Thursday, August 13, 2015

Rhymeating lion tamer (1978)

Book Review from the December 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

John S. Clarke: Parliamentarian, Poet, Lion-Tamer by Raymond Challinor (Pluto Press)

This little book, published a couple of years ago, is well worth reading containing, as it does, illuminating sidelights on the genesis of the British Communist Party and its later left-wing off-shoots.

Clarke was an extraordinary character, leading a colourful life as a lion tamer (he came of circus stock) and merchant seaman. He travelled all over the world but, although entirely self-taught, showed remarkable gifts as a writer and Scottish "rhymeater" in the Burns tradition. He gravitated to the Socialist Labour Party where his journalistic talents soon made him the actual editor of The Socialist during the first World War. With the advent of the Bolshevik seizure in Russia, Clarke was the first (with Willie Gallacher) to make the Moscow trip. Whereas Gallacher (a muddlehead if ever there was one) swallowed the Russian bait, Clarke refused to come back to England and, as editor of the Glasgow Scottish Workers Committee paper The Worker, wrote critical articles, exposed the unsuitability of Russian tactics in Britain and, above all, the lying, glowing reports sent to Lenin by the greedy job hunters of the British Socialist Party. "Information by the mass, specially preened, pruned, doctored and cooked by the officials of the old BSP was sent to Russia with the deliberate object of misleading the Bolsheviks as to the true state of affairs in Britain" he wrote.

This certainly did not suit the new Russian paymasters who, after buying up The Worker, promptly had Clarke sacked. He was the first publicly to denounce the absurdity of Lenin's tactics of supporting the Labour Party. Challinor claims to have "subjected all Lenin's statements about Britain to a close analysis" and to have come to Clarke's view. "Lenin's mistake was his belief that most British workers considered the Labour Party to be Socialist, and that this myth could only be dispelled by seeing it in office but, in fact, most British workers are aware the Labour Party is largely the mouthpiece of the Trade Union leaders, whose limitations have been known for many years. Hence Lenin's tactic was an unnecessary exercise, telling workers what they already knew," he writes. What a pity that Vanessa Redgrave, Paul Foot, Tony Cliff, Gerry Healey, Chris Harman and co., many of whom were still, up to a few years ago, urging workers to vote for the Labour Party, did not know what "most workers knew". We would have been spared the rubbish of WRP, RWP, Big Flame, IMG etc., "New CP", "Old PLC." Chinese Leninists and so on.

Clarke was persuaded by the Glasgow ILP (Maxton and co) to run for Parliament. He was elected, sat for Maryhill for two and a half years and, to his, credit, chucked it up in disgust!

Borrow the book from the local library, like I did.

The "Friends" of Scottish Workers (1945)

From the April 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the working class was granted the vote there has never been a shortage of busy-bodies who—hand-on-heart, have declared their ardent sympathy and interest in workers' problems.

When elected, of course, the workers become the "constituency" and each M.P. "looks after his constituency" and looks ahead to the next election. W. Gallacher, A. Woodburn, D. Kirkwood and other Parliamentary luminaries are engaged at the moment—amid other equally laudable pursuits—in pressing the post-war claims of Prestwick Aerodrome. All three are campaigning for the "Forth Road Transport Bridge and have endorsed Hector McNeil, Labour M.P.'s efforts to modernize the Clyde so that the largest ships can be docked at Greenock and Glasgow"

Other Scottish M.P.'s—with an eye on their constituency—are eloquently expatiating on Scottish needs and problems. The "Daily Express," February 15th, gave considerable space to a report of a Parliamentary debate on a Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Bill. Thos. Johnston—the mover the bill said: "In the Tradeston division of Glasgow, for example, there are 127 houses or more than 700 persons to the acre." He said: "The measure won't bring a new Jerusalem to Scotland, but would assist local authorities to deal with problems." In short, a confession of impotence unuusal in its frankness. In the came report there is a gem of a phrase coined by Campbell Stephen, I.L.P., M.P.:— "We in Scotland have had a raw deal. Our association with England has not given us an opportunity to deal with housing and industry." Characteristically, however, W. Gallacher, M.P., capped the lot with "Effete Sassenachs were incapable of dealing with the planning problems which confronted them in Scotland and in consequence the Sturdy Scot had been bound hand and foot and dragged behind them in this miserable bill." He then went on to talk about the class war, which, he said, had done a thousand times more damage that the War.

