Thursday, September 24, 2015

Prods vs Papes in Glasgow (1982)

From the May 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1878 the City of Glasgow Bank crashed to financial ruin. In the same year the Scottish Roman Catholic Hierarchy was restored by the Pope and Charles Eyre became Archbishop of Glasgow. Protestant extremists, such as members of the Orange Lodges (who even today see almost every calamity as part of a global papist conspiracy), probably saw some connection between the two events. Whatever they thought they were certain of one thing: the restoration of Catholic Hierarchy was nothing less than "papal aggression". In response they protested in Glasgow Green. The Army was sent to prevent rioting but fortunately, for Glaswegian working-class skulls, the troops were not called into action.

The main factor leading to both the restoration of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy and the religious intolerance in Glasgow was the vast influx of Irish immigrants who, since the 1840s, had been entering the industrial areas of Britain to escape the famine. From December 1847 to March 1848 alone, about 43,000 Irish arrived in Glasgow, "a mass of broken wretches".

These immigrants were generally unskilled workers who had been forced to live in conditions even more squalid and degrading than those of the indigenous proletariat. They were able, therefore, to subsist on lower wages and consequently occupied the worst slums in the city.

It is a matter of fact that competition for employment between the Irish and the similarly unskilled Glaswegian workers led to a fall in wages for the latter. The native workers did not fail to notice this and, in their brutalised ignorance, blamed the Irish. That the majority of these unfortunate Irish workers adhered to the Roman Catholic brand of religious superstition, instead of the Protestant, was yet another focal point for hatred. The presence, too, of immigrants from the North of Ireland led to violent feuds of the Orange and Green variety among the Irish themselves. Added to this was the quarrelsome nature of the various Scottish Protestant sects who were already squabbling among themselves and were quite prepared to enter into hostilities with the adherents of the "one true church".

Nowadays, in Glasgow and the South of Scotland in general, fewer people are committed to any form of religious superstition; "of 20,000 Roman Catholics registered in Clydebank, only about a third attend church regularly" (Current Account, BBC1 Scotland, 25 February, 1982). Similarly an even greater proportion of those describing themselves as Protestants will only be seen inside a church at their funeral.

This decline in church attendance may seem encouraging, but unfortunately "religious" bigotry still flourishes among many of these non-churchgoers in the form of allegiance to certain football teams" Glasgow Rangers ("Prods") and Glasgow Celtic ("Papes"). These unfortunate and bigoted workers blame each other for all manner of social problems and it is almost incumbent upon Socialist Party of Great Britain speakers in Glasgow to criticise King Billy, the Queen, the Pope and the Catholic church in one breath lest, by reference to one alone, it is assumed by one side that we are in alliance with the other. Sellers of the Socialist Standard in Glasgow pubs must beware of the occasional IRA-supporting Catholics and UDA-supporting Protestants, neither of whom will hesitate to kick one's head in if given the chance; and there are certain pubs, particularly in the East End, into which we dare not go. Regular readers of the Standard will recall that our propaganda meeting of 29 July last year (the Day of the Nonsensical Nuptials) was disrupted by a frenzied gang of Orange thugs and it is a likely attack upon us by some papal-jerseyed hooligans which will prevent us from holding a similar meeting on June 1 (the day of the mumbo-jumbo at Bellahouston Park).

A woman from Livingston, West Lothian, told us (Current Account, BBC1 Scotland, 25 February 1982) that she has no need to think about anything she finds too complicated " . . . the priests, the bishops, the archbishops and the Pope are better equipped to deal with this kind of thing. To advise me". An old man, asked what his religion meant to him, was not quite sure except that he knew it was "great"  . . . "You must go to the chapel". When asked if he had ever rebelled against the church he replied: "No! Rebel? No! No!", as though shocked that anyone could conceive of such a thing.

A widow then informed us that her wayward husband's death-bed return to the faith convinced her of the existence of god. Although she was prepared to listen to other people's opinions, she was not prepared to change her ideas in any way: "I do respect other people's religions . . . I am willing to listen to other people, but I feel, basically, we were all Catholics at one time and . . . it's more the pity that they lapsed from our faith, for maybe good reasons, but basically we should all be Catholic and there's nothing in our religion that I want to give up." ("No Surrender!" seems to be a Catholic slogan as well as a Protestant one.)

