Thursday, March 31, 2016

Founding myths (2016)

Book Review from the March 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Who’s Afraid of the Easter Rising? 1916-2016'. By James Heartfield and Kevin Rooney. Zero Books, 2015, £11.99.

Socialists will not like this book, because of its relentless pro-Irish Republican stance.  Those who took part in the  armed uprising in Dublin at Easter in 1916 were, we are told, ‘heroes’ and ‘freedom fighters’ who fought for a ‘noble cause’. Certainly, those prepared to die for their beliefs deserve some respect, but what was the ‘noble’ cause? What was the ‘freedom’ they died for?

The rebels proclaimed an ‘Irish Republic’ from the steps of the GPO. The proclamation was a typical bourgeois-revolutionary text. The freedom and equality it invoked were merely the same as those of the bourgeois-revolutionaries who set up the first French Republic in 1793 – freedom from hereditary and alien rulers and equality before the law and in the marketplace. The aim was set up an independent, capitalist Irish state. It had nothing to do with socialism despite the participation of the one-time revolutionary socialist James Connolly; in fact, in participating in it he could be said to have betrayed the cause of the working class and socialism.

The authors make another extravagant, though less implausible, claim for the uprising: that it was anti-war and anti-imperialist, ‘the first open revolt against Europe’s warlords’, a key event in bringing the First World War to an end. Hardly, as it occurred relatively early on in the war which continued for a further two-and-a-half years. It is true that, later, nationalists seeking independence from the British Empire did look back to it as an anti-imperialist action to emulate. For the participants, though, it was a simple pro-Irish revolt.

In describing it as ‘the founding act of the Irish State', Heartfield and Rooney are going along with the Irish State’s myth of its own origin. A much more historically accurate candidate for this would be the decision of the Sinn Fein MPs elected to the House of Commons in the 1918 UK general election not to take up their seats but to meet on their own in January 1919 as the parliament of an independent state.

In any event, both were insurrectionary acts, and Heartfield and Rooney derive much fun from pointing to the embarrassment of the present ruling class in Ireland who are clearly ashamed of the insurrectionary origin of their state. A large part of the book is taken up with arguing against the views of the ‘revisionist’ school of modern Irish history which says that the uprising  was unnecessary and even harmful as, after the War, Home Rule and eventually an independent Irish state would have come about peacefully, harmful because it enshrined the gun into Irish politics.

We can agree with the revisionist historians that the myth of the Easter Rising needs debunking. The Irish Republican tradition has been harmful and anti-working class but then so has Unionism. However,  those who argue that a peaceful transition to Home Rule and an independent state was likely had it not been for the Easter Rising are assuming that the Unionists in the North would have accepted this without resorting to violence (as they had done before the war, introducing more guns into politics than the Nationalists). After all, Ireland was then of strategic importance to the British Empire, and the established industrial capitalists of the North had a vital economic interest in not being cut off from their fellow British capitalists behind the tariffs walls of an economically backward Irish state.

In any event, irrespective of how it came into being, an independent Irish state was of no interest or benefit to the working class there.

There are a couple of mistakes about names. The Randolph Churchill who played the ‘Orange card’ in 1886 was not a Sir but a Lord (the son of a duke, and Winston’s father). The Con Lyhane mentioned as helping Tom Jackson’s anti-war activity in Leeds is surely Con Lehane; both incidentally founder members of the SPGB who later went off the rails.
Adam Buick

Labour government or Socialism? (1985)

From the December 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why does anybody join the Labour Party? Some join to make a career for themselves; to become leaders, rulers, future Labour Lords, men and women entrusted to run capitalism. At every Labour Conference it is easy to spot the opportunists: minds dominated by the opinion polls, concerned to be seen supporting whatever illusions or prejudices will win them seats in the places of power; red ties and smiles for the rank and file, but really they are aching to get away from all the noise, back to "the real job" of becoming successful politicians. The average Labour voter is being used by them.

Then there are those workers who join the Labour Party because they want modest reform of capitalism. They want to attend to this or that symptom of the capitalist disease. but will not get involved in the revolutionary work of abolishing the cause of the problems because “that would be immoderate - a vote loser". These Labourites devote hours every week and years of their life trying to make the profit system just a little more humane. They have been at it since 1906 when the first Labour MPs entered parliament: trying to empty the ocean of social distress by the bucketful. These people belong in the Labour Party because it is, at its best, a party of capitalist reform

There is another category of workers who join the Labour Party: those who want to change society — transform it. This category includes not only the infantile Leninists of the Militant Tendency (whose conception of revolution is as outdated as it is elitist), but very many other ordinary Labourites who think that the election of a Labour government is the way to bring about socialism. It is to these people in particular that The Socialist Party — an organisation entirely separate from the Labour Party — addresses itself. It is our claim that by voting for and joining the Labour Party you are not in any way furthering the cause of socialism; the election of another Labour government would indicate that the workers do not yet understand or want socialism.

From the outset there have always been Labourites who have said that they are out to achieve socialism. Their sincerity is not in question. At the 1925 Labour Party Conference. George Lansbury stated that "Socialism is inscribed on our banners . . . we intend that the land of Britain and all its resources shall be owned and used in the service of the British people". In Labour's 1945 election manifesto, Let Us Face The Future, workers were told that: "The Labour Party is a socialist party and proud of it. Its ultimate purpose is the establishment of the socialist commonwealth of Great Britain." When that 1945 government was elected many workers thought that this was it — the dawn of socialism. What happened? Industries were nationalised — only to leave workers like the miners exploited under state capitalism. Troops were sent to Korea, the NATO gang was joined, the British atom bomb was secretly initiated, and support was given to the bombing of Hiroshima — all by a so-called socialist government. The dockers' strike was smashed by the use of troops. Bevan promised there would be no homeless workers in Britain by the time the Labour government left office; in 1951 they lost the election and capitalism in all its ugliness was still wholly intact.

Then came the Wilson and the Callaghan years: radical transformation remained something to talk about at Conferences, but running capitalism in accordance with its harsh economic laws was what those governments were all about. Many workers voted Labour in 1945, 1964 and 1974 and concluded in disillusion, "If that's socialism, we won't bother to vote for it". That is why Labour s share of the vote in the last election was its lowest since 1918: workers do not believe the promises as much as they used to — and they are right not to.

"But we've got the wrong leadership". This is the perpetual cry of Labourites who are mystified as to why the great change is not coming. It is not very long ago that Neil Kinnock was the golden boy of the Left. But now he has become a "realist", as all leaders seeking to run capitalism must. The recently published Labour Party programme does not even mention the word "socialism". Tony Benn, a member of the last Labour government, has described it as "violently anti-socialist". Therefore it would seem that the only option demanded by honesty and reality must be to leave a party which possesses such a programme. Of course, you will hear rousing speeches from Leftist leaders who will tell you that "Socialism is inscribed on our banners"; you will meet Labourites who will tell you that "anything" is better than That Bloody Woman; you will hear on the grapevine that there is a new socialist leader waiting in the wings and when s/he gets power, socialism will be back on the agenda. The dogmatic belief that another Labour government is in the interest of the working class is one that will be thrown at you from every angle. But in your own mind you know very well that you will never see the establishment of socialism by sending Labour MPs to Parliament.

Socialism will only be established when the vast majority of workers understand it, want it and democratically organise for it in a party which is not out to mend capitalism, but to end it. Socialism means the total abolition of capitalism. An end to private and state ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution. Production would be solely for use, with all people having free access to the common store of goods and services, instead of production for sale on the market with a view to profit. To win workers to organise for socialism is a massive task and it is easy to be demoralised and deceive yourself that there is an easier way to initiate the new system. But there is no alternative to the hard work being carried out by The Socialist Party — and the sooner those who want us to succeed join us, the sooner it will be done.

