Thursday, August 24, 2017

Political Notebook: At The Seaside (1978)

The Political Notebook Column from the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

At The Seaside

In case you failed to notice, another season of seaside political conferences has passed. The three large parties carefully go through the charade of participation by the faithful and then proceed to ignore the wishes of the membership. This, they call democracy. The Labour Party have some experts in this field. Their former leader (more anon) is famous for his resolute refusal to take a blind bit of notice of the Labour Party Conference decisions from 1966 to 1970.

We can all remember Ted Heath’s famous U-turn on economic policy but we shall have to find another letter of the alphabet to fit the change which is apparently being contemplated now by Callaghan’s government.

To begin with, a little recent history. Labour came back to power in 1974 on a clear pledge that there would be no more interference with the unions’ bargaining strength. Their policy in the October 1974 election said, in part:
    The Social Contract . . .  is the agreed basis upon which the Labour Party and the trade unions define their common purpose . . . The unions in response confirm how they will seek to exercise the newly restored right of free collective bargaining.
Well we have seen what happened to the so-called free collective bargaining, as Healey has tried to impose successively lower limits on wage rises. But even more striking was the change in policy which Callaghan was threatening, when this year’s Labour Party conference rejected Healey's proposed 5 per cent limit on rises.
    “. . . if, as a result inflation starts to move up”, said Callaghan, "the government will take offsetting action to keep inflation down through monetary and fiscal measures”.
Now this is exactly the policy which has been put forward, as the solution to the current problems of British capitalism, by the likes of Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher who, says the Labour Party, have a burning ambition to discipline the workers with the scourge of unemployment.

Of course there is nothing new in Labour and Conservative Parties adopting each other’s policies; that is all part of the fact that they have basically the same policy — the maintenance of capitalism and, within that social system, the protection of the interests of the British capitalist class.

Dirty Hands Make Light Work

The Labour Party has other problems, too. George (now Lord) Thomson accuses Harold (now Sir) Wilson of having dirty hands; soaked in oil flowing into the illegal (“matter of weeks, not months”) Rhodesian Regime. Harold denies knowing anything about it. George says he has a copy of a letter sent to Harold when Harold was P.M. pointing out that petrol companies were breaking the sanctions. As The Times (21.9.78.) put it so diplomatically after the publication of the Bingham Report:
     Sir Harold has said that he never received any report of British Oil Companies being involved in supplying oil to Rhodesia. Lord Thomson maintained that he informed the Prime Minister of the time and other Ministers most directly concerned, of everything that happened at the meeting.
One of them is lying. It is so difficult to know which to believe, but as Harold is only a mere “Sir” and George is a “Lord”, I suppose most people will believe George . . .

One of the problems at the Labour Conference was whether Harold would turn up at all, and if so, what he would say, and what would be said to him. In pre-conference gossip, the Daily Mirror said Harold had applied for a ticket but his presence was “by no means assured” (29.9.78.). His assured presence was certainly dinted when a Canadian T.V. Reporter had the cheek to ask him directly about the sanction busting. Harold just stopped the interview. How dare they ask him such awkward questions!

Incompetent Criminals

The Liberal Party has similar problems. Their main difficulty seems to be in shaking off the scandal so obstinately sticking to them. What with missing funds, and the police swooping around their conference, they had indigestible problems enough. But these shrank to trifles compared to the unsavoury dishes being served up to Jeremy Thorpe; little matters like allegations of conspiracy to murder are not good for the image of the Party of good losers.

The majority of the current leadership tried to ensure Thorpe was isolated prior to the October general election that never was. They issued an injunction imprisoning him in his Devon Constituency. Treated like the chief carrier of the latest smallpox outbreak, Jeremy was banished from the Liberals National Campaign. He was also asked not to turn up at the Liberal Conference in September at Southport. Nevertheless, up he turned. The press loved it; perhaps they realise that the policies of the Liberal Party are about as interesting as steak to a vegetarian. But a bit of scandal . . . nothing sells better. So The Daily Mirror (15.9.78.) could write theatrical reports like “Everybody felt the tension, everybody knew he was out there, away from sight, standing in the wings, waiting for the signal to make his entrance”. Even The Times got carried away with the amateur dramatics of it all and ran a headline the same day saying "Mr Thorpe Takes The Limelight”. For those interested in these matters, Mr Thorpe is due to take more limelight at Minehead Magistrates Court on the 20th of this month.

