Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Trip to Ireland April 4-11th (1959)

Party News from the June 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following is a short report of the activities in Ireland and matters which arose during my visit.

We travelled from Belfast to Dublin on the Saturday evening after I arrived, and a get-together had been arranged at the home of Comrade Chris Walsh, who had travelled to Dublin for the occasion.

On Sunday the Conference was held in the Boilermakers’ Hall. This was the first Conference to take place in the Socialist Party of Ireland, and its chief aim was to set the Party on its feet as a national organisation. Until now there has been little contact between the Dublin and Belfast Branches, and they have been virtually two separate organisations.

The Conference appointed an Executive Committee, which will meet alternatively in Dublin and Belfast on the first Sunday of each Quarter. Its members are Comrades Montague and Devine, of Belfast, Comrades McBrain and Adams, Dublin, and Comrade Hackett of Armagh, where there is a sturdy group which probably will soon become a Branch. Montague was appointed General Secretary and Adams, Party Treasurer; one of the E.C.s first tasks will be to go into the question of dues, Central Funds, and Party Finances generally.

The Conference also adopted The Socialist, which hitherto has been produced entirely on the initiative (and at the expense) of two Belfast Members, as the official organ of the S.P. of I. It will still be produced in Belfast, but will now be under the control of the Executive Committee. A Central Branch Secretary was appointed (Comrade Tennyson) who will keep contact with outlying members. The other proposal before the Conference, that the name “World Socialist Party” should be adopted, was turned down.

Five members from Dublin, five from Belfast, Comrade Walsh and myself from England, Comrade Earp from Canada and a sympathiser were present at the Conference. There was some disappointment that the tape recordings of greetings could not, be available for the Conference, and also that I had not been appointed officially as a fraternal delegate by the E.C.

In the evening a propaganda meeting was held in the same hall, and there was a “full house” for this. Collections at the Conference and the meeting totalled nearly £8 and wipe out the deficit in Dublin's funds.

We returned to Belfast on Monday morning, and public meetings were held on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. The Tuesday one was on Socialism and Religion, a rather daring subject in Ireland, but the audience was appreciative throughout. At the Wednesday meeting a group of Communists made weak attempts at opposition but did accept a challenge to debate, and if this materialises it should be an excellent thing for the Belfast Branch. On Thursday we travelled to Armagh and held another successful indoor meeting; I was told before I left that on the following day the Armagh members had many callers asking for Party literature.

There was no meeting on the last night. Friday, but on this night and all the others, members gathered together to discuss and ask question after question. I left with the impression that the Socialist Party of Ireland is really on its feet for the first time, and the prospects are good. At the same time they need help in various directions.
Robert Barltrop

The Passing Show: The Cart Before The Horse (1959)

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

The Cart Before The Horse
The Conservative papers are filled with complaints about the money lost by nationalised industries. Do not— they adjure the voters—let the Labour Party in again, or “the dead hand of State control” will descend on more industries. But such complaints miss the mark.

Those who held shares in the coal-mines and the railways faced a bleak prospect in 1945: a prospect of many years without a penny of interest on their holdings, while the coal-mines and the railways recovered from the pre-war years of insufficient capital investment, and from the war itself. But just in time these maidens in distress were rescued from the terrible calamity of having to rub along without the surplus value extracted from the coalminers and the railwaymen. The knight-errant was to some of them perhaps unexpected: the Labour Party. Attlee won the election, formed his government, and put the mines and railways under boards whose duty was to pay out interest each year (in “compensation” for industries which no one in his senses would have thought of buying) amounting to £14 million for the coal shareholders and £40 million for the rail shareholders. (Both these figures have since increased.)

Profit To Be Made
This explains, of course, why the Conservatives, in power for nearly eight years, have left the State ownership of these industries untouched. But some of our private enterprisers are worried at the thought that even in these run-down and out-of-date industries there may yet lurk unexploited pockets of potential gain. An article in the Sunday Express on March 29th concedes that “no financier or industrialist in his right mind" would touch much of the railways. But the writer of the article is not discouraged. “Profit," he says, “has not been entirely eliminated. Even in their present condition, the Transport Commission’s hotels, buffets, docks and ships would make a sound investment . . . They should be the first to be hived off to private enterprise." Later on, he thinks, one of the railway networks themselves should be handed back to a private company. Realising that this suggestion might cause heart-failure to some railway shareholders, he adds hastily that in the first few years, the “free enterprise railway” might need loans from the State, plus a guaranteed “minimum dividend to investors for a period." Later still, he hopes, the rest of the railways “would also become qualified" (i.e. profitable enough) “ for handing back to private enterprise."

