miners should vote for him was that W. W. Hamilton. the Labour MP, had refused to support a miners' wage demand! But times change and Daly is himself now a Labourite.

Of course trade unionists and workers generally have nothing to gain from supporting Labour. And of course they need to take political action to solve their problems. The question is: what sort of political action? To suggest setting up another party along the lines of Labour is stupid. For the Labour Party, by its very nature, was doomed to failure from the start. It has failed to protect the interests of the working class—and has in fact done just the opposite—not through any lack of sincerity but because any party that takes on the task of governing under capitalism must face the fact that capitalism is a class system and that it runs on profits. Governments must protect this system so that inevitably they are brought into conflict with the working class. This was the whole  fallacy of Labourism. It held that a party of workers could run capitalism differently from a party of businessmen or landowners. But, as experience has shown, they cannot.

Labour MP's are not elected on a Socialist (many are too scared even to use the word in their vote-catching campaigns) but on a reform programme. Returned to power all they can do is, as Mr. Wilson never tires of telling us, to govern, to keep capitalism going. In the process even mild reform plans and links with workers' organisation go by the board.

What is needed is not another Labour Party but a Socialist party: a party that is quite opposed to capitalism: a party that takes its stand on the interests of workers elsewhere; a party that struggles for Socialism and nothing less. Such a party already exists in the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
Adam Buick

Material World: Indigenous Suicides (2015)

The Material World Column from the June 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Throughout the world indigenous peoples suffer from high rates of alcoholism and suicide. Relocation, epidemics, depopulation, and subjugation have put indigenous peoples everywhere at high risk of depression and anxiety. Every culture provides ways by which individuals may satisfy their needs for meaning, prestige, and status. Small-scale, hunter-gatherer societies provide several: excellence in hunting, storytelling, or as a healer. Whatever its size, complexity or environment, a central task of any culture is to provide its members with a sense of belonging and purpose. What happens, then, when a people's way of life is destroyed through disease, genocide, loss of territory, and repression of language and culture? It leads to self-destruction. James Anaya, former United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples said suicides among indigenous youth, across the globe, are common in situations where tribe members have seen the upheaval of their culture, which produces in the indigenous a lack of self-confidence and grounding about who they are. ‘They see taking their own lives as unfortunately and sadly an option,’ he said.

In the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native men ages 15 to 34, and is two and a half times higher than the national average for that age group. 75 percent of Native American men and one third of Native American women can be classified as alcoholics or alcohol abusers. These numbers are amazing, and do not even accurately reflect the far-reaching effects of alcohol abuse, such as physical problems, mental illness, community violence, unemployment, and domestic abuse. Indians die from alcohol-related causes at a rate four times higher than the rest of United States citizens. In fact, four of the top ten causes of death among Indians are alcohol related.

Australian Aboriginal people commit suicide at a far younger age than non-Aboriginal Australians, with reports of prepubescent children, some as young as eight committing suicide. Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men ages 25 to 29 have a suicide rate four times higher than the general population in that same age group in Australia.

Among the indigenous peoples in Brazil, the suicide rate was six times higher than the national average in 2013. In the Guaraní tribe, Brazil’s largest, the rate is estimated at more than twice as high as the indigenous rate over all, the study said. In fact it may be even higher. The Guaraní have long made their home in the fertile land of Brazil’s southwest, where swaths of vast forests and savannas have been transformed into farms and ranches. In the process, the tribe has been dispossessed and uprooted from its traditional way of life. Many in the tribe face extreme discrimination and live in abject poverty close to the farmers and ranchers who occupy land that was once theirs. ‘Living in this non-place, they commit suicide,’ said Professor Alcantara, an anthropologist at the University of São Paulo who has studied adolescent suicides among the Guaraní. Nearly 100 years ago, the Guaraní, who today live primarily in Brazil and Paraguay, were forced off their ancestral land when the Brazilian government granted farmers and ranchers the legal title to that land. Tribe members were placed in crowded reservations, and often separated from family members. Distress, poverty and violence against tribal leaders have led to despair among Guaraní teenagers, who feel they don’t have a future. Professor Alcantara said that over the past 10 years tribe members have come to live between two cultures — the culture of nearby cities, where they are discriminated against, and the culture of their own tribe. Young tribe members, in particular, feel that they don’t belong either to the city or to the tribe, she said.

