Tuesday, July 25, 2017

What the paper said (1990)

From the May 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why on earth aren't there more socialists about? It surely can't be because the daily newspapers (at least, those that are referred to as the quality papers since they are supposed to provide news rather than gossip) don't reveal all about the society we live in, namely capitalism, a class-divided society with the rich and privileged on the one side and the deprived and struggling on the other. This writer happened to have had a little extra time to go thoroughly through a recent issue of The Times.

You can choose any issue you like and you'll nearly always find something along the lines of the following. Casually turn over a page and there's a picture . . .  47, Grosvenor Sq. in Mayfair described as “having a discreet facade" harbouring “an opulent interior. . . hiding one of the most expensive homes in London". In case of visitors or a large family "there are 10 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, six reception rooms, swimming pool, gym and sauna, all decorated in the style of an Arabian palace, including tented ceilings, huge chandeliers and ornate mouldings picked out in gold." Not bad, eh? and we're told “it's a snip at £15 million".

Well, we heard that the East Germans had a fit of apoplexy when they learnt of the high-style living and larks of Honecker & Co. but dear Erich, even if he could have monopolised half his comrades' privileges, could not have matched this, so how are the East German workers going to react now that they have the blessings of the free market bestowed upon them, and with those in the upper spheres above them enjoying the aforementioned trappings?

Leaving this for the future to work out, one would have thought that the Editor would have been careful about where to place the above item, but no! Right underneath, as if to lend point and contrast, we find a report which tells us that the National Audit Office (a money-saving watchdog committee acting conscientiously on behalf of the capitalist class) is deploring the fact that £11 million is spent "needlessly" because doctors are too liberal in giving out sick notes to workers for benefit claims. That means that if you're not feeling quite yourself one morning and not inclined to join the scrum to get to work and then having to face those dreary hours till knocking off time, and then the bustle of the return journey, think twice before rushing off to the doctor. We're told that even a 1 per cent drop in these untaxed (shame!) benefits would save £11 million but, just think, even this sum wouldn't be enough to buy that two by two in Grosvenor Sq. We're also told that the basic rate of Invalidity Benefit is £43.60 a week although (heaven be praised for the generosity of the capitalist class) in certain cases this can rise to £60 or (wonders will never cease) to £100 per week. One small point, though: these sums would not be sufficient for the upkeep of the premises mentioned above.

Tarred with same brush
Not to labour the point (does it need labouring?) let's turn to another page. Now, we've heard recently, over and over again from all directions, about the end and demise of Communism or, as one BBC programme had it, "The flight from Communism". It so happens that this programme was dealing with the events in Poland, and it also happens that in this issue of The Times a correspondent in Poland informed us that a lot of former secret police of the Interior Ministry are turning to making an honest living by acting as private tecs, but who and what for? “It is to protect rich businessmen who feel nervous in the classless(!) society". Amongst other things their brief:
is to protect private villas, private shops and warehouses, transport valuables, etc. Crime is rising quickly everywhere. A particular target for thieves are houses with expensive satellite dishes—in Poland a sign of substance and wealth. Millionaires abound . . . there are jewellers, perfumers, cake wholesalers, sunglass manufacturers, computer importers and money changers who have become de facto private bankers. One detective agency assured us that 'when the Western capitalist comes here we can provide the finest bodyguards' (Times. 12 January).
Turning to another page we find the story of John Smith, the Shadow Labour Chancellor being piqued by the suggestion that Labour's policies would impose huge burdens on business and spending "huge amounts of time in boardrooms and at City dining tables explaining how a Labour government would get manufacturing industry on its feet again". Now did you think these industries were flat on their faces? You wouldn't think so looking at some of their profit and loss accounts in the financial pages.

On another page, there's Maggie going on something awful about the workers asking for more money in their wage packets . . .“very disturbing”, "jobs at risk”, “Britain's wage costs higher than main competitors”. "wage costs must be kept down", but at the same time “it was essential to keep higher interest rates going for the foreseeable future".

