Monday, August 28, 2017

Press Clippings (1916)

From the December 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following quotations and comments appeared in the “Manchester Guardian” of Oct. 25th last in a review of "Portraits of the Seventies”—a new book by the Right Hon. G. W. E. Russell.
Mr. Russell'a veneration for Gladstone is well known, and by reason of it perhaps his occasional indications of disapproval for his great leader's attitude derive additional emphasis. At any rate the incident with which Mr. Russell closes his portrait of Archbishop Thompson seems decidedly significant: — “On the evening of May 2nd, l882, I was at a party in Eaton Square, where Gladstone and Thompson were among my fellow-guests. As we entered the drawing-room the Archbishop turning to the Prime Minister with his most impressive air, said ‘I want you to tell me about the State of Ireland.' Feeling, like most other people who were not wilfully blind, a profound misgiving about the unchecked reign of murderous outrage, I listened intently to the reply. ‘The state of Ireland,’ said Gladstone with eager emphasis, 'is very greatly improved. Rent is being generally paid.'" "Not a word," remarks Mr. Russell, "about human life, which, after all, is a more important thing than rent." Four days later came the Saturday of the Phoenix Park murders, “and the Irish difficulty,” says Mr. Russell, "entered on the acutest phase it has ever known.
While the above provides only another illustration of what is a commonplace among Socialists—the Mammon-soaked psychology of the masters’ politicians—it may be enlightening to those numerous members of our class who still regard the hypocritical, Bible-hugging lick-spittle of the master clan as the "grand old man” and democracy-loving friend of the workers.

*  *  *

The “Manchester Guardian" of Oct. 10th remarked that 
“ . . . the Home Office and the Ministry of Munitions are taking every possible step to investigate and deal with the new source of danger from T.N.T. poisoning. During the quarter ending Sept. 30th twenty-one deaths were reported from that cause."
How well the war-workers are doing! In addition to the splendid exercise of tending machines and boilers working almost at bursting point, and enjoying the exhilarating excitement of making explosives in factories which blow up at the rate of one every few weeks, they even have chance of sampling the deadly stuff intended to send to a mythical paradise the Teuton fellow-slave who is also being fooled by his master.

*  *  *

At the first meeting of the British Manufacturers’ Association, comprised of 700 firms employing over a million workers, Mr. George Terrell, M.P., who presided, said of trade unions,. “No more remarkable change has occurred than our attitude to-day in connection with these unions. Many of us are saying ‘Well, these union leaden are not such bad chaps after all'; they have dropped a lot of their Socialistic nonsense.” (“Daily Mail,” 26.10.16.)

Mr. Terrell is herewith informed that there exists no such thing as “Socialistic nonsense." Socialism is based upon sound reasoning and sense in all its aspects. If he really believes that Socialism is nonsense then his own sense is of a very doubtful variety, but of course it is also doubtful if he really does believe that.. While resenting the implication that the “union leaders” he refers to have, or for the most part, ever have had, anything to do with Socialism, I am truly delighted to find that the love felt by the capitalist date for those who have so long worked vigorously in their interests is at hat. finding OPEN expression.

*  *  *

Example (Advertisement from “Manchester Evening News,” Nov. 9.16):—

in his thrilling oration,
"A Message from the Trenches."
How to Win the War. 

*  *  *

 In its issue for Oct. 31st the “Manchester Guardian" quoted the following from an article by Prof. Erich Jung, in the German paper “Alldeutsche Blatter":
    The Chancellor has chosen for his representative a banker by profession (Dr. Helfferich) and even his second representative, too, comes from a merchant family. Further, all such men as Delbruck and Sewald and others who hold influential positions, such as Rathenau, Ballin, Goldberger, and others, all come from business and commercial families.. Scarcely one of them belongs by origin or tradition to those quarters which have built the Prussian State in a labour of two hundred years. The Chancellor himself springs, both on his father’s and his mother’s side, from families which for many generations have carried on big banking businesses in Frankfort-on-Main and Paris.
What about the feudal Junker land aristocracy who are (we are told) the rulers of Germany?' As we have always maintained, it is Capital, which dominates in Germany, and throughout the rest of the planet also.

