Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Passing Show: Dull and repetitive (1959)

The Passing Show Column from the December 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Well-being Promoters, Ltd.

In an article in The Times (Oct. 30th) a discovery was announced which should receive widespread publicity. This is it: “ The purpose of industry is to promote the well-being of the nation." Those of you who thought the purpose of industry was to make a profit out of the labour of the workers in it were, of course, quite wrong. Shareholders do not invest money in a company in order to receive interest on it, but merely to promote the well-being of the nation. Those accounts one reads in the newspapers, of company meetings at which shareholders shout and jeer, baying for the blood of the chairman merely because the company is paying less interest than was expected, are merely flagrant cases of misreporting. What actually happens, it is now clear, is that the chairman comes in and says: "Dear fellow-shareholders, this year we decided that the well-being of the nation would best be promoted by paying our workers the full value of what they produce. This, unfortunately, means that we didn't get any surplus value out of them, so there is no profit, and there will be no interest paid out on the shares." The shareholders then give three hearty cheers for the chairman, sing “Land of Hope and Glory." and go out to queue for jobs at the nearest Labour Exchange.

At any rate, that’s what must happen if we believe the Times article.

Dull and repetitive

The author of the article is said to write ” from experience as foreman and assistant works manager." But even this apologist for capitalism feels compelled to write: "Ninety-nine jobs out of a hundred in factories even today arc dull, repetitive, often physically very tiring, and frequently dirty." Socialists have said this over and over again: but when a man who goes so far in defence of capitalism as to deny even that it is run for profit, when he says this about the conditions of factory labour, then it must carry all the more weight.

Second thoughts

"Yesterday's Enemy" is a recently-produced British film about the British army lighting the Japanese in Burma during the last year. A review in the Daily Herald (14.9.59) describes a sequence in it: —
A British captain  . . .  has captured an informer who, he believes, has vital knowledge of a forthcoming Japanese attack. He threatens the informer with death, but the informer thinks the captain is bluffing and refuses to talk. The captain picks two villagers at random and orders them to be shot. The informer still refuses to talk. The villagers are shot and then the informer breaks down. The captain has his information.
The captain follows up his murder of two innocent villagers by having the informer shot, as well.

Remembering the propaganda with which we were spoon-fed in the last war, about how we were lighting for decency and humanity against the brutality of the other side, you might think that nothing like this could ever have been done by anyone in the British army. But not a bit of it. Major-General A. J. H. Snelling, who was with the 14th Army in Burma said: “I believe incidents like this did happen during the grim retreat.” General Sir Douglas Gracey said: “I heard of similar incidents . . . These awkward situations did arise.” Major-General H. L. Davies said: “This film is absolutely real and authentic.” A fourth high-ranking officer. General Sir Robert Mansergh, was due to speak the film’s praises at its New York premiere.

Very honest of them, now, fourteen years after the war has ended. And no one alleges that war can he fought with clean hands. Bill why did the politicians and generals tell us throughout the war that all the brutality was on the other side?

Morality first stop

To alleviate the distresses of the Indian people alter the recent disastrous floods in India, the Minister for Labour sent out a special train on a “character-building tour.” The Guardian (19.9.59). It carried fifty Himalayan holy men, complete with live hundred disciples. The leader of the party announced: We are going to our countrymen with a begging bowl, but not to ask alms but a pledge to give up vice.” The cause of the floods, then, is revealed: the gods arc punishing India for its “vice.” But whose vice? The floods could hardly have been expected to catch any Indian princes or industrialists, who would have their private planes available, and some of whom in any case would be sunning themselves at that time on the Riviera. It must be the vice of the Indian masses which caused all the trouble. The gods appear to have taken the ruling class view that all misfortunes arc caused by the troublesomeness of the rank-and-file. This won’t surprise Socialists, who have realised for a long lime that the gods arc hand-in-glove with the ruling class.

Well, there it is. The Indian Minister for Labour has seen where the trouble lies. If only the Indian peasants can lay off the palm-wine on Saturday nights, next year the Brahmaputra may stay within its banks!
Alwyn Edgar

French Election - Will the "left" win? (1978)

From the March 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

This month’s french elections could result, if the Left wins, in a new government containing Ministers from the so-called Communist Party (PC). This would not be new, even for France, since there were PC Ministers from 1945 to 1947, but, if it comes about, it will represent the re-integration of the PC in France into normal capitalist politics, taking turns in running capitalism, from which they were excluded at the outbreak of the Cold War thirty years ago.