The above examples of Catholic "thought" clearly illustrate the harmful effects of religious belief. The Catholic church and the Orange Lodge are very good at producing ignorant, docile and fervently religious wage-slaves, and so long as workers remain in these organisations so long will they neglect to deal with the cause of their poverty.

A leaflet, issued by the Orange Lodge in protest against this month's Papal visit and the Catholic Church's insistence on having its own schools, declares: "As absolute ruler of the Roman Church, Pope John Paul II bears the ultimate responsibility for this disgraceful school "apartheid" (Leaflet: Why Should We Welcome This Man?—He is no Friend of Ours). But responsibility for this lies with those workers who believe the superstitious twaddle preached by the Pope and who therefore find it necessary to obey his instructions to send their children to schools which specialise in the Catholic form of indoctrination. The Protestant variety of religious indoctrination is carried out, not only by their churches and the state schools, but by the juvenile section of the Orange Lodge.

Pastor Jack Glass (who thinks even Ian Paisley is "pro-romanist") also sees the Pope's visit as a major problem, so much so that he stood in the recent Hillhead by-election as the candidate for the Protestant Crusade Against the Papal Visit (388 votes—lost deposit). Another group of religious maniacs has been holding a series of meetings with titles such as "The Papal Visit Examined Doctrinally; the Papal Visit Examined Politically" (Glasgow Evening Times, 6 march 1982). They say: "Does not the sacrifice of our martyred forefathers suffer a grave insult by the permitting of the Pope to come . . . ". On March 24, in Bellahouston Park, about 20 Protestants tried to prevent the uprooting of some trees for the Pope's visit and one woman was arrested while trying to chain herself to a tree. It is most regrettable that so many members of the working class consider it worthwhile to waste so much of their time. It is also regrettable that so many others are eager to see the Pope and will pay £5.00 each to hear his inane incantations.

Socialists hope that the Pope's visit will fail; we hope the lapsed will stay away from the church and that believers will continue to decrease in number. There are no reasonable grounds for belief in the supernatural, or in gods, just as there are no grounds for belief in the existence of pink elephants, leprechauns, fairies or flying pigs. Socialists actively oppose all forms of religious superstition not only because such beliefs are unscientific and act as a barrier to understanding the society in which we live and its historical development, but also because of the socially divisive nature of religion. Workers who suffer from the delusions of religion are prepared to kill their fellow-workers in time of war; there are churches in America where blacks are not allowed; women are often considered subordinate to men and the Catholic Church will neither allow its women to become priests nor decide how many children they will have (although many Catholics now ignore the Pope's ruling on the latter).

The Catholic Church, with its roots in feudalism and its still feudal structure, has adapted very well to capitalism. It has shareholdings in many major companies throughout the world including those producing armaments. Nowadays the Vatican is a major financial institution and it is not surprising that the Pope is such a vehement supporter of capitalism. Only three years ago Pope John II warned his priests in South America against a too injudicious support of workers and peasants in their struggles against poverty.

Had not the Catholic Church an appalling record as a force against social progress, were not the Pope a pedlar of reactionary views and religious nonsense, socialists would still not welcome him. Like his opponents in the Orange Lodge, he is no friend of ours.
Johnny Cadillac

The Enemy on the Left! - Jean-Paul Sartre (1973)

The Enemy on the Left Column from the April 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Apart from the conventional left, the Labourite and Communist elements, the pseudo-socialist political scene is also cluttered up with a plethora of fringe-leftists who call themselves Trotskyists, Maoists, International Socialists etc. and who (insofar as one can follow their varying lines) claim to be lefter-than-left or more socialist than thou. (Alice's answer to the Mad Hatter is perhaps relevant. She could not have more tea because she hadn't had any yet. Similarly, these proliferating groups cannot be more socialist than the Labour Party which is not socialist at all. Though it is true they could not be less, either.)

