Thursday, September 22, 2016

Between the Lines: Death, hypocrisy and videotape (1992)

The Between the Lines column from the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Death, hypocrisy and videotape

Has nobody told Stormin' Norman about East Timor? Were we not told by the trigger-happy hypocrites who gave us the Gulf War that the invasion of one country by another was intolerable and must be defeated by force? First Tuesday (BBC2, 7 January, 10.45pm) told the hitherto unexposed story of the ruthless butchery of the Timorese people which has gone on for sixteen years.

In 1975 East Timor became independent from Portuguese control and elected its own government. That year Indonesia took over East Timor, outlawed the elected government and began a process of imposing control by means of brutal coercion. It is estimated that one in three of the population have been killed since the Indonesian take-over. In sixteen years as many as 250,000 Timorese workers are said to have been done away with. This is legalised terrorism on a mass scale. It is virtual genocide.

So, where are "our boys" whose task is to defend "the good" against "the evil”? (Remember all that "Free Kuwait" rubbish? The Kuwaiti dictatorship now presides over torture and mass deportations of its subjects.) The answer is that the only American and British arms being sent into the area are being sold to Indonesia.

The governments which claimed to have fought a war in the Gulf against Iraq's invasion of Kuwait are selling to Indonesia the means to unlawfully colonise East Timor. The alleged atrocities committed by Iraqis against Kuwaitis are being committed by Indonesian state thugs against the Timorese workers as a matter of course, but, despite several detailed reports by Amnesty International, the governments of Britain, the USA or Australia (the latter being a major trading partner with Indonesia) just stand by. Of course, hypocrisy is as attached to capitalist politics as fleas are to a dirty dog. How else can the cynical, anti-human policies of defending profit and damning need be justified?

The well-made First Tuesday documentary contained shocking footage of the 12 December 1991 funeral demonstration where Timorese workers were burying a man killed by the Indonesian army. At the funeral Indonesian troops fired on the crowd, killing one hundred mourners, others died on their way to and in hospital.

Indonesian brutality has given rise to an ill-equipped campaign of military resistance by desperate Timorese workers. Such counter-violence is futile: semi-armed guerrilla fighters will be no match for American-backed Indonesian state thugs, and anyway, killing Indonesian workers in uniform will not make anyone free, just a few more graves full.

The tragedy of East Timor reflects vividly the crass hypocrisy of Western celebrations about the coming of "Freedom" and the decency of King Capital's New World Order. It shows just how much the Gulf War was fought for oil profits and just how true it is that if Kuwait would have been as relatively poor as East Timor and if Iraq had been Indonesia things would have been different.

Aah, Freedom

The government has deregulated the law relating to TV, so now we are "free" - if we pay for it (in short, capitalist freedom) - to watch two new pom channels: After Midnight and Adult Channel. Behind the Headlines (BBC2, 8 January. 10.55pm) had a discussion on what such "freedom" will mean. In future viewers will be sold little plastic cards which they can slot into their TVs in order to watch sleazy movies made for sleazy men.

The programme also discussed the new 0898 sex lines on which consumers with such desires can pay 45p a minute listening to out-of-work actresses pretending to be naughty schoolgirls or busty nurses. There is even an 0898 number on which a genuine rape victim has been paid £3,000 to give a recorded account of her rape ordeal. Sweet freedom, eh? The poor woman is "free" to sell her pathetic story and men who are excited by rape (the stealing of the sexual commodity) can listen to her for just over a quid an orgasm.

Meanwhile Decca has announced that in February it is to release a video of the most salacious bits of the William Kennedy Smith rape trial - yours to enjoy in complete "freedom" for £10.99 a copy.

If this is freedom, then it is a lunatic's conception of what it is to be free. It is the freedom to sell, to exploit, to degrade, to abuse, to drag humanity through the dirt. Perhaps someone could market an 0898 number with recordings of children being tortured in East Timor; there might be a few bob to be made out of the screwballs who will get off on that.
Steve Coleman

Moscow Gold (1992)

Cartoon by Peter Rigg.
From the January 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

The late and unlamented British Communist Party— now renamed since its last Congress in November the "Democratic Left”—has recently opened its archives and revealed the extent of its subservience to Russia. George Matthews, a former Assistant General Secretary, wrote in the now defunct party’s now defunct journal Changes (14- 27 September 1991) that in June 1950 Pollitt was summoned by Stalin to draft a new programme for the British Party.