Russia: state capitalism in action (1985)

Editorial from the November 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

A persistent task for socialists has been to expose the false claims of various governments to have instituted socialism in their country. It is not too much to say that in the process we have devoted about as much time to pointing out what socialism is not as to the infinitely more agreeable task of describing what it will be. The governments concerned bear a heavy responsibility for hampering the work of propagating socialism, for their assertions that their anti-socialist, anti-working class, policies and actions spring from socialist principles have spread a malignant confusion among workers as to the nature of socialism, when the urgent need is for clarity and understanding.

There is no more glaring, or more damaging, example of this than the events in Russia since the revolution there in 1917. At that time Russia was at an economic and social stage of development which nowhere made it ready to move on to socialism. The revolution, inspired by a compound of the people's frustration at the repressive Tsarist regimes, the extreme impoverishment of their lives and their calamitous experiences in the First World War, could at the most begin to move Russia from a feudal to a capitalist society. Whatever the theoretical knowledge of the Bolshevik leaders, they could not have affected this historical process. At the time, little detailed information was available about what was happening in Russia but with what scant knowledge was at our disposal, socialists could be quite certain that Russia could not leap over so vital a stage in historical development and that, whatever emerged there, it was not a revolution for socialism.

This analysis was quickly validated, as the asserted principles of the revolution, set out in so much Bolshevik rhetoric, were modified, or forgotten or ignored. Far from being a country where socialism existed (which in any case is impossible) Russia was a place of widespread conflict, repression and fear. Out of the disputes among the party leaders arose a new ruling class who in due course monopolised the means of production and distribution, as was the case in the other, admittedly capitalist, countries. With the rise of Stalin to supreme power, the disputes became concerned with open repression. exile and murder. It is no overstatement, to describe Stalin's time in power as a reign of terror. There can be no accurate estimate of the number of his opponents who were done to death but those which have been made suggest that it ran to tens of millions.

The Stalinist dictatorship was imposed by a ruthless state machine at home and through the erection of a mighty military force. This has now reached the point at which Russia is one of capitalism's greatest powers, the only one in possession of the kind of nuclear arsenal to rival that of the American capitalist class in its ability to wipe out much of settled life on the earth. This situation in Russia — an entrenched ruling class, a brutal political dictatorship, an enormously destructive military machine could hardly be the outcome of a democratic. conscious revolution to establish a social system based on communal ownership of the means of life, free access to wealth and human harmony and co-operation.

There are, of course, differences between Russia and the avowedly capitalist powers, but these are superficial; basically they all operate the same society, with an owning class who monopolise the means of life on the one hand and on the other a class who are impoverished because they depend on selling their labour power to the owners in order to live. The owning class assert and protect their privileged property rights through a coercive state machine, which operates as ruthlessly as it needs to. In their conflicts with their rival exploiters in other countries over economic advantage they maintain armed forces, some of them with nuclear weapons with all of the ingenuity of modem technology in their delivery systems. This applies especially to Russia, as many a Red Square parade testifies. The socialist analysis of 1917 has been amply justified by events. Socialism cannot be established in any part of the world in separation; as things are it cannot spring out of a feudal society. The social system which began to emerge in Russia in 1917 is fundamentally different from the socialist society which has yet to be established.

A socialist movement consists of people who are consciously socialist, who do not, therefore, need or use leaders to guide them. Socialism will be set up when the majority of the world's population possess that type of awareness and it will replace capitalism in a democratic political revolution. It will be a society in which the entire human race will own in common the entire means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth. Everything which socialist society makes will be to satisfy human needs and desires and be treated as if in a universal common pool from which all people can draw according to their self-determined needs. A state machine will not exist; there will only be an administration of things, by people delegated to organise society's affairs at the wishes of the majority. Nobody will be under a compulsion to work; production will be a voluntary, cooperative effort on the massive incentive of the common benefit. And all this will be through a democratic system, where information and knowledge will be openly available and in which everyone will participate.

All of this is fundamentally different from the capitalism which exists in Russia and for that matter in America, Britain, Japan and the rest of the world. The task of establishing socialism remains to be completed, while the events in Russia provide valuable material which, correctly analysed, can contribute to a rising socialist consciousness. 

Ultra Right (1985)

From the October 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Earlier this year, a Bengali family in need of re-housing went to look at a council house on the Lincoln Estate in Tower Hamlets. They were greeted by a pair of pig's trotters hanging over the door, inscribed with the initials NF. This type of racially motivated incident. like excrement shoved through the letter box, stone-throwing and verbal abuse, constitutes "low grade" harassment. The more serious incidents involve arson attacks and physical assaults. Over the past few months there has been a wave of arson attacks in Ilford, Leyton and Bow. resulting in the death of a young Asian mother and her three small children. Tower Hamlets in East London is one of the worst affected areas with local police figures showing that the number of "reported" racial incidents has increased from 230 in 1983, to 370 in 1984. What is going on?

One of the most popular explanations for the rising number of racial attacks is that they are being organised by the Ultra Right. David Shannon, writing in the Guardian (30 July 1985) comments:
Racist attacks continue to be the most vicious expression of right wing violence and arson is a favourite weapon.
The Commission for Racial Equality believe that the most sustained and organised racial attacks in recent history are being carried out against Asian families in the East End of London. Similarly, CAPA, the Tower Hamlets police monitoring group, argues that there has been a qualitative change for the worse in these attacks and that they may have been organised by fascist groups. Who are the Ultra Right and what are their tactics?

There are about thirty Ultra Right groups operating in Britain today, ranging from the obscure Hounslow SS. to the more familiar and rapidly declining National Front. Many of the larger groups have their origins in the time when Commonwealth immigration became an important political issue. The NF was formed in 1967 out of a coalition of tiny parties, with the aim of unifying the Ultra Right and presenting a respectable image to the electorate. On the surface, the appeal of the NF was simple as its slogan. "If they are black, send them back". In other words, the NF was the organised expression of anti-black prejudice in Britain. Martin Walker, in his book The National Front (1977) put it:
Today, as when it began, the NF's issue is race. The NF's role has been to act as a particularly effective and unprincipled pressure group in the development of British immigration policies.
This view was criticised for ignoring the way in which the NF grew, both organisationally and ideologically, out of the unambiguously fascist parties of the past. This was put right in the Guardian of 11 October 1983, when Walker wrote:
. . . the NF was designed from the beginning to use racism against the blacks as a kind of Trojan horse that carried neo-Nazi and anti- semitic doctrines secreted in its belly.
The NF was relatively successful in adopting an electoral strategy to obtain support for its ideas, winning the greatest electoral support that any Ultra Right wing party has ever achieved in Britain. The ninety NF candidates who stood in the October 1974 General Election polled 114,000 votes. In the County Sections of 1977, the NF polled 200,000 and membership stood at 20,000. High levels of unemployment, the entry of Ugandan and Malawian Asians and the skillful manipulation of publicity produced a favourable climate for the NF's obnoxious ideas. In the 1979 General Election they confidently entered 303 candidates. What followed was an electoral disaster in which all the NF candidates lost their deposits and the party's vote fell in every constituency where they had stood in 1974.

