Friday, June 12, 2015

Provincial Propaganda Tour - A Report (1928)

From the October 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

A motor propaganda tour was organised with a view to stimulating interest in the Party in provincial centres. In view of the difficulties imposed by finance, breakdowns, and bad weather the results were exceedingly satisfactory and full of promise for the future. The following is a brief record of the tour:-

August 25th.—Left London via the Great North Road. Reached Coventry at dusk. A small meeting was held which was not very good owing to the lateness of the day. At night-fall the van set off for Birmingham. Halfway to Birmingham the tent was pitched for the night.

August 26th.—Broke camp and headed for Birmingham. At about 11.15 the Bull Ring was reached and by 11.30 a good meeting was in progress. An audience of 500 odd listened attentively, but were dispersed by rain. An evening meeting was commenced at 7 o'clock, the audience, estimated at 1,500 was scattered by a sudden downpour of rain. Despite these setbacks 200 odd remained to listen in the pouring rain. The attempted meetings of other organisations failed completely. Arrangements for a further two meetings to take place on Monday, the 27th, were cancelled owing to bad weather. Departed for Hanley.

August 27th.—Engine trouble having developed, Hanley was not reached till night-time. A very hearty welcome was received from local comrades.

August 28th.—An evening meeting with an estimated audience of 300 was carried on despite police interference.

August 29th.—An audience of about 500 at a meeting in Hanley Market Place.

August 30th.—The suburbs of Burslem were next visited. The going was heavy all the way and the rain persisted. A good meeting was held.

August 31st.— Left Hanley for Manchester. Tent pitched on the outskirts and entered the town next morning.

September 1st.— An afternoon meeting held in the suburbs of Manchester. Police interference and the threat of a summons were overcome. In the evening a large meeting was held in the centre of Manchester (Oxford Road) with very good results.

September 2nd.—This being a Sunday, meetings were held in the morning, afternoon, and the evening. The morning meeting was poor but in the afternoon the Tour had its best meeting in Stevenson's Square, the audience numbering a good thousand. In the evening held a meeting in opposition to the Eccles Labour Candidate.

September 3rd.—Departure for Sheffield. Spent night on the moors. Engine trouble.

September 4th.—Engine failure upset arrangements of Sheffield.

September 7th.—Resumed journey to Nottingham, arriving there in the evening. An audience captured from The Economic League provided an interesting meeting.

September 8th.—Derby was next in view, but owing to engine trouble it was not reached till night-fall, and once again an evening meeting was lost.

September 9th.—A small morning and a large evening meeting was held in Derby Market Place. A group of sympathisers was discovered and a number of membership forms were left with an ex-member for distribution with a view to forming a Branch. These sympathisers were also linked up with the Burton Comrades.

September 10th.—Burton was reached at nightfall, an evening meeting having again been lost through engine trouble.

September 11th.—Held a meeting which was considered quite good in view of the fact that the town is owned by the Brewers and the Burton workers are therefore wary of Socialist activities.

September 12th.—A good midday meeting at Swadlincote (a mining area). The van next headed for Leicester. Nothing could be done at Leicester because the roads were filled with stalls, it being Market Day.

September 13th.—Northampton provided a good meeting which was maintained in spite of a "dog fight" between the supporters of the Brewers and the Teetotallers.

September 14th.—The van left for London, and covered the 60 odd miles without a hitch.

Total Collections: £5 18s. 5d.
Total Literature Sales: £3 10s. 10d.

Are the Workers Lazy? (1975)

From the August 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

On July 24th The Sun published the first of 1400 letters it had invited and received on "who is to blame for our present economic crisis". The writer — "A. Worker" — subtracted pensioners, at-schools, servicemen, officials and prisoners from the population and reached his point: "Balance left to do the work, 900,000; people who won't work, 880,000."

The sentiment no doubt went down as well with most of The Sun's readers as the other items (a girl flashing her bosoms and a pop star who owes £750,000 income-tax) on the same page. Proverbially, dogs do not eat other dogs; but workers snarling at one another with allegations of greed and indolence gives perennial pleasure to the capitalist class and those who think like them. Interestingly, the next day the headlines — including The Sun's — were all about unemployment going above a million. Would that have altered "A. Worker's: calculation, had he known? Not at all. One of the features of the nineteen-thirties' depression was frequent assertions by the powerful, and the conviction of the comfortable and ignorant, that the unemployed did not want work.