As we socialists say, they're all tarred with the same brush and, as Mercutio put it in his last moments (and we hope fervently that the working class will not wait until such an eventuality), "A plague on both your houses".
Max Judd

Strange ways (1990)

From the June 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Was the Strangeways Riot the work of the Devil? According to the prison governor, Brendan O'Friel, there is a very simple explanation: the riot was "something of a battle between good and evil" (The Observer, 6 May). The cause for this battle had to do, it seems, with the alleged success last year of a Christian mission within the prison. Later on, during the protest, the god-fearing Governor "became increasingly alarmed by the signs that something was going to happen on Good Friday. The omens were pretty bad. Good Friday was also the thirteenth, and we were getting some signals from the roof that sounded pretty ominous".

As an explanation for the riot, this is absolute moonshine. O'Friel claims that the "success" of the 1989 Christian mission led to a riot. But was this mission a success? Out of 1600 prisoners (some very distressed, possibly suicidal), only 200 made "a commitment to Christ", This is only 1 in 8: the majority rejected the message. To claim this as a success is as silly as Kenneth Baker's attempt to claim the result of the local council elections as a massive Tory victory. Another improbability about this "success of the mission" theory is the timescale. Why did the "forces of evil" wait so many months before mounting this alleged counter-offensive? Then there's the Governor's view of what happened on Friday 13th—Good Friday. As a result of his forebodings, he enlisted the prayerful support of his fellow-believers. Down on their knees they went.

History relates that nothing very dreadful happened that day. Two more of the prisoners surrendered and the siege continued as before, without any "diabolical" incidents. This, to the devout Governor, was evidence of the success of "the spiritual outpourings . . .  (of) the Christian community". In other words, bending the ear of the Almighty produces better results than appeals to the Home Office for reinforcements.

It is characteristic of true believers that they claim events as supporting their beliefs whatever the outcome. In this case, if, as he predicted, a “holocaust" had happened. that would have supported his belief in the activity of these supposed "forces of evil”.

This was a naive attempt by Governor O'Friel to persuade the outside world that there were no commonsense, material circumstances which could be expected to have triggered this and other jail protests. He would have us believe that this riot had more to do with the saving of souls than with slopping out. He apparently said nothing in his press conference of the conditions which the prisoners had to put up with in the jail: of the unhygienic and inhuman overcrowding in claustrophobic conditions; of the understaffing, which renders ineffective any attempts to make conditions less unbearable; or of the righteous fervour which inspires Manchester's god-fearing police and magistrates with a zealous determination that even those awaiting trial for motoring offences must be locked up.

One of the young rooftop protesters was a teenage boy on remand, waiting month after month for his trial for taking a car without consent and drunk-driving. The jails of this country are overcrowded because people like him are locked up in cells, waiting for months for their cases to be heard. Mounting frustration and exasperation may well have been one of the factors that contributed to the protest.

Strangeways—a good name for a system which treats live people like dead sardines.
Charmian Skelton

The Lies That Kill (1990)

From the July 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bandsmen, and even, now, in deference to the times, bandswomen, sit around waiting against a discordant cacophony of banging drums and snatches of pop tunes, or “party" airs, played inexpertly on fifes or accordians. Even in waiting, the pipe bands are disciplined, more expert, better turned out and better at planning their waiting time.

But a pipe band can cost an Orange Lodge a lot of money. Economics have, thus, created a niche in the market for the gather-up, four or five tune outfits that will swagger aggressively behind the well-suited Orangemen. The four or five tunes will synopsize a version of history; remind Fenians that they were given a bloody good hiding at Derry, Aughrim and. on the 1st July 1690 (before Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar) at the Boyne. Especially when passing a Roman Catholic chapel or an area inhabited by catholics, an aggressive increase in volume will taunt and threaten latter-day enemies.

Festival of bigotry
Hail. rain, sunshine or snow, the bands will march on the Twelfth. The serried ranks of marching Orangemen will tramp their way to “The Field” to be regaled yet again with the pure fiction that represents history— for, if ever a people were kidded and cajoled by what Marx called “the tradition of all the dead generations", it is both the protestants and the catholics of Northern Ireland.