Compared with Britain, the French political scene offers a great variety of parties but they can be gathered together, and gather themselves together, into two broad groupings, the “majority” and the “opposition”. The majority—the supporters of the present government under Raymond Barre who together had a majority of seats in the outgoing National Assembly—is made up of the RPR (Gaullists), the Republican Party (of the President, Giscard d’Estaing), the Centrists (Christian Democrats), the Radicals (Liberals) and other conservative groups. The opposition is made up of three parties who in 1972 signed a common government programme, the famous Programme Commun: the so-called “parti socialiste” (PS), led by Francois Mitterand, the PC led by Georges Marchais, and the Left Radicals.

This Programme Commun, on which these three parties fought the last general elections in 1973, and lost, is a document promising a long list of reforms ranging from raising the minimum wage to nationalising the banks and 9 big industrial groups. Things had been going smoothly for the Left—they made big gains in last year’s municipal elections—until, at the suggestion of the PC, they tried to update the 1972 programme. Talks on this broke down last September, with the PC accusing the PS of going back to its old policy of seeking to manage the crisis at the expense of the workers and the Left Radicals in effect accusing the PC of wanting to go too far towards State capitalism instead of merely trying to tame private capitalism as envisaged in the Programme Commun.

Actually, this sort of split is encouraged by the electoral system and has appeared also on the side of the majority. In France there are two rounds of elections. In the first round (March 12) anybody can stand but only those who obtain at least 12.5 per cent, of the number on the voters’ roll (or who finish first or second) can, if they want, go through to the second round (March 19). What in practice happens is that the broad political groupings—majority and opposition—agree to field only one candidate in the second round, the one who does best in the first. Thus the first round becomes a sort of primary election in which the parties in the same political grouping compete against each other.

This is essentially what the split between the PS and the PC is about. It is due to electoral opportunism on both sides: the PC hopes to pick up votes from the PS by promising bigger and better reforms while the PS is hoping to pick up votes from those dissatisfied with the present government but who don’t trust the PC.

This disagreement between the PS and the PC might in fact benefit the Left by ensuring them, through the extra votes picked up by the PS, the maximum number of votes in the first round and even an absolute majority of over 50 per cent. But the first round is not decisive; it is the second round which counts and the outcome of the second round depends on the “voting discipline” shown by the supporters of each political grouping, on the extent to which all those who voted for the competing parties in the grouping in the first round vote for the grouping’s single candidate in the second round. Thus the Left, even with over 50 per cent, in the first round, could lose if, for instance, some of those who had voted PS in the first round refused to vote for a second-round PC candidate or if supporters of the PC refused to vote for a second-round PS candidate.

The two-round system also allows the various Trotskyist groups to formalise their facing-both-ways tactic with regard to parties like Labour which we are familiar with in Britain: they can oppose the Programme Commun with their own candidates in the first round and vote for it in the second! The Maoists, on the other hand, because of their anti-Russia position, are urging abstention in the second round. Our sympathisers, as their election leaflet, which they will be distributing in France shows, are advising those who want Socialism to write “SOCIALISME MONDIAL" across their ballot papers in both rounds.

If the Left do win the press will make a big fuss and the American State Department will pretend to be worried. But, as far as the workers are concerned, there will be no basic difference, as is explained in our sympathisers’ leaflet. A Left government with PC participation will be no different from past Labour governments in Britain: a government with reformist illusions which will soon be shed when they are faced with the task of actually governing capitalism. And the President, Giscard, with the extensive powers granted him under the Constitution, will be there to ensure that they don’t make too much of a mess of it (as “leftwing” governments in all countries are wont to).

The “Communists” are not the bogeymen they are made out to be. You only need read their literature to realise that they would find a comfortable place in the Labour Party in Britain. They too don’t know what Socialism is and merely stand for capitalism modified by social reforms and State control. It can even be expected that, in the event of PC participation in the government, the trade union grouping they control, the CGT, would fall into line, like the Labour Party-dominated TUC in Britain, and agree to moderate its wage demands.
Adam Buick

The obsession about Ireland (1987)

From the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

- "Socialists stand for a united world society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the resources by all the people."

- "Very nice, but what are you going to do about Ireland?"

- "Ireland is part of world capitalism. Once the workers have the world we'll have Ireland." 

- "But our first aim must be to create a united Ireland."

- "Our first aim is to create a united world, free from all national division."

