Saturday, March 19, 2016

Exhibition Review: 'Broken Lives' (2016)

Exhibition Review from the March 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool (housed in the Maritime Museum) is hosting a display on slavery in modern India. Most of the enslaved are Dalits, which means ‘broken, crushed, oppressed’; the former term ‘untouchables’ is objectionable. The exhibition, which mainly consists of factual information plus extremely moving case studies and interviews, is produced in partnership with the Dalit Freedom Network (
There are perhaps fourteen million people in ‘modern slavery’ in India, which means one person in a hundred and constitutes 40 percent of the world’s slaves. Indian slavery often applies to children, and can mean everything from bonded labour (paying off their parents’ debts) to sex trafficking and domestic servitude. Boys and girls as young as five may be forced into child beggar gangs, or set to work in brick kilns. Under the Sumangali scheme, girls work in textile factories, in dreadful conditions and with little leisure time; some of the clothes they produce are for big Western corporations.
Perhaps the most appalling is ritual sex slavery, by which girls are ‘dedicated to a goddess’ as a Jogini, serving in a temple and then raped by a local power-holder when they reach puberty. After that they are available for sexual purposes to any man. Up to 80,000 women and children are enslaved as Jogini. Like child labour, this is illegal, but it still continues.
Behind all this of course are the poverty and despair of so many Indian families, the profit demands of big companies, and the ignorance and hypocrisy of religion.
Paul Bennett

Proud to be British? (1983)

From the December 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Are you proud to be British? Do you stand up straight when they play the national anthem? Does your body stiffen with loyalty when the Union Jack is raised and the Queen waves to you from her Rolls Royce? Do you regard the British army as your army and Britain’s imperial history as your history? If so, you are suffering from that most nasty of diseases of the mind, known popularly as patriotism. It is known to afflict people of all ages, from gullible Boy Scouts to old ladies with blue hats who think that Churchill is still Prime Minister and that change is what you tip taxi drivers with.

The Patriotism Disease — otherwise known as nationalism — can affect people of all countries and even of regions which aspire to become countries. To be a nationalist you can hold a variety of political beliefs. Of course, the caricature of patriotism is to be found among the Tories. In his book. The Case For Conservatism, Quintin Hogg (now Lord Hailsham) wrote that
Conservative philosophy does lay a most particular stress upon the duty of loyalty and the sentiment of patriotism . . .  The nation, not the so-called class struggle, is therefore at the base of Conservative political thinking.
And it would be hard to find a more base example of ignorant nationalism than that exhibited at the Tory Youth rally, just before the June general election, when "the sentiment of patriotism" was summed up by the Tory Commissar for Entertainment, Kenny Everett, who shouted to his audience, "Let’s bomb Russia” and was responded to with loud cheers of nationalistic thuggery.

But when it comes to blinkered nationalism the Tories do not by any means have a monopoly. Indeed, capitalists who support the Conservative Party tend to favour greater international links between the different countries of the world. In general, they favour a world market which is not interfered with by tariff controls or political boycotts. The investors in the multinational companies are certainly not fooled by the rhetoric of their own nationalism: they will invest wherever they can make a profit. It is, in fact, the Labour Party, which poses as an internationalist organisation, but which advocates politics of economic nationalism, such as import controls and a return to pre-EEC trading practices. The Labour Party was the first party in the history of British government to pass the type of racist immigration laws which were designed to keep Kenyan Asians out of Britain. In 1976. Labour's leader. James Callaghan, declared that
I have never wavered from the view that a small, highly-populated country like Britain had to limit the number of immigrants it could absorb into its culture.
Neil Kinnock, the latest opportunist to walk the tightrope between the rhetoric of internationalism and the practical politics of national chauvinism, has said that 
. . .  we must show that we have positive policies which are based upon the implacable requirement that the interests of the British people must predominate. (Guardian, 18 July 1983)
What sort of narrow-minded nationalism is this in a world where over half of our fellow human beings are destitute and eight hundred millions of them are starving? Are we to check that they are "British people" before we think of positive policies to end their, and our, common poverty?

Needless to say, the plague of patriotism is alive and well within the Communist Party of Great Britain. In their pamphlet, Time To Change Course we are informed by the bogus communists that:
It is the British ruling class which . . .  is revealed as the traitor to the nation. It is the Communist Party which stands out as the real champion of the nation.
Which nation they champion we are not told, but the nationalists of the Kremlin have been known to buy up a few thousand surplus copies of the Morning Star each week.