This concentration on the bad boy of the moment annoyed the other Liberals at their Conference, so Cyril Smith made a long speech in which he explained just how good the Liberal Party really was. He spoke about its wonderful history and excellent record etc. Nice one Cyril! Nothing like self praise. Cyril also said with real feeling that the Liberal Party were sick of being painted as a bunch of “incompetent criminals" (The Times 15.9.78.). Suppose. Cyril, we call you and all capitalist politicians "competent criminals". Does that improve things? You are criminals because you deliberately deceive the working class into believing you can solve their problems, without a shred of evidence that you can actually do so. “Competent” because, alas, to date you succeed in your criminal enterprises.
Ronnie Warrington

Political Notebook: Chinese Takeaway (1978)

The Political Notebook Column from the December 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last month’s Notebook looked at the current goings on in the big two and a half political parties. This month we turn our attention to what are commonly referred to as 'the extremists', a euphemism for those organisations which pursue the same sterile policies as Lib-Lab-Con, but haven't got many members.

Chinese Takeaway

Bad news for a few hundred million Chinese peasants. That famous book of everyday slogans for work, rest and sleep,  Quotations From The Thoughts of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. is no longer to be treated like the bible. The Chinese leadership — and the Maoists in the West — have decided that the time has come to end the deification of Mao. So, after a quarter of a century in which Chinese workers and peasants have been taught to learn the words of the great book parrot-fashion, it seems that all has changed. Indeed, Maoist bookshops in London seem to have stopped displaying the little red book, the Chinese Embassy has stopped giving away free copies and even the tramp who used to sell them at Speakers' Corner for thirty pence a copy has been given the push. It can be predicted that by 2001 — the year by which Mao says China will have become ‘a powerful socialist country' (p.179) — the little red book will be as scarce as the collected works of Stalin in Russia today. Mao’s book contains the following passage:
    . . . US imperialism has made itself the enemy of the people of the world and has increasingly isolated itself. Those who refuse to be enslaved will never be cowed by the atom bombs and hydrogen bombs in the hands of the US imperialists. The raging tide of the people of the world against the US aggressors is irresistable. (p.78. written in 1964).
We wonder whether the book’s withdrawal could possibly have anything to do with the fact that China is now a diplomatic ally of the USA against Russia, is itself an imperialist power and has recently placed a multi-million pound order for Harrier jump-jets with the British Government.

A Front for What?

Mr. John Tyndall, like most of his good and sturdy fellow National Front leaders, is a man with convictions. In the case of Tyndall, these have sometimes been for breaking the law. It is interesting to read, in the NF paper. Spearhead, No. 18. just what Tyndall's idea of 'restoring law and order' involves:
    Driving out of Carnaby Street I beheld walking about a species of humanity that 1 thought only existed in the wilder forms of horror fiction and I resolved there and then that if I ever revisited this neighbourhood in the future it would not be at the wheel of a car but at the tiller of a chieftain tank, preferably with a flame thrower apparatus attached as an extra, and a large refuse van bringing up the rear.
Are we honestly supposed to treat the National Front as a serious political party?

Vanessa's Revolution

Down at the High Court, Ms. Vanessa Redgrave (actress) and Mr. David Astor (former editor of The Observer) argued about whether the Trotskyist Workers' Revolutionary Party is a 'nasty, despicable, ludicrous and silly’ party (as Mr. John Wilmers QC. appearing for Ms Redgrave neatly put it), or not. The case concerned an article entitled "Vanessa and the Red House Mystery”, published by The Observer in 1975. The article described events involving an actress. Irene Gorst, which are alleged to have taken place at the WRP's ‘education school’ in the Derbyshire Peak District. Ms Gorst claimed that she was forcibly detained at ‘the school', subjected to political indoctrination and told of stores of hidden arms in the basement of 'the Red House'. Clearly, it was not for us, but for the Defenders of British Justice, to determine whether Ms Gorst's story was a complete fabrication or whether, as we've always believed, the WRP comprises a crowd of crazy fantasists, waiting to re-enact the events of Petrograd 1917 in the streets of Derby. Whether or not it’s true that they’ve got a few rifles hidden in the closet, the plain fact is that the entire Leninist concept of revolution. based upon enlightened leaders and armed uprising, is doomed to failure in the capitalism of 1978. So that’s why you’re 'nasty, despicable, ludicrous and silly', Vanessa. And you can’t sue us for libel for writing that.

