Monday, April 24, 2017

The Beginning and End of Czechoslovakia (1939)

Editorial from the April 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hitler, and his associates, with that capacity they have long shown for taking well prepared decisive actions at the appropriate moment, have devoured Czecho-Slovakia. It was done with the forced consent of the head of the Czecho-Slovak State—how the dictators do love to keep to the forms of legality—and the enthusiastic support of a large number of Slovak autonomists, and the smaller number of Czech Fascists. Mr. Neville Chamberlain says he was amazed, but why? Whatever the form of the Munich settlement it meant in substance recognition by the British and French capitalists that Germany dominated Central and South-Eastern Europe—at least until such time as the former judged the moment opportune to reduce that domination. During the six months since Munich rearmament in Great Britain has made considerable strides, and to that extent the British Government are already feeling that they can afford to stiffen their attitude, so the future promises some sharp exchanges of uncordial notes and speeches, and repeated tensions and crises, with intervals of "let’s all get together” proposals.

Superficially, Germany has all the gains and all the prospects, but capitalist relationships do not lend themselves to measurement by the simple process of counting populations and adding up square miles of territory. Those who imagine that the incorporation of these indigestible territories is an easy matter for German capitalists, have only to look at Palestine, India, and Ireland to see that Imperialist dreams have a way of turning into politician’s nightmares.

On the other hand, the people who fancy that Germany is a unique offender, and that the “democratic” powers know how to solve problems of nationality, should remember history. Germany, talking of racial liberties, overruns non-German-speaking territories, just as in 1919 the Allied “democratic” Powers created new states, to the tune of “self-determination," but really with the purpose of permanently weakening Germany. Where race and language conflicted with the latter purpose, Allied statesmen did not hesitate to place unwilling minorities under unwanted alien rule. And before British politicians take it upon themselves to condemn the ruthless action of German capitalism, they should consider how much of the British Empire would be left if subjected populations were freely permitted to take independence.

The position of the anti-German and anti-Nazi, elements now forced under German rule, is a distressing one, like the position of Indians and African natives in the British Empire, but there should be no hesitation whatever on the part of the workers about recognising that such subjection, even if prolonged for years, is better than the alternative of a modern war between the rival imperialists carrying out a new carve-up of the world. Actually it is not running the risk of false prophecy to say that Germany’s “settlement" of Europe will be no more enduring than others that have happened in the past. Events —and ideas—move quickly nowadays, and this settlement may have a very short life indeed, if, as appears probable, Hitler has now gone far enough to provoke a new will to organised resistance among the East European Powers, backed by Britain, France, Russia, and probably the U.S.A.

I.L.P. Refuses Debate (1940)

Party News from the April 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are asked by our Glasgow Branch to give publicity to the refusal of the Mosspark Branch of the I.L.P. to proceed with a debate which had been under negotiation. In the letter of refusal the I.L.P. Branch Secretary says that, in the opinion of her Federation, it would be inadvisable to have a debate “at the present time, when our energies could be devoted to Anti-War work, and they also think it unnecessary when we are both part of the Anti-War movement."

Our Glasgow Branch do not agree with the view conveyed by the I.L.P. The S.P.G.B. holds now, as in the past, that the issue before the workers is Socialism. This does not cease to be true because there is a war in progress, any more than it ceased to be true on past occasions when, for example, the I.L.P. urged that the workers should concentrate on removing a Tory or Liberal Government in order to have capitalism administered by a Labour Government with the assistance of the I.L.P. The S.P.G.B. is opposed to the war, but it does not for that reason cease to be Socialist. The I.L.P., while opposed to this war, does not for that reason cease to be a reformist party prepared to enter the Labour Party and support the Labour programme. It is still of vital importance that the antagonism between Socialism and Reformism should be made clear to the workers.

B.B.C. Boycott of Socialists (1941)

Editorial from the April 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the evening of Tuesday, March 11th, Mr. W. J. Brown, General Secretary of the Civil Service Clerical Association, gave a broadcast address on “Is Hitler a Socialist?” The B.B.C. had chosen their man well, for it was a very good address, and nearly everything that he said could have been endorsed by the S.P.G.B. If the speaker had been one of the men the B.B.C. usually selects for talks on Socialism Socialists could have dismissed the whole thing by asking: “ How on earth can he know whether Hitler is a Socialist or not?” But not so with Mr. Brown, who showed on this occasion that he is well aware what is the real case for Socialism as understood by Socialists.