The answer to the assertion that the characteristic of the working class is to loll about all day is simply to look around. Tower-blocks rise swiftly, motorways spread across the country; the harvest is gathered and transformed into daily bread; post a letter today and it arrives a hundred miles away tomorrow — all done by inert, won't-raise-a-finger people is it? The fact is that capitalism nags everyone to work, from birth. It is the yardstick of school reports: "Works well", "Must work harder", "Steady worker", with "Lazy" the depth of disgrace. Hymns and sermons are full of exhortations to it: "Work, for the night is coming" (whatever that means); "the Lord's work"; "good works". The bee and the ant are held up as ideals to imitate.

Conditioned thus, people eye one another's efforts and comment on public performance like roadsweepers'. "Work fascinates me. I can watch it for hours", said Jerome in Three Men in a Boat. But — and here is the point — the criticism of slothfulness is only of him who has a lot to do and cannot be seen at it all the time. Having the means to do nothing is another matter and leads (or did, until not long ago) to being called a "gentleman" and bowed — and scraped-to. Only the working class can be lazy; the rich twiddle their thumbs or doze in clubs, but that sis how they Carry All the Responsibility. The fairly abrupt disappearance of the "gentleman" bit was due only to changes in the tax laws that made unearned income a disadvantageous category and caused capitalists to arrange nominal occupations ("director") for themselves.

The aspect which is carefully concealed, in fact, is that the working class is condemned to work. Born into the capitalist system, the only way to get a living is to sell one's sole possession: labour-power. No wonder people think about work so much — without it, they may go hungry. "Plenty of work" is an allure, the prospect of work which goes on and on and has lots of hours. And what does the working class get for it? Wages, while the fat and the profits go to the owning class. There was "plenty of work" (a few thousand years' ago) when the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China were under construction, too.

The "people who won't work" of The Sun's thick-skulled  contributor are a myth. It is a tragedy that working people should believe in it. It provides them, of course, with a fear when Socialism is mentioned: what about "the lazy people", the mass of good-for-nothings who would sponge on others' honest efforts? The gullible worker who talks like this never sees that he is repeating what his masters say, and they mean him as well. This is, indeed, a curious habit among proprietors of saying they "built" or "made" or "provided" almost anything. They know, of course, that the workers did it, but the workers are of no account.

It can be said also that for most people work is what they can get,and devoid of the capacity to interest. Part of the definition of work, commonly, is that it is something dull or unpleasant: if (by rare good fortune) one does something agreeable or even enjoyable it is not reckoned to be truly work. The division between work-time and leisure-time is a matter of the hours for which the sale of labour-power is made, but it is also stopping doing tedious things at half-past five and looking for pleasure the day does not contain.

Oh yes, men and women work, lifelong. They have no choice: the non-workers are those who live by exploitation. Socialism will end that, and make work rewarding in every sense. And the first step towards it is to reject the inanities The Sun deals in, and see what the working-class position really is.
Robert Barltrop

Mixed Media: Bowie's Piano Man (2015)

Book Review from the June 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bowie's Piano Man: The Life of Mike Garson by Clifford Slapper is a musical biography of the avant-garde jazz pianist who has worked with David Bowie over the last forty years.

Garson came of age musically in the 1960s when people would 'listen to Bartok, John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix all in the same day', and he had his big break in 1965 in Greenwich Village when Elvin Jones, renowned drummer with John Coltrane called on Garson to replace a pianist.  Slapper describes the influences of jazz pianists Cecil Taylor, Erroll Garner, Herbie Hancock, and Bill Evans on the young Garson. Jim Merod concluded that Garson is 'within the circle of genuinely masterful jazz pianists including Bill Evans, Art Tatum and Thelonius Monk.'