This day, the Twelfth, is the epitome of protestant culture, folklore and tradition. It is about this that Unionist and Orange leaders have hyped ordinary decent protestants to the anger that maims and kills—maims, kills and divides both themselves and those whom they have been rigidly conditioned to hate and fear. What we know about this festival of bigotry should be enough to cause protestants to look upon it with the same distaste as catholics: not simply because it is one of the elements that creates—300 years after the event—the material conditions for the bloody, futile violence that hurts protestant and catholic alike but because the great majority of those partaking in this orgy of ignorance, those who are Presbyterians, have no reason to celebrate the regime that emerged from William's victory at the famous Battle of the Boyne.

Almost always a ruling class (or, as in the case of Irish catholics, an aspiring ruling class) will suitably distort and fictionalize history to serve its purpose. Usually a substantial historical truth can be "adjusted" sufficiently to convince a lot of ordinary, propertyless workers that their past, and, more importantly, their present, is tied up with the interests of their real or potential exploiters. In the case of the events commemorated by so many decent working class protestants on the Twelfth of July, history has not simply been adjusted—it has been stood on its head.

According to the Orange Order, which uses religion to obfuscate historical reality and confuse and divide the working class, William, Prince of Orange, led a revolution against the Stuart king James II in 1688. James, a sickly pious, but cautious, convert to Roman Catholicism (and the father of William's wife, Mary) was according to Orange legend, an enemy of protestantism and, by defeating him at the battle of the Boyne in July 1690, King Billy won the day for those of the Protestant faith in Ireland. "He gave us our freedom, religion and laws", the Orange demagogue will declaim; "He saved us from popery, brass money and wooden shoes", some other historical expert will assure his listeners.

We are referring here to events which took place, not as irrelevantly far back as 1960, but 300 years ago in 1690. Whatever the facts, the first question that must be put to the Orange Order, and the clerical tub-thumpers who so frequently vomit hatred of their fellow human beings at Orange binges, is why they continue to organise an event which helps to fan violence and hatred and which has no bearing whatsoever on the lives of people today—other than those who may suffer hurt, abuse, or even death from the anger and hatred it generates? Surely, men and women who genuinely wanted peace in Northern Ireland would be prepared to sacrifice the, literally, thousands of annual marches and coat-trailing exercises that feed division and hatred?

That is a question for the holy hypocrites who pose as peace-mongers in Northern Ireland. It is a reasonable question and one that workers who support Orangeism but want peace should be concerned with.

The Pope backs King Billy
But what about the wider question? Was the conflict between King Billy and King James about protestants and catholics? Was Billy's victory one in the eye for the pope? Did his defeat of James at the Boyne make life better for the people of Ireland, or Ulster—or even for all the protestants of Ulster? The answer to all these questions is an unequivocal “No". Before dealing with the consequences of King Billy's victory, however, we should look at the background to the conflict between him and James and the separate interests they each represented.

After the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy there was a marked decline in the the political persecution of Irish catholics. Freedom of the Irish catholics to practise their religion was established and, on the other side, in 1672 Charles II won favour with the Presbyterian settlers in Ulster by granting a Regium Donam, or Royal bounty, to their clergy.

When James the Second became king in 1685 the emerging middle class in England, anxious to promote legislation that would facilitate its growing commercial interests, was striving for political power. Conflict centred around parliament and the king. Religion, the complex in-fighting between the various denominations and especially the broader conflict between the Church of England and Roman Catholicism, was used to disguise this class struggle and marshal the "lower orders" behind the contending factions. James resisted parliament's attempts to restrict his authority and parliament used this and his covert attempts to bring England back into the mainstream of European Catholicism to attack the king.

In 1688 seven members of the English government invited the Dutchman, William, the Prince of Orange, who was married to James's protestant daughter, to become king of England. James, the catholic, sought the assistance of the French king, Louis XIV. Though nominally catholic insofar as kings and members of the ruling class accept religion, Louis was the bitter enemy of Pope Innocent XI. Both leaders were in conflict over the spoils of Europe and both went to considerable extremes to humiliate each other. Louis had seized areas where the papal writ ran and had sent an army against the papal citadel, Rome itself.