It is difficult to keep up with these endlessly splintering groups and practically impossible to gather what they really stand for but perhaps one can begin by mentioning an interview in the Guardian recently with Jean-Paul Sartre "widely acknowledged as the greatest living philosopher". (Not so long ago, the title of world champ was claimed for Bertrand Russell whose most philosophical moment had occurred when he mooted the dropping of an atom bomb on Moscow. Not bad for a life-long pacifist. If only Marx was still around to re-write The Poverty of Philosophy.) This French genius, hero of the would-be revolutionary students, now, it seems, calls himself a Maoist. What he was doing all his leftist life, before Maoism was thought of as a creed, the interview does not make clear. One recalls that at various times he has quarrelled with the French Communist Party and at other times he has supported them — including times when the Stalin terror has been at its most ferocious; but you can't really expect leftist philosophers to bother themselves with such trivia as the fact that 200 million Russian workers were held in a tyrant's grasp and untold numbers were being frozen and worked to death in forced-labour camps. One also recalls his association with Russell in the so-called Tribunal to try America for war crimes in Vietnam (of which there was no shortage, of course) which really boiled down to support for the victory of that kindly, freedom-loving "communist", Uncle Ho.

The interview, though it occupies four columns, never gets round to asking the Great Man why he is a Maoist or indeed what kind of an alleged socialist that animal is supposed to be. So one can only fall back on the assumption that the Maoists stand for the sort of rĂ©gime that exists in China today: where Mao makes it clear, both in word and in deed, that he is himself a Stalinist. So we have the farcical position that the revolting students of 1968 who called the French Communist Party "Stalinist shit" are now personified by a philosopher who stands for Chinese Stalinist shit. A rose by another name indeed. But of course that sort of muddle is the inevitable fate of those who lurch from one fashionable nostrum to another without ever giving themselves the time to work out the real lesson of the present jungle world, in Russia, or China, or the West — that capitalism is the enemy and only an understanding proletariat can do anything about it.

Clearly, the workers will never learn that lesson from a Professor of Maoism. Instead of getting knowledge in their heads, their heads will be broken by the brutal arm of the state. For our Maoist makes it clear he does not hold with the "legal action" of voting and although he does not spell out what means the workers should adopt, it is clear that our Maoists are enemies on the left indeed.
L. E. Weidberg 

What’s wrong with capitalism? (2004)

From the April 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

We could fill several issues of the Socialist Standard with details about the problems caused by capitalism, but let’s see how much we can say within the confines of a single article.

One pervasive aspect of capitalism is poverty. By this we do not mean destitution, as when people literally cannot afford food or clothing or a place to live. There are certainly plenty of homeless people in Britain, but poverty is far more pervasive than this. It involves people not having access to what they want or need, and having to make do with second- or third-best. Shopping at a cheap supermarket,  waiting for the sales to buy what you want, telling the kids they can’t have what they’ve set their hearts on - all these are examples of poverty. So is living in a house that’s too small for your family, or booking the cheapest holiday you can find. And so is working after your anticipated retirement age because your pension will not be big enough. Another illustration is the amount of debt with which people get landed, an average of £16,000 for each man, woman and child in the UK, and therefore much more than that for many individuals. Every day around a hundred people become bankrupt - the ultimate expression of how poverty causes people to live beyond their means.

It’s not just that the vast majority are forced to go without; it’s also that a relatively small number of people live in the lap of luxury. This inequality is not a matter of your neighbour having a bigger car than you or being able to afford two yearly holidays abroad. Instead we are referring to the millionaires and billionaires who own land, companies or shares, and don’t have to worry about two-for-the-price-of-one offers or whether they can afford a night out on Saturday. These people live in grand mansions, probably have a holiday home or two as well, own their own private jets, and employ armies of servants to look after them. Moreover, it’s not they who do the useful work in society: those who drive the buses, teach the children or work in factories or offices are the ones who suffer poverty. Socialists argue that there are two classes under capitalism: the working class (who work for wages and always struggle to make ends meet) and the capitalist class (who receive their income from rent or profit and get the lion’s share of wealth). Belonging to the working class is what makes you poor.

It also means you are likely to suffer from stress of one kind or another. This is partly the result of the daily fight with poverty, but there are many other sources of stress for workers. Many jobs are boring or dangerous, and many more offer little satisfaction to those who do them. Worrying about deadlines or targets, or feeling at the whim of your boss’s moods - all these increase the stress due to employment. And the farther you climb up the “career ladder”, the chances are the more responsibility you will bear and hence the more stress you will encounter. Add to this the insecurity of many jobs and the consequent fear of unemployment. Then there’s the stress of the daily journey to work, whether by car or public transport. Life under capitalism means worries and more worries.

