Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Exhibition Review: 'We Only Want the Earth’ (2016)

Exhibition Review from the November 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Among the anniversaries being marked this year is the centenary of the Dublin Easter Rising (see the March Socialist Standard). James Connolly, who was probably its best-known figure and who had to be tied to a chair so he could be executed by a British firing squad, is commemorated in an exhibition ‘We Only Want the Earth’ at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford. As the curators note, Connolly’s life ‘is often remembered more for the manner of his leaving it than for the politically active way he lived it’ (echoes of the Thane of Cawdor in Macbeth).

The exhibition mainly consists of displays of books and pamphlets by or about Connolly and related political movements, together with some letters and panels containing photos and relevant information. It does not, however, say much to explain his move towards Irish nationalism, though it is stated that he had once argued that independence without socialism would just mean replacing one set of capitalist exploiters by another.

But then Connolly’s status as a socialist in the first place is somewhat arguable. He had been a member of the Social-Democratic Federation, and part of the Impossibilist revolt against H.M. Hyndman. However, the Irish Socialist Republican Party, which he helped found in 1896, stood for state-run banks and a minimum wage. Its aim, though not mentioned in this exhibition, was ‘the public ownership by the Irish people of the land, and instruments of production, distribution and exchange’ (so not socialism, as there would still be exchange, and even at this date seen in national terms). He was opposed to divorce, and saw religion as a private matter, not connected to politics.

The doomed 1916 uprising included a statement by the ‘Provisional Government of the Irish Republic’, which begins, ‘In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland …’. Connolly was one of the signatories of this and, even if we regard this phrase as just a piece of rhetoric, the whole text reveals the mystic nationalistic nonsense he was now involved in. A copy of this document is displayed in the Salford exhibition, but without any commentary on it.  
Paul Bennett

The Passing Show: Gallant Christian Gentleman (1959)

The Passing Show column from the August 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard


Mr. James Callaghan, the Labour Party’s “Shadow Colonial Secretary,” had this to say in the debate about the killing of eleven detainees at the Hola camp in Kenya (Daily Herald, 17-6-59): 
The Tories believed that for reasons of State the truth should not be told. By silently conniving they had shown themselves no better than any totalitarians. No better than any Communist, or, if Mr. Lennox-Boyd preferred it, than any Fascist.
“This,” the account continues, “brought a storm of Tory protests and shouts of ‘Smear!’”

It is curious that the Conservatives should protest so much at this reference to Mr. Lennox-Boyd, who, as Colonial Secretary, must bear a large proportion of the responsibility for what happens in the camps where Britain imprisons, often without trial, the opponents of her colonial rule. To show open support for Franco went out of fashion during the war. But before it Mr. Lennox-Boyd made no secret of his support for Franco in Spain. He was a member of the Committee of the “Friends of National Spain”—i.e., the friends of the Rebel side in the Civil War; he was closely associated with such people as the then Sir Henry Page Croft, who made the famous declaration “I recognize General Franco to be a gallant Christian gentleman.” (Details can be found in Simon Haxey’s book “TORY M.P.,” published by Gollancz)

Mr. Lennox-Boyd also claimed in the House of Commons that he was not a democrat or Parliamentarian in regard to India at that time (The Times, 9-2-35). Why, one wonders, are the Tories now so sensitive at these references to their Colonial Secretary’s opinions?


The Labour Party, when it is in power, is of course as zealous for the defence of British capitalism’s colonial interests as the Conservatives themselves. Sir Roy Welensky, fresh from the jailing of the leaders of the Africans, who are the great majority in his Rhodesian Federation. came to Britain recently and said on arrival that he did not fear a Labour Government (The Observer, 5-7-59). “I have found in the past,” he said, “that I can expect as much realism from the Labour Party as from the Conservatives when they are in office.”

This is a splendid tribute to the Labour Party’s past services to those who think like Welensky. No doubt it will have a prominent place in their propaganda at the next General Election.