Have the Scottish workers any doubts that Gallacher, Woodburn, Campbell-Stephen and Co., are really interested in working class affairs? Could they have?

Those of them who have, however vaguely, identified Socialism with an international outlook will be bewildered at Gallacher's talk of "effete" Englishmen and "Sturdy" Scots, particularly in view of his later and inexplicable reference to a class war.

They will think of "effete" "Scots," who bide here in Scotland for the "Glorious 12th" and "sturdy" Englishmen who "carry hods" here all the year round.

Supporters of the "Socialist" I.L.P. should feel uneasy about Campbell Stephen's "Our association—hasn't given us an opportunity."—They will, or should wonder who "Our and us" means and conclude that if it was Scottish workers—that is was Capitalism rather than association with England that had been and still is the source of working class problems.

The England, Irish, Welsh and American capitalists with investments in Scottish aviation, building, shipping and transport will applaud the efforts of the Scottish Communist, Labour and I.L.P. M.P.'s.

Kirkwood has already earned the title of "M.P. for John Brown's" among Clydeside workers: now it will be Woodburn "M.P. for Scottish Airways," McNeil "M.P. for Clyde Trust" and Gallacher "M.P. for Arrols and Wimpey's."

What all this has to do with the interests of the working class in Scotland no one knows. Perhaps the M.P.'s could tell us?

It certainly does not require genius or a microscope to perceive that Scotland, like every other country, has a population which is divided into a majority who are non-owning workers and a minority who are non-working owners. And that after centuries of joint development with England that all means of producing wealth are owned and controlled by large concerns whose shareholders are spread throughout Britain and the rest of the world.

Just as certainly it does not need extraordinary intelligence to know that workers in specifically "Scottish" concerns merely receive in wages enough to continue working—barely enough, as for workers everywhere.

The Scottish workers don't have to attend a University to know that the ruling class of Scotland since the days of the Highland "clearances" referred to by Marx in biting terms in "Capital" (Vol. 1), are any less brutal and avaricious than their English counterparts. Or do they?

Thos. Johnston's burning indictments of the Scottish ruling class make curious reading nowadays when he is Secretary of State for Scotland and seems to be on terms of easy familiarity with the present scions. The same remark applies to old copies of the "Forward" during his period of editorship.

There is a story told by John S. Clarke regarding Lenin's estimate of Gallacher in which he described Gallacher as a "_____ fool"; a story which Gallacher repudiated indignantly and inexplicably as "an insult to Lenin." Whether the story is true or otherwise is unimportant but at least reflects a view of Gallacher, increasingly common, among workers with memories and intelligence.

The ability of the Gallachers, Johnstons, Maxtons, Kirkwoods in getting away with their anti working class nonsense and buffoonery rests on the—as yet, political ignorance of the Scottish workers.

Their political and social interests—like their fellows everywhere—are opposed to those of their masters and does not lie in schemes which will enable their employers to wring yet more surplus value from their skill and energy.

The political power that enables the privileged class to retain their social privilege is vested in control of the machinery which has its centre in Westminster.

This fact enables the Scottish, English and Welsh working class to co-ordinate their task of intelligently wresting this supremely vital control of political machinery from the hands of their class enemies—the masters; a co-ordination which has a fit and ready instrument in the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

The duty of the Scottish workers—like the workers the world over—is to-day—not tomorrow—to attempt an understanding of the basic nature of their problems and having done so, to organise in the Socialist Party democratically to take over power to establish Socialism.

Capitalism in Scotland, in England, America, Germany, Russia, in every country in the world produces the same set of problems to workers—poverty, unemployment, insecurity, war, and so on.

