Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ask the general (1988)

The Running Commentary column from the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

After the intoxication of the INF Treaty comes the hangover of reality. The record has recently been put straight by NATO's Supreme Commander (and you can't get much higher than that in the business of managing a mass murder machine) General John Galvin, who advises against any misconceptions about the effect of the Treaty which, he says, will remove only about three or four per cent of the nuclear inventory. Whatever gap this may leave, the General is engaged in trying to plug by bringing NATO's battlefield nuclear weapons up do date. At the same time the British government is planning a £2 to £3 billion long-term costing for a new nuclear stand-off missile for the Tornado bomber, as another way of plugging the gaps left by the INF.

These facts indicate that, in spite of the blast of publicity which came with its signing, the INF Treaty will leave the world anything but nuclear-free. After all, nuclear arms did not happen by accident, out of an unconnected nothing. They were in the direct line of succession of capitalism's state organised means of murder and destruction (what, we wonder, will be next in the line?). The bomber aircraft which emerged from World War One were succeeded at the end of 1939-45 by the guided missile and the rocket. then in their infancy but holding the awful prospect of refinement and fitment with nuclear warheads.

This doleful state of affairs, in which a substantial amount of human energy, knowledge and resources is poured into manufacturing devices with the sole use of blowing us all up, is the inevitable consequence of a social system based on the class monopoly of the means of life. Capitalism produces its wealth for profitable sale; its relentless drive is for the accumulation of capital. This means that it is a society of competition, which at its fullest involves a massive, world-wide clash between the super powers armed with the most destructive weapons available.

The case that capitalism causes war and that war gives rise to the means of destruction. which must inexorably get more and more powerful, seems too straightforward for the anti-nuclear campaigners, who prefer to think that the weapons can be eliminated without doing anything about their cause. So imperfect an understanding of this social system must cause a vulnerability to misconceptions, of the sort which CND constantly offer as viable policy. That is why they celebrated the INF Treaty as the harbinger of a new age of peace and freedom from fear.

In reality, the powers of capitalism will not surrender their capacities to damage, perhaps destroy, each other at so casual a wriggle of pens on pieces of paper. They will not so easily dismantle the arsenals they have so painstakingly, so expensively, accumulated. They remain deadly rivals; the world is still a place of tension, under threat of the ultimate holocaust.

After the false euphoria of the INF Treaty, that is the reality. Ask General Galvin. 

Getting a message (1988)

The Running Commentary column from the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

I always watch breakfast television to see if the Revolution has started without me. Every day I wait for Gordon Honeycombe to announce that the working class have finally emancipated themselves. Well, this particular morning he didn't say that. Instead we got Batman repeats, followed by the usual mind- numbing mixture of self-publicising nonentities and heart-warming human interest stories. The aim of this early morning junk is to anaesthetise the thought processes of the workers before they set out to perform their capitalist employers' bidding.

Undaunted, I turned to the newly delivered newspaper. I nearly choked on my toast. "'Jesus lives' to adorn Britain's letters for six weeks," the headline read. One of 3000 Intercessors for Britain, who have vowed to pray for an hour a week over the moral state of the country, has paid the Post Office fifty thousand pounds to postmark every letter, parcel and periodical with the slogan "Jesus is alive". Expletive deleted, I thought to myself. I read on. A Post Office spokesman said. "The scheme in no way confirms that we agree with the contents of the slogan. We do not consider the slogan contentious but a fair and reasonable message generally to the public". Well it's not agreeable to me, matey. It adds a new dimension to "unsolicited mail". My indignation quickly subsided when I realised that it was yet another triumph for crass commercialism.

I had thought of writing on my outgoing mail, "Jesus is alive and well in America, providing homophobic bigots and racists with well heeled lifestyles made possible by screwing millions of dollars out of those members of the working class who need an emotional crutch to help them cope with capitalism, a system of society that produces war. poverty, economic insecurity and unemployment". Then I realised there would be no room left on the envelope for the address. So I think I'll write "Abolition of the wages system" instead.
Dave Coggan

Be your own boss? (1988)

The Running Commentary column from the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the nineteenth century Samuel Smiles offered the doctrine of hard work and abstinence to the British working class as a path from the poverty and suffering they experienced during the "golden era" of empire and industry.

Today the government peddles a similar message of self-help to the unemployed through its Enterprise Allowance Scheme with advice on how to become self-employed. The Prime Minister has revealed her vision for the future — a nation of self- employed. This is a bold vision in its denial of economic reality but it does reflect the pressures of party politics.

At the heart of the matter is government concern over unemployment levels and the consequent fear of losing power at the ballot box. This is a problem that has been faced by successive governments, whether Conservative, Labour, or Liberal (and will no doubt prove a source of worry to the new SLDP). Each has offered a variety of "solutions" that have proved useless without exception. Unfortunately for all parties hoping to capture power and administer capitalism the problem remains that unemployment is an inherent part of the capitalist economy and not capitalism gone wrong. As such the "solutions” offered by these parties and their accompanying economic advisers are spurious and, regardless of the promises, unemployment will be relatively high or low depending on the prospects for the capitalist class of realising a profit given prevailing market conditions. If the economy is expanding the capitalist will draw on the reserve of unemployed workers to increase production. When the economy contracts redundancy notices are issued.