A term sometimes used for people’s general feeling of unhappiness and rejection is alienation, a notion intended to cover the idea of rootlessness, of not belonging to a community, of being isolated, of seeing no real goal in life, of being powerless under the wheels of the capitalist juggernaut. Capitalism views people not as human beings with feelings and desires but as economic units, only useful if you can create profits. So people far too often relate to each other by means of money or comparable considerations (what’s in it for me?), rather than by cooperating with other humans. We are essentially viewed as individuals, not as part of a society. Many social ills can be attributed to alienation, from casual violence to suicide. The pressures of capitalism are not just financial but permeate all aspects of a dog-eat-dog social system.

One reason why people feel stressed and alienated is the lack of democracy which obtains under capitalism. It is true that in Britain there is more or less free speech and the opportunity to elect councillors and MPs. But there is no real democracy in the sense of people having control over their lives. Rather, we are subject to the decisions of others, both within and outside our workplaces. Decisions about shutting factories or moving an office to another part of the country are taken by a small group of bosses rather than the people most closely affected. Often it is the impersonal force of the market which determines what happens. Companies may be closed down or merged because they do not make “enough” profit, not because they do not produce anything useful. All political and economic decisions, whether about the siting of houses or quarries or new roads or whatever, are made within the context of a social system that puts profit above human need, and in such a system there can be no proper democracy, however many democratic institutions exist.

We mentioned above that many jobs are unhealthy and even dangerous. The violence inherent in capitalism is yet another problem thrown up by it. Industrial accidents and the violence perpetrated by many of those on the receiving end of capitalism’s oppression are vivid illustrations of the system’s shortcomings. There is also the ever-present danger of full-scale war. In the course of the twentieth century the nature of warfare changed, from a situation where victims were primarily combatants to one where it is now overwhelmingly civilians that are killed or maimed. Consider too that wars are fought in the interest of the capitalist class, as in the quest for sources of raw materials - oil wars are just a particularly clear case of this. Workers therefore kill and are killed on behalf of a bunch of wealthy parasites.

It is true that capitalism has had a tremendous transforming impact on the world, and that workers nowadays live longer and more rewarding lives than those in the days before the development of industry. However, comparisons should be made not with the distant past but with the present and future potential of Socialism. Judged by this yardstick, and on its own terms, there is so much wrong with capitalism that it is more than high time it was done away with.
Paul Bennett

Small Talk (2000)

A Short Story from the September 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is not language and communication something we most of us take for granted? Not until now have I found cause to dwell on how precious an asset is this tool we have to bring us closer to our understanding of one another.

For example communication is indispensable to rage. Rage without the right words to communicate it with is hollow, redundant, rather like the ranting of a small child who has not yet acquired the ability to speak coherently. It is small wonder that toddlers stamp their feet, wail and lie down on the floor and scream until they are blue in the face. It is because the necessary tool, words, has for the time-being eluded them. The tantrums usually grow less as the child develops speech. A few times lately I have yearned to lie down on the floor and scream when the words I had hoped I was using came over as though I had downed a bottle of Scotch beforehand. But in so many ways is speech abused, used sometimes for the egoistic pleasure of hearing the sound of one's own voice, or to dominate whatever situation one finds oneself in. How often do we actually listen to what another person is saying, concentrating without interruption on what they are telling us? I am bound to admit that I haven't—always. Now that I have to listen through no choice of my own I find that a lot of people talk a lot of drivel, and that those who talk the most drivel are the least likely to listen to anybody else.

We all know that small talk is useful to warming up the proceedings when we first meet new people. The expectation is that small talk will lead to big talk and we will shortly be having marvellous conversations about the important things of life. Have you noticed that this sometimes doesn't happen and the small talk becomes even smaller talk the next time you meet and the time after that too? Then it dawns on you that they really do regard The Weather, their holiday in Greece last year and their new make of car as vital topics of conversation. But by this time they have begun to count you as among their best friends. Your silence has been misinterpreted. You are a good listener because you are stunned by their eloquence.

People come to visit me. For most of the time my speech defect precludes me from joining in on the chat. If it is just one person visiting they have to persevere with me. He or she will often sit embarrassed but brave, straining to comprehend what I am getting at. If there are several visitors then they will throw caution to the wind and talk to each other. Often a nod or a wink in my direction is to show that they know I am still there. So I have little alternative but to listen and it is then that I grieve for my absent power of speech.