*  *  *

  The commercial struggle which would follow the war would be only second in magnitude to that of the war itself. They must make such preparation as would enable the English people to take the lead again among their competitors, and, as this was a matter of life and death to a great industrial people, they mast be ready to pay the premium that would ensure them success in the peaceful rivalry which was almost certain to come. He strongly advocated raising the age of compulsory education to fourteen and seventeen. (Lord Haldane at Leicester. "Manchester Evening News," Nov. 9.)
Capitalism is preparing for its last great struggle to install itself in even every waste place upon the earth, and is about to make us, its slaves, fit tools to carry out the work. We also have our scheme of education for a worldwide purpose. But the purpose is not the increase and spread of a robber system, but is the revolutionary one of annihilating that system. As capitalism enters upon its final phase—that of rampant Imperialism—in which to disgorge its surplusage of wealth into the remaining but gradually extinguishing markets of the world, let us also hurry on with our work of bringing enlightenment, through proletarian science, to our class in every land, so that ere capitalism in its death-rattle hurls us into the abyss of barbarism we may joyfully hail— 
                                                                                                          “THE DAY.”
 R.W Housley, 

Student Unrest (1969)

From the January 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

An LSE student comments on recent unrest there

In America, France, Czechoslovakia, Japan — practically wherever you care to look in the world you can find evidence of student unrest.

The universal nature of student complaint is not surprising in view of the increasingly rapid development of international capitalism which confronts students all over the world with basically the same problems.

But it is not only the student who recognises the situation. As Sir Eric Ashby has said:
The paradigm for a graduate 40 years ago was the conventional man, ready to take responsibility for preserving a set of values which he felt no need to question, deferring to his elders because they were older, not because they were wiser; obedient to principles, constitutions, traditions. That sort of young man cannot cope with the flux of the modem world. The contemporary paradigm is a man educated for insecurity, who can innovate, improvise, solve problems with no precedent. [1]     
This is the core of the student problem. The education system does not provide an adequate preparation for life in the late twentieth century. Students, having no power to change the situation, agitate for representation on various committee and boards to participate in the organisation of education.

Into this pool of unrest others delve, using the dissatisfaction within the colleges to promote causes other than internal re-organisation. The recent developments at the London School of Economics illustrate this point.

General dissatisfaction at the LSE led to the appointment of a Committee on the Machinery of Government of the School in March 1967. In July 1967 five students joined the Committee. No action resulted from the two reports which emanated and in consequence student unrest and agitation continued, to obtain greater student participation in the government of the LSE. Now any group within the school seeking support has only to tie its action with the fight for internal democracy to obtain considerable backing.

The occupation of the LSE over the week end of 24-27 October aimed to support the pro-NLF march and demonstration of 27 October by providing opportunity for discussion and as a first aid base. The student organisers were under some pressure to connect occupation with Vietnam. Their answer fully substantiates the argument above about how to win support.
  If the Director's position is accepted, free speech, free assembly, and staff-student control of their community go right out of the window. We cannot accept this.
 A few days ago the student left was accused of being unable to make the connection between Vietnam and the occupation. By now, it is clear to all that the Director has drawn the connection for us. [2]
In fact the conflict in Vietnam is between rival capitalist groups for control of an area which is strategically important and of potentially economic significance as a source of production and a market for commodities. Not one drop of working class blood should be shed for either side.

The conflict in the colleges and universities is a totally different situation. Forty years ago the graduate was largely recruited from the capitalist class and could easily accept the situation outlined by Sir Eric Ashby. To-day in Britain the majority of graduates are working class. For many students, of all shades of political opinion, education is totally unrelated to their needs. The student left, for example, complains of the limitation of discussion within the classroom and lecture hall of the major issues of the day. [3] It recognises that the governors of the colleges are people with industrial, commercial and political interest in maintaining society as it is. [2] It shouts for student and workers control. [4] The occupation is seen in the light of a factory take-over. It merely needs time to gain strength and such take-overs will cease to be temporary and become permanent.