This failure was partly explained by the success of the Conservative Party in capturing the race issue with a new hard-line policy on immigration. In January 1978, Margaret Thatcher had appeared on World in Action explaining that people were really afraid that Britain "might be rather swamped by people with a different culture". Also, the media coverage of the NF has succeeded in exposing the leadership's Nazi past and identifying the party with thugs and hooliganism. The electoral defeat of 1979 led to splits within the NF and a change of political strategy. There were two main options open to the NF. Firstly, it could try to change its image and become more "respectable" to the electorate. This was the option chosen by the National Front Constitutional Movement and the British Democratic Party. Secondly, it could accept the difficulties of trying to appear respectable in order to win votes, and become more militant and confrontational in its activity. From a NF members' newsletter. Our Plans for the 1980s, we learn:
If it is true that the National Front has no hope of gaining power under conditions that are stable, economically, socially and politically, we should not be preoccupied with making ourselves more "respectable" under present conditions. We must appreciate that the "image" that we have been given by the media and which may well lose us some potential support today, will be a positive asset when the streets are beset by riots, when unemployment soars, and when inflation gets even beyond the present degree of minimal control.
This was the option chosen by both the National Front and the New National Front. The former, led by Martin Webster, wanted to pursue a more populist strategy of mass recruitment which would include skinhead gangs. The latter, led by John Tyndall and now called the British National Party, wanted to be more selective and elitist in its approach to recruitment. Webster has subsequently been expelled from the NF and has recently founded yet another organisation. Our Nation, which is partly financed by the French perfume heiress Fran├žoise Dior, who was imprisoned in 1968 for conspiring to bum down synagogues. Webster has ditched the skinheads and is now trying to recruit university students. Today, the NF is controlled by Ian Anderson, Joe Pearce and Nick Griffin. Membership is young and inexperienced and down to around 3,000. In an effort to make inroads into the white working class the NF is attempting to put the “socialism" back into "National Socialism". The National Front News and the journal Nationalism Today, talk of "wage slaves” and the "propertyless workforce '. "Tories', we are told, "put profit before people". while the NF is determined to make sure that "production is geared to need, as opposed to profit".

A number of other popular issues have also been taken up. including ecology, ritual slaughter, nuclear power, and the "national heritage". Of course the NF is still dedicated to what it calls "British Racial Nationalism" and we call racism. In the recently published Statement of Policy, (April 1985) they state:
   The National Front is committed to the ending of all non-White immigration and to the phased and financially assisted repatriation of all non-Whites, together with their dependents and descendants . . .
   We propose a truly positive policy of putting Britons first in jobs, housing, education and welfare and of providing separate facilities for Afro-Asians while they await repatriation.
The demise of the NF as an electoral force and its fragmentation into competing groups does not mean that the Ultra Right is a spent political force. In Paul Wilkinson"s book. The New Fascists (1981) he argues:
. . .  electoral showing is by no means the only significant indication of contemporary fascist activity. In Britain much of this has been channelled into street corner violence and racial attacks by skinhead gangs often incited by neo-Nazi supporters of the British Movement
The British Movement was one of the groups which temporarily benefited from the collapse of the NF. It was formed in 1968 by Colin Jordan, as a revolutionary Nazi party to replace the National Socialist Movement of 1962. In 1975 Michael McLaughlin took over the leadership and pursued a policy of recruiting young skinheads at football matches and rock concerts. The British Movement saw its role as the vanguard in the coming "White Revolution", one which would involve wholesale repatriation of blacks and the assertion of total White power. The British Movement lived up to its ugly and violent reputation, engaging in organised attacks on Blacks. Asians and Jews. According to the anti-fascist journal Searchlight (November 1984) McLaughlin has decided to fold up the British Movement and concentrate on his business. selling authentic Nazi memorabilia. Colin Jordan told Searchlight:
I deplore the fact that the organisation I started many years ago has been run down to such a state by McLaughlin, that it really isn't worth saving from going under.
Other Ultra Right groups active in Britain today include the National Socialist Action Party, the League of Saint George, the White Defence Force, The Rising, SS Wotan, Column 88, SONAR (the secret organisation for national recovery) and The Exterminators Although the last two groups are new, Searchlight has revealed that many of the above groups are organised and trained in paramilitary activities and have links within the Territorial Army and Army Cadet Force.

The evidence would seem to suggest that the Ultra Right has become disillusioned with the ballot box and turned towards the more traditional methods associated with fascist activity — street violence, intimidation and terrorism. The capitalist system, by generating social problems like unemployment. poverty, bad housing, and inner city decay, produces the fear and the racial hatred that the Ultra Right breeds on. Frightened people in need of someone to blame for the social insanity pick on an identifiable minority group, who become the target of racial hatred and racial attacks. Immigrants. like all other workers, are not the cause of social problems but the victims.
Brian Rubin

Northern Ireland - after the elections (1985)

From the September 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fellow workers,
A short time ago you exercised your democratic right to elect candidates onto your local councils. On what basis did you make your choice of party or candidate?

Because they will work in my interests?
This would seem to be a logical reason to elect a political representative. Does your experience of the past live up to your hopes for the future? Mending the pot-holes in the roads may satisfy a few motorists that the people in the Town Hall are doing a good job, but an overall view of Northern Ireland tells us that our interests, as workers or unemployed. have been served miserably.

However sincere the new councillors may be, they are incapable of waving an economic wand to conjure away our problems. No one seriously believes any more that politicians are capable of improving matters. Our interests as workers have not been served in the past and, unless we are prepared to reconsider our whole approach to politics, have no prospect of being served in the future.

Because the candidate was a Protestant, a Catholic, a Nationalist or a Unionist?
Whatever "side" you voted for, it is important to examine the difference your loyalty made in the past and is likely to make in the future. If you choose any of the major problems that affect your life — bad wages, unemployment, bad housing, or the other miseries inflicted on the working class — has it made any difference whether the people in power were "Orange" or "Green"? When you sign on the dole does the colour of the flag above the "bru" office improve your ability to stretch your Giro cheque any further? When you become frustrated because of the impoverished condition of the district in which you live, do the slogans on the walls make your poverty less obvious, or your life more bearable? When in dispute with your boss over the pittance you are paid, does it matter whether he or she is a nationalist or a unionist? If you cannot afford to feed your family, is the religion of the grocer of any relevance?

You may feel that by voting the way your parents voted you are being loyal to "the cause". Reality tells you that "the cause", whatever its colour, is laughing in your face — just as it laughed in the faces of your parents. Maintaining the "tradition" has simply meant maintaining the poverty and indignity of your working-class life. Because your parents did not learn from their mistakes does not mean that you can’t.

Well . . . what can I do?
There is an alternative to the repetitive routine of electing the same old politicians and parties to run the same failed system. We would contend that these politicians are not only incapable of solving our problems but that, in fact, all of them — irrespective of heir religion or their political label — actually ensure the continuation of those problems by administering the obscene, anti-human system which creates them.

The social system we live under is capitalism, which can only function on the basis of exploiting the working class. It does not matter whether we profess a particular religion or consider ourselves British or Irish; capitalism is immune to religion and nationality and can never serve our interests. It can only offer us continued poverty and misery.

The parties and politicians you voted for stand for capitalism. Those elected are in office now on your mandate; you elected them to preside over your own poverty and exploitation. We would suggest that you consider taking control of your own lives. Instead of electing politicians and parties to run your own exploitation, you can organise your own future. We, the working class, can mandate our own representatives to go into the seats of government, local, national and international, and abolish the entire system of private and/or State ownership of the means of living which gives the accumulation of profits priority over our needs.

We call on all workers to join us to establish a society based on serving our needs instead of the profit needs of the minority class which dominates our lives today We can create a world in which poverty, famine, slums, unemployment and international conflict could not exist. Such a system we call socialism: a moneyless, classless world in which we all share in the ownership of wealth; a world in which we co-operate voluntarily to produce all the things we need and where we will have free and equal access to satisfy our requirements.