- "You mean you don't want Ireland to be a united nation?"

- "We want to end nations, not establish new ones."

- "If you oppose Irish nationalism you must support British imperialism."

- "Socialists oppose all imperial aims by all capitalists."

- "Then you should campaign to defeat the British troops in Ireland. ”

- "We want to get rid of troops in all countries."

- "That will never happen. As a socialist you should support the armed struggle by the nationalists in Ireland."

- "As socialists, we oppose all armies, including the IRA; the only differences between the British army and the IRA is that the former are given medals for murdering workers and the latter are given prison sentences; the soldiers are paid for their thuggery and the IRA are conned into volunteering for potential martyrdom. Workers have no country - no country to defend, no country to gain, but a world to win. Think about that before you wave your flag of confusion."

The obsession about Ireland is one which socialists confront all the time. We confront it from leftists who divide their time between paying lip service to the idea of workers of the world uniting and supporting the nationalism of Sinn Fein. We confront it from many Irish workers in Britain whose sense of frustration about the poverty and indignity of working- class life often leads them to a sense of misplaced patriotism about a cause which would do them no more good than it did earlier Irish workers who won the battle and gained the right to be exploited by local capitalists instead of alien ones. We confront it in the republican areas of the North of Ireland where workers are constantly abused and threatened by the armed presence and regard counter-violence as the only alternative to the violence of the British state. In short, socialists can understand why workers become obsessed with the Irish question: now we are asking them to understand why socialists take a world, and never a national, view of society.

The socialist attitude to Ireland is to see it as a part of world capitalism. The poverty of Irish workers, the unemployment and the suffering caused by squalid living conditions which many face, the threat which they share with all workers on the planet of being blown to pieces in a third world war, the oppression which they suffer from the bosses and the state these are all effects of capitalism. If there was no profit system there would be no working class whose social function it is to be repeatedly robbed for profit. The problems of workers in Ireland are the problems of wage slaves everywhere and they will not be solved separately from the rest of the working class.

Irish Nationalism
Irish nationalists have always argued that Irish workers would be better off in their own country, free from British rule. Socialists regard it as an irrelevance whether Irish capitalism is ruled by an Irish capitalist state - as it is in the twenty-six counties of the Republic — or by a British capitalist state —as in the six counties of the North. When Sinn Fein was established, as a party campaigning for Irish national independence, its leaders made no claim to be socialists. Indeed, the early Sinn Fein leaders (and the only ones to obtain widespread support throughout Ireland) were vicious opponents of trade unions, strikes and 'atheistic' socialism. All that they claimed was that Ireland should be an independent capitalist state. As early as September 1907 McManus, writing on The Sinn Fein Policy in The Socialist Standard, stated that
. . .  it is our duty to warn our fellow-workers in Ireland of the futility of the Sinn Fein policy as far as they are concerned There can be no relief for the oppressed Irishman in changing an English robber for an Irish one. The person of the robber does not matter — it is the fact of the robbery that spells misery. National divisions are a hindrance to working-class unity, and national jealousies and differences are fostered by the capitalists for their own ends.
The crowd of hungry "intellectuals" clamouring for jobs both within and without the Irish parliamentary group do not represent the interests of the working class in Ireland. . . .  The national sentiment and perennial enthusiasm of the Irishmen are being exploited by the so-called leaders in the interests of Irish capitalism, and the workers are being used to fight the battles of their oppressors. . . . Let the thieves fight their own battles! For the worker in Ireland there is but one hope. It is to join the Irish wing of the international Socialist working class and to make common cause with the Socialist workers of all countries for the end of all forms of exploitation: saying to both English and Irish capitalists: “A plague on both your houses." For the true battle-cry of the working class is broader, more significant and more inspiring than mere nationalism, and that rallying cry is:
That brilliant piece of socialist analysis appeared in this journal eighty years ago and history has provided us with the opportunity to test its validity. If the creation of an Irish state had led to a vast improvement in the condition of the workers living under that state, or if it had led to increased class-consciousness on the part of those workers, then socialists might have to concede that we were shortsighted back in 1907 and that nationalism had been in the interest of the working-class. But this is not the case. Workers in the Irish Republic are no less robbed than workers in the North. Nor are they any less bullied by the state police, whose thuggish defence of property is notorious. They are no less the victims of religious indoctrination and oppression — indeed, an Irish worker seeking a divorce or an abortion would have reason to wonder how much national independence has chained them to a new dependence upon the medieval bigotry of the Fool of Rome. The reality is that life for the wage slaves in the twenty-six counties is no more free than for those in the occupied six.