Slapper details Garson's work with Bowie beginning with the 1973 album Aladdin Sane, which he expressively describes as 'the arrival of Aladdin Sane was the 1970s equivalent of joining the first passenger jet into space.' The album lyrics describe New York City's urban decay, decadence, drug addiction, violence and death just prior to some catastrophe. Garson's piano parts on Aladdin Sane are exquisitely beautiful cascading notes. Nicholas Pegg wrote that 'Garson's breathtaking jazz/blues inflections forcibly steer away from pure rock'n'roll, creating a vigorous hybrid somewhere between the Stones and Kurt Weill.' The song Time is Brechtian Cabaret, and it is interesting to compare with the cabaret music of Jacques Brel and Weimar Marxists Brecht-Weill. Garson used the old stride piano style from the 1920s which 'sounds like those old-fashioned rinky-tink bar-room pianos.' There are a number of links between Brecht-Weill and Bowie-Garson; Brecht-Weill's Alabama Song was recorded by Bowie in 1978, Bowie had the title role in the 1982 BBC TV dramatisation of Brecht's Baal, and at his father's funeral at his request Garson played Weill's September Song and Brecht-Weill's Mack the Knife.

Garson's sweeping piano runs were a key feature on the songs We are the Dead, 1984, and Big Brother on Bowie's 1974 album Diamond Dogs which was based on George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty Four. The lyrics describe a dystopian post-apocalypse nightmare, and highlight Bowie's political anxieties about leadership, submission to authority and conformist beliefs. Bowie later said it was an 'apocalyptic kind of view of our city life... it just coincided with the first economic disasters in New York.' Allan Tannenbaum's New York in the 70s describes how 'economic stagnation coupled with inflation created a sense of malaise', in 1975 New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy, then AIDS devastated the gay and artistic community (see Larry Kramer's Reports from the Holocaust.)

Garson was a Scientologist in the 1970s but Slapper does not elaborate on Bowie's 1997 Q magazine interview where he says Scientology had caused 'one or two problems', although Garson does say he 'went through a period of being overbearing in his attempts to persuade others to take an interest in his spiritual beliefs.' David Buckley wrote that Garson's ' proselytising efforts had converted both Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey', and D'Agostino in Glam Musik quotes Bowie: 'He tried it on with me a bit until we had a fight about it. He was so po-faced. Very serious guy. We used to call him Garson the Parson.' William S Burroughs believed that Scientology might help where psychoanalysis had failed, and that auditing techniques could do more in ten hours than psychoanalysis could do in ten years but he was 'disgusted by the authoritarian organisation and the stupidly fascistic utterances of L Ron Hubbard. The aim of Scientology, complete freedom from past conditioning, was perverted to become a new form of conditioning. He had hoped to find a method of personal emancipation and had found another Control System. It was like a State, with its own courts and own police' (Literary Outlaw, Ted Morgan)

Garson 'has a lot of faith in humanity and the goodness of human nature', and the need to spread the idea of connecting to something bigger and deeper through an exploration of artistic creation. Garson says 'everybody is innately connected to God, and is God', and 'We are indeed all deeply interconnected' which evokes Jung's 'collective unconscious.' Garson, and Slapper to some extent, appear to have sympathy for the Jungian concept of 'synchronicity.'

Garson's spirituality can find echoes in Erich Fromm's Marx's Concept of Man: 'For Spinoza, Goethe, Hegel, as well as for Marx, man is alive only inasmuch as he is productive, inasmuch as he grasps the world outside of himself in the act of expressing his own specific human powers, and of grasping the world with these powers. In this productive process, man realizes his own essence, which in theological language is nothing other than his return to God.'

Garson sees creative artists 'projecting what the future society is supposed to be', and the positive social significance of art and creativity which we see in William Morris's Art, Labour and Socialism.  Slapper writes 'there is plenty of evidence showing how the human brain is capable of great cooperation and collective creativity. Every performance by every orchestra bears testimony to this.'

