Saturday, November 21, 2015

Obituary: Jack Gormley (1981)

Obituary from the April 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Jack Gormley was 18 when he first met the Socialist Party of Great Britain in the 1930s at outdoor meetings in Rushcroft Road, Brixton; it was not until 1946 that he joined our then Camberwell Branch. In the years between—as jack wrote in the November 1975 Socialist Standard ("Why I joined the SPGB")—he had been attracted by reformists masquerading as revolutionaries, who boasting of their mass support imagined they were getting things done. Unemployment! Rents and Houses! Fighting Imperialism! The War against Fascism! Like many others who ignored the arguments of the SPGB, Jack was distracted by dozens of blind-alley issues. He went into the "lively" Norwood Labour Party, and was caught up in a Trotskyist cell. Every week there would be a fresh line to follow, supposedly spearheading the imminent workers' take-over.

Jack began to question all the wasted time and effort. The sense of the SPGB's argument about the paramount necessity to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism, had begun to have its effect. He refused to be conscripted during the war, and joining the Socialist Party went enthusiastically to its education classes. For the rest of his life Jack vigorously propounded socialism to everyone he met. His exposition was clear, well illustrated by the fund of experience from his early politically wasted years, also enriched with a wide knowledge of literature. He particularly like the works of Jack London and William Morris, and the poetry of Shelley. South London Party speakers have long been indebted to Jack Gormley for his example and guidance.

Over the years the South London Press and other local papers published many of Jack's well written and pointed letters, frequently printed under the pen name: "Standard Socialist". Many of us will not forget Jack's passion for discussing politics and religion—he had dispensed with religion before meeting the Party. At every opportunity he went to opponents' meetings. The writer of this notice well remembers a Carshalton Labour Party meeting we both attended. Barbara Castle MP and Sydney Silverman MP had given long, dreary speeches, and were supposed to take questions. Came the first tame question, then Jack got up and put his, it was well put, barbed and resounded throughout the hall. The MPs, hastily excused themselves, retreated back to the House of Commons. The local paper reporting the incident noted the speedy departure in the face of questions, recording Jack's loud challenge: "You're not socialists!" in the wake of the MP's going.

Jack Gormley, troubled in recent years by poor health, died suddenly last month. With his passing, a powerful voice and pen is silenced. SW London Branch will greatly miss his political experience and valued contributions to discussion. His friends in the Party here and in Australia are sad at the loss of a staunch comrade. Our sympathy goes to his family; we share their loss.

Dreaming (1999)

Theatre Review from the August 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
Dreaming by Peter Barnes. Queen's Theatre, London.
A cousin who had seen the play when it was first produced in Manchester earlier in the year recommended Dreaming. You won't be disappointed she said. And we weren't.
In responding to a piece of drama one test of "significance" which works for me is that particular lines and images stay with me for days (and sometimes weeks) afterwards. Often it takes me several days to come to terms with a substantial piece of drama. I need time to try to understand why particular scenes were so powerful; time to digest my emotional reaction; time to reflect about the meaning of the play. Someone once said that great plays—as distinct from merely good plays—are like a series of attractive boxes, arranged inside one another. You open one box and begin to understand its contents only to find it contains another box, and so on. Each box contains a new set of insights; a new set of discoveries.
So at one level, Dreaming is about a group of mercenaries picking their way through a war-torn world; at another it is about a search for something to make life worthwhile; at a third level it is about the meaning of life. The play is as full of ideas as rain showers on an April day. There is more to engage the hearts and minds of the audience that the entire output of all terrestrial and satellite television channels for a month. The play is full of biting comedy, haunting imagery, and great originality. There are strong parallels with Brecht's Mother Courage (see the Socialist Standard, November 1998). But whereas Brecht wants to prevent us identifying with the plight of the characters on stage, Barnes seems to want to make his audience aware of the theatricality of what we are seeing and hearing by switching from bloody drama to vaudeville patter, to ironic satire, to a song-and-dance routine, almost as quickly as it takes to mention these things.
Any play which wants to examine the nature of the choices available to people, and which makes powerful comments about the way in which such choices are denied to most of us because of the nature of the economic and social arrangements which imprison us, is going to interest the socialist. If, in addition, the play is prepared to celebrate friendship and comradely behaviour, to despise the power and significance of money, and to argue that violence and war are the result of social systems which divide mankind, the interest is going to be even greater.
I think that Dreaming is a major new play. It ought to be playing to full houses, but on a Saturday afternoon in late June, having passed the usual scrum of people waiting to fight their way to see Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, we found only 50 people rattling like peas in a pod in the huge expanses of the 1,000-seater Queen's Theatre. It says much for the effectiveness of the dumbing down of popular taste that whereas nearly 10 million people a week could found listening to a BBC radio broadcast of the Brains Trust towards the end of the Second World War, dross and fool's gold should now seemingly captivate most theatre goers in London. And it says much for the splendid company that notwithstanding the imperatives of capitalism—which supposedly ties effort to individual reward—they produced a performance for the small audience which was as heart-stopping as it was memorable. Whilst dreams may at present be the order of the day for a discriminating minority present in the Queen's Theatre, the nightmare that is populist pap remains the lot of most punters in London's theatreland.
Michael Gill

No Socialism in Portugal (1976)

From the August 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

According to the new constitution adopted in April, Portugal is supposed to be a democracy in transition to Socialism. This of course is not true. Portugal is progressing not towards Socialism, but towards a more modern type of capitalism.

