Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Passing Show: Aggrieved (1963)

The Passing Show Column from the April 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard


Much controversy followed the BBC’s recent broadcast of a filmed interview with General de Gaulle’s arch-enemy, M. Bidault, who is a former French Premier and Foreign Secretary. Bidault leads the OAS, the organization of the Algerian settlers who were aggrieved by the decision of French capitalism to abandon the French landed interests in Algeria and make terms instead with developing Algerian capitalism. The OAS blames this decision on De Gaulle, although the French capitalist state could hardly in the last resort have decided otherwise. Bidault’s group have already killed many opponents both in Algeria and France, and several attempts have been made on the life of De Gaulle.

Indiscriminate Assassination

The BBC’s Director-General defended the BBC’s action on the grounds that, if the position were reversed, the French TV service might well have done the same. The Conservative MP, Gilbert Longden. retorted that
the BBC themselves describe Bidault as “the man most closely associated with the OAS.” Does their Director-General really believe that “a former British Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary” would be the leader of an organisation which sought to attain its political ends by the indiscriminate assassination and disablement of scores of innocent men, women and children?
The pronouncements of MPs never cease to amaze. Has Mr. Longden really forgotten that every living “former British Prime Minister” and every living “former British Foreign Secretary" supported the British capitalist class to the hilt in the Second World War? Has Mr. Longden really forgotten that in that war the British Government not only "sought to attain its political ends” (the removal of the German threat to British markets and profits) "by the indiscriminate assassination and disablement of scores of innocent men, women and children it went much further: by bombing German. Italian and Japanese cities, the British Government (and its allies) indiscriminately assassinated and disabled not scores but thousands and hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Ghastly though its outrages may be, the OAS is merely an apprentice in assassination and disablement compared with the British Governments of the two world wars. Mr. Longden himself supported the British Government in the last war: why does he now pretend to be shocked by the OAS?

You pays your money

From The Times, Tuesday, February 19th, 1963:
The National Economic Development Council are to press ahead with forceful recommendations for faster growth in the national economy. . . . By last night, after two days' discussion with the Chancellor in the chair, the N.E.D.C. was a more united body than it has ever been. . . . The council's March policy statements are thus likely to be on all those subjects where they can find basic agreement. A cornerstone of a coherent N.E.D.C. policy must be an incomes policy. And the council show some optimism about producing at least a framework which has the seal of the Government, management, and trade union members. This alone would be more than the country has had before.
From the Daily Herald, Tuesday. February 19th, 1963:
The Government’s long-term plans for economic recovery reached crisis point last night. The crisis emerged in Neddy—the National Economic Development Council —made up of Government Ministers, top industrialists and leading members of the Trades Union Congress. They are the experts on whom the Government have been relying to produce a united drive for expansion and a lasting solution to unemployment But after a two-day debate touching every aspect of the nation’s economy—all day Sunday and all day yesterday—the Neddy men have still not produced any signpost for the way ahead. . . . The fact is that it is becoming more and more difficult for the Neddy experts to reach agreement on positive action.
Apparently it is difficult for others besides the Neddy experts to reach agreement.
Alwyn Edgar

The Right to Strike (1964)

Editorial from the April 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent decision of the House of Lords in the case of Rookes v. Barnard has again brought the question of strikers and the law into the limelight. The effect of the decision is that where a trade union has signed a contract not to strike or to give notice before striking, anyone harmed by a breach of this contract can bring a civil action for damage against those responsible.

This interpretation of the Trade Disputes Act, 1906, will virtually ban unofficial wild-cat strikes though it will not affect official strikes such as the recent AEU strike in Port Talbot. However, since many of the strikes which take place today are unofficial this decision represents a considerable threat to the right to strike.

In Britain both employers and trade unions have been eager to keep the law out of industrial disputes. Even so there have in recent times been periods when official strikes were illegal. The war-time Order 1305 which was not withdrawn until August, 1951, outlawed strikes and—of course-lockouts. It is generally acknowledged that this hampered attempts to resist the Labour Government’s “wage freeze” and “wage restraint though it was pressure from the unions which led to the Order being withdrawn. Thus, for nearly the whole period of the last Labour Government even official strikes were illegal. This was strikingly illustrated when in 1951 Hartley Shawcross, the Labour Attorney General, tried unsuccessfully to convict the leaders of a dock strike.