Bowie's Piano Man is a welcome addition to my bookshelf and sits between the bookends of The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg, and Strange Fascination – David Bowie: The Definitive Story by David Buckley.
Steve Clayton

Bowie's Piano Man can be ordered at the following link

Letters:The Outlook for Socialism (1948)

Letters to the Editors from the May 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

A reader who was present at an S.P.G.B. meeting and heard members of the audience trying to shout down the speaker writes as follows:

"In view of the fact it was practically impossible to hear the Speaker, the very able Mr. Cash, for the cries from the crowd, "We want Mosley," and "Down with the Communists" (what an insult to hurl at an S.P.G.B.'er!) I should just like to know how you propose to teach the Socialism of Karl Marx to a crowd of this description. Perhaps you could enlighten me in the columns of the Socialist Standard. Perhaps!!!
Yours, etc., R.S.B."

It is certainly true that there are some workers who not only do not accept or even know the Socialist case but do not want to listen. They do not want to hear anything that challenges their own opinions and prejudices and they try to prevent their opponents from getting a hearing. They try to shout down Socialists and anyone else who disagrees with them. They are a bye-product of Capitalism. They prefer violence to argument. Some—but by no means all of them—find their way into the ranks of the Fascists. Communists sometimes try the same methods. On the other hand our correspondent should remember that it is an exception for S.P.G.B. meetings to be disorderly and we have had some debates with Communists and some with Fascists that have been conducted without any disturbance. Our meetings compare favourably in that respect with the meetings of all other organisations. There is an important difference between our meetings and those of other parties, it is the fact that audiences know that they will be allowed to ask questions and get on our platform to state their case against the S.P.G.B. This right of opposition may not always impress those other opponents of the S.P.G.B.—and they are the great majority—who are willing to listen and state their case in an orderly fashion. In short we can usually rely on the good sense of the majority of workers to deter a disorderly minority. And this brings us to the very important point that in the last resort it is what the majority want that determines the course of events. When the majority understand and accept Socialism we shall not have to be concerned with the awkward minority. They will fall into line when they find the majority against them.

Lambeth By-Election Report (1978)

From the May 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Readers who watched the ITN News at Ten on Friday 14th April saw a film of Tory leader, Margaret Thatcher, walking the streets of Lambeth Central grovelling for a few by-election votes for her party. Suddenly a black girl rushed up to her and thrust a manifesto into her hands. "What's this?" says the vote-catcher, looking confused. "The Socialist Party of Great Britain?". The film stopped abruptly. The newsreader smiled and continued churning out the propaganda. What had happened to Thatcher had gone on throughout Lambeth Central in the weeks leading up to the April 20th by-election. For the first time in their lives thousands of people have been given the chance to consider our political alternative. Seven thousand manifestoes handed out or put through doors; thousands of election bulletins given away; about a thousand Socialist Standards sold; over a hundred posters plastering the area; three loudspeaker vans blasting the constituency with the case for revolution; six well attended public meetings. The workers of Lambeth Central were unable to ignore the impact of such a campaign.

Urban squalor
There are certainly some good reasons for them to give some thought to Socialism. Lambeth Central is a classical example of the kind of urban squalor which is the lot of the working class under a system which puts profits before need. Unemployment, especially severe amongst blacks, is the highest in London. In Brixton alone there are 7,456 unemployed according to the Department of Employment. There are 18,000 constituents on the housing list, which means they are either living in sub-standard houses or are homeless. As you tour the streets of Lambeth Central  derelict houses which the council haven't the money to renovate are in abundance—inhabited slums are even more frequent. After more than forty years of Labour representation in parliament by Marcus Lipton, the problems facing workers in Lambeth Central haven't gone away. No wonder there was a sense of political cynicism expressed by many people as the loudspeaker cars of the professional reformists once again descended upon them like ice cream vans, each offering a variety of flavours, all tasting the same. Many workers were unwilling to consider any political ideas, rejecting politics as being either too difficult to comprehend or else as an indecent game played at their expense. "Whoever you vote for the government wins" said one man. Because of despair with reformism some workers were attracted to the so-called extreme candidates, by which is meant those parties committed to the vigorous implementation of failed Labour and Tory policies.

Hard though some of the parties tried, racism was not raised as a major issue in the campaign. The openly racist National Front is weak in Lambeth Central, an area in which a quarter of the inhabitants are black and where black and white workers have a long tradition of living and working together. Our bulletin on immigration exposed the red herring that coloured immigration causes social problems, pointing out that racism and nationalism foster division amongst the working class.