Now, let us move on to the chronic patriotism ward and visit the National front as it lives its final hours. Once the movement which was going to elevate skinheads to the House of Lords and sweep the polls in a bid to rid Britain of non-Anglo-Saxons (Norway was expecting several million descendants of the Vikings to be repatriated), the NF is now just a gang of windbags in bovver boots who sit in rooms above pubs fantasising about the victory that never was. In the mid-1970s they published a pamphlet called Britain: World Power or Pauper State? in which they saw birth control as a plot to reduce the numbers of “the British race":
While in Britain . . . we persist in the absolutely insane policy of discouraging a high birth-rate, there is not the slightest hope that we will be able to send forth enough of our sons and daughters to populate the great empty acres that our ancestors won for us. There is no movement more dangerous to the survival of the British people than so-called family planning . . . Any intelligent assessment of the consequences of this trend must lead to the realisation that it points to the rapid enfeeblement and eventual eclipse of the British race.
It is not only from the politicians that such nationalistic rubbish comes forth: the media persistently refer to “us” and “our” when they are reporting about British business or British militarism; in schools we are educated to look at history from the angle of British ruling class interests; on the sporting fields, nationalism is used to persuade workers that "our” team must be supported against "theirs”; the churches spread the propaganda of “Queen and Country”. Even if you want to travel from one part of the world to another you must carry a card stating that you are "British”, even if you do not choose to attach that label to yourself.

Well, what is Britain? It is a geographical entity — an island — a spot on the map of the world. In this area called Britain there is land, there are natural resources, factories, offices, farms, mines, docks, buses, trains; who do they belong to? In Britain today approximately 400,000 people (one per cent of the population) own 25 per cent of all accumulated wealth. The poorer 80 per cent of the population own 21.9 per cent of accumulated wealth in Britain. The richest 10 per cent own more between them than the poorest 90 per cent. Only 7 per cent of people in Britain own any marketable shares in British wealth. Britain belongs to a minority of British people: to the capitalist class who own and control the means of life. The same is true throughout the world, although the form of ruling class power is different in the state capitalist countries like Russia and China.

The vast majority of people in all countries do not own the means of wealth production and distribution and are forced to sell their labour power for a wage or salary (a price) in order to live. As workers, the majority of people do not have any country. Workers of different countries have more in common with each other than they do with their native capitalist rulers.

It is time to destroy the socially created barriers which divide the world into nations. The world now is not the vast, relatively unconquered planet of the sixteenth century when nation-states first began to flourish in Europe. We are now living in a global village. Capitalist trade, and the technology of mass communication which has been created to facilitate it. have made worldwide production and distribution networks a thing of the present. Socialists do not need to dream of a future worldwide production system — capitalism has brought that into being and has then hindered the benefits which can be gained from it by maintaining the fetters of nationalism. Natural boundaries are no longer a barrier to travel; cultural interchange has ensured that Japanese workers can watch the latest happenings down Coronation Street while British workers are sampling the delights of Indian cuisine. It is noticeable that when astronauts in space take photographs of the earth there is not a red-coloured area called the Russian Empire or a label on a part of Ireland which says that it is British. These divisions are socially created and can only be socially removed by putting an end to the outdated social system of capitalism.

It is the socialist contention that human beings, wherever they are from, are much more similar than they are different. All of us have certain needs and socially produced desires which, by co-operating as humans, we can satisfy. Socialism, which can only be established worldwide, presents the possibility of people from different backgrounds and with different cultures (many of which they may want to retain in a world socialist society) combining our abilities to jointly provide for our common needs. To do this we must socialise the means of producing and distributing wealth by placing them in the hands of the democratically organised world community. Within a socialist society decisions will be taken at various geographical levels, depending on the nature of the decision to be made. Whatever difficulties the organisation of world society, based on production solely for use, will create, it will be a far more harmonious society than capitalism can ever possibly hope to be.