Sounds utopian? Not as utopian as expecting our working-class lives to have changed for the better by the time the next election comes around.
Belfast Branch 

Obituaries: George Gloss & Florrie Jacobs (1985)

George Gloss speaking from the platform on Boston Common.
Obituaries from the August 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

George Gloss
On a soap-box on Boston Common, in a booming voice and clapping his hands for punctuation and emphasis, with newspaper clippings bulging from every pocket. George Gloss would deliver the socialist message to large crowds every Sunday afternoon, year after year: "There are millions of people who are hungry . . . there is an abundance of food available . . . let's get them together in a sane society". It is with sadness that we report the death of Comrade Gloss on 15 June, at his home near Boston.

George joined the World Socialist Movement in June, 1933. From the start he was an enthusiastic, active member taking part in all functions — business, propaganda and social. He had been on the Editorial Committee of The Western Socialist and was the National Secretary for many years. The NAC minutes he typed and circulated reflected his personal involvement and excitement with everything he did. They were single-spaced and several pages long (this was in the days before copy machines) and they went out all over the world. Often there would be copious personal additions to many of the recipients who wanted news from America — WSP style.

In 1954 he made a trip to Britain for the purpose of buying books (used books were his vocation), but the intent soon became a pilgrimage to as many of the SPGB branches as could be visited. Comrade Rab was his companion on this journey; together they gave and received a tumultuous greeting wherever they went. Many British readers will remember the excitement they created in London and Glasgow — much as we in the USA recall their account of the events and personalities they experienced.

George's ebullient nature was equally evident in his book ventures and he became somewhat of a Boston celebrity in recent years; he gave away many thousands of books and was the subject of hundreds of literary interviews. No stranger to the media, his passing was editorialised by the press, radio and television. Yet it must be said that no life-style diversion ever affected his enthusiasm for the socialist case or caused his convictions to waver at any time.

Florrie Jacobs
Florrie Jacobs died in early June aged 86. She joined the SPGB in the mid-thirties and supported her husband Dick in his work of founding socialist groups in places as far afield as Swansea, Southend and Poole. She was often the only other socialist at the outdoor meetings he held over so many years. Fellow socialists and sympathisers were always made welcome in her home and occasionally, when no other place was available, meetings were held in her living room. At conferences and delegate meetings she always helped with the catering, only giving up when chronic ill-health during the last decade of her life forced her into invalidism. She will be remembered with affection by her comrades.
Lily Lestor

Clear confusion (1985)

From the July 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

No socialist could support the Labour Party because it is a capitalist party. When in government it runs the profit system at the expense of the working class, for that is the only way it can be run. In every election since 1906 the Socialist Party, which was formed two years earlier, has opposed Labour: we have shown consistently that a vote for Labour is a vote for capitalism.

Those who urge workers to vote Labour are anti-socialists who deserve our unreserved hostility. The pseudo-Communist Party of Great Britain has repeatedly told workers to waste their votes on Labour mis-leaders and are partially responsible for the suffering which resulted. The so-called Militant Tendency encourages workers to vote for and join the Labour Party.

The Socialist Workers' Party is also not slow when it comes to confusing workers at election time. In 1974, when Harold Wilson was offering to do a better job of looking after the interests of the bosses than Edward Heath, the SWP ran the following message in their pre-election issue of Socialist Worker:
. . . every socialist, every worker must spend all the days before the polling day shouting two simple slogans, at work, in the home, and whenever anyone will listen: DEFEND UNIONS - VOTE LABOUR 
The striking firemen, NUPE workers, Grunwick pickets and numerous other trade unionists who came into conflict with the viciously anti-working-class 1974-9 Labour government can judge for themselves the wisdom of the SWP's advice.

But did the SWP learn the lesson? On 4 June 1983, just before the last general election. their leading confusionist, Alex Callinicos, made a prediction about the election result with which socialists could agree (we assume he arrived at the conclusion by accident and will endeavour to avoid such clarity in future): "Labour in office would attack the living standards of its own supporters in an effort to restore profits".

The headline of Socialist Worker the following week stated: "STOP THE TORIES — VOTE LABOUR".

Although the various Leftist sects all urge workers to vote for capitalism at election time, they all claim to be divided from one another by deeply held principles. The Communist Party calls the SWP and the Militant Tendency "ultra-Left" and the latter two groups have spent years telling those who will listen how wrong the other is. Now, the SWP has decided that it is time to patch up its differences with the Militant crowd (differences which are invisible to the clear eye) and in Socialist Worker of 11 May a full-page "open letter" is addressed to the editorial board of Militant. (Note that it is not addressed to the Militant followers, but to the leaders.) Now, socialists do not give a damn whether these two anti-socialist Leftist sects remain apart or unite; the only benefit to the workers would be if they ceased to propagate their confused ideas altogether. But we are sure that readers will want to study this rare gem of political stupidity:
  Our attitude is clear. We are for a Labour government. Not because we believe it will be a government in the interests of workers, but precisely to test in practice again the reformist road.
   We believe a future Labour government will not act in the interests of the working class. On the contrary, it will act like every previous Labour government — in the interests of the bosses' class.
   And. since the crisis of British capitalism is deeper now than in the seventies, a new Labour government will be more vicious, and more reactionary, than the Wilson-Callaghan governments — the first since 1945 to succeed in cutting wages, while increasing unemployment and savaging the welfare state. (Their emphases.)
Their attitude is clear, alright — clearly round the bend. Vote Labour in the next election in order to test the reformist road? And then they go on to tell workers, on the basis of previous test-runs, precisely what damage a Labour government would do.

The trouble with the SWP is that they treat politics as a game and waste the time of those who take them seriously by offering half-baked riddles rather than the clear advice socialists give: do not vote Labour because "it will act like every previous Labour government — in the interest of the bosses' class”.
Steve Coleman

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

To the workers of Northern Ireland (1985)

From the June 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

As the Ulster Defence Association urges you to civil war we urge you to think. For quite apart from the fact that the IRA and the UDA both display contempt for working-class lives and democratic consensus, there is a striking similarity in the basic political approach of each organisation.

Both base their political assumptions on a simplistic approach to such selected historical truths and half-truths as reflect their respective politico-religious tribalism — a tribalism originally fabricated to conceal the class interests of feudal landlords and. later, perform the same service for the divided, mutually-antagonistic interests of northern and southern Irish capitalism. This ignorance of the class forces that spawned the two factions leads to calls on the working class to slaughter each other for something which can never belong to them while capitalism is the accepted social system.

Thus, the April issue of Ulster, a UDA magazine, tells the so-called ‘“loyalist" workers that "the battle for Ulster is now on". In an article predicting a civil war within the next decade and suggesting that we might as well get the killing, maiming and home burning going as soon as possible — we are told that “This conflict is not about religious differences nor is it a struggle for civil liberties; it is the age-old battle for the kingdom of Ulster, its lands and its peoples". The passage goes on to tell us that the Gaelic Irish nationalists want to " . . force their foreign society and culture upon us".

This, then, is the premise on which the UDA bases its call for a civil war the identical premise, with reversed roles, on which the IRA maintains its anti-working-class campaign of violence. Let us look at this premise.

Who owns Ulster? Well, the UDA assure us that it is the Ulster people the people of the Shankill Road, of Glencairn, East Belfast. Ballymena and such other places where the UDA seek gun-fodder to fight their proposed civil war. Are these really the people who own Ulster? The slum dwellers, the Housing Executive tenants, the low-paid, the unemployed . . .  the motley assortment of oppressed and depressed workers? Were it not such absurdly dangerous nonsense it would be hilariously funny.