With eleven candidates in the election, Socialist propaganda was not only up against the traditional parties of capitalism, but a number of parties claiming to be socialist. Excluding Labour, which by now has lost even the pretence of being anything but a boss's party, there were four parties other than the SPGB claiming to stand for socialism: the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Unity, and Workers Revolutionary Party and the South London People's Front. Each claimed to be more revolutionary than the rest. What were they standing for? Common ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution? An end to class society? "Yes, well it's a good idea in theory", they all said, but in the "meantime" it was "pragmatic" to offer the workers a list of sterile reforms: the WRP manifesto promised that if Corin Redgrave was elected he'd smash NATO and restore wage differentials; Socialist Unity promised, amongst other "revolutionary" measures that would make your eyes pop out, that they would end spectacle charges. The ruling class must be trembling at the very thought. The WRP manifesto claimed that Corin Redgrave was standing in the election to show it be a "fraud and a sham". Rather like joining the army to strike a blow for pacifism.

Reformist rhetoric
Party members attended opponents meetings which were used to sell and give away literature. Members comprised a third of the audience to hear Tony Benn talk his way round the last six Labour governments; at the Liberal meeting we suffered Cyril Smith addressing an almost hall; we were prevented by the police from entering a so-called public meeting of the National Front; at the SWP meeting we cringed at the reformist rhetoric of Paul Foot. Large crowds attended our own meetings: workers who were treated as political adults instead of voting fodder.

Socialist Standard prize for the most irrelevant election meeting of the campaign has to go to the one held by the Maoist, South London People's Front, the title of which was "Why there is no inflation in Albania". About as useful as a meeting on why there are no Albanians in Brixton, Prize for the most unreasonable person to be canvassed goes to the man who said, "I'm voting National Front. Hitler did a good job in Germany. I should know, I fought against him in the last war". Prize for the silliest reform goes to the laugh-a-minute WRP who promise, if elected, to "put an end to the commodity market".

As in all elections, the workers of Lambeth Central were faced with a choice: more capitalism or social revolution. We call upon the few workers who cast a vote for Socialism to join the party and build the number of workers who will say YES to revolution at the next election.
Steve Coleman

From the SPGB discussion forum, dated 03/12/13

1978 Lambeth by-election
This by-election, held on 20 April 1978, has come back into the news as a result of the Maoist cult "slavery" case because they (and us and the IMG, SWP, WRP and 6 other candidates, making 11 in all) contested this by-election. We contacted our candidate, Barry McNeeney (who is no longer a member), to see if he remembered the cult candidate. He didn't but sent us some interesting recollections of the election. Here's an extract (the full version will go into our historical archives at Head Office).

It was a snap election, called, campaigned, polled and the result announced within the university Easter vacation.

I was a second-year philosophy mature student under a professor who specialised in dishonest arguments [...] Richard Swinburne went on to become a professor of religion at Oxford University [...]

On the Friday morning of the Socialist Party of Great Britain conference at Conway Hall it was observed from the floor that the party headquarters were in the constituency. "But we have no candidate", the chairman replied. Harry Young asked me, "Do you want to stand, Barry?" "...Yes", I replied.

Harry then proposed  me as the party candidate, somebody else seconded me and the delegates agreed. I was taken away for the parliamentary candidates test. This was conducted at the head office in Clapham High Street. The examiners were Harry Walters, Harry Young and [Ron Cook]. There were a lot of questions about surplus value and the economics of exploitation, the materialist conception of history, the development of society through time and what the working class had to do to effect a socialist revolution through the ballot box.

I steered round such trick question as:

"Can the workers buy back with their wages all of the commodities they produce in a week?" (Short answer: exploitation takes place at the point of production, not consumption.) [....]

They passed me.

We set up a table on the pavement outside head office with literature and posters advertising our candidacy in the by-election and button-holing passers-by -- by telling them if they had read our literature and developed a socialist consciousness, they could vote for a genuine socialist candidate here and now.