In opposing Irish nationalism, socialists make it absolutely clear that we stand in bitter hostility to the arrogant nationalism of the so-called Loyalists, whose pathetic submission to a Queen who would not let her horses live in some of the conditions enjoyed by the loyal wage slaves of the Shankhill Road shows that they are enemies of socialism. We oppose the explicit racism of those like Paisley who expound the cause of white, protestant, unionist Ulster — as if the workers who elect them own any more of Britain or Ulster than the republicans would own of a united Ireland. Above all, we stand in complete opposition to the presence of troops (wage slaves in uniform) and we emphatically oppose the British army just as much as we oppose all armies, including the IRA, INLA, UVF and UDR.

Barricade Romanticism
But still the obsession about Ireland goes on. For many British leftists the war situation in Ireland provides a pleasing scenario, showing that workers are willing to go out on to the streets to fight the state. Avery heroic picture for barricade romanticists to observe from afar, but there is no glory in the sight of teenaged kids risking and losing their precious lives in a war which will never solve their poverty. There is nothing romantic about workers being blown up. And it is a point which cannot be emphasised enough that those who sit in the comfort of British meeting halls passing resolutions in support of armed struggle are conspicuous by their absence when it comes to being at the scene of the action. That the violence on the streets of Belfast or Derry is a picture of the Left's idea of workers in revolution is a condemnation of their conception of revolution.

Other leftists, such as the Revolutionary Communist Party, tell us that we must support any opponent of British imperialism. The logic of that position would have had the British workers supporting Hitler's Nazis in 1939. Others say that Marx supported the unification of Ireland, so socialists should too. Marx also supported war against Russia: should socialists support that too? We are not dogmatists who take a position because Marx instructed that we must. Others tell us that Sinn Fein is a socialist party. This is pure self-delusion. Anyone who read Sinn Fein's official policy would see that it stands for a 'mixed' capitalist economy, i.e. partly private capitalist and partly state capitalist.

The only genuine socialist party in Ireland today — and more and more workers are coming to recognise the fact — is The World Socialist Party (Ireland) whose journal, Socialist View, has vigorously criticised the anti-socialist policies of Sinn Fein — as well as the other capitalist parties of both sides of the sectarian divide. A final reason which is advanced as to why socialists should support nationalism is that imperialism is different from capitalism and that, whereas it is true that an Irish nation will not lead to socialism, it will at least be a defeat for British imperialism. By the term imperialism' such people are referring to Lenin's notion of a plundering economic power (Britain) exploiting the resources of a weaker, colonial area (the North of Ireland). That, however, is not what is happening in Ireland where, as is well known, the British occupation is costing the British capitalists literally billions of pounds in order to subsidise the industry of the province and pay for security. In fact, the irony of the situation is that the British nationalists who proclaim their firm intention of remaining rulers of'Northern Ireland' would like few things more than to extricate themselves from the liability of paying for the Irish problem and would do so were it not for purely political, not economic, considerations. On the other hand, the Irish state, which is formally committed to the long-term aim of a united Irish nation, would like nothing less than for their aim to be realised and for them to inherit the costs and the sectarian politics of the North. Hypocrisy is a notable characteristic of the politics of Ireland.

The World for the Workers
In fact, it is for none of the reasons mentioned above that the obsession about Ireland is as great as it is in Britain. The above- mentioned rationales for nationalism are mere theoretical constructs which are of little concern to the average worker who will insist that getting the Brits out of Ireland is more important than anything else. Irish nationalism — like all nationalist movements adopted by oppressed people — arises from a confused desire to see a united community. The aspiration to have a nation which belongs to you is in reality a desire to have a society which is yours — which you can feel a part of because it belongs to you. The same is true of Scottish and Welsh nationalism: these are not really movements by workers wanting Scottish and Welsh capitalists to dominate them — although that would be the effect of their unlikely success — but of alienated workers who want a society which they can call their own. Workers are right to want a society which we can call our own: a planet which belongs to humanity and local areas which we can take pride in as people who are no longer the tenants in a capitalist-owned world. To workers who are obsessed by nationalism The Socialist Party appeals with all of the passion which the nationalists use in their address to the working class: Come, let us unite as a class which has everything in common, everything to gain, a variety of cultures to develop — let us, indeed, have the world for the workers.
Steve Coleman