And on the subject of the coming election, the headlines of the Daily Herald on June 17th were not without interest. “Bevan slams H-rebels,’ they ran. “You’d lose us the election.” Apparently Mr. Bevan had told a private meeting of Labour M.P.s the night before that “if the Labour Party fought a General Election on a policy of go-it-alone disarmament the result would be ‘like it was in 1931,’ ” when Labour was heavily defeated.

Which provides strong support for those who say that the leaders of the great political parties shape their policies mainly in order to secure the greatest possible number of votes.


The cinema trade chiefs complain of competition from TV. Filming projects are abandoned. Cinemas close. The industry appears to be having a bad time.

But cinema magnate Lord Rank is weathering the storm. He is lavishing great care on the grouse on his 30,000 acre leased Scottish estate. Apparently the birds have to have grit in their gullets to digest their food properly. So the solicitous peer is transporting various kinds of grit from far corners of the islands, to see which his birds like best. Thirty thousand tons have so far been carried to his estate, ten thousand of them from Cornwall, and other samples from Aberdeen and Ireland (Daily Express, 27-6-59).

Lord Rank’s shooting, at least, seems to have survived the cinema depression.
Alwyn Edgar

World: There is Only One Humanity (2017)

The Material World from the January 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
“No social or revolutionary movement succeeds without a core of people who will not betray their vision and their principles. They are the building blocks of social change. They are our only hope for a viable socialism. They are willing to spend their lives as political outcasts. They are willing to endure repression. They will not sell out the oppressed and the poor. They know that you stand with all of the oppressed.” - Chris Hedges, (political commentator).
Rather than passively accept their poverty, many Bangladeshis endeavour to escape to India but frequently pay the price.  Brad Adams, Executive Director of the Asia Department of Human Right Watch reported in an article in the Guardian (23 January 2011) that India’s Border Security Force had killed more than 1,000 Bangladeshi civilians since 2000.  The problem had come to prominence in 2011 when 15 year old girl was shot dead as she climbed over a barbed-wire border fence.  2017 will be another year of more militarised borders.
The United Nations Convention on Refugees defines a refugee as ‘owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.’ But why is a refugee fleeing political persecution more legitimate than a migrant fleeing a life in a dirty, over-crowded, disease-ridden, dangerous slum where work is the drudgery of a sweatshop for very low wages and little job security? And what about the victims of the politics and economics of climate-change. Droughts have uprooted farmers from their fields, eroding coastlines and floods have washed away homes and displaced many into the urban shanty-town slums.
More than 240 million people worldwide are international migrants. Refugees account for fewer than 10 per cent of the total and, in theory, they are the least contentious group, because countries have signed an international commitment to admit them. When such people travel with refugees, they are often derided as ‘just’ economic migrants. The term ‘forced migrants’ is sometimes used, mainly by academics and rarely by the media, to acknowledge the many people who migrate unwillingly but don’t fall under the Refugee Convention’s technical definition of a refugee and are therefore not entitled to international protection. This would include people who have abandoned their homes and countries because of drought or economic destitution.
Limiting our sympathy to only asylum-seekers and differentiating them from those others who are moving for economic or environmental reasons, fosters a view that they are undeserving of help or compassion even though they too are also genuine casualties of capitalism’s war – the class war. Whether or not they meet the official definition of a refugee, many desperate people are escaping dire conditions that pose a threat to their survival. Globalisation of the world’s economy has not been able to create enough jobs where there are people in need of work. ‘Free’ Trade and corporate land-grabbing has resulted in rural workers leaving their farms. 
The World Socialist Movement describe economic migrants, asylum seekers, climate refugees simply as fellow-workers, fully worthy of our solidarity and in the words of Eugene Debs:
‘If Socialism, international, revolutionary Socialism, does not stand staunchly, unflinchingly, and uncompromisingly for the working class and for the exploited and oppressed masses of all lands, then it stands for none and its claim is a false pretense and its profession a delusion and a snare. Let those desert us who will because we refuse to shut the international door in the faces of their own brethren; we will be none the weaker but all the stronger for their going, for they evidently have no clear conception of the international solidarity, are wholly lacking in the revolutionary spirit, and have no proper place in the Socialist movement while they entertain such aristocratic notions of their own assumed superiority.’
People are social and our capacity for cooperation and adaptation allows us to envisage and build a world beyond the current economic and political system which many regard as unchangeable. Capitalism is beginning to become a dirty word again. People have begun to protest against the profit system and the effect it is having on the quality of life. An unorganised anti-capitalist rebellion can only end in disaster out of which, either the present elite reassert their control or a new ruling class would take advantage of the chaos to gain power. If we are going to get rid of capitalism, the people have to do it by a democratic structure. We need to organise ourselves collectively to create a state-free world society, one without passports and borders.  The solution to the immigration crisis lies not with raising fences and razing camps but with the creation of conditions that does not necessitate people leaving their homes, their family, their friends and their neighbours. The reality is that the solution is world socialism.  Make 2017 the year that you start doing something towards it.