On 15 June 1950 Pollitt's report of his discussions with Stalin was put before the Party’s National Executive Committee who were reluctant to accept all of Stalin’s proposals because they were too controversial. During the next three months three drafts of a programme were prepared and on 20 October Pollitt took a few days’ holiday which in fact was a trip to Russia for further consultation with Stalin. A fourth draft was produced in December, and in January 1951 Pollitt paid another secret visit to Russia. After further consultations with Stalin The British Road to Socialism was published shortly after his return to London.

Secrecy was considered essential in the cold-war conditions of the early 1950s because of the risk of being linked too closely with Russian foreign policy or accused of being financed and manipulated by Stalin. George Matthews has shown moral courage in admitting his part in the secret negotiations between Pollitt and Stalin which occurred forty years ago:
The concealment of the role of Stalin by the party leadership, of which I was part, for so many years was indefensible.
Matthews takes the view that the Communist Party should have insisted that Stalin’s advice was acceptable only if it was public advice.

But he states:
It was inconceivable that in the conditions of 1950 the British party would have taken such a stand, and fruitless to speculate on what Stalin would have done if it had.
He who pays the piper calls the tune and the British Communist Party was too financially dependent on Russian money to resist Stalins demands. According to another former Assistant General Secretary, Rueben Falber, writing in the last issue of Changes (16/29 November 1991), the British Party continued to receive cash from Moscow right up until his retirement in 1979.

In stating "1 can only speak for myself in saying that 1 am not proud of the part I played in this affair". Matthews has publicly confessed his regret for being a party to the secret negotiations between Pollitt and Stalin and to relegating the Communist Party to a mere tool of Russian policy. But there seems to be little regret at the undemocratic and secret decisions made by the Communist Party on other occasions.

In 1947 a major policy change occurred with Pollitt’s pamphlet Looking Ahead in which he stated that it “is possible to see how the people will move towards Socialism without further revolution, without the dictatorship of the proletariat”. This change in Communist Party rules was made without debate of any kind. It is really beside the point whether this was all Pollitt’s own work of if, like The British Road to Socialism, it was dictated by Stalin. It revealed the sort of society the Communist Party wanted to see established in Britain: one where leaders would decide in secret the way it should be run.

Secret meetings
After Khrushchev's revelations about Stalin in 1956 Pollitt stated that "in condemning errors and abuses we must not forget that they occurred within the framework of socialist advance". But the rank and file were not to be given details of the “errors and abuses” because they were only discussed at a secret session of the British Communist Party in April 1956.

The history of the Communist Party was one that was dominated by secrecy; twists and turns of policy; decisions made by individuals or unrepresentative cliques; manipulation and financial control by Stalin; and a complete lack of understanding of socialist principles.

The rump of the old Communist Party may regret their past secrecy and subservience to Russia but they have yet to apologise for misleading workers or perverting socialist principles. And their recent pronouncements show that they still lack socialist understanding.
Carl Pinel

Decisions (1985)

A Short Story from the October 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

The race is on for the Labour nomination at Northloft, a safe seat where the present MP, Fred Parcel, stands down at the next election. Northloft lies athwart a main line railway which in the nineteenth century changed it into a blackened industrial suburb. Some famous Victorian capitalists set down factories there, with terraced streets with workers' homes in red brick and grey slate. Between the wars council estates were laid out and then came wedges of speculatively-built, cherry-blossomed semis whence clerks set out each day to ride on the railway to the office.

Another effect of the railway was to bring a continuous stream of immigrants — the Welsh and Irish before the war, the Asians and West Indians afterwards. Always they went through the same ritual, living at first in the terraces and then, as they became more established, moving out to the semis, provoking panic about "falling property values" among the "owner-occupiers". The constituency joined the Labour landslide of 1945. then the Tories won it back again until 1964 when Fred Parcel, feverish with Wilson’s campaign about the white-hot technological revolution, was elected. Fred was always sure that this result came about through his own brilliance.

But brilliant is by no means the first adjective to spring to the lips when describing Fred. A child when his father was out during the General Strike, his political notions were thenceforth based on his comprehensive Theory of the Betrayal of the True Soul of the Labour Movement. Just before the war, this theory led him to join the Communist Party, under the impression that the secret police, labour camps and political massacres of Stalinist Russia offered democracy's doughtiest defenders against Nazism. Agilely, he followed the party line over the war, the Russo-German Pact and all other inconvenient issues.

Naively, he looked forward to a great Communist triumph in the 1945 election. The arithmetic of the actual result filled Fred with panic; he joined the Labour Party and eventually, through union sponsorship (he was a shunter on the railway) and a local councillorship, he got into parliament as the Honourable Member for Northloft.