Ulster, like the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the so-called developed world, is part of a global capitalist society. Much of its resources are owned, legally and above board, by southern capitalists and northern capitalists have a substantial stake in commerce and industry south of the Border indeed. a great preponderance of the resources and wealth of both parts of Ireland are wholly owned, or economically dependent on. multinational capital.

This is the "foreign society" that dominates our lives now; that gives us our poverty, our slums, our unemployment and, ultimately, creates the material conditions that lead politically ignorant members of the working class to fight for the crumbs of an illusory better social existence. It is the same "foreign society" as would obtain in the unlikely event of an IRA victory despite the vapourings of Adams and his Sinn Fein playmates about what they call a "Socialist Republic". The only difference might then be the tribal identity of those holding the illusions and the new capitalist Republic — like the existing one — would quickly disillusion them.

That leaves "culture" - again, much loved by both the IRA and the UDA. whose erudition frequently transcends their regard for human life. Does the UDA fear lest the dole forms are in Irish? Capitalism imposes its own universal "culture" on the working class; a sameness that emerges out of mean living and the competition for existence; a shoddy "Cola" culture whose economic realities transcend and obliterate local custom and tradition. Throughout the entire world of capitalism a universal "culture" is promoted by the mass media to serve the commercial interests of capitalism. "Cultural" standardisation is cost effective; the media rules and is in the ownership and control of the capitalist class. If the UDA — again, like the IRA. but for different reasons — think that the Irish language would be of consequence to the real rulers in a capitalist united Ireland, they are as sadly deluded as the Provos. A sop to Irish — or, more pertinently. to the idea of a united Ireland — might serve the southern politicians when they are extracting votes from among the welter of ignorance and prejudice they have built up. But the Irish language, Irish culture, and even Irish unity offer only political dividends, not a reasonable return on investment. As such these things have the same low priority with the Irish Government as the hopes and fears of "loyalist" workers have with the British Government or the capitalists who really own Ulster.

Are we suggesting, then, to those workers who currently associate with tribal Protestantism that they have nothing to fear from a united Ireland? That they should withdraw their opposition to Republicanism and concede to a united Ireland? Or, should we be saying to those workers who support tribal Catholic nationalism that their interest lie in compliance with a Northern Ireland regime?

We offer no such advice to either section; what we ask both factions to do is to look at the facts. Look at the abundant evidence, from Sinn Fein and Unionist sources, supporting our contention that the situation in Ireland today was born out of the economic needs of capitalism earlier in the present century. The "Covenant of Blood", the Easter Rising, the Black-and-Tan war and the establishment of the Border were not events that were in any way related to the condition of life of the ordinary working people of this country, north or south. Catholic or Protestant.

None of these events occurred because you. a "Protestant" or "Catholic" worker, lived in poverty, or in a slum, or were unemployed or endured starvation wages. Nor did they happen to facilitate your notions of which historical fictions should be celebrated in season. Your welfare was not an issue, any more than was the system of social organisation that had a total bearing on your condition of life and that of your children. We workers. Catholics, Protestants and otherwise, were mere pawns in a game of power politics between contending sections of capitalism in Ireland.

The game itself was about the right of southern Irish capitalists to have political independence to legislate protectionist policies for their fledgling industries and the right of northern capitalists to retain their open access to the British market and sources of energy and raw materials. Our role was to provide both sides in this conflict between rival capitalists with muscle for the threat of violence, the horrible reality of violence; to provide the corpses and the jail fodder in a fight about our masters' interests.

Our capitalist masters, north and south, are united now; they have no basis for a conflict of interest, for a political border or the disease of bigotry and prejudice which they so assiduously nurtured in us. Now they want "reconciliation", co-operation and "bridge-building" while we carry the pain, the hurt, the ignorance and the prejudices inflicted by them. It is this ignorance, this bitterness. that both the UDA and the IRA would now exploit to pitch us into an utterly futile civil war.

Your birthright, like that of workers anywhere in capitalist society, from New York to Moscow, from London to Peking, is that of a wage slave. Our "right" is the right to try and sell our mental or physical ability to produce wealth to any employer who thinks he can get a return on investment. Our "right" is to accept the poverty of employment or the dire poverty of the dole. Our "right" is the freedom to do what we are told, whatever the colour of the rag that floats at the top of the political masthead.

There is an alternative to permanent want and insecurity. As capitalism is a world system, however, we cannot end it solely by our own efforts. Rather than butcher one another, we must band together with our fellow members of the working class in other countries to organise for a system in which the resources of the earth would be owned and democratically controlled by society as a whole and used to produce the things that all human beings need. This is the only action we urge you to consider.
Richard Montague

Strings attached (1985)

Book Review from the May 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Aid - Rhetoric and Reality by Teresa Hayter and Catherine Watson. Pluto Press. 1985. £4.95.

This is a useful book provided that it is treated as a source of information only. It is a follow-up to Aid as Imperialism written by Teresa Hayter about ten years ago.

When talking of aid the authors are not referring to charity-type organisations such as Oxfam. These bodies do get a few lines but only to point out how small their contributions actually are. The concerns covered are the IMF, private banks, governments and above all the World Bank, on whose payroll Catherine Watson spent one year. Anyone who thinks these entities are a suite of giant Oxfams is in really great need of the contrary information provided here. In fact they are above all investment agencies concerned with getting a return on their capital outlay. Thus such "aid" is not channelled to the needy, but to capitalist bodies to generate profits out of the labours of the working class.

These loans are mainly made to emergent capitalist governments who see themselves in need of finance for the development of their own economies. Although the authors mention that debt rescheduling can be a profitable exercise for some, generally speaking harsh terms are imposed on defaulters who are less likely to be favoured should they apply again. In fact the lending organisations go considerably further than this and interfere freely in the management of recipient countries. This is in many cases deliberately designed to hamper independent development by rising capitalist groups. Aid is refused to industries which might in time compete with those in developed countries, and there is frequently an emphasis on developing the export of primary products like cocoa and rubber.

Although not without exceptions, a distinct bias against state financed ventures is noted. This may arise in part from prejudice on the part of US capitalists who provide the bulk of the funding. However as the thrust is not just to favour private capital but foreign private capital this is further evidence of an unwillingness to allow independent development. Many Third World countries choose the state capitalist route to allow a more rapid accumulation of capital. In any case if the "aid" organisations see their interests lying in a particular course of action the local capitalists have eventually to go along with this or do without. The net result is that these underdeveloped states remain in a neo-colonialist position, providing cheap raw materials for the more developed countries. The main beneficiaries in the recipient countries are local elites rather than the native capitalist class as a whole.

It is a reasonable deduction that a similar effort is being mounted by the Eastern bloc of capitalists to ensure that their interests prevail where their money is invested. The fact that "aid" from such quarters is similarly tainted is briefly mentioned in this book. However a credible account of the details of this would have to be written and published from that side of the capitalist fence and the dictatorships there are still too powerful to permit this.

