Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Review Column: Presidential Election (1968)

The Review Column from the January 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Presidential Election

In the United States, this is Presidential election year. The business of winning the Presidency is long and complicated and costly. Kennedy's campaign, first for the Democratic nomination and then for election, in 1960 and Goldwater’s for the Republican nomination in 1964, were classics of their kind in political strategy and technique.

For some time now, the men who are in the running have been organising the same sort of campaign, although most of the jockeying has been confined to the Republicans.

It would need a political earthquake to lose Johnson the Democratic ticket and Senator Eugene McCarthy, who will contest the nomination with Johnson on the issue of Vietnam, is probably little more than a slight tremor on the surface.

As their convention draws closer, the Republicans’ internal fight will become more bitter. Romney, Reagan and Nixon are now in the running and Rockefeller is always a possibility.

The point about all these men, on both sides, is that they hold out promise to the American electors. McCarthy wants to go easy on Vietnam; he promises peace. Rockefeller is strong for Civil Rights, Romney for what is called good, honest government. Reagan wants to go it harder in Vietnam, is cool on Civil Rights. Nixon seems, as ever, ready to do a deal on anything.

Johnson will promise that, if only he is given another chance, all will be well, all problems solved, all pledges redeemed.

The American workers will take their pick of the promises offered them. Listening to their candidates, how many of them will recall the many disappointments in the past? Johnson himself is an historic example of promises gone sour, of a smooth-tongued President who has had to use his talents to explain away the unpleasant realities of capitalism.

Like workers everywhere, the American voters have had plenty of this. Sadly, there can be little expectancy that in 1968 they will show that they have had enough.

Pilots’ Strike

Airline pilots are supposed to have one of the best jobs in the world. Glamour, excitement, travel, good pay—these are what most people enviously imagine the pilots’ job to consist of.

In truth, as any pilot will tell you, there is a lot more lo it. The strain of the job—of being responsible for an expensive aircraft and the lives of its passengers, of adjusting their life to the varying times of the world, can be enormous.

At peak travel periods, piloting an aircraft along a busy route can be little short of drudgery. The pay, to be sure, is above average. A pilot just out of training school gets £1500 a year and usually soon reaches about £2200. The top men. flying the big jets, can get as much as £5800 a year.

This is what made the go-slow and strike—things more usually connected with railwaymen and dockers—such a cause of amusement. Why should the man with rings on his sleeve, wings on his breast and a few thousand a year going into his pocket, want to strike?

Part of the answer to this question was given by Roy Merrifield, chairman of the British Airline Pilots’ Association. when he said " . . . we felt we had every reason in the circumstances to take strong industrial action against BOAC.”

The “circumstances” consisted of a dispute between the pilots and the airline over accommodation, pay and conditions of work—in other words, the same issues that bring dockers and railwaymen into conflict with their employers.

The pilots’ campaign was amusing and incomprehensible only to anyone who thought that only lower paid workers ever strike. It showed that all those who have to work for a living, whatever the scale of their pay or the attractions of their job. are members of one class with one common interest.

Higher paid workers like airline pilots have to learn this. As a matter of fact, so do the lower paid.

Callaghan Out

When James Callaghan resigned from the Chancellorship of the Exchequer, he changed something besides his job. Almost overnight he became transformed in popular conception—from Crafty Callaghan to Honest Jim, the man who could not bear to tell a lie.

The reason for this sudden metamorphosis was that Callaghan had lied about his intention to devalue the pound and then, although there was the precedent of Cripps to persuade him to do otherwise, he had chosen to give up the post of Chancellor.

The newspapers were so overcome by this example of what they decided was political honesty that they completely failed to raise two important points.

Firstly, none of them asked whether Callaghan might be resigning not so much in remorse over his lie as because his financial policies, on which he had more or less pledged his career, had collapsed.

Secondly, Callaghan said he was resigning as an act of apology for misleading the financial world. Now if it is to become the fashion for Ministers to surrender their offices over broken pledges there is no reason for it to stop at Callaghan.

The entire Labour government have misled, mostly deliberately, the people who voted for them. Yet so far they show no sign of resignation, nor remorse, nor even regret.

There is only one conclusion to be drawn from this. The Labour government are more concerned over the impression they make on the international financiers than the one they make on the British working class.

This is a reflection on the government, on its capitalist nature. But it also says a lot about the people who voted for them, and who are so obviously despised by them.

Jenkins In

Roy Jenkins, Callaghan’s successor, too has said some unfortunate things in the past. Only he was calling for an attack on the living standards of the rich—an even more embarrassing thing for a Labour leader these days. Many years ago, in 1951, Jenkins wrote a Tribune pamphlet called Fair Shares for the Rich. That was in the days when the Labour Party still talked about redistributing wealth and creating a more equal society (an empty dream under capitalism anyway). Jenkins suggested a capital levy so high as to be “a swingeing property tax” and a “fiscal onslaught on the large property-owner”. So successful did he expect this onslaught to be that he wrote that after it there would not be enough rich people around to own private industry which would therefore have to be nationalised. Under his plan all wealth owned by individuals above a certain level was to be confiscated and used to pay off the national debt. He wrote:
 Confiscation means simply the seizure, by authority, of private property, and would thus be a perfectly fair description of what was taking place.
No doubt Roy Jenkins and his colleagues are praying that this old pamphlet does not reach the hands of “the gnomes of Zurich”. For such talk could easily set off another run on the pound. But perhaps the foreign bankers are, like us, a little sceptical. After all seventeen years is a long time. Anyway, we look forward to next April’s budget and its fiscal onslaught on the rich. We don’t think.