Safety Net
In other words, nationalisation is a device to take the risk out of some capitalist industries—for investors. If they allow the industries they own to fall behind the times, through not devoting sufficient funds to re-equipment, the State representing the capitalist class as a whole will step in and modernise their industries for them, paying them a guaranteed minimum of interest while it does so. And then, when the job is done, they can always demand that the industries concerned be “ returned to private enterprise," so as to turn the screw on the workers in them and jump up their dividends once more.

These proceedings are dressed up in a lot of long words and fancy phrases. But, stripped of verbiage, it can be summed up in the formula which has been the motto of the confidence trickster throughout the ages: Heads I win, tails you lose.

Still More
According to a book written by Clive JenkinsPower at the Top (Macgibbon and Kee, 21s)—nationalisation has still more advantages for the capitalists. He says that “the industries may theoretically be owned by the people, but they are largely operated by the representatives of private enterprise in the interests of private enterprise" (Reynolds News. 22-3-59). Mr. Jenkins “shows how the dominant figures" on the State boards, “through interlocking directorships in private firms, are in close business and personal relationships with Britain’s industrial and financial oligarchy." He maintains that the capitalists have made good use of public ownership, and “instances below-cost coal supplied to industry, excessively cheap gas, electricity and freight services, and the way lucrative services have been taken away from nationalised airlines." Aneurin Bevan himself is quoted as saying in 1956—“Perhaps it is time we took the nationalised industries into public ownership?" This, from one of the leaders of the Labour Party, is an extraordinary confession of failure. No doubt he contemplates another variation on the State capitalist theme. But what must be done is to reject the variations and the theme together, and work for a Socialist society.

The Horse's Mouth
When capitalism is at last thrown into the dustbin of history, how many crowded cemeteries will remain as its memorials! You have heard often enough from Socialists about the bloody hands of capitalism, about the wars fought because each capitalist struggles for strategically-placed colonies, for sources of raw materials: but leading supporters of capitalism are themselves often as frank. M. Soustelle, one of the leaders of the movement which overthrew France’s Fourth Republic and placed General de Gaulle in power, says that France must keep Algeria “because he who possesses this strategic springboard controls the Western Mediterranean . . . because Algeria means the Sahara and the Sahara means oil. . . .  That is why France must make sure of retaining free access to the Sahara and prevent it from falling under any other than French sovereignty" (Manchester Guardian 19-3-59). In the last four years in Algeria, 1,500 French civilians and 80,000 Algerians have lost their lives in the fighting: but France must stay in Algeria, because of its strategic position and because of its oil. No Socialist could put the facts more damningly than M. Soustelle has done.

Very Successful
Blood is the main by-product of capitalism: Recently a book was published about the Flanders offensive of 1917—In Flanders Fields (Longmans, Green, 25s) by Leon Wolff. One attack went on for weeks, “some positions changing hands eighteen times. When the attack finally petered out, Haig had gained a few hundred yards of shell-torn country, and lost 74,000 British and French casualties " (Everybody's, 28-2-59). The same kind of thing happened day after day: “On September 20, the British line was pushed forward half a mile, and 22,000 men were killed or injured. September 26: 1,000 yards were gained, and 17,000 men lost. October 4: 700 yards gained, and 26,000 men lost. . . . On October 9, the attack was aimed at Passchendaele. . . . Thirteen thousand allied soldiers were killed and injured that day, with no ground gained. Haig wrote in his diary: ‘The results were very successful.'"

In four months, nearly half a million men were killed or injured, to gain about four miles of ground. British capitalism won that war. But what a price in blood the British working class had to pay for its masters’ victory.

Mon Repos
But enough of the dark side of our society. Every day the newspapers report some further instance of progress. In The Times (12-2-59) we are told of an improved prison cell. The old ceil was usually about 7 ft by 13 ft. At Everthorpe, a prison opened last year, the cells are 7 ft by 10 ft; now, the new "Butler” cell (which the Home Secretary helped to design) is 7 ft 1 in. by 8 ft 3 in. The Times special correspondent looked it over. “The effect," he said approvingly, “is of greater snugness."

It would be interesting to hear his opinion of the “snugness" of these holes after he had spent, say three years, in one of them.
Alwyn Edgar