A number of interesting examples are given to illustrate these themes, particularly in the second half of the book. It is a great pity, though, that with such a wealth of information at their fingertips, all basically confirming the socialist analysis of the capitalist system, the authors have not developed more political awareness. The left-wing moonshine they put forward has been exposed on many occasions. This is why we emphasise that this work should be treated as a source of information and not as a fount of political wisdom.
E. C. Edge

Sex and socialism (1985)

From the April 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

A tangled web of myths and double standards still enmeshes the subject of sex and sex roles in our “liberated” and developed form of capitalism. For centuries, there has been a peculiar tendency to assign to women one of two equally extreme and repellent roles, that of either a solely sexual being — “whore” — in her relationship with men (whether this has ever been an enjoyable sexuality is doubtful) or a de-sexed and “decent” wife and mother, glorified and put on a pedestal. This division of women into prostitutes and madonnas has been surprisingly persistent. Agony columns still contain letters from men finding it difficult to enjoy sex with their wives/cohabitees after the arrival of a baby, because they feel the woman is now on a higher plane of sanctified motherhood and should not be debased by primaeval lust. The notion that sex is sinful and that women are to blame when men succumb to “sinful” practices runs through the three religions originating in the Middle East: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Until recently it was only prostitutes who committed a punishable offence, not the men using them. Rape victims are still told they were “leading a man on” if they were not “appropriately dressed” at the time; it would seem that only a full purdah is good enough for our courts of law.
First, for most women sex is still a means to power. Achieving the conventional standards of beauty, for example, still holds the greatest promise of power available to most women, and so we cultivate and package our individual attractiveness in order to trade it for economic gain, advances in status, and love. This is true even in radical and even feminist circles.) Heterosexual relationships, no matter how “equal” in bed, still represent contact between members of a dominant and a subordinate group. Most women are still dependent on male favour for their economic survival, whether at home or work.
(The Politics of Sexual Freedom, Peace News, 25 March 1978.)
It would be misleading to put all men in the “dominant” group, if this dominant economic group is understood to be the capitalist class (which consists of men and women). However, a lot of men are dominant in a domestic situation in as much as they hold the purse strings and the women depending on them can be properly characterised as “slaves of slaves”. In preparation for eventually trading their attractiveness for economic “security”, girls are strongly encouraged to take an interest in clothes and make-up from an early age. Their faces, their bodies and their hair are never quite good enough to measure up to the stereotyped, eighteen-year-old, Page Three girl, so chemists and department stores are crammed full with remedies from chemical and cosmetic companies which make enormous profits.

Several myths concerning women’s sexuality persist. Women are supposed to need to be “in love” with a man to enjoy sex. This is a complete fallacy; women are as capable as men of separating sexual enjoyment from any deeper feelings. Another prevalent myth is that women are supposed to find sex repugnant during pregnancy and after giving birth. This may show individual variation, of course, according to how the pregnancy affects the woman and the difficulty of the birth. But largely this is another superstition tied in with the “purity of motherhood” myth.

As for men, another set of sex roles are inculcated by society and another set of myths hold sway. As the capitalist class relies mostly on men to kill and torture for them in war and to compete for the top jobs in the labour market, we would expect the myths to be of a kind that encourage the belief that men are inherently brutal, cruel and domineering. Robert Briffault, for instance, argues as follows in an otherwise interesting chapter on love in his book Sin and Sex:
Every expert in matters erotic knows that tenderness, affection, and even respect are sentiments opposed to the full biological operation of the predatory and pugnacious masculine sexual urges. Their fulfilment requires, in whatever measure, a reversion to the brutal, dominating attitude of the animal male. It requires in some degree the elimination of love.
Although there is no doubt about humans being part of the animal world, it is naive to think that animals capable of writing the sonnets of Shakespeare and developing the scientific theories of Einstein will not show more sophistication and nuances in their sexual play than two ferrets mating in a subterranean tunnel. In the case of ferrets, rough treatment of the female is necessary for ovulation; the biology of humans is completely different.

Although 40 per cent of the workforce are now women, who are making inroads into education and jobs that were formerly reserved for men, it is still men who are expected to “succeed” financially. Under capitalism, their whole self-esteem is so closely tied in with their earning capacity and their jobs that unemployment or failure to get promoted can result in serious depression or even suicide. Stresses and strains at work find their outlet in violence in the home; if a man can’t be the boss at work, he can at least increase his efforts at being the boss at home. In a relationship, men are expected to take the first step; sexually, they are expected to “perform” and emotionally they are expected to be severely deficient, not to show fear, to be brave, not to cry; in short, to avoid too much display of sensitivity.

Another explanation for the strange myths surrounding women’s sexuality was put forward by Garrett Hardin in an article in the Ecologist of January 1974, entitled “Parenthood: Right or Privilege?” The effect of prostitution on the one side and “decent” women remaining virgins until marriage would be reduced fertility. Apparently, large families of between 8—16 children were only common in America at the time of the settlers and in Europe in the 19th century. Before that, families of four children were more common than those of twelve:
Delayed marriage, lifetime celibacy, prostitution, venereal disease, and sanctions against bastards and the mothers of bastards constituted a powerful system of population control at the family level. To mitigate any one element in such a system was to diminish its effectiveness in keeping population under control.
The shift of opinion regarding sex outside marriage (as well as women’s “right” to sexual fulfilment on an equal level with men) which has taken place in the West over the last few decades has been revolutionary. It is worth remembering that only about 20 years ago, many doctors still would not give unmarried women the contraceptive pill for moral reasons. Being able to easily control their fertility has undoubtedly been a significant step for women although the real "sexual liberation” will not take place until we have a society where neither men nor women will be dependent on a dominant class for their survival.

The way “sexual liberation” has been exploited and to some degree created by capitalist society is explained in the following two quotes from The Politics of Sexual Freedom, by Deirdre English and Barbara Ehrenreich:
      Obsession with sex can only be understood in the context of the extreme privatisation of people’s lives. Very few people have meaningful work-lives and many people have never experienced a supportive community or sense of collectivity in any realm. Unfulfilled needs for social relatedness, and for creativity, are chanelled into the zone of "private life”, where they can’t do any harm. (Just try demanding more creativity or richer social relations in most jobs.) The less the collectivity or social satisfaction experienced by people in the public realms of work and community, the greater the pressure on the sexual relationship to provide life with meaning.
. . . This new emphasis on sex can be seen as part of an attempt to shore up the monogamous marriage, or to free it up slightly, to save the family. What all this adds up to is that the human need for sex is made to bear the burden of all our bodily starvation for contact and sensations, all our creative starvation, all our need for social contact, and even our need to find a meaning in our lives. In the face of overwhelming alienation, the emphasis on sex is used to encourage people to individualise and trivialise their problems — looking for the cause of their unhappiness in their sex-life, rather than in the world around them. Of course, the dominant culture would like us to believe that we can achieve happiness through personal, sexual satisfaction. This is what it will strive to provide if it will keep us quiet. For women . . . especially, every effort will be made to channel our demands away from the social and political realm (where they cannot be satisfied without thorough-going social and economic changes) and back towards some version of a "liberated” private life. This is a trap.
In capitalism, sexuality is for sale, exaggerated in importance and manipulated in the interest of the state and capital. Europeans today are three times as likely to get divorced and twice as likely to have illegitimate children as they were a generation ago. Most divorce suits are now filed by women and it seems more than a coincidence that literature concerned with the sexual fulfilment in marriage has been on the increase at the same time. If marriages are breaking up, more marriage counsellors and sex therapists can be employed to encourage workers to get their sex lives in order, accept monogamy and stay together.

Humans need to satisfy their basic need for adequate food, clothing and shelter; for a happy and well-balanced emotional life they must also form deep and lasting relationships with other people. These need not be of a sexual nature (if sex is narrowly defined as sexual intercourse only), although at the earliest stage in our life a close, physical relationship with a grown-up is absolutely essential.

Today, a lot of misery is caused by people having to live together for economic reasons when they would rather not. Some people spend a lifetime wearing each other down mentally and emotionally, wasting their lives away in an undignified relationship. The worst irony is when some claim it to be an unconditional success that two people have stayed together for forty years; the quantity is praised, the quality is not questioned.