World socialism offers a temptation to the political imaginations of those whose minds have been narrowed by the ideology of nationalism. But the idea of establishing a world society is more than a nice idea to nod your head at. Ending capitalism, with its national frontiers, is a matter of urgency because every frontier has an army and every army has possession of lethal weaponry and that weaponry threatens to destroy us all, patriots and world socialists together. There is no way to obtain a world without war without creating a world which is united by the common interests of its inhabitants and there is no way to achieve such an identity of interests except by establishing socialism.
Steve Coleman

What's Right and Wrong (1968)

Book Review from the February 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Secularisation And Moral Change by Alasdair MacIntyre, Oxford University Press, 12s.6d.
A Short History of Ethics by Alasdair MacIntyre, Routledge Paperback, 15s.

What's right? What's wrong? At some periods in history these questions called forth firm, confident, even unanimous replies. Today there is a lot of uncertainty about even the most basic moral ideas. These two concise and useful books help us to understand why.

Secularisation And Moral Change begins by quoting Engels' prediction that the working-class, mainly indifferent to religion but still vaguely respecting it, would abandon even the remnants of belief and become solidly atheistic. MacIntyre has no difficulty in backing up his view that this prediction has not yet been fulfilled to any great extent. “The English working-class today is on the whole not strikingly more secularised than it was” when Engels wrote. A great deal of de-Christianising had taken place prior to Engels' observations, and this MacIntyre correctly identifies as due to “the destruction of the older forms of community, in many cases rapidly, and in particular the destruction of those features of them to which religion had given symbolic expression."

The development of capitalism and the cities gave rise in ethical theory to the dominance of the "secondary virtues"—virtues (like fair play, tolerance, a gift for compromise) which are only indirectly related to human ends. The view that “moral decline” is a result of Christian decline is false:
It is not the case that men first stopped believing in God and in the authority of the church, and then subsequently started behaving differently. It seems clear that men first of all lost any overall social agreement as to the right ways to live together, and so ceased to be able to make sense of any claims to moral authority. Social change and with it moral change is chronologically prior to the loss of belief effected by intellectual argument, except where a very small minority are concerned.
Today the spread of atheism is inexorable, but much slower (in Britain) than Engels expected. It is significant that the churches have a particular hold on people through christenings, weddings and funerals. Birth, love and death were in former times “explained” by the Church. Today this explanation is like the salt which has lost its savour, but no new system of attitudes and rituals has arisen to replace it. This is not surprising. The atomisation and shattering of community (and the education) which result from capitalism forbid the existence of any widely-accepted and consistent view of the world in terms of human values. Hence, the staying- power of Christianity MacIntyre attributes to the lack of any alternative.

The churches are trapped between introversion and assimilation, between escape and dilution. On the one hand there is what MacIntyre calls “enclave Christianity,” which will “provide a retreat from the conditions of urban secular life, and contribute nothing to urban secular life.” The other pole is that Christianity itself becomes secularised. Modern religious leaders, would love a theology of the secular, but all they have is a secular theology.

And MacIntyre makes short work of milk-and-watery Woolwich-type modernism. He points out that it is meaningful to say “Obey the spirit, not the letter of the law” only when there is a letter of the law. It is pointless to advocate a morality in which rules have been replaced by a principle of intent such as “love”, because when denied reference to specific prescribed courses of action, these labels are emptied of meaning. There can be no morality without rules.

MacIntyre argues clearly and rationally, and his analysis is firmly in the Marxist tradition. One grumble: he clings to the myth that there is a modern middle class. A Short History of Ethics is a more comprehensive work: not so much a sketch, more a standard textbook. It gives a fair outline of developments in moral thinking, a clear criticism, plus some very interesting observations on the relationship of morals to social change.

MacIntyre never forgets the historical and social aspects of ethics. Neither does he fall into the opposite trap of some lazy-minded “Marxists,” who delight in the unscientific game of finding a one- to-one correspondence between economic events and ideas, or who point out that such-and-such a viewpoint is in the interests of such-and-such a class, and think that this frees them from the need to evaluate that viewpoint logically.

He attacks the view of the field of moral philosophy as “the language of morals” pointing to the untranslatability of the chief moral terms of Ancient Greece. In a harmonious society virtue and happiness are closely linked concepts, but in a society like modern capitalism these concepts are independent, even antagonistic. So we get a division of opinion into those who advocate personal advancement and those who favour moral goodness. “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” versus “Let justice be done though the heavens crumble.”