These problems arise with sublime impartiality as to forms of government, climate and previous political history, they arise in democracies and dictatorships in the two hemispheres and in big and wee countries.

The Socialist analysis and solution is international in scope and outlook and the only way in which the Scottish workers can assist their fellows in India and Greece as elsewhere is to study, understand and organise for Socialism. As they do so, the boloney of the Labour, I.L.P. and Communist M.P.'s will become clearly apparent. "Our" problems are the problems arising from the capitalist nature of Society which is now world-wide and the solution for "us"—World Socialism in which wealth will be produced, controlled and enjoyed by all.
Thomas Anthony.

Voice From the Back: Too many people (2015)

The Voice From the Back column from the August 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
Too many people?
While only 59 percent of lay respondents believe that a population boom will become a problem, 82 percent of scientists are concerned about overpopulation (, 6 July). Is the world overpopulated? Socialists are convinced there is good evidence to the contrary. Dr. Paul Ehrlich recently opined that women should not be allowed to have as many babies as they want as this is akin to letting everyone throw as much of their garbage into their neighbour's backyard as they want. Does he or most of the scientists surveyed, no doubt seeing this 'problem' through a capitalist lens, not know that half of all food is thrown away or that we could all move to New Zealand and experience a population density less than that of Manhattan?

Sultan Erdogan and his golden throne
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denied (Today's Zaman, 3 July) that his gigantic presidential palace is fitted with gold-plated toilet seats. Should we believe him? A more interesting question is what would a socialist world do with the tens of thousands of tonnes of gold currently locked away in vaults? Well, some may take inspiration from More's Utopia and use gold to make bathroom fixtures. We would also have to decide what to do with Erdogan's 1,150-room palace, which was built at a cost of around €490 million when money still existed.

No nations
William Morris wrote ‘While theologians are disputing the existence of a hell elsewhere, we are on the way to realising it here: and if capitalism is to endure, whatever may become of men when they die, they will come into hell when they are born.’ Haiti is certainly one candidate for hell on Earth as in addition to natural disasters and the rule of the one percent, our class there has recently suffered from the attention of the United Nations and Red Cross. The former is responsible for the ongoing cholera outbreak, an epidemic which has killed thousands and hospitalised hundreds of thousands, as well as exchanging food and medicine with over 200 women and underage girls for sex. The Red Cross raised half a billion dollars and built just six homes leaving most of the population existing in shacks made of rusty sheet metal, and without access to drinkable water, electricity or basic sanitation. Now 'some half a million stateless Haitian-Dominicans face mass deportation from Dominican Republic in what's been called an 'ethnic purge.' Poverty-stricken Haiti has condemned the expulsion measures and signalled it is not equipped to deal with the security issues posed by a massive influx of migration' (Telesur TV, 1 July).

Let them eat Campylobacter
Nearly three-quarters of fresh supermarket chicken in the UK tested positive for a food poisoning bug. Campylobacter is the UK's leading cause of food poisoning and a year-long survey by the Food Standards Agency showed 73 percent of chickens tested positive for the pathogen, with one in five (19 percent) within the highest band of contamination (, 3 July)

Socialists are smart. We do not know the answer to life, the universe and everything, but we have the solution to war, pollution, and many other global 'problems'. We are members of the working class, smart enough to run society from top to bottom for the enrichment of the vestigial capitalist class. Until we learn better, even 'the smartest people in the world' will find 'problems of hunger and poverty are wickedly difficult' (, 2 July). D'oh! As long as capitalism remains so will its attendant 'problems'.

Looks like a duck
So-called socialist or communist states (actually a contradiction in terms) show the hallmarks of capitalism. State capitalist Venezuela and Guyana are in an uncomradely argument over resources:
’This particular border controversy covers an area of some 160,000 sq. kilometers (62,000 sq. miles), which signifies some three-quarters of the territory of Guyana, according to a decree signed recently by Maduro. For its part, Guyana claims that Venezuela modified its maritime borders to include the area in dispute, which includes territory where large petroleum deposits were recently discovered’ (Fox News Latino, 4 July).