Professor Colin Tatz of the Australian National University suggests that when you are engaged in a struggle, a struggle to survive, suicide rates are very low

Dr Norm Sheehan, from Swinburne University of Technology sees suicide as the direct result of colonialism:
‘Colonialism deprives the colonised of positive self-images and for me, that’s a crucial part of the Aboriginal experience. …cultural disconnection was a major cause of suicide especially amongst Aboriginal youth,’ Sheehan explained ‘… Aboriginal people were deprived of a true understanding of self because their biological make-up was seen as an impediment, something that had to be erased. That’s a crime against humanity. But Aboriginal people have had to live with that legacy and develop a concept of self in a zone like that, so understanding what culture is in that context is almost impossible.’
Psychiatrist Professor Martin Graham from the University of Queensland, believes ‘There is a deep sadness among Aboriginal peoples and that translates to a sense of anomie perhaps. A kind of deep sense of sadness and boredom and dispiritedness relating to loss of land, loss of culture, loss of languages in some cases and a sense that none of it can be changed.’

Historians and politicians should stop boasting about progress and civilisation of capitalism until they understand the brutality and falsehood it brought yet while we call for a new understanding, it’s more important to advocate social change to make real change.

The origin of apartheid (1965)

From the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

In spite of world wide condemnation of the policies of the South African Government, the Nationalist Party, particularly since the end of the last world war, have gone from strength to strength, crowning success with their own bigoted brand of success. This consolidation of the political power of the Afrikaaner pays a perverted tribute to his fanaticism. The Afrikaaner has at last won the Boer War. The tribal complexity of the Afrikaaner, his aggressive unity, his hatred of the Uitlander, must be seen against the economic history of the Boers in South Africa.

From the very first days of landing on the shores of Africa in 1652, the mainly Dutch settlers were an oppressed colonial minority. After having established a strictly Calvinist peasant community at the Cape, they were forbidden by the Dutch Government to allow its use to any ship of a nationality other than Dutch, a restriction that brought them economic hardship. Also, the Dutch Government enforced enactments and imposed taxes that rarely took local conditions into account. With the weakening of the Dutch Government in 1795, the colonists took over the Cape and proclaimed their right to own slaves. This autonomy was short lived, for in 1806 the colony was seized by the British.

During the first years of the 19th century, the Bantu tribesmen began infiltrating into South Africa, and clashes took place between the Boers and the Bantu which led to the first Kaffir War of 1834 in which many Boers were massacred. Also, during this first year, the British Government forbade the Boers to own  the slaves, most of whom they had taken from Asia.

In an effort to once again regain their autonomy, between the years 1834 and 1840 the Boers trekked north and established the Republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State. But still they had to carry on the wars with the Bantu, and now at the same time they had to fight the British who had declared their occupation of the interior "illegal". Eventually, the British came to the view that the cost of coercive forces was too high in relation to the return, and in 1852-53, they granted sovereignty to the Transvaal and Orange Free State.

The British Government immediately regretted their decision, for in 1853 gold and diamonds were discovered in the Boer Republics as well as great quantities of other minerals including coal, copper, manganese, chromite and asbestos. The friction between the British and the Boers was again renewed and culminated in the outbreak of the Boer War in which the Boers were "temporarily" defeated. 

This is the legacy of violence that history has bequeathed to the modern political situation in South Africa, a tri-partite enmity between Boer, Bantu and British. Its framework was that of economic rivalry and material struggle, the southward expansion of the bantu, the attempts of the Boers to maintain a mainly peasant community, the arrogant imperialism of British commerce. The social cohesion of the Boers, expressed in terms of religion, language and so-called race, became their mode of survival. This was the basis of Afrikaaner nationalism.