Under Capitalism, workers depend on their wages for a living. They live by selling their labour-power. Like all sellers, workers seek the highest possible price. To this end trade unions were formed to bargain with the capitalists. This bargaining must go on as long as labour-power is bought and sold, as long as Capitalism lasts that is. The main weapon the trade unions have in these struggles over wages is the strike. This is a class weapon and its loss would seriously hamper the workers in their day-to-day struggles.

But trade union action, as Marx pointed out in Value, Price and Profit, has its limits. He wrote:
" . . . the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerrilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto, ‘A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!’ they ought to inscribe on their banner their revolutionary watchword, ‘Abolition of the wages system!’

Open Letter to the War Resisters' International (1966)

From the April 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard
The 13th Triennial Conference of the War Resisters International, to be held in Rome from 7th to 13th this month, has on its Agenda the discussion of non-violence and politics, with a view to bridging the gap between advocates of non-violence who seek “a fractional society and a world without war” and ‘Individuals and groups engaged in political activities who are finding traditional politics based on physical coercion no more effective for solving present-day problems or even for maintaining order". The statement setting out the attitude of the Socialist Party of Great Britain is printed below. Copies have been sent to the Conference, at their invitation. 
The only way in which mankind can bring about a social change and build a fraternal society, free of war, is to establish Socialism. This will not come about as an expression of non-violence but as the conscious act of a Socialist working-class. The attitude of pacifism can be, and has been, adopted by people of all manner of opinions—for example, by members of the British Labour Party, by Christians and so on—all of whom support the capitalist social system which produces violence and which therefore makes pacifism an empty dream.

Giving effect to the proposal to bridge the gap between politics and pacifism can only mean the formation of yet another political party which supports capitalism while it aims to deal with one of capitalism’s manifestations, war. The Socialist Party of Great Britain has always regarded such organisations as a waste of time, and the history of reformism supports our case to the hilt. Any organisation which accepts the continuance of Capitalism, the cause of war in the modem world, is standing in the way of Socialist Parties like the Socialist Party of Great Britain, which seek to end Capitalism and with it war.

Modern war arises from the conflicting economic interests of the various national capitalist groups, including Russia and China, and the other countries falsely claimed to be Socialist.

It is a basic condition of Capitalism that there is a class struggle between the owning, exploiting class and the wage and salary earners by whose labour wealth is produced, and that that wealth takes the form of commodities, produced for sale and profit. This condition produces the competitive nature of Capitalist society which, within a country, in addition to the class struggle, sets one firm against another and which, in the world at large, sets one government against another over the capture of markets for exports, over access to raw materials such as oil and rubber, over the control of trade routes such as the Suez Canal and over the occupation of strategic points such as Cyprus and Singapore.

In another aspect, these disputes take the form of intricate manoeuvres in the political, diplomatic and military fields over the control of spheres of influence. For a long time the ruling class of the Soviet Union and the U.S.A. have disputed over the control of Europe and the Middle East. To some extent, their differences over the Far East have been composed because of the rise of the potential threat from China.

The important fact is that these disputes are inseparable from Capitalism and that they go on all the time. That is why governments maintain armed forces, both to protect the privileged position of the propertied class internally and against other capitalist groups internationally. That is why the long history of international organisations and conferences for disarmament and peace is a history of failure.

This is the basic explanation of the world wars of Capitalism, of the minor wars which have been going on all the time and of the periodic world wars, and of the continual state of tension in which Capitalism lives. The inevitable result of all this is that violence is part of our lives as long as we live under Capitalism.

In these conditions it is futile to make a moral stand against violence in itself. Many pacifists have proved their sincerity and courage, but this does not alter the fact that their views are out of touch with reality. The only way in which war and social violence can be removed from our lives is to remove Capitalism—including State Capitalism in Russia, China, etc.—and replace it with Socialism. This is not, as pacifists argue, a question of propagating ideas of non-violence. It requires that a socialist working-class democratically gain control of the machinery of government for the purpose of abolishing Capitalism and establishing Socialism.

Socialism will be a social system based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Wealth will be produced solely for use and not for the profit of a minority. This will remove the basic cause of war and will therefore remove the apparatus of war—the armed forces and their weapons—and the atmosphere of violence which oppresses humanity today.