The Pope had retaliated by calling together, in 1688, the German Emperor, the King of Spain and William Prince of Orange. Together they entered into the Treaty of Augsberg, the nominal head of which was the Pope. It was the Treaty (or League) powers, of which the Pope was the head, that armed, provisioned and financed King Billy when he landed in Ireland, to where James had retreated, to contend for the throne of England.

So the popular version of events that inflames considerable Orange passion, even now, 300 years after the event, is pure rubbish. It was the catholic king James who was opposing the Pope's interest and it was King Billy who championed the papal cause! Whatever Orangemen—and catholics—may think to-day, there was no doubt about the matter three hundred years ago when, at the behest of the Pope, a Te Deum was sung in St. Peter’s, and special masses said in other European capitals, in celebration of King Billy's victory over James at the Battle of the Boyne.

Presbyterians persecuted
What about the freedom of religion and the victory for protestantism that William's victory is supposed to represent? History attests to the fact that William was largely untainted with the religious bigotry then a political factor in Europe but, in accepting the call of the English parliament, he had to respond to the authority of that parliament which saw catholicism as treasonous and presbyterian dissenters as too independent and lacking in loyalty to England. Ironically, it was the twisted, devious and bigoted catholic King James who unwillingly presided over the abolition of the penal laws against religion in Ireland. After his arrival in Ireland, he summoned a special sitting of the Dublin parliament (in 1689) and that body abolished legal strictures against all religious denominations, making all religions equal before the law. The “patriot parliament", as it was called, also established the right of the people to pay tithes to the clergy of their own church.

After the final defeat of the Jacobite army, at Aughrim in July 1691, what had become known as "the war of the two kings " was formally ended by the signing of the Treaty of Limerick, in October 1691. William agreed to accept, as the first of the Treaty's thirteen “civil" articles, the law on religious freedoms which the "patriot parliament" had introduced. Back in England after his victory in Ireland, however. King Billy agreed, or had to agree, to the establishment of the Episcopalian Church in Ireland, effectively making not only Catholicism illegal but, also, the faith of the majority protestant community in Ulster, then, as now, Presbyterianism.

Immediately following William's victory, and as a result of that victory and the establishment of the Anglican church, Presbyterian ministers were refused the right to administer to their flocks. Delivering a sermon could result, on conviction, in a fine of £100 or three months in jail. They were not allowed to perform a marriage service, so Presbyterians were forced to submit to an alien church or carry the stigma of unlawfully and sinfully co-habitating, with their off-spring denied right of inheritance because legally they were bastards. Ordinary Presbyterians, like Roman Catholics, were denied entry to offices of the Crown, including the law, the army, the navy and the revenue services.

Little wonder then that during the decades that followed into the next century, some 250,000 Ulster protestants. the great bulk of them Presbyterians, left for the new world where their hatred of the regime established by King Billy made them foremost among those American colonists who defeated England in the American War of Independence.

The bosses change their tune
Like their fellow workers who are catholics, the protestant workers have been cheated with historical fairy tales. Once, in the early part of this century, these fabrications were used to marshal them behind those northern capitalist industrialists who feared the introduction of Irish Home Rule and the establishment of Irish trade protectionism. Today, there is not even that justification; free trade is no longer an issue and 1992 and the reality of a Europe united in trade and, increasingly, legislatively beckons the people of property, whether catholic or protestant—the bosses and the business fraternity.

Ironically, it was the political forces that represented these interests which fabricated history to con both the protestant and the catholic poor, before and after the turn of the present century. Today the business community, north and south, are happily united—both in contempt for the working class and in shock at the continuing results of their fabricated history. Academics are busily engaged re-writing history, trying to lie their way out of earlier fictions. Men and women of little talent have forged political careers on the ignorance of those, protestants and catholics, who make up our class, the working class. Sadly, only among our class do the lies prevail—the lies that make loyalists and the lies that make republicans. Lies that kill.
Richard Montague