Yet there are a number of things that Socialists are entitled to question. In the first place, how comes it that the workers need to be warned against Hitler’s claim that Nazism is Socialism? Plainly those in authority are somewhat worried because some workers do believe it, and it happens—because there is a war on—that those in authority are most anxious that Socialism should be properly defined. This is very solicitous, but it is also most extraordinary. Never before have the Conservatives, Liberals and Labourites shown such solicitude. How often have members of the S.P.G.B. complained that these three parties, in their different ways, have done everything they possibly could to fog the issue? Conservatives had denounced Socialism as being a dictatorship and Bolshevism; Liberals have pretended that it is State interference with the individual, and Labourites have solemnly propagated their doctrine that it is Nationalisation or State capitalism. Now those chickens have come home to roost. Having completely muddled the minds of the workers so that most of them are at the moment quite unable to distinguish Socialism from its enemies, the men who were responsible for the muddle find that Hitler is taking 'advantage of it to spread his own vicious theories. So Mr. Brown is helping out his former political opponents and colleagues; but Mr. Brown is also hardly blameless. As a former member of the Labour Party and the I.L.P., and as one who was for a moment swept off his feet by Moseley's “New Party" in the days before Moseley was a Fascist, and as a supporter of. silly currency-mongering policies, Mr. Brown, on that Tuesday evening was helping to clear up some of the confusion spread by himself.

One other thing we have to say is this. Let us grant that Mr. Brown did show quite convincingly that Hitler is not, and never has been, a Socialist. Why did the B.B.C. have to call on Mr. Brown? Why has the B.B.C. never called upon a Socialist to talk on the wireless about Socialism ? More than that, how can the B.B.C. justify its repeated refusals to allow the S.P.G.B. to broadcast? The answer is quite simple. Until now the B.B.C. and the Government have never been interested in spreading knowledge of Socialism, they have only been interested in letting the confusionists broadcast, who, either by design or out of pure ignorance, wanted to represent as Socialism lots of doctrines to which Socialism is completely opposed.

No doubt when the war is over it will be the same again. Those who have a temporary enthusiasm for allowing Socialism to be described on the air, will revert to the good old custom of misrepresenting Socialism.

War-Time Restrictions On Publication (1942)

Editorial from the April 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Case of the “Daily Mirror

Restrictions on publication are not a wartime innovation. In peace time the publication of libellous or blasphemous statements carries its legal penalties, and there are also such Acts as the Official Secrets Act and the Incitement to Disaffection Act. Under the latter, for example, it is an offence punishable by two years’ imprisonment and a fine of £200 to endeavour, maliciously and advisedly, to seduce a member of the Forces from his duty or allegiance or to have possession of publications likely to have that effect and with intent to use them for that purpose. With the outbreak of war the restrictions became much more drastic. Defence Regulations 2c and 2d make it an offence to be concerned in the systematic publication, orally or otherwise, of matter which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, is calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful issue. Under 2c the Home Secretary can, after giving warning, proceed by way of prosecution, and the penalty on conviction may be seven years' imprisonment or a fine of £500 or both. Under 2d the Home Secretary need not warn, and does not prosecute, but can simply stop publication and distribution of the offending journal. Since the war started various Fascist publications have been suppressed, as also the Daily Worker, without any particular protest. When, however, Mr. Herbert Morrison, on a decision of the Cabinet, informed the Daily Mirror that he would take action under 2d unless that newspaper mended its ways, many other newspapers and a number of M.P.s vigorously protested, fearing that the proposed action might be the beginning of much more drastic control of all newspapers.

It will be noticed that the Regulations rest on the opinion formed by the Home Secretary, and Mr. Morrison, speaking in the House of Commons, has stated what in his opinion constitutes an offence. On March 19th, 1942, he stated that the provisions of Regulation 2d “cover not only overt or disguised incitements to refrain from helping the war effort on the ground, for example, that the war is waged for unworthy ends, but also the publication of matter which foments opposition to the prosecution of the war by depressing public support for the war effort, by poisoning the springs of national loyalty, and by creating a spirit of despair and defeatism." He added that the motives of the writer are not the point that matters—“the test is what effect his words may be expected to produce on the minds of others."

He gave further information as to his opinion on March 26th in reply to a question put by Captain Gamman, M.P. The latter had drawn attention to an article in Peace News which is alleged to have expressed the view that conditions in Hong Kong under the Japanese are not much worse than they were under British rule. Mr. Morrison’s reply was: “The article referred to is one of which notice has been taken" (Times, March 27th, 1942).