The word "socialism" in the context of present-day Portugal refers to social reforms and state ownership and control of the economy; in other words, to what is more properly called "state capitalism" in contrast to the classless, wageless, moneyless society the word originally meant.

State capitalism not only is not Socialism, but it has nothing to offer the working class either. Certainly, the working class obtained the freedom to organize and to discuss out of the overthrow by the armed forces in April 1974 of the one-party fascist regime which had governed Portugal for nearly fifty years. On the surface they were enabled not only to defend their living standards and working conditions under capitalism but also to openly advocate Socialism. But in fact Socialists in Portugal will find themselves coming into conflict with all existing political factions.

First they will come up against those who currently hold power ― the newly elected President Eanes and his Prime Minister Soares (leader of the so-called "Socialist" Party) ― who want to see established in Portugal a Western-style parliamentary regime. According to the results of both the April general election and the June presidential election, this proposition is supported by the majority of workers and peasants in Portugal. This is not to say, however, that its implementation would be in their interests. For the proposed parliamentary regime is merely a way of administering capitalism.

It can be argued that a stable parliamentary system is the ideal political form for capitalism. It prevents one group having a monopoly of political power and using it to acquire privileges at the expense of the rest of the ruling class, and it allows changes to be made as changing economic conditions and the changing balance of power between sections of the ruling class demand. But capitalism can never be made to work in the interest of the working class. It is a profit-making system based on the exploitation of wage-labour and can only function as such, a fact which must be recognized and consciously applied by any government of capitalism, however democratically elected and however sincere might be their wish to improve the lot of the working class.

Since the overthrow of the fascist regime in April 1974 the economic situation in Portugal has been chaotic. Investment has slumped; unemployment has grown; inflation has raged. In order to re-launch the Portuguese economy the working class will have to be disciplined to work harder and to accept wage restraint in a period of rising prices, i.e. to accept a cut in real living standards. To impose such a cut will be the main task of the new president and his government.

The danger is that the workers might be tempted to turn to those who, again in the name of "socialism", want a thorough-going state capitalist regime for Portugal. This would be a serious error which would almost certainly nullify the effects of the overthrow of the fascist regime. Experience shows that state capitalist regimes such as exist in Russia, China, Cuba and many Afro-Asian countries are quite ruthless in brutally suppressing all attempts at independent working-class activity within their borders. 

In Portugal today it is not only the so-called "Communist" Party and the Maoists, Trotskyists and other leftists who stand for a state-capitalist dictatorship. There is, or rather was until the purge which followed the mutiny of 25th November last year, a section of the armed forces which held the same view. Typified by Major (ex-General) Carvalho, former head of Copcon, the armed forces security service, who came second in the recent presidential elections polling about a sixth of the votes, this section felt that the organization best fitted to lead the Portuguese people to "socialism" (ie. state capitalism) was not some vanguard party but the armed forces themselves. Had they come to power last November they would have probably established a leftist military regime similar to that existing in, say, Peru.

In any event a state-capitalist regime ― with its widespread State ownership, state planning, state control of foreign trade, etc.― would not change the fact that Portugal is a poor country completely dependent on world-market conditions. A state-capitalist regime, whether run by the armed forces or the CP or by some other group, would not be able to free Portugal from these conditions and the pressures they exert on working-class living standards. Indeed these pressures would be felt even more strongly through being channelled directly through the state, class society's organ of coercion. A state-capitalist Portugal would remain economically dependent on world capitalism and politically would only have a choice as to which imperialism ― American, Russian or perhaps Chinese ― to be a satellite of.

The future without socialist understanding is bleak for the working class in Portugal. They are doomed to suffer capitalism in one form or another. In view of Portugal's drastic economic situation whichever of the factions competing for power emerged as the government would have to redispline the working-class. So, in their own interests, the workers should oppose them all ― the old Caetano gang, Spinola, the parliamentarists, the CP, Cavalho and the army leftists ― for none of them can have anything to offer but hard work, poverty and suffering. The only way out for the Portuguese workers is to unite with their fellow workers in other parts of the world with a view to establishing world Socialism. 
L. B.