To establish Socialism the working-class of the world must first understand and want it. They must, in other words, free themselves from ideas which at present keep Capitalism in being—including ideas like pacifism—and consciously choose the new society in which men can truly live in brotherhood and build a world for human beings.

Divided They Fell? (1968)

Book Review from the April 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

History of the International 1914-1943 by Julius Braunthal. Nelson 126s.

“On issue after issue”, wrote Jack Cohen in reviewing this book in the Morning Star on 18 January, “essential facts and background information and analysis are completely omitted”. He instanced the policy of the German Communist Party up to 1933 (denouncing the Social Democrats as “social fascists”, while helping the fascists to undermine democracy), the Spanish Civil War (murdering thousands of anarchists and trotskyists), the German Soviet Pact (agreeing with Hitler to carve up Poland) and the attitude of the British Communist Party to the war (supporting it for a few days, then opposing it till June 1941, then supporting it again). Of course the so-called Communists do not want people looking at their record of opportunism in the service of Russian state capitalism.

The Communist International was set up in 1919 and to it affiliated those who mistakenly thought that as capitalism was collapsing and that the working class should therefore stage an immediate armed rising. Braunthal says, and this is fair enough, that it was by its Fourth World Congress in 1922 that the Comintern had become a tool of the new rulers of Russia. Its rival was styled the Labour and Socialist International whose members, throughout this period, pursued a more consistent, if futile, policy. They saw their role as not to prepare the workers to take power for Socialism, but to protect the workers within capitalism by supporting reforms and parliamentary democracy. Consistency, to put it mildly, was not something that the Comintern could claim for its policies. At one time they called for armed risings, at another for a “national front” to include all save pro-German fascists.

Braunthal argues that the European Labour movement was so weakened by the split, started by Lenin and perpetuated by the Comintern, that it was unable effectively to resist fascism. But would a united front of self-styled workers’ and democratic parties have stopped fascism? This begs the question by assuming that the Communists were democrats, whereas up till 1935 they were denouncing democracy as useless. Only in the period 1935-9 did they pretend to support democracy and even then, when they shared power in Spain they used it to suppress, torture and murder working class opponents. Why, too, should they be regarded as part of the reformist workers’ movement? Surely they had more in common with the fascists — their contempt for democracy and advocacy of dictatorship, their worship of leaders, their special attacks on financiers, their opportunism and demagogy? How could such people be reliable allies in the defence of democracy and working class interests? As the French Social Democrat, Lucien Laurat, put it: the real social fascists were the Communists.

Braunthal, himself a Social Democrat, is using the Communists as scapegoats for the failure of the Social Democrats’ “lesser evil” policy for resisting fascism: Hindenburg and Dollfuss were not as bad as Hitler and so on. This policy only encouraged fascism. For fascism flourished on discontent and discontent flourishes under capitalism, even in a democratic state. So in rejecting uncompromising struggle against capitalism for a mere struggle to defend democracy (important as democracy is), the Social Democrats were preserving the conditions that cause mass dissatisfaction with democracy. In preserving capitalism, especially since the governments they joined or kept in office failed miserably (as they had to) to make capitalism work for the mass of the people, they too contributed to the growth of fascism.

Braunthal often goes too far in trying to blame the Communists for the suppression of democracy. This is a pity as it means that the wealth of information in his book can not be relied on. He says, for instance, that the Bolsheviks first tried to seize power in July 1917, whereas in fact they were then trying to restrain workers from launching an uprising they thought premature. He claims the 1924 Labour government “fell victim to an episode in the Communist propaganda campaign”. But the Campbell case was only the occasion, and by no means the cause, for the fall. In any event, the British Communist Party gave its unconditional support to all Labour candidates in both the 1923 and 1924 elections. Braunthal makes no mention of this as he argues that up to 1935 the Communists were consistently opposed to Social Democratic parties (save for a brief period in 1922). We who consistently opposed both Social Democrats and Communists know better. But for Braunthal to admit that from 1923 to 1927 the Communists backed the Social Democrats would weaken his basic thesis.

Jack Cohen called this book a whitewash operation. We must agree. Nevertheless it is still worth reading if only to get the Social Democratic view of this period in working class history.
Adam Buick