What causes Crime? (1967)

From The Changing Face of Crime series from the January 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard
Trying to reduce, or even contain, crime is rather like playing blind man’s buff in a room mined with booby traps. (Rudolf Klein, The Observer, 9.1.66.)
It must be conceded to the world’s do-gooders, champions of the underdog, helpers of lame dogs over stiles. Hope, or whatever it is, springs eternal in their aching breasts. Yet even the most sanguine of reformers has sometimes to admit defeat. One problem which nobody pretends to be able to solve, which everyone agrees resists every attempt to deal with it, is crime.

Of course there are all sorts of theories on the problem and every so often some new legislation, or a new Home Secretary, is welcomed as a step on the road to a solution. Rudolf Klein, in the article from which the sombre sentence above is taken, was enthusiastic about what he hoped for from the present Home Secretary:
It is a dismal prospect for any politician. But if anyone can do it, Mr. Jenkins—with his intellectual honesty and political courage . . .  is the man to carry it off.
So far, the one result of Jenkins' alleged brilliance and courage has been the new Criminal Justice Bill. Nobody seriously thinks that the Bill’s tinkering with court procedure, sentences and police powers will have the slightest effect on the level of crime. But this does not damage Jenkins' reputation.

The great hope for Roy Jenkins was that he is known as a reformer—the sort of Home Secretary to outrage old men in West End clubs by vetoing birching sentences. In a speech to the Press Gallery last June, he said: ,
. . . do not let us for one moment confuse . . .  toughness with a policy of preserving cruel and archaic laws designed, not to protect society, but to enforce . . .  the prejudices or tastes (or lack of taste) of one group of people upon another.
Jenkins was not attacking here the opinions of only those who, on the proceeds of legal robbery, can afford to be members of expensive clubs. The feeling is widely popular, that the way to deal with criminals is to be tough with them—to answer violence with greater violence, to suppress and degrade the robber and the outlaw by long, harsh periods in prison.

Neither side in this dispute can easily defend its arguments. The reason for this was touched on by—if we can be allowed one more quotation from him—Rudolf Klein:
Research . . . suggests that the problem has its roots deep in our society.
Before we discuss how deep the roots, and what sort of society, let us ask—what sort of problem? At the moment, a pretty big one; the number of indictable offences known to the police is now well over a million a year—more than twice as many as in 1948, which was a year deep in the post war crime wave.

The theory of a “wave” of crime, ebbing and flowing, may once have been valid but it cannot apply to the present. From time to time the crime figures may alter slightly; some may be affected by increased police efficiency or by a change in the definition of a crime. But nowadays there is no such thing as a crime “wave”; it is in full flood, and around us all the time.

How do the reformers explain this? Before the war a popular theory was that poverty was to blame, that a man who was out of work would readily steal food for his children. This inadequate explanation kept going until 1939 produced another excuse—unsettled conditions, the feeling that any day might be our last, the fact that millions of fathers were away in the Forces and not instilling in their children a proper respect for the laws of capitalism.