But Afrikaaner nationalism is no longer supported by a peasant economy struggling for survival. The Boers themselves are now integrated into capitalist farming, and distribute their products through both national and world markets. Increasingly, this capitalist form of agriculture uses mechanised techniques as well as the technology of a large canning industry. As well as this, Afrikaaners are increasingly involved in industrial capitalism. The further South Africa's economy develops, the more does Afrikaaner nationalism and apartheid become removed from the economic and historical background in which it was nurtured. Nevertheless, this body of prejudice is established as an ideological force in itself, impinging on the policies of the South African Government, even at a time when it can be shown—especially from the point of view of industry—that it is hindering development.

Apartheid or "separate development" is a bogus and hypocritical political contrivance. It caters for the emotionalism of nationalist nostalgia and is an electoral plank which covers the fears of most white workers. Most of the legislation brought in by the Nationalist Government in the name of "apartheid" is outrightly repressive and in defence of farming interests.

The battle that African workers wage in South Africa is beset by the most intimidating difficulties imaginable. They have no long-standing tradition of organisation. They suffer the "legal" hooliganism of police brutality, even to the extent of being shot down. There is a plentiful supply of cheap labour, making industrial pressure almost impossible, Even those who are employed live so near the borderline of starvation that strike action invokes the greatest hardship. The layout and siting of African townships is arranged to facilitate swift police or military reprisal. The machine gun or even air attack can be easily used without interference to the "white" population. Saracen armoured cars are frequently used to break up assemblies of African workers.

Ironically, the electoral support that maintains nationalist political power is what can only be regarded by tradition as an unholy alliance between voters of both Afrikaaner and British origin. It is political support that arises from the irrational fear of three and a quarter million Europeans in a country which also includes nearly fourteen million Bantu, Asiatics and Coloureds. Just as they were in the past, economic struggles in South Africa continue to be confused by and expressed in terms of "race" and "culture".

The tortured situation in South Africa is a direct product of its tortured past, but men should learn from their history, not continue to be burdened by it.
Pieter Lawrence 

Have labour power, will travel (1997)

From the August 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Inside a feudal, pre-industrial society it could be said of the majority of those who worked that they would live, work, marry, procreate and die within walking distance of the place in which they were born. Modern capitalism has changed all that.

The needs of the market have torn asunder all the old social ties of community. Families are spread all over the world as workers desperate for employment seek to sell their labour power wherever possible. They enter into competition with resident workers and thus the seeds of suspicion and hatred are sewn.

The driving force of capitalism is competition. Capitalist against capitalist for a bigger share of the product of labour. Worker against worker in the search for a job. It is into this desperate struggle for a job that various politicians spread the poison of nationalism and racism.

This poison is world-wide. In France at the recent election, one-in-ten voted for the openly racist, anti-immigration National Front. Every European country has its adherents of the same political poison. In the United States of America various America-first groups scream abuse at Mexican and Central American immigrants.

In Africa tens of thousands of refugees cross borders escaping the growing tribalism that mirrors the ethnic cleansing of eastern Europe. Everywhere you look modern capitalism presents the same awful tragedy of lives ruined by the obnoxious hatreds of xenophobia.

Inhuman nature
So widespread is this nationalistic nonsense that many defenders of capitalism can claim that it is an innate human trait. These people talk glibly about "human nature" when dealing with such horrors as Zaire or Serbia.

Socialists do not share that view. Far from being innately murderous and competitive human existence itself was only possible because of a history of co-operation and tolerance. In order to survive in a hostile environment human beings had to be the uniquely social animal.

We do not deny the existence of such horrors as Hiroshima or Buchenwald, but we know that these are the products of a property-based society that alienates and destroys all decency in its drive for more and more profit.

The product of a Glasgow slum does not travel to a remote island in the South Atlantic to maim the slum product of Buenos Aires because of some genetic urge. Behind all these atrocities lies the capitalist imperatives of markets and sources of raw materials.

A world to win
It is but one of the many paradoxes of capitalism that it has shrunk the world only to divide society into smaller and smaller fragments. That it has progressed at breakneck speed in the fields of travel and communication yet it has divided and alienated us from our true humanity.

Technically we can travel half-way round the world in a day, communicate instantly with almost anyone on the planet; and yet find ourselves artificially divided on the basis of differences of custom, language, diet, culture and skin colour. Capitalism is a frightening, hate-filled system that turns everyone's hand against everyone else.