Star Wars

The Communist Party also went to Court last month to try and stop the new soft porn daily from calling itself the Daily Star in case readers mix it up with the Morning Star. If readers ever began to confuse what’s written in the Socialist Standard with the nonsense in the London Evening Standard, we'd politely tell our editorial committee that it's time they gave up the job.
Steve Coleman

Flaming Forests (2017)

From the August 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

High temperatures and heat-waves are spreading like...wild-fires.

Recently extreme hot weather of 40 degrees Celsius in Portugal resulted in a devastating forest fire in the Pedrogao Grande region, some 150 kilometres north-east of Lisbon, leaving scores dead and many more injured. Early this year, firefighters died battling some of the worst forest fires to hit Chile in half a century. In both countries the natural compositions of their forests had been changed for the sole commercial purpose of exportation of timber and wood-pulp with the planting of eucalyptus and pine trees, known for their enormous thirst for water. Capitalism has always placed profit before people, and it always will. The timber industry has contributed to the destruction of native forests and its habitat. The state is at the service of capital, at the service of forestry companies that have only benefited a small group of individuals. Yet the responsibility ultimately lies with those who keep voting for capitalist politicians.

There have also been numerous big fires in various other places around the world and in increasing numbers where typically there used not to be large-scale wildfires. Forest fires aren't always necessarily bad and sometimes beneficial to the forest ecosystem for them to stay healthy. But this unnatural increase where entire forests burn down uncontrollably is bad for the environment and a risk not just to human life but also detrimental to human health.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, every state in the western US has experienced an increase in the average annual number of large wildfires over past decades. 2015 was a record-breaking year in the US, with more than 10 million acres burned. That's about an area the size of the Netherlands or Switzerland. Large forest fires in the western US have been occurring nearly five times more often since the 1970s and 80s. Such fires are burning more than six times the land area as before, and lasting almost five times longer. The wildfire season has universally become longer over the past 40 years. There is very well-documented scientific evidence that climate change has been increasing the length of the fire season, the size of the area burned each year and the number of wildfires. Prevailing climate conditions have become warmer and drier due to global warming from greenhouse emissions and this enhances the likelihood of forest fires.

The winters are shorter and warmer. The summers are hotter and drier. Human-caused warming makes forests more susceptible to burning. Record heat has increased evaporation and dried-out the soil and tinder-dry vegetation will set forests ablaze. Worldwide, droughts associated with climate change are causing increasingly unnatural forest conditions leading to forest fires in a way never seen before. 

The situation is a direct result of unplanned and unrestrained industrial growth and an economic dependence on fossil fuels. It is crucial to understand that climate change/global warming has contributed to the higher temperatures. Our choice is between capitalism and its environmental destruction or building a healthy socialist planet. Socialism will place the resources of the world in the hands of the people. Until the capitalist is removed from the management of natural resources, we can only expect that the antagonism between human society and nature will continue with mounting tragic consequences. What we are witnessing is the impact of capitalism throughout the world and humanity needs a socialist society that has social control, where production is for use and not for profit. The capitalist system is working against the interests of humankind.

Editorial: Postscript on Mosley (1944)

Editorial from the January 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

As a demonstration that working-class sentiment is against Fascism, the outcry over the release of Mosley is welcome—but sentiment alone never won any permanent achievements for the working class, and the socialist movement, and the linking up of the agitation with acceptance of the Defence Regulations which give the Home Secretary power to arrest without trial is a dangerous feature. No ruling class has ever been deeply attached to democratic and constitutional methods for their, own sake, and if a time comes when our rulers want to use Regulation 18b to incarcerate without trial men and women active in the working-class movement, some of those who want Mosley sent back under powers given by that Regulation may see their mistake.