It is difficult to envisage the complete liberation of human relationships which socialism will bring about. Free access to everything that is produced will mean economic security for all members of society; independence of men and women from employers; economic independence of children from parents and of women from men. Nobody will have to accept an intolerable situation for the sake of satisfying their basic needs. Men and women in socialism will be able to enjoy their lives as full, not fragmented, human beings; satisfying not only their sexual, but all kinds of affectionate and other needs as they occur, not the least being the need to spend our time doing useful work in the companionship of friends.

In socialism, the stereotyped sex roles imposed on men and women under capitalism will disappear. These are equally damaging to both sexes as the similarities between them are far greater than the differences. Both have the same need for companionship with others, for expressing and receiving affection and for feeling secure, both have the same capacity for getting upset and hurt.

Socialism will probably not distinguish between heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual relationships. Everybody will be free to adopt the life style and sexual preference of their choice; the attitude to sex will be relaxed and in proportion to all the other things that make life pleasurable. Perhaps the designations “homosexual”, “heterosexual” and “bisexual” themselves will even disappear, as people will find it superfluous to distinguish between various kinds of loving relationships.

Relationships will be entered into freely, nobody will regard another human being as his or her property. It will be generally understood that when one partner does not want a relationship to carry on any more, the relationship has in fact ceased to exist and any feelings of jealousy are futile. The total shift of attitudes this involves, will be taking place while the ideas of socialism are growing and will make the acceptance of these ideas as well as others a gradual one before socialism is introduced. There is no reason to expect that people in socialism will be more "promiscuous” than they are today although this would not incite moral condemnation. On the other hand, because of our complicated mental make up, we are much more likely to form lasting relationships.
Torgun Bullen

Lost labour (1985)

Book Review from the February 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Left of Centre: European Labor Since World War II. by Adolf Sturmthal. University of Illinois Press

This book seeks to explain to Americans the evolution of the "labor movement" (Labour and Social Democratic parties, trade unions) in Europe since the war. and particularly in Britain, Germany. France and Italy Sturmthal's basic thesis is that these organisations have transformed themselves from working class parties committed to socialism into people's parties accepting a mixed economy.

We would express this change somewhat differently. Partly as a result of their experiences in governing capitalism and partly out of a desire to continue being given a chance to do so again, the Labour and Social Democratic parties of Europe abandoned their dogmatic (and mistaken) commitment to full-scale state capitalism as the solution to working class problems in favour of a more "moderate", "pragmatic" approach which accepts the status quo of a mixed private/state capitalist economy. At the same time they have ceased to project themselves as parties committed to giving priority to the furtherance of the interests of the industrial, manual section of the working class in favour of appealing to all electors. Vote-catching oblige.

All we can say is that this was a welcome development since the anti-working class (all those forced by economic necessity to work for a wage or salary) action of these parties were beginning to make the name of socialism stink among ordinary workers.

Sturmthal's book may interest American readers in the, for them, unfamiliar phenomenon of "socialist" parties and trade unions, but they need not believe all he says. As for instance when he writes (p. 120) that under Mitterrand in France "privately owned banks and insurance companies were transferred without compensation into public ownership". Apart from the fact that no insurance companies were nationalised in 1981/2, this will be news to Baron de Rothschild and his family who used the generous enough compensation payments (160 million francs, some £16m) they received for the purchase by the state of their private bank to set up another profit-making financial institution.
Adam Buick

Ice Cream Man Cometh (1985)

From the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the night of April 16 last, petrol was poured through the letterbox of a top floor flat in Glasgow and then set on fire. The Doyle family was trapped in the blaze and six of its members, aged between 18 months and 50 years, died. Summing up at the end of what became Scotland's worst multiple murder trial, the judge provided the convenient scapegoat for the horrific incident: "No decent person could be other than appalled by such dastardly deeds. Those who set fire to the flat were wicked, depraved. inhuman and evil" (Scotsman, 9 October 1984).

But were these men just wanting to kill without reason? Evidently not, as they had had plenty of opportunities to do so simply with a shotgun and, according to one of the two men accused, the fire was only meant as "a frightener which went too far" (Scotsman, 20 September 1984). Indeed the court, in its hurry to find someone to blame, ignored the fact that people are not in real control of this competitive system: 
There was nothing wrong with competition during the normal dealings in day-to-day business. But when this developed into some kind of feud between rivals in which criminal offences were committed, it was totally unacceptable. The danger of such a matter is that it can escalate out of all proportion.
(Sheriff at Glasgow Sheriff Court, Scotsman, 3 August 1984.)
To find the real reason we have to look beyond that simplistic excuse "human nature" and examine a more dominant factor in determining the everyday actions of people — their everyday environment. All the time, people find that this society denies them access to food, clothing and housing by such things as cash registers, security guards and rent demands. The main concern for most people therefore is how they get money and how much they get — in the case of the two men convicted, they sold ice cream from a Fifti Ices van.

The events finally leading to the six week trial started in the summer of 1982 in the Cartyne and spread to other housing schemes in Glasgow. According to the Guardian, “Trouble began in Garthamlock when an ice cream van operating under the name of Fifti Ices appeared in September last year. It invaded the patch which a rival ice cream company, Marchetti Brothers, had held as a virtual monopoly for years (11 October 1984). This rivalry soon led to a spate of intimidation and violence, including a shotgun being fired at a 15-year-old salesgirl. However. according to the wife of one of the convicted "the people of Garthamlock wanted another van in the area because the Mar- chetti's was . . . overcharging them" (Scotsman 2 August 1984). The couple hired vans on hire-purchase from Fifti Ices and were able to undercut their rivals by selling stolen cigarettes and other goods. The traders get about 10 per cent of the weekly turnover which would rarely be more than £200. the rest going to the companies. Marchetti Brothers, on the other hand, by leasing all their 37 vans on a week-to-week basis only, also ensure that the traders buy all their stocks from them.

According to the Marchetti Brothers' accountant however, the subsequent loss of business from threats, abuse of customers and the “wedge" achieved by their rivals, had moved the company's profitability out of the black and into the red (Scotsman, 4 September 1984). This was obviously a far more serious situation than a few incidents of violence, so the firm put a third man into the battlefield. The unfortunate new employee — Andrew Doyle — was presumably chosen because, as the Glasgow Herald described him. he was "a young man of massive appearance but quiet disposition" (11 October 1984). In court, he was described as . . . not a hassle man. He was just a young boy from a nice family (Glasgow Herald, 7 September 1984). At one point in the war. according to the Herald, "the beleaguered company secretary of the van firm. Marchetti Brothers, asked a colleague What is it going to take to stop these people . . .  a body?"' But these six deaths have only stopped the activities of the men convicted. A social system based on conflict will not be restricted by the charred remains of a few human beings. Even as they were being sentenced, other members of their team were putting further ice cream vans on the road. This is despite the fact that "ever since the fire which killed the Doyles . . . Marchetti Brothers have tried to re-establish themselves in Haghill" (Glasgow Herald, 11 October 1984).

The war, it would seem, must go on. This is not an unfortunate little incident, a sad aberration in an otherwise acceptable society. St Tropez had its own ice cream war fought on the beaches of the Riviera this summer, with French police arresting one man for planting explosives in the sand ("Beaches mined in ice cream war", Guardian, 23 July 1984), and all over the world the same conflicts arise, initiated by the rivalry of a system of society in which access to wealth is controlled by a minority in conflict. rather than by the whole of humanity in co-operation.