The present government is offering the unemployed worker a chance to Be Your Own Boss. This self help booklet is available at Job Centres and offers advice and financial assistance in setting up your own business. It promises that "You won't have a boss breathing down your neck" (not that the target audience has the luxury of this inconvenience) and offers a list of services you could provide as a budding entrepreneur. Among the services listed that could launch you on the road to prosperity are: picture framing, making pottery, sign writing, gardening and child minding. Contact with reality is avoided by ignoring those crucial elements of market economy — competition and profitability. The reader is simply advised to identify a service that cannot be obtained at the "right price" in the area they live. The realities of the market place are left further behind when advice is offered on forming a co-operative. A co-op may suit you if you are ". . . more interested in serving the community than making profits". It would be hard to find a more cynical denial of the priorities of capitalism than to offer hope to unemployed workers by implying that a desire to help others may be enough to earn a living.
Tony Dobson

The Passing Show: Sons of Peace (1965)

The Passing Show Column from the September 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sons of Peace
We have only to mention such names as Berlin, Korea, Suez, Lebanon and 'Cuba, to recognise something they all have in common. All of them have at some time or other been trigger spots over which an extra large squabble has threatened something even bigger and more horrifying. At the time of writing, Vietnam is the current trigger spot and even the most ignorant must be aware of the slaughter which is going on there.

President Johnson has announced that the U.S. forces will be increased by fifty thousand men—“We are not going to be pushed out of Vietnam”, he says with cold-blooded frankness. His move, we can be sure, will be matched by the Vietcong and their supporters, and the situation moves one step further up the escalator.

But you may or may not have noticed the hypocrisy that gushes to the surface at a time like this. Nobody likes going out to war, but once it starts it’s difficult to stop, so there’s plenty of political prestige for the capitalist politician of perhaps a smaller “uncommitted” power if he can convince people that he has been responsible for putting a stop to the fighting. It’s a bandwagon which rolls merrily along, pausing only briefly between blood baths, and the assortment of individuals clambering aboard is bizarre indeed.

You may recall Korea, for example, and the appeals of the Indian government for a cessation of the hostilities—the very power which had gone to war only a few years before with Pakistan over the Kashmir issue. Since then Goa and the Rann of Kutch have been added to the nasty little list of “incidents” over which the Indian rulers have used force to push their interests, but these have not prevented the late Mr. Nehru, and his successor Mr. Shastri, from posing as peaceful mediators when some of the bigger powers have squabbled.

Perhaps you can think of any number of other examples, but to bring you up to date, the bandwagon has a new passenger. The Guardian of August 22nd reports that the gentle warrior Marshal Tito is trying to get a peace conference going over Vietnam. He will also ask that other war hater President Nasser of Egypt, to urge the peace loving Chou en-lai of China to “take a more constructive role in the Vietnam Crisis”. Apparently these moves are a result of talks in Belgrade between Tito and the Indian Prime Minister—obviously, whoever slips off the bandwagon, Mr. Shastri is determined to stay on it.

Just what the word “constructive” means in this context is anyone’s guess. As far as the contestants are concerned it will be only when the other side backs down, and until that happens, the slaughter and destruction will continue. So will the crocodile tears and the hypocrisy.

The government announced at the beginning of August that the immigrant quota is to be severely curtailed. About 300,000 Commonwealth applicants won’t stand a chance of entry, and only some 8,500 work vouchers a year will be issued. A far cry from the days of unqualified Labour opposition to restriction when Gaitskell was their leader? Maybe, but a politically popular decision nevertheless, and that’s what matters to the parties of capitalism.

Ironic is it not, then, to look further afield and find that the Australian Labour Party has now taken the opposite stand to that of its British counterpart, although it has always been a staunch supporter of a “white Australia” policy. Its statement of August 2nd says:
Convinced that an increased population is vital to Australia’s future, the Australian Labour Party will support and uphold a vigorous and expanding immigration programme administered with sympathy, understanding and tolerance. (Guardian, 3/8/65).
Now there may be a number of reasons for this change of front. Although the policy up to now has been to encourage British and Europeans and discourage Asians and other coloureds, Australian capitalism has been short of labour power for a long time, and the present policy has not succeeded in overcoming it. Then again, the Australian Labour Party may have its eye on the new independent Asian states not very far away, and its new policy could be an attempt to placate them (President Sukarno of Indonesia has for his part been saying some nice things about Australia just lately). Or maybe it’s a combination of factors, all contributing to what the ALP thinks are modern capitalism’s requirements. One thing is certain from the statement above, and that is that it’s not brotherly love for the coloured worker that has motivated it. )

But don't forget that the ALP is not in power at present, and if it ever does become the government again, we could well see a volte face if the situation demanded it. Hie labour Party may do the proposing, hut capitalism always does the disposing.

  NATO has been a success and the measure of thai success has been the shift of the threat from the West to the East (Mr. R. Maudling in a Commons debate. 20/7/65)
  Nobody has put any pressure on me to resign and nobody has suggested that I should go, but there are those who feel that a change of leadership would be right. (Sir A. Douglas Home, on his resignation. 22/7/65).
 Since 1945 it has become plain that the alternative government system is a defective means of securing national recognition of economic facts which exist whichever party is in power. (Guardian political correspondent, 29/7/65).
 The new leader sounded decidedly thin when it came to the Conservative remedies, many of which sounded nearly indistinguishable from Labour remedies. (Guardian comment on Commons censure debate, 3/8/65)
Eddie Critchfield