Though we are opposed to that and similar regulations and restrictions, we have no tears to shed over Mosley, whose British Union of Fascists was in favour of suppressing the propaganda of its opponents, though this aim was phrased in the contradictory declaration that "free speech" should be “regulated and controlled."—("Fascist Week," January 5—11, 1934.)

Mosley the Fascist denounces Parliamentary Government, and years before, when he was in the I.L.P. and Labour Party, he was advocating the use of Emergency Powers in order to get speedy action free from parliamentary "obstruction." In 1926 the Labour Party at first declined to endorse his candidature at Smethwick where he was put forward by the I.L.P., and the "New Leader" (December 3, 1926) said that one of the rumoured objections to Mosley was that at the I.L.P. Summer School he had “advocated the socialist use of the Emergency Powers Act.” It is ironical that Mosley owed his detention in 1940 to the Government's use of the kind of emergency powers he himself had advocated, and that he now owes his release to the fact that Parliament, which he despises, endorsed the action of the Home Secretary. It is interesting to recall that Sir Stafford Cripps, as well as many other members of the Labour Party and I.L.P., used also to advocate the use of emergency powers. Sir Stafford Cripps wrote in 1933: "The first measure to come before Parliament under a Labour Government should be the Enabling Act to deal with the emergency by Orders in Council." ("Where Stands Socialism To-day?" p. 39.)

On the other hand, many of those who for years denounced the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, and demanded its repeal (among them the Communists), and who opposed Regulation 18b when it was introduced in 1939, have completely changed their attitude. Yet the E.P. Act was a far less powerful weapon in the hands of the ruling class than are the present war-time Acts and Regulations. In particular that earlier Act excluded "any form of compulsory military service or industrial conscription"—but now its erstwhile opponents are favouring both the latter measures.

Much more important than the question whether Mosley should be in or out is the question how such people as Mosley come to be a force in politics at all. Among those who now oppose him are many who rapturously supported him when he left the Tory Party, flirted with the Liberals, joined the labour Party and I.L.P. (1924), went on to form the New Party (1931) and became Fascist (1932). Yet Mosley and the ideas he stood for were always a danger to the workers not merely when he donned a black shirt. Mosley was the flamboyant, rich and ambitious demagogue who offered to lead the workers to the promised land while carving out for himself a career in politics. He would never have amounted to anything if there had not been sycophantic hangers-on in the Labour Party and I.L.P. who helped to build him up so that at one time he was spoken of as the future leader of the Labour Party. He had hardly joined that party five minutes before it was reported that he had been offered the choice of 80 seats as Labour candidate. That such a thing could happen was due to the attitude of mind of the working class; not understanding Socialism they could then, and do now, believe in the dangerous illusion that leaders can bring them emancipation.

Writing years afterwards, “Reynold's News" had this to say about him:—
    “It should not be forgotten . . . that the Democratic movement 'spoiled' Sir Oswald on his 'conversion’ from Toryism. Its leaders feted and flattered him. Even the I.L.P., archapostle of discipline, broke its constitution to endorse his candidature in a Smethwick by-election."—(“Reynold's [News]," July 26, 1931.)
Mosley, on his entry to the Labour Party, quickly mastered the oratory of the Labour leaders and learned how to win votes by giving the workers the soothing phrases they wanted to hear. A typical oratorical effort was the following, delivered after the defeat of the General Strike:—
      " . . . Without exerting anything approaching the full power of Labour, they had beaten the boss class. With one hand behind their backs they had whipped the Government. They were there to celebrate one of the greatest events in the history of the world. . . . They had shown that with industrial power alone they could beat the boss class. . . . Let them not forget this was a great workers' victory.—("Birmingham Post," May 17,1926.)
Though in April, 1931, "The Labour Magazine," organ of the T.U.C. and Labour Party, could publish an article saying that nobody "could have doubted the genuineness of Mosley's Socialism at that time" (i.e., 1929), the truth is that Mosley was never at any time a socialist—but neither were those who supported him. What they called Socialism was merely the advocacy of planning, State control, a "living wage," investment boards, etc., and this accounts for the fact that Mosley was able to take over many of the planks in the I.L.P. and Labour Programme into his new party. The “New Leader" wrote (November 7, 1930), "in the ideas of the I.L.P. group and the smaller Mosley group there is a good deal in common."