His original policy was to transform the House with his brilliance into a humming workshop of revolution. What actually happened was that he found he enjoyed an MP's life — the congratulatory back-slaps from Tories after a speech, the saluting policeman, the photographs on the Terrace with Miss World contestants, entertaining (his word for what was really a painfully boring experience for them) constituents to tea in the Members' Common Room.

He became, in a word, doddery and more recently he has been plagued with the guilt-protective hallucinations of senility. He was a sitting target for the reselection zealots and when they became active Fred quickly and meekly surrendered. After months of lobbying, intriguing and personality assassination which have enlivened Northlofts ward meetings to an unprecedented degree, the short list has shaken down to just four hopefuls: 

Roosevelt Bustamente Alexander calls himself the Token Black, which is intended to shame people into supporting him; "positive discrimination" is a phrase never far from his lips. If that fails he will probably rely on packing the membership and for some time his supporters have been energetically recruiting blacks into the party regardless of their political ideas, on the offer of a cut-price subscription. Roosevelt's tactics have won him support among the more confused lefties, who refuse to recognise a black racist when they see one; in the rest of the party he is called a black bastard. He refers to socialism as "black and white living in harmony together", which may some day force him to ask himself why he is a member of the Labour Party.

Julian Chatwynd-Speke is a barrister, the effectiveness of whose advocacy may be measured by his numerous clients who. to the surprise of the police, have spent much time behind bars. On the proceeds of his family’s interests in the East Anglian retail trade Julian went to public school and then to Oxford. After a brief undergraduate dalliance with the Liberals, when "community politics" seemed to be the way to power, he chose the Labour Party. While industriously taking himself around many constituency selection meetings he was liable to make speeches in which he slowly enunciated the sacred names of dead Labour heroes — Cripps, Bevan, Gaitskell — but this won him neither the hoped-for rapturous applause nor the candidature. He lives in an expensively refurbished Regency house in Islington, where the word socialism is occasionally mentioned over the sherry glass.

Les Horn, because he is the trade union man, considers himself the favourite for the nomination. Les prides himself on his humble origins and the self-education which taught him negotiating phrases like "let us draw back from the edge of the precipice and see whether there is light at the end of the tunnel" (trade union code for "I am about to sell the workers down the river") but which did not prevent him becoming the crudest kind of racist. His great hero is Ernie Bevin, in whose memory he pedantically drops his aitches. Les toadies endlessly to anyone he considers his betters (mostly outside the Labour Party) and has been rewarded by appointment as a local magistrate, with a reputation as the harshest sentencer on the bench. His dearest, secret ambition is to become Earl Horn of Northloft; meanwhile his version of socialism is a sort of national factory where the state takes care of you (which, in Les' mouth, has more than one meaning) whether you like it or not.

Fiona Strang represents what she calls the Wimmin's Voice of Northloft. After two marriages and divorces, four children and countless affairs she is now a committed, castrating female. No protest, no demonstration, is safe from her presence; creches, nurseries, abortion clinics, are fertilised by the energy in which she seeks to hide her shameful (to her) past as a Roedean schoolgirl. She surges around Northloft s bewildered streets dressed in enormous tents of expensively tatty clothes and her poor children are kept deliberately scruffy and sticky-faced. Her socialism, whenever she has time to think about it, she describes as chipping away at capitalism when in fact she is only the smoother type of sandpaper to the system. Fred Parcel is openly terrified of her and so, when she verbally bludgeons them on their doorsteps, are the defenceless voters of Northloft.

The choice between these candidates will involve the output of much physical and mental energy, which will be gladly given by their supporters in the conviction that the end result is vital. Constituency activists would, however, do well to consider one curious fact. During the 1979 election a team of earnest sociology students descended on Northloft, as a typical English constituency, to assess the voters' attitudes. They asked questions about strikes, nationalisation, immigration and the like and concluded that, on the basis of their replies, Labour supporters should more logically have voted Tory and vice versa. Northloft. in other words, should have sent a Conservative, and not Fred Parcel, to Westminster. The students were puzzled by their findings and even now, after many learned papers and lengthy seminars back at the university, they have not been able to explain it all.

But they know only the half of it. After all, they are mere commentators on the great, deceiving game of politics; theirs is not to reason why nor to ask who really wins and who, most importantly, always loses.

Letter From Europe: Mitterand organises poverty (1985)

The Letter from Europe column from the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

SOCIALISM = NEW POVERTY reads a poster stuck up all over Paris by a conservative students' association. Of course this has nothing to do with genuine socialism but concerns rather the false variety represented by Mitterrand and his "socialist party" who have been governing French capitalism since 1981. Since the number of destitute people has increased in France since Mitterrand came to power, and partly as a result of measures which running capitalism has obliged him and his government to adopt, this slogan is not entirely unjustified. Reformists masquerading as socialists have once again dragged the name of socialism through the mud.