The remainder of the question and answer is as follows:—
  “Peace News."—Captain Gammans (Hornsey, U.) asked the Home Secretary why “Peace News” was not banned, in view of statements made in its issue of March 13 that the raid on the Renault Works in. Paris was made to produce a momentary and false impression of activity and to keep up morale at home, that the war was precipitated by partisans of Poland and Czechoslovakia, and as it was openly asking for subscriptions, in order to carry on pacifist propaganda.
  Mr. H. Morrison: A careful watch has been and is being kept on this periodical, but I have not hitherto felt that any action against it was necessary, having regard not only to the very limited class of persons to whom it appeals, but also to the expressed view of the House at the time when the Defence Regulations were under consideration that the mere expression of pacifist opinion ought not to be made an offence under the Defence Regulations. Statements such as those to which my hon. friend refers, however, and other statements which have appeared from time to time in this periodical, go beyond anything which can be regarded as the legitimate expression of pacifist views. The paper will continue to be watched, and I shall not hesitate to take appropriate action if I am satisfied that that course is necessary.
Much of the argument in the House of Commons and in the Press about the Daily Mirror case turned on the point that the Home Secretary had threatened to use 2D instead of using 2C under which the matter would have been tried in court. Mr. Morrison’s reply was that, apart from the delay involved in court proceedings, action under 2C would have the result that “the wealthy owners of a paper would get away altogether. It would be the salaried officers of the undertaking who would be taken to court, imprisoned or fined. The paper would go on with mischievous propaganda . . . .” (Manchester Guardian, 27th March, 1942.) He added the retort that he was surprised that “members who ask the Government to be speedy and decisive in their action should now ask to adopt that method."

There is, of course, substance in the point about the difference between the two methods—another illustration of the fact that there can be no equality before the law as between the rich who can afford the expense of fines and court proceedings and the poor who cannot.

As far as the S.P.G.B. is concerned our attitude is the one we have always adopted. We are in favour of complete freedom of speech and publication for every point of view, that of our opponents as well as ourselves, but we cannot profess to be surprised that under war conditions the earlier restrictions should be greatly increased. It is a process inseparable from war and will probably result in still more restriction before the war is ended. (We notice in passing that quite a number of supporters of war do appear to be surprised: having apparently made the childish assumption that it is possible to wage war without having these necessary accompaniments of it.) While regretting that under these conditions it is not possible to publish all that we would wish to do on the war, we do not forget that the S.P.G.B. is not merely an anti-war organisation but a Socialist organisation. It is our duty as Socialists to state the case for Socialism and while it is possible to continue to do useful work we shall continue, notwithstanding our enforced inability to state all that we would like to state.

Exhibition Review: Strange and Familiar (2017)

"Glasgow" by Raymond Depardon.
Exhibition Review from the April 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Outsiders can sometimes provide a fresh look at a time or place, observing things that those who live there fail to notice or consider too obvious for comment. Such ideas are behind the exhibition ‘Strange but Familiar’, currently on at Manchester Art Gallery, which shows the work of a number of international photographers who have depicted Britain (though there are no photos of Manchester).

The photos included cover a period of almost eighty years. The earliest are by Henri Cartier-Bresson, of patriotic crowds at the coronation of George VI in 1937, complemented by some of Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee in 1977; these indeed focus on the spectators rather than the official celebrations. Many of the photographers whose work is exhibited adopted a left-wing position, and provide a kind of documentary record of people’s lives.

Edith Tudor-Hart (originally from Austria) photographed appalling living conditions from the 1930s, while Candida Höfer shows depressing Liverpool scenes from 1968. More overtly political photos include those of demos against nuclear weapons from 1961 and the Vietnam war from 1969, and of parades and bombs in Northern Ireland, from 1968–9.

As times changed, the depictions of rundown streets give way to the ‘swinging sixties’, with joints and skimpier clothes. But decaying council estates and tower blocks from the 1980s show how some things change very little. Jim Dow’s shots of corner shops from 1980 to 1994 emphasise how few of these now remain, while Bruce Gilden’s striking large photos of three unhealthy faces from West Bromwich in 2014, each of which occupies virtually the whole frame, are a stark reminder of the effects capitalism can have. Raymond Depardon was commissioned by the Sunday Times to photograph Glasgow in 1980, but the results, of a city in decline, were too bleak to publish: sometimes the capitalist media cannot accept an accurate picture of the society they support.     
Paul Bennett