Mosley’s wealth and title, his friendship with MacDonald, his influential friends, and his fiery oratory all helped to give him a following in the Labour movement, though finally his arrogance and impatience robbed him of leadership when it appeared to be within his grasp. He quarrelled with the Labour Government in 1930 because it rejected his schemes for dealing with unemployment, and broke away with n considerable group of Labour M.P.s, most of whom, however, left him before he formed the New Party in 1931, or soon afterwards. Among those who in 1931 helped to draft Mosley’s manifesto, “A National Policy," were Aneurin Bevan, M.P., W. J. Brown, M.P., and John Strachey. Among his admirers at that period was the late Ben Tillett, who, according to A. J. Cummings ("News Chronicle," March 10, 1934), had declared that Mosley would one day become "the Solomon of a great philosophy of statesmanship." Earlier the communists had been among his admirers, and at the General Elections of 1923 and 1924 the Communist Party backed all the Labour candidates including, of course, MacDonald. J. H. Thomas, and Mosley. (The Communist Party has not changed in, that respect and doubtless a year or two ahead they will be denouncing as " fascist" the Tory M.P.s they have been backing in elections during the past two years.)

After Mosley, had been built up by his Labour admirers and had then gone Fascist he found new supporters who thought that he might be useful as a tool for anti-working-class measures. He claimed ("News Chronicle, October 19, 1936) that a number of industrialists in the North of England had been giving him secret support and the late Lord Rothermere backed him openly in the "Daily Mail." It was one of Rothermere's star journalists. Mr. G. Ward Price, who declared ("Daily Mail," April 23, 1934) that Mosley had proved himself at his Albert Hall demonstration to be "the paramount political personality in Britain."

Mr. Ward Price wrote this about a Fascist rally at Birmingham:—
    "The hold which Blackshirt ideas have upon the best elements of British life was manifested by the rapt attention with which each step of the technical argumentation was followed" (Italics ours.) — ("Daily Mail." January 22. 1934.)
The demand has been made that Mosley should be brought to trial, though on what precise charge is not stated. (It would be funny if the Communists wanted Mosley to be charged with sedition, for at one time they were campaigning for the abolition of the Sedition Laws "Workers' Weekly," October 10, 1924). If he were brought to trial it can be imagined that he would cause a good deal of embarrassment in very distinguished quarters by naming the men who backed him or who, like him, professed their admiration for Hitler and Mussolini before the present war.

One rather nauseating feature of Labour denunciation of Mosley now is the charge that he used his wealth to further his political aims.

A case in point is an article, "The Mosley Moneybags" by Mr. Will Nally, in "Reynold's News" (November 28, 1943). Mosley's Labour admirers never talked like that when he was in the Labour Party. Mosley declared, And it was never contradicted, that in those days he and other rich men were privately appealed to by the Labour Party for donations to their secret funds. ("Manchester Guardian" April 28, 1931.)

The moral of Mosley’s career is that the working-class movement should concern itself with the spread of socialist knowledge and with principles, not personalities. If the workers continue to put their trust in leaders and cherish the ever-renewed hope that at last they have found the inspired political Moses, who will lead them out of the wilderness, they do so at their peril.

The Docker's Problems (1944)

From the February 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

Having witnessed the spectacle of millions of their fellows chasing the will o* the wisp of steady employment in the long years before the present war, to-day in 1944 the workers are performing miracles of constant, unremitting toil. Their numbers reduced by the calls of the armed forces, they are feeding the mammoth war machine of Britain and simultaneously providing the civilian population with at least that minimum of creature comforts necessary. Intriguing speculations are rife in the world of the industrial workers, contrasting tho pre-war scene with the present one. One vivid contrast is that which prevails in the great ports.