History has shown us the fallacy of this argument and action. In the political sense the police are the muscles of the government, When workers heads are cracked by truncheons it is the echo of their vote for the continuation of capitalism. Any occupation of college or factory will be permitted grudgingly as long as it is not destructive or restrictive of other capitalist activities. If removal of the occupiers becomes necessary to the capitalist class, and dividing the workers by offers such as differential wage awards is not possible, then workers, including students, will be ejected by force. The muscle men, that is the police and if necessary the armed forces, will physically evict occupiers on government orders.

The majority of students fail to recognise that the class division of society is reflected in the class organisation of education. It cannot be otherwise in capitalist society. No society educates for its own destruction. Capitalist education can only aim to promote its own development—to produce managers, scientists, technologists, skilled and unskilled workers who are complacent and pliable. Capitalist education cannot be critical of the wage-labour and capital relationship. It must concern itself with the preservation of private property and the promotion of commodity production, the basis of capitalist society.

If students want full and free participation in education it can only be obtained in one way: by removing the class basis of society and establishing Socialism. But they must recognise that Socialism cannot be established piecemeal by isolated attacks, which never succeed, on aspects of capitalism; or by occupying colleges and factories. Demonstrations against war or for lower rents or the occupation of buildings, do not advance the spread of socialist knowledge one iota. In fact they confuse the issue by suggesting that there are solutions within capitalism to its own endemic diseases. War, Want, and Insecurity in all their facets.
Ken Knight

[1] L.S.E. Magazine No. 35, June 1968, quoting The Illustrated London News 16.3.68.
[2] L.S.E. Ad-Hoc Occupation Committee leaflet: OCCUPATION: THE BROADER ISSUES 25.10.68.
[3] L.S.E. Ad-Hoc Committee for Occupation leaflet: THE OCCUPATION - WHY? about 23 or 24.10.68.
[4] L.S.E. Socialist Society leaflet: WHERE NOW FOR THE STUDENT MOVEMENT? about 28 or 29.10.68.

False Distinctions (1969)

Book Review from the February 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Left or Right: The Bogus Dilemma by Samuel Brittan (Secker and Warburg, 25s.)

For quite different reasons, Samuel Brittan, Economic Editor of the Financial Times, argues two points we have been making for years. First, that the left/right distinction is virtually useless for analysing political views. Second, that the Labour/Tory struggle is, in his own words, 'shadow boxing' and a ‘sham party war' in which differences are exaggerated or manufactured while what they agree on is obscured. Labour and Tory are Tweedledum and Tweedledee and ought, says Brittan, to recognise this.

The terms ‘left' and ‘right' go back to the meetings of the States-General in France in 1789. The nobles sat on the king’s right while the commoners sat on his left. The two sides were divided on the issue of the powers of the king. Throughout the nineteenth century in France and some other European states the left/right distinction was that between republicans and monarchists. Only later did it acquire its present vague meaning as a distinction between the opponents and supporters of capitalism, and it is only since the 1920’s that the terms have been used with reference to politics in Britain.

Confusion has arisen because most of those who claimed to be socialists in fact stood either for reformed capitalism or for state capitalism. The Socialist Party of Great Britain has always refused to be tagged “leftwing” because of the term’s links with reformism and state capitalist Russia. We are socialists and opposed to those who call themselves the Left. Now others too are realising that the view of the British political scene as the forward line of a soccer team—with the Communists on the Left Wing, Labour at Inside Left, the Liberals at Centre Forward, the Tories at Inside Right, and the fascists on the Right Wing—is irrelevant and silly.

Brittan is concerned that this confusion helps obscure the real issues facing British capitalism. He lists a number of trivial matters like devaluation, the Common Market, East of Suez and planning on which, in his opinion, party shadow boxing delayed the necessary action. He reveals himself as a floating voter unable to choose between Labour and the Tories (though he has probably always voted Labour). We are concerned that this confusion helps obscure the real issue facing the workers: capitalism or Socialism?
Adam Buick

Ireland: A Question of Theory (1969)

Editorial from the March 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correct theory is necessary for consistently correct action as the attitude of various groups towards the current situation in Northern Ireland well shows. In this case the incorrect theory is Lenin’s Imperialism, accepted uncritically by the student Left.