"But who is he?" many asked. It was eerie to answer with my name; "We're not asking you to vote for a character, or celebrity, but for a way of reorganising society by democratic agreement", was frequently said.

Ronnie Weidberg had two public address systems with megaphones that could be attached to the roof of a car. We toured many streets in the constituency while I spoke into the microphone. The socialist case reverberated from the tower blocks, in snatches.

Harry Young and I teamed up from door-to-door canvassing. We encountered no hostility. A seventy-five year old and a thirty-two year old talking about a classless, moneyless world community are idealists, at a glance. We shook the loyalty of many die-hard Labour supporters and got invited in for coffee by a few floating voters.

There were a lot of candidates for the election. We met up with the Liberal and her entourage. I asked her to tell me her case. Then put the SPGB case to her, pointing out that "the science of the possible" can be expanded if the majority of people have knowledge and conviction.

We made enough noise to attract media attention. A BBC television crew turned up at head office while we were outside on the pavement. They filmed the bullet-proof window, then pushed the camera in my face, "Right you've got one minute", the director said.

Desperately, I grabbed the nearest passer-by, who happened to be a beautiful, black twenty year old woman. "You're on television. Do you have a vote in this election?" I whispered to her. "Yes", she said, terrified. I put the most charming and winning argument I could to her in a minute, while she smiled at the camera, nodded and answered in monosyllables. When it was over I pressed a copy of the Socialist Standard into her hand and thanked her.

The one-minute recording was screened on BBC six o'clock news, on the day before the election, I think. Afterwards the announcer smiled and shook his head.

I wrote an article for the local Caribbean newspaper recounting this and other experiences with black people over the years. They liked it but would not publish it until the election was over, lest it be seen as an endorsement. I don't know whether they did.

Barry McNeeney

Those War Films (1960)

From the January 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

War films, like Westerns, are always in fashion. From Hollywood and elsewhere, there flows a constant stream of films about heroism, cowardice, battles, bombings and butchery generally. So, at regular intervals, we sit transfixed in our cinema seats, while jet planes zoom overhead and the U.S. marines go in to finish off yet another bunch of anti-democratic savages. Satisfying? Maybe. Harmless? Improbable. But useful? Very rarely.

War is, after all, a serious subject. Yet, of the enormous number of films that have been made about war, one can count on one's fingers those which say something intelligent, useful or constructive about it.

Generally speaking, war films, like thrillers and westerns, follow well-defined patterns and fall into a few set groups. The commonest kind is the heroic battle-story with a slender plot and perhaps a little love interest. The hero, rugged and clean-living, goes into battle and, after inevitable setbacks, crushes the enemy practically single-handed. Sometimes he dies at the end, murmuring beautiful thoughts and accompanied by a celestial choir.

In these films the sort of thing that one remembers is, perhaps, Robert Taylor defending Bataan single-handed against hordes of Japs; or Veronica Lake gallantly walking into the enemy camp with a bosom loaded down with hand-grenades; and other similar epics of true-to-life bravery. Occasionally the story is more sophisticated and the background a little less false. But, basically, the same pattern is there—heroism, and the defeat of an evil enemy.

Why should one object to this ostensibly harmless kind of fairy tale? What is important is that the audience is expected to participate by identifying itself with the hero and the victorious army. It is objectionable for films to blatantly glorify the sordid business of killing. It is harmful to glamorise the slaughter of one's fellow-men. Above all, it is dangerous to suggest, as these films do, that war is inevitable and necessary and that "fighting for one's country" is a natural and desirable thing.

Another (and much smaller) category of films is the semi-documentary type, usually without love-interest, in which the portrayal of the fighting is much closer to reality. A few of these films have been extremely good, A Walk in the Sun, for instance, telling of one brief sortie by an American patrol in the Italian campaign. The Polish film Kanal is also worthy of mention, with its horrifying account of the crushing of the Warsaw uprising and the miserable and wretched deaths suffered by the survivors, either in the sewers of Warsaw or at the hands of the Germans. It is interesting to see, however, that this otherwise admirable film makes no mention of the Russian army which stood outside Warsaw for weeks, allowing their "allies" to be butchered in the sewers. But, of course, one should not expect too much from film-makers in countries now dominated by their Russian "liberators."