Then the war ended and the men came home and the crime figures soared. The reformers were ready; what, they asked, could we expect in the aftermath of a mighty war? Everything would be alright when we settled down again.

Twenty years after 1945, we may be assumed to have settled down but the criminal still runs riot, more wildly, more scientifically than ever and often with an attention to organisation which would be welcome in many a board room. The latest theory is that the “affluent” society we are supposed to be living in is to blame—that we are all so idle and bored, surrounded by washing machines and television sets and travelling everywhere in plush cars that we build up a massive frustration which must somehow be relieved, even if it means coshing an old lady on the way to collect her pension. Learned sociologists lecture on the essential inner rottenness of “affluence”, while the rest of us look at the crime graph going up and up and wonder what the next theory will be.

What are the roots of crime? People who have known the relaxed living in the countryside where nobody thinks of latching a door, let alone locking it, might be excused for blaming it ail onto urban life. Certainly crime flourishes in the big cities and anyone who knows London's East End, or Glasgow, or Liverpool, has probably had some direct, personal evidence of this. The cities grew up because of the industrial and communication needs of developing capitalism, which threw masses of people into concentrated living and, inevitably, into festering slums where life was hard and which bred hard, ruthless attitudes to it.

Many of these slums still stand, with little prospect of being destroyed in the near future, it is not difficult to appreciate that the people who are tough enough to survive in them are tough enough to live by crime. But this again is only part of the story; crime flourishes also on the new estates, in the post war towns and the overspill areas which have not yet had the time to become slums.

We are digging, now, a little deeper and perhaps it is time to ask what we mean by crime. In 1964, of 1,066,467 indictable offenders known to the police, 940,848—over 88 per cent —went under the heading of Breaking and Entering, Robbery and Larceny. In 1965 the number of indictable offences had gone up to 1,133,882 and the percentage was about the same. In other words, the vast majority of crimes are committed against property, a conclusion expressed in a lecture in June 1964 by Professor Leon Radzinowicz, Director of the Cambridge Institute of Criminology:
Ninety six per cent of all our crime consists of offences against property and nearly three quarters is straightforward larceny.
When we talk about crime, then, we are really talking about a particular type of offence, although it is usually the other sort—horrifying murders or sexual offences—which make the headlines and capture the public's attention. And since property is a social relationship it follows that any change in the form of property will be reflected in changes in the form of crimes against it

On a small scale, an example of this is the fact that since before the war the number of thefts from unattended motor cars has increased sixfold, while the number of bicycles stolen has only doubled. On a large scale, an example is that coups like the Great Train Robbery, and most types of blackmail and false pretences, are designed to get ready money—something which only becomes desirable in a developed capitalist economy where money is a dominant means of exchange.

Killing, and what are known as offences against the person, are sometimes connected with crimes against property. In other cases they are quite unconnected—the blind and motiveless acts of sick minds. Here, probably, we are down to the irreducible level of offences, which any human society must suffer and deal with.

Let us be clear that Socialism, a humane social system, will approach this problem uncluttered by the property obsessions and the vengeful philosophies of capitalism. It will, also, be free of capitalism's anomaly, that some killers are treated as heroes—provided they do it in a military uniform.

If, then, crime is mainly a matter of offences against property it must follow that to remove property is to end crime. This argument may not appeal to some of the religious, nor to the legal sadists who dabble in theories of original sin and who are hot for vengeance against anyone who fails to stand firm against temptation. Revenge is a sterile business, best left to the seekers after eternal morality. We are concerned with human society, and with its welfare.

The abolishing of private property society, and with it the end of crime, will bring massive benefits. It will remove the inequalities which are the very incentive to crime and violence. It will give society the chance to treat sick minds for what they are instead of regarding them as candidates for damnation.

Those people who, not having been born into the capitalist class, try to make a fortune by robbing a bank are social outcasts. There is no cure for them in property society. Whatever the reformers try, they cannot solve the problem. In The Courage Of His Convictions, the hardened and perceptive criminal Robert Allerton is quite clear on this point; cruelty, he says, is not the answer to the criminal and, although there may be more hope in it, neither is kindness.