Before the war, in “normal” shipping circumstances, there was invariably enacted at the northern ports scenes of struggle for four to eight hours' work that had to be seen to be believed. The docker was then ironically termed a “casual” worker, and the fight for bread often became an actual physical reality. Unfortunate foremen, whose unenviable task it was to select the recipients of four hours' work were often injured, their hands bitten and their clothing torn in the wolfish scramble that took place. Favouritism and nepotism were the order of the day, and violent was the experience often of any who presumed to change the status quo. To-day “things” are changed. The Government, in the beginning of 1941, perceiving the vital need of a trained supply of dock labour, introduced various schemes that have in effect decasualised dock labour. A minority of the men, recognising dangerous anomalies in the official proposals, resisted the innovation. Albeit, the Ministry of War Transport had its way, and to-day in all great ports the Government directs the ebb and flow of labour. Viewed superficially, the weekly guarantee of sums ranging from 55s. to 82s. 6d. to dockers is an immense improvement on previous conditions. For months past, in the columns of the Glasgow dailies, officious magistrates and others have dilated oracularly on the “enormous" wages of the Glasgow dockers. Their effusions have been productive of acid comment among the men concerned. The docker's wage rate has remained unchanged since early in 1940, since when prices generally have risen. The docker to-day, in order to earn a wage that will provide him and his dependants with a working-class standard of comfort has to work many hours of overtime. And that, at a task unquestionably enervating and exhausting. The dockers imagine that most Labour magistrates—who are especially prone to criticism of the men—would quail at the prospect of one hour's work wrestling with bales and cases or pushing trucks, let alone 70 or 80 hours! For years deprived of steady employment, to-day subjected to disciplinary measures for absenting themselves from work.

For years, accustomed to scrambling for work, to-day. in some instances, scrambling in the opposite direction. Their natural industrial combativeness gelded by a combination of patriotism and bureaucratic efficiency, they have in a situation favourable to them as sellers of their commodity, labour-power, allowed their wage-rate to remain static since the first year of war. The Government selected as local administrators prominent members of the dockers' unions, some of them Communists and I.L.P.ers. As is usual, these individuals have “out-Heroded Herod”! The dockers to-day are afflicted with misgivings regarding post-war conditions. Under the plea of a "quick turn round ” of ships to expedite the war effort, they have seen the insidious "whittling away” of much of their T.U. rights and conditions. Conditions that were won after years of unceasing bloody struggle. They see, also, mechanisation taking place, speed-ups that will remain, that will displace large numbers of men in the years to come.

Mr. Bevin, with others, has reassured dockers of the continued existence of guaranteed wages in peace-time, but— they are sceptical. Like the vast majority of workers, the promises made by official spokesmen of projected changes in the post-war industrial set-up, leave dockers cold.

They have been lavishly praised for their fortitude during the period of the blitz, and mention has been made of the fact that their dockside homes have been the target of many bombs. Despite all this, they are profoundly aware of the odds against them in their day-to-day struggle. The end of hostilities will find dockers denuded of many defensive conditions, essential to them to—at best—maintain their conditions of existence. The confident prediction that can be made of general post-war industrial upheaval can be made emphatically of dock-land. Unemployment has driven men to the docks of a higher intellectual level than the old-time docker, and this factor will be felt. The remedy for the docker, like all others possessing nothing but the ability to work, is clear. Jealously guarding their existing T.U. privileges, recognising the essential limitations of their efforts to withstand the attacks of their masters, they must perceive that the private ownership of the machinery of producing wealth, including shipping, is the basic cause of their perpetual poverty and consequent struggle for miserable employment. The S.P.G.B. do not, as our opponents impugn, idly wait on the working class. The lie must be bludgeoned—that S.P.G.B.ers are dilletantes, and the efforts of the members in the actual arena of the industrial workshops is the irrefutable proof. The clerks, labourers, dockers, railwaymen, seamen, taxicabmen, waitresses, etc., that form the membership of the S.P.G.B., call upon their mates, wherever they may be, to examine our case carefully. Having done so, we are sure of their ultimate verdict. We have a great historical responsibility to carry, and we need the help of the working class of the world.
Tony Mulheron