Lenin argued that the world could be divided into imperialist countries and their colonies. The former exploited the latter and used part of the plunder to bribe their own workers into backing them. Thus was created an aristocracy of labour which was the social basis for reformism. Lenin argued from this that one good way to disrupt the social peace in the imperialist countries and win their workers over to the policy of the Communists was to encourage their colonies to revolt. Deprived of the “super-profits” of imperialist exploitation the finance capitalists would no longer be able to bribe their workers to reject revolution. Losing its colonies, Lenin argued, would create a “revolutionary situation” in an imperialist country.

It was thus very important for Communists how a particular country was classified: imperialist or colony? The Communist Third International from the start said Ireland was a colony. This is why the Communist Party of Great Britain set up on 1920 has always had responsibility for Britain alone. (The claim of some Scottish Communists at the time that Scotland was also a “colony” was somewhat illogically never accepted, but today it is being revived by the Maoists).

In a colony the parties the Communists were urged to support, or oppose if the Party line changed, were the “national-reformists”, in Ireland republicans like De Valera. Thus Communists there gave critical support to the republicans, including their demand for an end to partition while in Britain they called for a United Ireland and the withdrawal of British troops from North-East Ulster.

Journals like Black Dwarf and Socialist Worker, which have influence in some student circles, regard themselves as the standard bearers of a tradition which the Communist Party has betrayed. So as soon as the Northern Ireland situation blew up they revived hoary old slogans like “an Irish Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic” and “Self-Determination for the People of Ireland”.
As Socialist Worker (18 January) put it :
International Socialism gives unconditional, though not uncritical, support to the civil rights movement and to the Irish national movement generally. At the same time we are firmly convinced of the need for Irish socialists to fight for a socialist workers’ republic of Ireland. Far from repudiating this slogan, we believe that it offers the only perspective for uniting Irish workers North and South. We believe British socialists must emphasise the need to free Ireland from British imperialism.
Thus Lenin’s theory (even though this group is supposed to regard it as outdated!) leads them to support Irish nationalism and so deny that the workers have no country. “Self-Determination” is a delusion, a slogan used by privileged groups to get those they exploit to fight their battles for them, and to talk in terms of “the people” of Ireland is to abandon the class struggle by suggesting that capitalists and workers (“the people”) should unite to set up an independent Republic.

Irish nationalism was the ideology under which the petty capitalists of the south of Ireland sought to win the freedom to gather profits with their own government (“the Irish Republic”) to protect them from the competition of the stronger British capitalists. The bigger Irish capitalists in the North who opposed breaking with Britain stirred up religious sectarianism in order to get workers to oppose the republicans.

In this situation, the task of socialists could only be to raise the banner of World Socialism denouncing both British and Irish nationalism, both Unionism and Republicanism, both Protestantism and Catholicism. This has always been the policy of the World Socialist Party of Ireland and the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

The “tactic” of supporting “the Irish national movement” derives from the theory of Imperialism. However, in time what is originally supported as a tactic (and may still be defended as such) tends to become an end in itself. In other words, the tacticians really become Irish nationalists relegating Socialism to the distant future.

Lenin's theory was, and is, wrong. Its irrelevance in the present situation can be grasped by asking two simple questions. Do workers in Britain support capitalism because they share in the proceeds of the "imperialist exploitation" of Northern Ireland? /Would the separation of Northern Ireland from Britain spark off an armed uprising here? The answers are obvious but the tactic of supporting Irish nationalism is supposed to be based on the absurd assumption that the answer to both is “yes". We find it hard to accept that anyone believes this and so prefer the alternative explanation that those who support Irish nationalism are really what they appear to be: confused supporters of Irish nationalism.

The Review Column: War Against the Unions (1969)

The Review Column from the April 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

War Against the Unions

The war between the Labour government and the unions is now being fought on three fronts.