Probably the best of this type of film is the Finnish film The Unknown Soldier, which portrays the tiny, ill-equipped Finnish army in its war against Russia. In this, war is stripped of glamour and adventure and shown for what it is—a brutal and fearful business. This kind of film may, and sometimes does, inspire a genuine horror of war an all that goes with it, which in itself is a good thing. However, as these films never put forward a positive point of view, or any alternative to war, the overall effect is to make people think that war is a terrible and terrifying thing, but also that it is necessary and justifiable in the right circumstances.

During the war, and shortly after, there was a spate of documentary films, most of them made by the Crown Film Unit. The intention was to boost morale and convince the public that our cause was just and that victory would inevitably come. Some of them were well-made (for example, Fires Were Started), and did at least give an unsentimental and fairly accurate picture of what went on in the war. Many documentaries, notably The March of Time series, held out extravagant promises of the wonderful world that was to be ours after the war, a world freed from economic disasters, international tension and all the unpleasant things that occurred before the war. This is one good reason why these films are never shown today.

Since the war, we have had the opportunity of seeing documentaries that put the other side's point of view—Blitzkreig, for instance. Although the uniforms are different, the message is the same—"We are right and the enemy is wrong."

Another fairly common type of war-film is the prison-camp story, with the usual ingredients of escape, brutal punishment, cheerful and heroic prisoners and bullying prison-camp commanders. The pattern of these films is much the same as the heroic battle-epic. The prisoners attempt to escape because it is their duty to get back home to fight again. So insistent is the escape theme in films like The Wooden Horse and The Colditz Story and many others, that one gets the misleading impression that prison-camp life consisted of never-ending escape attempts, and that captured soldiers couldn't get back in the front line quick enough. Some of these films have depicted revolting brutality, not so much from a desire for authenticity, but rather to encourage national hatreds. One of the few prison-camp films to explore the possibilities of genuine human contact between captors and captives was La Grande Illusion, a French film, which itself was made long before the Second World War.

The one comes to the very few films about war which put forward a clear point of view—that war is unjustifiable, perhaps, or that war is harmful to all who take part in it. One or two even suggest that the war leaders and officers are not disinterested saints, but people with a vested interest in warfare. Attack, for example, did this badly, by showing the harm caused by a fanatical officer, but negatived this point by suggesting that "good" officers would have solved the problem. Paths of Glory, on the other hand, presented a picture of army officers scheming and competing like business men, and the disastrous effect this had on the men at the bottom, many of whom died as a result.

The films where a humanist or pacifist view is presented are few and far between. Apart from Paths of Glory, there is the old All Quiet on the Western Front, with its sympathetic portrayal of the German soldiers in the First World War. It had the temerity to suggest that German soldiers were human, too, with the same wants and desires, and cutting the same poor figure in the muddy trenches as their counterparts on the allied side. La Grande Illusion put forward a similar point of view, and exposed "the great illusion" of national enmity.

The result of the tally is not a very encouraging one—a handful of worthwhile films: a negative but accurate ones; and an enormous number of misleading, sentimental and harmful films glorifying war, extolling films, and justifying cruelty and murder. Cynics will say that the public are only getting what they deserve. Maybe, but this is only half of the story. Films themselves are the outcome of social forces, and at the same time help to fashion the climate of opinion in which they appear. So it is that Capitalism, a harmful and irrational system, produces the harmful and irrational by-product—war. This engenders the phony justifications for national enmities, which war films reflect and help to bolster up.

This process is endless—post-war situations produce new justifications and new hatreds, which themselves help to make new wars possible. The only thing that will stem this tide is knowledge and criticism. Working people are gradually coming to realise that wars are not glamorous affairs, that battles are not mere backdrops for heroes, and that national hatreds are not natural and praiseworthy.

One hopes that this trend will be reflected in the cinema, and that if films do deal with war, they will approach it in a critical, constructive and conscious way. Perhaps this is expecting too much of Capitalism, but if the cinema doesn't catch up, one at least knows that the working class eventually will.
Albert Ivimey