Mosul: the Horrors of War (2017)

From the August 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
In mid-July Mosul finally fell. After over a thousand days into the campaign against Islamic State, and after an urban battle that has lasted three months longer than the Battle of Stalingrad, the last stronghold of IS in Iraq was taken.
This was at enormous cost, Towards the end of the battle, reliable reports came in of over 100 children dying of starvation. Untold numbers of dead remain buried in the rubble of Mosul, one estimate is up to four thousand. As Airwars, an organisation tracking the effects of the wars in Iraq and Syria report:
'Thousands of Moslawis have credibly been reported killed since October 2016, with West Mosul in particular devastated. The Coalition alone says it fired 29,000 munitions into the city during the assault. Five times more civilians were reported killed in west Mosul versus the east of the city, Airwars tracking suggests – an indication of the ferocity of recent fighting' (
Western Mosul has been destroyed. The numbers are prodigious: 3,000 IS fighters took on an army of over 150,000, including the elite of Iraq’s special forces. Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University, wrote on The Conversation website:
'…the elite Iraqi Counter Terror Service (or Golden Division) had sustained serious casualties and there were already fears that Mosul would turn out to be a pyrrhic victory, reducing the one force that the Iraqi government could depend on in any future civil war to a shadow of its former self'' (
The final death toll among civilians will be hard to establish, but there are credible reports of around eight thousand deaths: caught in a combination of Coalition bombing, artillery and IS murdering those who tried to escape. The IS troops deliberately kept the civilian population hostage to hamper the Iraqi government forces and their allies. Even still, over 700,000 people have been displaced by the battle of Mosul, and most will have no home to return to.
The devastation caused by a tiny handful of fighters is a testament to the dangers and horrors of modern warfare. It raises the question of the longer term in Iraq. Even when east Mosul was cleared, reports came in of stay-behind cells carrying out attacks on the rear of the Iraqi forces: and it’s still not clear if the fall of the West of Mosul means the end of most of the IS fighters there, or if they have scattered, to carry on an irregular campaign. The denuding of the Iraqi special forces, and their reliance on Iran-backed Shia militias (much to the resentment of the mainly Sunni citizens of Mosul and its surrounds) means that anything approximating peace may well be a long way off.
A significant feature of this campaign has been the distortions of propaganda. The campaign in Mosul was almost identical to that waged by Bashar Al-Assad and his Russian ally in Aleppo: but the coverage was vastly different. Aleppo was subject to daily reports of every bombing and allegations of continual brutality. Mosul only really entered the UK news as a footnote, or to mark a significant victory.
Given the undoubted brutality of IS, it would not have been difficult to try and justify the civilian deaths along the way: but silence was the main media response. Part of the difference is that BBC journalists were embedded with Iraqi forces, and so were showing their side of the story whenever they reported. Though the same sources of information on deaths in Mosul were available as were to be found in Aleppo, even massacres by IS did not make the mainstream news. The conclusion could be that it is thought that the public might not stomach the cost of pacifying Mosul (it’s worth noting in passing, that Fallujah has been similarly pacified three times, so even this phase of the story may not be the complete end). Another possibility is that the toll of civilian casualties is unpopular in the Arab world. Juan Cole on his blog notes that Sunni news sources have been focussing on civilian casualties (
There can be no doubt that IS were a particularly brutal and barbaric gang. As we have noted in these pages, the core of their structure was made up of experienced military officers, a fact which accounts for the difficulty in dislodging them from Mosul. These were not rag-tag amateurs, but schooled military professionals. Their slaughter of civilians was the cold ruthless logic of war. Their rule was equally as brutal as it was weak.
There are equally savage regimes in the region: Saudi Arabia, for example, is engaged in a prolonged war with rebels in Yemen that is seeing misery piled upon misery, and not content with that, it has been laying siege to Qatar, for no other reason than regional rivalry. Its domestic record is also infamous. We are unlikely to see MPs in Parliament lining up to demand air-strikes on Saudi.
The reality is that the horrors of modern war are not to be laid on the shoulders of a religion nor an ideology, nor even on specific individuals. Fault and justification for destroying an entire city can always be found when military, political and economic needs demand it. IS tried to join the worldwide gang of killers that get their power from the barrel of a gun (and the guidance system of a missile).
The fact that the invasion of Iraq has led to city after city being crushed in prolonged urban warfare, shows the limits of the usefulness of warfare in achieving any political ends. The means of violence are abundant, cheap and easy to obtain, tiny groups can wield vast devastation, when they achieve the right levels of motivation. IS will continue to strike: its fighters have gained skills and attitudes that will see them spread across conflict zones the world over. Whether IS had any material link to recent attacks in Britain, they have shown a willingness to use terror for their propaganda purposes.
Pik Smeet