Inside socialism, where the whole Earth is the common property of the whole world's population, we will all be able to travel our planet to work wherever we desire, safe in the knowledge that our brothers and sisters will welcome us on whichever shore we land.

That os the aim of the World Socialist Movement. Shouldn't it be yours?
Richard Donnelly

The Housing Shortage (1975)

From the May 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a recent letter to The Guardian (17th January 1975) one of the supposed guardians of working-class living standards, Bob Bean, Labour MP for Rochester and Chatham wrote, probably in all innocence, that "Given the right economic atmosphere the construction industry as it now stands has not the capacity to meet the nation's demands."

Bob Bean should look at the housing performance of the three political parties who have striven for opportunities to manipulate the status-quo over the past ten generations of working class history. That history reveals that while there is any kind of "economic atmosphere the workers can whistle for their houses! The construction industry is a shambles because capitalism's need to make a profit out of our most fundamental needs. Only eight years ago Bean's own party said, in an election manifesto: "We intend to achieve a target of 500,000 houses per annum by 1969/70". Promises, promises. With all deference to the plight of the homeless, it has to be said that there is no shortage of housing. The shortage is the old one; shortage of money. The "housing problem" is concentrated exclusively upon the working class who do all the useful work in our society—including those who build the houses.

Homelessness is a degrading, dehumanizing situation that would not arise in a sane society. It is also totally unnecessary in the sense that if the workers decided, once and for all, to put an end to the system that gives birth to such iniquities, it could be done quickly and finally.

There is no good reason why sufficient homes should not be built. The "catch 22" in capitalism is that if a million homes were built they could not be sold. We know they could be built. The materials exist, the only thing the homeless are short of is many million bits of mass-produced paper. Why should we let capitalists' confetti stand between us and the houses we need? Our need is now, not another fifteen generations on.

Capitalism's performance can only be described as pathetic. The current edition of Housing and Construction Statistics states that it takes almost twenty-one months to complete a dwelling for local authorities and over fourteen months to completion in the private sector—truly the summit of 150 years of capitalist achievement and progress!

As more belt-tightening, work-sharing and unemployment loom larger on the working-class horizon it is a matter of the greatest urgency that we work together to get rid of the whole sordid business and start building a society with all our needs, housing, food, clothing, education, health services and transport, freely available.

The Socialist Party exists as a focal point for those who reject the blinkered existence that their early lives and training were designed to make them accept. If you agree with our Object and Declaration of Principles, come and join the struggle. We will be glad of your help.
Nigel Best

The Everything Shortage (1975)

From the May 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Working class poverty remains a running sore incapable of remedy while capitalism lasts. After a century of patchwork tinkering this problem is still with us. Confident declarations by capitalist politicians and enacting of palliative reform legislation has not altered the situation.

Twenty-five years ago the 1950 Labour Government Manifesto claimed that "destitution has been banished". Do social reformers really believe that this is possible? Apparently so. Even though social surveys carried out during the 'fifties and 'sixties' revealed that in fact poverty had not been legislated away, Harold Wilson was peddling the same line in 1970. When asked if he would set up a Royal Commission on poverty in Great Britain he replied that he would not:
This Government has taken substantial steps towards the abolition of poverty by increasing the levels of benefit and by other measures, and we are currently promoting further legislation to this end. (Hansard 17th February, col. 209).
There are now 43 different kinds of aid available to the poor. Has this altered the problem? The 1974 Poverty Report carried out by the Institute of Community Studies was published recently. Commenting on it the London Evening Standard (13th March) says
Surveys of Camden and Bethnal Green households included in a national report on poverty show  . . . that in general the very poor in Great Britain are getting poorer all the time.
Mrs. Lucy Syson of the Institute claims that 19 per cent of the households in Camden were below the poverty line. The figure for Bethnal Green was a staggering 30 per cent. These figures are only marginally better than those produced in the 1880s by Charles Booth. He estimated that of the population of Islington and St. Pancras (part of present-day Camden) more than 30 per cent lived in poverty. In Bethnal Green the percentage of poverty was 44.6.

This is the much lauded social 'progress' of the past one hundred years. Is it not high time this poverty producing system was done away with once and for all?
Gwynn Thomas