People not only talk drivel but they talk repetitive drivel. There is a tendency to repeat the uninspiring, unoriginal, mind-deadening rubbish they were verbalising a few seconds before; I guess in case it wasn't received the first time.

It's not asking for much. There must be some social aspect of the world that has struck someone at some time or another. It needn't be Existentialism or Einstein's Theory of Relativity. I would merely like to hear some opinions expressed about the world, the country, our lives and how they're run. Questions are there to be asked, but, no, apart from a mention of a child abduction (how many children are slaughtered on the roads every year is not so interesting) our interaction stays dreary—even The Weather is dragged out for a re-assessment.

Not a very long time elapses before I cease to attend. It is excusable in a sick woman that she should suddenly close her eyes and shudder. Only those who know me very well will know why I shudder. It is the acceptance of the status quo. No matter how much exploitation, hunger, injustice and war exist in the world and no matter how little power the working class has over its management, the wretchedness continues and so few of us have made any effort to analyse why. Now that the fact of the impermanence of living is staring me in the face I have become impatient with the foolishness of human existence.
Heather Ball

How to join the fight for Socialism (1993)

From the October 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard
Not sure whether you are a Socialist or not? Perhaps you're interested but worried about joining a bunch of raving lefties who will tell you what to think and do? The Socialist Party wants only free thinking, committed members who understand what Socialism will mean for them.
Many of you are socialists already. But some of you aren't, or are not sure of you are. This article is addressed to the last tow groups. If you're in the first group then you might consider whether what follows could help you to convince others to become socialists.

There is a very simple answer to the question "How can I become a socialist?" Answer: give up supporting capitalism. "But I don't support capitalism". Yes, you do. You vote for parties that stand for keeping or reforming the present system, not abolishing it. 'Well, I like the idea of socialism, but it'll never work (not in my lifetime anyway, because it's against human nature, you won't get people to work without money, they'll grab everything if it's free, etc, etc)".

Of course it won't work if people continue to think like that - if you continue to think like that. The case for socialism is that capitalism - the present world, social, economic and political system - has failed and will continue to fail to deliver what it promises. It is a class system that divides people into owners and non-owners of the means of wealth production and distribution. It produces extremes of poverty and riches, starvation in a world with enough food to feed all its peoples, environmental destruction and degradation in pursuit of profit, wars that benefit no-one except power-seeking leaders and arms manufacturers and sellers.

Yes, it does look easier to change things bit-by-bit than to hold out for a completely different system. But it only looks easier. Change Party A's administration of capitalism for Party B's and you may notice a few differences. But the basic problems remain. The new broom comes in to sweep clean, but it soon makes the same mess as the old one.

A better world
If you are a socialist you will have to put up with being called an idealist, an eccentric, or worse. So what? Idealists are people who have a vision of a better world: socialists are practical idealists who act to achieve that world. Eccentrics are people who deviate from normal forms of behaviour. Do you want to conform with normal forms of behavior such as going to a job that no sane society would require people to do (financial disservices, armed forces, and so on), voting for parties that deal in bribes and threats, believing that hospitals have to stop doing business because they've run out of money?

The Socialist Party of consists of men and women who have got together for a common purpose: the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism. There were socialists in the world before the Socialist Party was formed in 1904, and there are people who are socialists today outside the Socialist Party (we'd like them in). We don't have leaders who tells us what to do and think -  we have our own fully democratic doers and thinkers. We are not a narrow sect who demand faithful allegiance to every dot and comma of our "doctrine". We don't have a doctrine, although we do have a set of principles, originally formulated in the language of 1904, to support the achievement of our sole object of socialism.

Understanding vital
We don't seek to sign up as members everyone who comes to our meetings or who we pass in the street. If you show some interest in socialism we'll talk with you, offer you our literature and invite you to our meetings. When you want to take part in helping to achieve socialism, we'll invite you to discuss membership with us.

Although we need a lot of money to do the things we want to do - especially for the costly but very worthwhile Euro-election socialist literature distribution campaign next year - we won't pressure you to give the Socialist Party money: your work for socialism is more important. The Party is organized in branches and groups around the country, and if there is one reasonably nearby you'll find support from mixing with people (call them comrades if you like - it's not compulsory) who share your views.

Finally, as socialists we don't agree with each other about everything. Come to our twice-yearly conferences and you'll hear some (hopefully) good discussions. But you will run the risk of being invited to take part in those discussions.
Stan Parker