We are back, now, at the roots. The criminal scene is a confusion of violence, desperation and muddled, futile reformers. The remedy for it all is at the roots of society and the only hope is in a basic social change. But there is much ignorance standing between us and that. And among it is the criminal, upon whom so much thought is lavished, so many statistics compiled, so much ink expended—the criminal who is observed, analysed and experimented upon—and who in his own way is as hearty a supporter of capitalism as the most respectable and law-abiding house agent’s clerk.

The clerk dreams of sudden promotion, or of winning the pools. The crook waits and watches for the big tickle. They are both caught in the same net of ignorance, and they both need each other to get themselves free.

Crime in History (1967)

From The Changing Face of Crime series from the January 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Standards of good or bad behaviour, within a society, are by no means constant. In fact they vary enormously from age to age, and within different societies in a particular age. This is even more applicable to those actions, forbidden by law, that are known as crimes.

Crime is usually defined as “an act prohibited and punishable by law.” No matter how revolting or dangerous an action may be, it is not legally a crime unless covered by a law that prohibits it, and prescribes a punishment for it. However in popular usage the words crime and criminal are used to describe actions that are anti-social, regardless of their legality. This is quite understandable, as throughout history most criminals have been a pretty brutal and heartless lot. The fact that many of them were driven to crime did not make them any more likeable. The Robin Hood type of legend, popular throughout the world, has never had much basis in fact. So that when we are discussing crime, it is as well to get the definition right.

This is not just being pedantic, as a glance at the history of crime will show. Even within a particular age there are great variations. For example, where prohibition exists, to take a drink becomes a crime and the production and sale of liquor carries heavy penalties. But all of this is quite legal and harmless elsewhere. Again laws on such things as homosexuality, blasphemy, gambling and adultery, to name just a few, are completely different from country to country, and even, in a Federal Union like the USA, from State to State.

When we compare one age to another this is even more obvious. Many actions that once carried the death penalty, and were regarded as the wickedest in the calendar, are no longer illegal and often not taken seriously. Witchcraft, once a capital offence that brought torture and death to countless people, is no longer taken seriously. Any legal action that is taken in the matter now is usually associated with alleged fraud. Heresy, atheism and Trade Union activities, once either capital or transportation offences, are no longer illegal in most states.

On the other hand many things once considered harmless or even praiseworthy, are now serious crimes. The Election practices of the Georgians would today land all concerned in gaol for a long period and the kind of satire that slams like a sledge hammer from the cartoons of Gillray and Rowlandson would now be considered criminal libel. On a grimmer note, the ceremonial torturing of animals, like throwing live cats from the belfry at Ypres, would bring heavy, and popular sentences. An even greater crime—the kidnapping, enslaving, buying and selling of human beings— known as the slave trade was once, not very long ago, an honoured profession. Perhaps the most important change of attitude, since, the coming of capitalism, is the increased importance of private property. Crimes against private property bring forth as great, if not greater penalties as crimes against people.

In the early days of Capitalism when each group was struggling for a foothold, and when enterprising but murderous characters were clawing their way into power, the line between criminal and legal action was very thin. One of the great Capital offences of the 19th century was Piracy on the High Seas. But piracy had not always been taken so seriously. The Privateer was a private person commissioned by a government to capture enemy ships, and was behaving quite legally. The pirate, on the other hand, was an outlaw. Drake and Grenville were privateers, while Morgan and Leech were pirates, but it is difficult to see any basic difference in their actions.

Earlier governments had tolerated, and even encouraged, piracy against their rivals and taken some of the proceeds. A successful pirate could always buy a pardon, and settle down in his home country. Morgan, one of the cruellest and unprincipled of pirate captains, received a hero’s welcome in England, and was received by Charles II. He died wealthy and respectable.