But of course those who stand to gain most profit out of these battles are not those who do the fighting. Quite the opposite would seem to be true in this case. The Glasgow Herald considered it "a matter of considerable embarrassment" that the owners of the two rival companies were related through marriage and enjoyed harmonious relations. The fighting and dying then is left for the workers, whether it is Andrew Doyle or the two would-be entrepreneurs whose only mistake would appear to be that they did the job themselves. In fact, while denying in court that he was overheard in a pub offering "an easy £300" for help to "torch" the Doyle house, one said "if I wanted somebody assaulted. I would assault him . . ." (Glasgow Evening Times. 28 September 1984).

All violence under capitalism, from world war to muggings, is for property — be it the land and wealth within borders or the notes in a pensioner's purse. In each instance can be seen the effects of a society based on control and powerlessness; ownership and non-ownership. Capitalist society is no innocent bystander but rather the main determinant of human behaviour.
Brian Gardner

God returns to the White House (1984)

From the December 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

The 1984 US Presidential Election campaign, which seemed to have been going on for ever, is at last over. For some of the hopefuls who fell by the wayside, such as Gary Hart, the run up to 1988 has already begun. (The BBC 9 o'clock News on October 29 called this Life after Mondale — where was the life with Mondale you may ask!) The overwhelming victory of Ronald Reagan had appeared inevitable all through and there is little evidence that the alternative strategics suggested for the Democrats (Jesse Jackson’s “rainbow coalition" being the front runner) would have produced a better result.

Reagan’s victory clearly owed nothing to the brainpower of the candidate; he was clearly reluctant to engage in even the two so-called debates with his opponent. Indeed his performance, stripped of its multi-million dollar showbiz trappings, was more akin to "The President’s Brain Is Missing", that brilliant lampoon from Central TV’s Spitting Image, than the wise pontifications we are taught to expect from those "born to rule”.

Equally it could not be put down to the promises made in the Republican election platform, at least not the sort that appear to offer immediate benefits to workers, such as increased welfare spending or "fair fares" on public transport. Such apparent concern for the workers' plight was noticeably lacking, and any promises made were to increase rather than make good the cuts already made in this area. The charity soup-kitchen and in a few places even the parish workhouse have reappeared as features of American working class life. How can a party with such a record and campaigning on such a platform win such an overwhelming victory? A glance at the areas of the country which voted Republican tells us that very few of those workers who are dependent on the "welfare" programme did vote for Reagan, either in 1980 or this year. A strategy which writes these votes off is certainly brutally cynical, but a winner none the less.

A radio commentator at the Republican convention in Dallas in August put this particular brand of cynicism down to what he termed “compassion fatigue". His viewpoint was that capitalists (not only American ones, of course) have been getting so fed up with the welfare handouts they have been forced to give that they are now flatly refusing to finance any more. Despite all these apparent handouts, however, the queue of the needy is longer than ever. It is very difficult for any party trying to run capitalism, even on a "radical" reformist basis, to counteract this without being wide open to counter-attacks alleging "profligacy”.

Having seen on TV excerpts from the Democrats’ convention in San Francisco in July, it was natural to speculate on how much worse the Republicans could be when their turn came. In the event they comfortably exceeded the grimmest expectations with a degrading display of sycophancy and puerile hero-worship that beggared belief. An especially disturbing thought was that if Reagan’s campaign managers had thought that votes would have been lost by all the ballyhoo they could easily have toned it down. They didn't and their judgement has been proved right. The Times (29 October 1984) referred to his luck with the present trends in the American economy (and luck it is, as capitalism cannot be "managed”) and said: "The other thing most Americans clearly like about Reagan is his unashamed patriotism". Sad as we are that so many workers think this way, this figures. Indeed it parallels the Falklands campaign of two years ago and the way Thatcher used it to improve her poll ratings. That it is Reagan rather than the party he leads that projects this image is shown by the election results viewed as a whole. The other Republican candidates for office had at best only moderate success in clinging to Reagan's coat tails.

Another feature of Ronald Reagan is his tendency to treat really serious issues in a light-hearted vein. This was highlighted by his "joke", cracked during a radio microphone test, about ordering the bombing of Russia. The following extract from The Times says: In a letter due to appear in the September 24 issue of Forbes magazine, Mr Reagan writes: "Granted. I shouldn’t have said it, even though I was sure I was saying it only to the several people who know me well and with whom 1 work. The damage, if any, was due to the worldwide press dissemination."

We should not forget either the union bashing tactics of his administration, typified by the smashing of the air traffic controllers strike. Union membership is now only 18 per cent of the total labour force. Even this does not appear to have lost him votes in the present political climate.

Cartoon by George Meddemmen.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the Dallas convention was the light it shed on the activities and influence of the movement known as Moral Majority. This body is one of a number of overlapping forces consisting of politically-minded fundamentalists (Protestants who claim to believe in the literal truth of the Bible). Part of their aims is revealed by a new one of the brood, the American Coalition for Traditional Values. The Times comments: “The title says it all: ‘The coalition parades a strong ‘pro-family' line, is vehemently anti-abortion. wants prayer in school, an emphasis on strong defence and stricter welfare policies. It is opposed to homosexual rights and is against the Equal Rights Amendment that would cement equal rights for women into the constitution.’” (21 August 1984)

Moral Majority, the best financed and most visible of the interlocking groups, is led by Jerry Falwell, a Baptist minister from Lynchbury, Virginia. After a short period of gathering momentum they surfaced in 1980 at two pre-election rallies. In April a “Washington for Jesus" event had overt political overtones. In the late summer a rally in Texas was attended by Ronald Reagan in person, to endorse the aims of the movement. The day after the 1980 election Moral Majority claimed credit for supporting Reagan and backing some extreme right wing candidates who won election to Congress. They argued that in the two previous presidencies there had been a moral decline which had seen "liberals, humanists and leftists conspire to take God out of public life”. (“The New Christian Right"—article in Encyclopaedia Britannica Book of the Year 1981 by Martin E. Marty.) Although a religious man himself, Marty easily disposes of Majority’s claim to speak for any silent majority which they may say exists, and mentions highly personalised scandals in which some of its prominent members have been associated.

Between elections the efforts of Majority and their allies carried on at a more local level. The Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year 1982 reported "an alarming increase in demands for the removal of books and material from schools and libraries. Many of the books being questioned dealt with American history, feminism and racial attitudes." The Majority also claimed to be monitoring television programmes allegedly for “sexual, profane and violent content”.

The election campaign of 1984 found Moral Majority in the Republican party’s machinery and working hard to register "Christian" voters. Jerry Falwell delivered the benediction at Reagan's formal nomination, his “coronation” as some dubbed it. Support for Majority’s views has been expressed during the campaign by the Roman Catholic hierarchy, through the Archbishop of New York’s intervention against Geraldine Ferraro on the abortion issue, and the Mormon Church. At Dallas, The Times (21 August 1984) reported, “some observers are concerned at what they regard as a mix of politics and religion that is growing uglier”. Four days later the same newspaper was clearly disturbed at the surfacing of “a style of anti-communism that the Republicans have not worn since 1964". The Republican Party may not have been responsible for dubbing Russia as "socialist”, but they have certainly taken advantage of the seeds of confusion sowed by the Bolsheviks to commit some monstrous crimes of their own. We need only recall the activities of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy and the Un- American Activities Committee. It appears all too likely that another attack of this deadly disease is imminent.

All this suggests that there is a considerable danger of something akin to the Fascism of the 1930s emerging in the USA. It is to be hoped that American workers will not make the mistake of thinking that things could have been much different had Mondale been elected president. The same forces would have exerted the same pressures at local and national levels as at present. The hope lies in a greater participation by the American working class in the democratic process, to establish socialism.
E.C. Edge