In England the rise of individualism meant:
That all the links between duty and happiness were gradually broken. The consequence was a redefinition of the moral terms. Happiness is no longer defined in terms of satisfactions which are understood in the light of the criteria governing a form of social life; it is defined in terms of individual psychology. Since such a psychology does not yet exist, it has to be invented. Hence the whole apparatus of appetites, passions, inclinations, principles, which is found in every 18th century moral philosopher.
MacIntyre apparently thinks that lack of consideration of the role of morals in the socialist revolution is a gap in Marx's theory, but he points out:
Marx resembles Hegel and the English idealists in seeing a communal framework as presupposed by morality; unlike them, he sees that it no longer exists; and he proceeds to characterise the whole situation as one in which moralizing can no longer play a genuine role in settling social differences. It can only be an attempt to invoke an authority which no longer exists and to mask the sanctions of social coercion.

Patrick Pearse (1968)

Book Review from the February 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Best of Pearse edited by Proinsias Mac Aonghusa and Liam O Reagain, The Mercier Press, Cork, 10s.

This book is a collection of the writings of Patrick H. Pearse who was executed by the military representatives of the British ruling class after the collapse of what has come to be known as the Easter Rising, in Dublin in 1916.

Pearse practised at the Bar for a brief period and is reputed to have originated the IRA tactic of refusing to recognise British Courts. Useful though such heroics, and their inevitable tactical offsprings, proved to the British Authorities (and later the N. Ireland and Eire governments) in creating “gaol battalions” of the IRA, it is not for this that Pearse is remembered.

Nor is his claim to fame to be found in his writings as a teacher and educationalist (some of which are found in this collection) though, in the latter capacity, he proved capable of observing the perverted purpose of education in the hands of the State—albeit that the “State” for Pearse was the English State and not the state of capitalism.

Pearse’s real claim to a place in Irish history was his execution by the British military after the abortive 1916 Rising. Also executed were the six other members of the Provisional Government of the proclaimed Republic, among whom was James Connolly.

Connolly (and the digression is deliberate) was a former member of the British Social Democratic Federation and was prominent in the maelstrom of controversy that shook that organisation immediately after the turn of the century. Out of that controversy was born the first of the Companion Socialist Parties (the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain) and the almost defunct Socialist Labour Party, of which Connolly was a prominent member.

Among “left-wing” organisations in Ireland and similar organisations of Irish emigrants in Britain the name of Connolly is revered as the “Lenin of Irish Socialism”. Despite the fact that Irish Capitalism, in the post-Connolly era, did not develop Russia style, the analogy is a good one—insofar as both Lenin and Connolly made effective contributions to the confusion of the working class by overlaying the simple case for Socialism with complex issues of concern only to the nebulous interests of capitalism in their respective countries. Since Connolly’s contribution in this respect was almost exclusively restricted to Ireland, where it is linked with the rabid nationalism of Pearse, we felt that somewhere in these writings we might unscramble the mystery of their association.

Apart from an insipid playlet and some mediocre poetry the collection contains a number of essays, often repetitive, in which Pearse deals with Nationalism, Education, Literature and Freedom. In a style reminiscent of the later ‘heroes’ of Hitler’s National ‘Socialism’ he declares his faith thus: The Irish political leaders
have conceived of nationality as a material thing whereas it is a spiritual thing. They have made the same mistake that a man would make if he were to forget his immortal soul. They have not recognised in their people the image and likeness of God. Hence the nation to them is not holy . . . a thing so sacred that it may not be bought in the market places at all or spoken of where men traffic.
Here, as with Connolly, is the failure to recognise that the very thing he edifies, the national state, is the political creature of that system whose effects he vilifies, capitalism. Again, in dealing with Freedom and Education, Pearse proves himself an observant reporter of effects but wholly off-course when it comes to cause. Thus, in The Murder Machine he imputes to the “English education system in Ireland” the fact that:
The modern school is a State-controlled institution designed to produce workers for the State.
and he quotes Professor Eoin Mac. Neill in comparing the same “English system in Ireland” with “slave education” designed not to make children “strong, proud and valiant, but to be sleek, to be obsequious, to be dexterous . . . to make them good slaves.”

The fact that the “English system of education” in Ireland was the same as it was in England, or anywhere else in the world of capitalism, a system designed to equip working class children for their adult role of wage slaves, was missed as was recognition of the fact that the great majority of “the English” had as little freedom and prosperity as their Irish counterparts. That, in fact, the common enemy of the great majority of Englishmen and Irishmen was the system of international capitalism.