One of the main electoral promises made by Mitterrand and the PS in 1981 was to reduce unemployment. In a televised debate Mitterrand declared that there would be two-and-a-half million unemployed by 1985 if the policy of the outgoing conservative President. Giscard. continued (Le Monde, 7 May 1981). Well, Mitterrand beat Giscard but unemployment continued to rise. The peak of 2.5 million was in fact reached in October 1984 . . . under Mitterrand. The only thing that the Mitterrand government has reduced has been unemployment benefit and the number of unemployed entitled to it.

Unemployment benefit was only introduced in France in 1959. Before then the unemployed had to rely on hand-outs from local councils. The scheme introduced in 1959 was not a state scheme but took the form of an agreement between the employers' organisation and the unions; both employers and workers paid contributions and the scheme (known as UNEDIC) was jointly administered by representatives of both sides of industry. The state also paid a subsidy to the scheme and a small allowance to some of those who exhausted their benefit rights under it.

In 1979 (under Giscard) this scheme was reformed. Basically the contributory scheme and the state dole were amalgamated under a single administration and both benefits and contributions were increased; in addition, a formula providing for an automatic state subsidy was agreed. By 1981. however, with the deepening of the economic crisis this new scheme turned out to be too generous by capitalism's standards. The task of rectifying this fell to the newly-elected Mitterrand government.

Their tactic was to try to push this unpopular task onto the employers and the unions who had negotiated the original agreement and the subsequent reforms. The employers were willing enough and they even went so far as to repudiate the 1958 agreement setting out the scheme but the unions, understandably, were more reluctant. In the event the government itself had to take a decision, by decree in November 1982. The effect of this decree was to worsen, except for certain cases of long-term unemployment, both benefits and the conditions for obtaining them while at the same time increasing contributions.

The employers and the unions subsequently negotiated a new scheme within the framework of this decree, which came into force in March 1984. Under double pressure from both the employers and the government the unions were compelled to accept a regression to the pre-1979 position — a reflection of their weakened bargaining position with two million unemployed. In addition to longer waiting periods, shorter benefit periods, harsher benefit conditions and reduced benefits, the previous dual system of contributory benefits followed by a means- tested state dole for some of those who had exhausted their contributory benefits was re-introduced.

The main way in which the November 1982 decree saved money for the government was by reducing the number of the unemployed in receipt of benefit. A surprisingly high number of the unemployed in France receive no unemployment benefit at all. According to a survey carried out by UNEDIC and released to the press last November, some 40 per cent of job-seekers in France receive no benefit. This represents nearly a million people. Some of these will be married women with husbands in work or young people still living at home so they won't be completely destitute (though the standard of living of the families concerned is of course drastically reduced). However a large proportion of them must rely on charities or, as before 1959, on any hand-outs they can get from their local council.

Clearly, if you have no job and receive no unemployment benefit of any kind then, unless someone else in your family is working or is in receipt of some other state benefit, you soon become completely destitute. Which is precisely what has happened: the ranks of the traditionally destitute — the handicapped, single mothers, ex-prisoners, ex-mental patients, old age pensioners - have been swelled by the benefitless unemployed, the "new poor”.

According to the UNEDIC study, of the 600,000 ejected from the contributory scheme since the November 1982 decree came into force "one out of three are today without resources" (Liberation, 6 November 1984); that is. some 200.000. To this must be added a similar, or perhaps larger, proportion of the 600,000 or so whose application for unemployment benefit was rejected over the previous 12 months. At least 400,000 people reduced to complete destitution and dependence on charity — a fine achievement for a caring, reforming government such as Mitterrand's claimed to be!

The appearance of these "new poor" has been highly embarrassing for the Mitterrand government which came to power on promises to improve workers' living standards rather than preside over the growth of destitution among the working class. In October last year they did announce a pathetic attempt to alleviate this problem, the main feature of which was to increase the wealth tax on the very rich to buy "surplus" food to give to the poor and to subsidise various charities operating in this field.

This appearance of the "new poor” represents not just a failure of the Mitterrand government to humanise capitalism for the workers but is even a direct consequence of measures they themselves took to cut back on the cost of the unemployment benefit scheme. Admittedly this was something forced on them by the logic of capitalism, but then resisting the logic of capitalism was one of the things they claimed to be able to do if they were elected to power.

We have consistently argued that this is not possible, at least not for any length of time. Any government of capitalism, whatever the intentions or background of its members, is sooner or later forced to apply the logic of capitalism. The growth of primary poverty in France is yet another proof of this.
Adam Buick