By the 19th century British, French and American capitalists dominated the trade routes of the world. They wanted settled conditions in which to operate. Pirates were ruthlessly hunted down and executed. These same Capitalists had used corruption, bribery and the plunder of ancient civilisations to fill their coffers and help finance their more orthodox enterprises. The Great Train Robbers were the descendants of these freebooters of the past. The aim was the same, to acquire wealth quickly and then become “respectable.” But unfortunately for the Train Robbers they came two hundred years too late. Modern Capitalism does not want this kind of action, and emphasises its point with 30 year sentences. Settled conditions are needed and corruption, theft and fraud are crushed whenever they can be detected.

Now what about proletarian criminals, the ones that stole the copper, while the others stole the gold? To be condemned to hang for stealing a handkerchief, by a judge or magistrate whose family wealth had come from piracy, the plunder of Bengal, or from slave produced West Indian sugar was, to use a current slang expression, a bit thick. But that was the fate of many.

The economic revolution of the Tudors, with its galloping inflation, agricultural unemployment and enclosures, drove more and more people on to the roads. They swelled the ranks of the sturdy beggars who roamed in search of subsistence. They flocked to London and settled in hovels in and around the town. Crime was often the only trade open to them. Penalties became increasingly brutal; flogging, branding and mutilation, as well as hanging, were extensively used. Not that the victims got much sympathy from their more fortunate brethren. Public executions had a high entertainment value, and provided an instructional day out for the kiddies. 

Much more profitable was the use of criminals as a source of cheap labour. The 17th century saw more extensive use of transportation to the colonies. The plantations and farms of North America and the West Indies cried out for cheap labour. Magistrates and judges were always ready to commute a death sentence to one of transportation, for a reasonable consideration.

The 18th century was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and new methods of agriculture, with the inevitable enclosures. People continued to pour into the towns but industrialisation was not proceeding fast enough to absorb all of them. London and the growing towns became crammed with people with no legal source of income. They crowded into the most appalling slums—the infamous Rookeries—and lived as best they could. Mayhew, writing in the next century when the situation had eased somewhat, described the pathetic means by which people sought to grub a living. Crime was one of the most obvious ways. In fact successful crime and successful prostitution were about the only means of climbing out of this hell into a more civilised existence, but not many made it.

Meanwhile industrialisation, and the exploitation of the new Empire, brought increased prosperity to the more fortunate section of the population. This led to an increase in crimes against property. The growth of the banking system led to more legislation against forgery, while the expansion of trade caused increased concern over adulteration of goods. The terrible state of the roads, and the inefficiency of the Post Office, gave rise to the highwayman, whose main occupation was robbing the post boys. A programme of road building and fast, well armed mail coaches largely ended this situation, but the growth of commerce and shipping led to organised raiding of ships in the Thames.

The ruling class struck back with renewed savagery, supported up to the hilt by the law abiding citizens. The 18th century saw a surplus of labour in Britain, and there was no use for convict labour at home, so more people were hanged or transported. The Continental countries had built up modern police forces, but Britain’s police were inefficient and corrupt. The British ruling class feared the development of a Police State, and refused to reorganise their own police. Instead they developed what became known as “Britain’s Bloody Code.” Over 200 offences were punishable by death, and many more by transportation.

The loss of the American Colonies upset the practice of transportation, and led to the establishment of the notorious prison hulks. These were old battleships, moored mainly in the Thames, and run by private enterprise. These ships were bad even by the standards of existing prisons. They were a “temporary” measure which lasted eighty years.

The 19th century saw the development of the world we know today. The Capitalist class were firmly in the saddle, and with them came Capitalist morality. There has probably never, before or since, been such an age of reform as the Victorian. It was the age of the rise of the Trades Union and the working class movements. When changes came they came with amazing rapidity, in thirty years the number of capital offences fell from over 200 to four. More important, the Capitalists began to realise that the worker with a terraced house, a piano in the front room, and pretensions to support, made a more docile and efficient slave than the products of degradation in the Rookeries.
Les Dale