As we struggled through this windy prose we were tempted to wonder what was Connolly's reaction to Pearse’s naive outpourings and then we remembered that his reaction was to become Pearse's comrade-in-arms.

The Best Of Pearse is artless, ignorant and its presumption to wit, monotonous—except, perhaps, when Pearse feels “sure that political economy was not invented by Adam Smith but by the devil”!
Richard Montague

Latin America (1966)

Book Review from the October 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Atlas of Latin American Affairs by Ronald M. Schneider and Robert C. 'Kingsbury, Methuen, 7s. 6d.

There is more to Latin America than the popular conception of Carmen Miranda girls, dictators and brawling footballers. Schneider and Kingsbury say that it is an " . . . area whose importance has only recently been recognised in the United States as well as in Europe.”

And well it might be. By 1959 Foreign investment in Latin America came to almost $14,000 million, three-fifths of it from the United States. There is oil, bauxite and copper there, as well as many other valuable minerals—and, of course, the cattle of the .Argentinian Pampa as well as Cuba's famous sugar.

The continent has had a violent history. Once largely ruled by Spain, it began its movement towards independence, with all the customary misleading propaganda, at the beginning of the 19th Century, canonising the names of Jose de San Martin and Simon Bolivar.

Political change did not, however, reach down to the toiling people; they continued to scratch their living from the hot earth while the power struggle went on between the big landowners, the church and the army. These are still powerful elements in the politics of Latin America, sometimes challenged by industrial and commercial interests.

The United States has sufficient strategic interest in the area, apart from its economic usefulness, to make it keep a steady eye on Latin America's turbulent affairs. Washington at present aims at keeping popularly elected governments in being there—provided they accept their place in America’s sphere of control.

This is the background to the Cuba crisis, to the cynical diplomacy and to the busyness of the CIA in Latin America.

This book, the latest in the Methuen series, presents some of Latin America's history, economy and politics in an acceptable and easily digestible form. It is a paperback and small (127 pages), but it does a useful job.

African Unions (1966)

Book Review from the October 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

African Trade Unions by loan Davies. Penguin African Library, 5s.

As capitalism develops it brings into being the working class—that social group made up of those who depend on their wage or salary to live. In Africa capitalism dominates society, even if many are not yet wage-workers or cash crop farmers. Primitive production for use is being replaced by production for sale on the world market. Wage-workers in fact only make up a small part of the working population.

The proportion of wage-earners ranges from 25 per cent in the Congo to four per cent in Nigeria and the former French West African territories.

In Britain the comparable figure is over 95 per cent. Many of the workers in Africa are migrants who move between working for wages and working their tribal lands. This depresses wages to a minimum level, sufficient to keep an unskilled, single male worker. In some places, however, a permanent urban working class has come into being and this is the trend. In the Katanga copper mining area, for instance, there are second and third generation wage workers.

As can be imagined trade union organisation in these circumstances is difficult. Despite this trade unions, of varying degrees of permanency and effectiveness, have appeared. Nearly all have been associated with the nationalist movements. Not that, of course, independence has made much difference. A new privileged bureaucratic and commercial caste has appeared and the unions have been under pressure or turned into mere state agents for increasing production. One of the Ministers of Labour in what was Tanganyika has put it this way:
The union is required to educate wage earners in the need for harder work and the need for discipline and efficiency at the place of employment.
In all countries the new independent governments have come into conflict with the workers and their unions. Strikes have been outlawed or suppressed. Thus Ghana in September, 1961, suppressed a strike of dock and harbour workers and in 1964 a general strike broke out in Nigeria. This shows that nationalism is not in the interests of the world-wide working class.

Ioan Davies’ book is well worth the five shillings.
Adam Buick

Free speech in Belfast (1966)

Party News from the October 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

The activities of the World Socialist Party in the North of Ireland are being hindered i by a ban on political meetings within a 15-mile radius of Belfast imposed by the government there. The Sunday evening outdoor meetings at the City Hall have had to be abandoned. Instead the WSP is running a series of meetings at their Head Office (53 High Street, Belfast) under the title “Free Speech Forum”. At these meetings other political groups are given a chance to express the views that the government ban would otherwise prevent being heard. The ban has been imposed as a result of religious sectarian incidents sparked off by the hooliganism of the Rev. Ian Paisley and his followers.