This autumn the Prices and Incomes Act comes up for review in Parliament and there will be a battle over whether it should be left as it is, or altered, or scrapped altogether. Going on past experience, there will be the usual dismal clutch of Labour MPs threatening to do something desperate like abstain from the Commons vote, and the unions supplicating for modifications and concessions.

Both groups will probably come to terms with what they call their conscience and the government will get the legislation it wants.

Then there is the battle over future legislation, sketched out in the White Paper In Place of Strife. This will try to restrict the unions and to regulate the class struggle into a nice, cosy, disciplined affair.

Whatever the government manages to push through on this, if the experience of other countries with similar laws is anything to go by, it will have little effect in the long run.

Finally there is the battle — in places like Ford’s, the docks, the schools—over wage rises and improvements in working conditions which go against government policy.

Of course the Labour government expected to have to fight the workers on these fronts. On the other hand the unions, and those workers who go on strike outside unions' agreements, should also have been able to forecast what has happened.

The Labour Party were quite clear, for years before they came to power, about their intention of trying to tame the workers. This is normal, in a party whose policy is to try to run capitalism.

The workers should have realised this, when they were voting Labour in their millions. And they should remember it, when they next have a chance to choose which party shall run British capitalism. Then they should ask themselves what is the real alternative to strife.


The Concorde, taking off amid its own thunder into clouds of doubt and confusion is, we are told; a triumph of modem technology.

We should, apparently, all be grateful to the designers and scientists who have made it possible for a handful of business men and wealthy travellers to get across the Atlantic a few hours faster than before — even if this is at the cost of a multitude of damages to our homes and our nerves.

But of course Concorde was not built to benefit human beings — if it were it would be unique in capitalism. The development of military aircraft during the war opened up supersonic travel and this was sure to be applied to civilian airliners.

The British and French aircraft industries have rushed into this venture, unsure of its ultimate effects, its feasibility, even its economics, in the hope of recapturing some of the advantages lost to the Americans in the market for the big jets.

As it happened the Russians beat everyone to the draw and their supersonic airliner was the first to fly. It may yet make an effective bid for the world market in these monstrous aircraft

It may turn out that it was all a colossal waste of time. The sonic boom may do so much damage to property on the ground, and to the working efficiency of people, that its economic disadvantages outweigh the aircraft’s profitability.

If this happens, some people may think supersonic planes were defeated by a concern for human well-being. But as usual this has hardly come into the matter.

The truth is that the whole business— the Concorde programme, the withdrawal of the Americans, the bid from Russia, the possible collapse of Concorde — has been motivated by capitalism’s quest for profit. With that as a priority, humane factors come a long way behind.

Russia versus China

The powers of capitalism can never be frank about the reasons for their international conflicts. That is why the official propaganda machines always represent wars as clashes of ideology — clashes between cruelty and mercy, belligerence and amity, or simply between right and wrong.

This applies as much to those states which claim to be socialist as to the rest. The dispute between Russia and China, for example, is represented by both sides as an ideological clash; the Russians say the Chinese are warmongers, the Chinese accuse Russia of betraying a socialist revolution.

During the fighting last month at Damansky Island, in the Ussuri River, both Russia and China accused the other of “armed provocation”. The Russian protest complained of “adventuristic policy . . . reckless provocative actions . . .” The Chinese loudspeakers blared out abuse about the “renegade, revisionist clique” in Moscow.

In fact the fighting started for anything but ideological reasons. The Russian territory around Vladivostok was annexed under the Tsars in the 19th century. The Bolsheviks swore to return the land but that was one of those vows which were quietly forgotten in the rise of capitalism in Russia.

Since then Russia has poured an immense amount of capital into developing the area’s industries and communications. Vladivostok is an important naval base, and Russia’s only commercial outlet to the Pacific. And just like any other capitalist class, the rulers of Russia are anxious to protect their investments.

China, however, as a newly rising capitalist power is pressing to re-negotiate the treaties which lay down her frontiers (the reason, also, for the clashes with India in 1962), one of which is marked by the Ussuri. All of this combined to make a delicate and dangerous situation, which is not in any way lessened by the supposed ideological comradeship between the two states.

It is, in fact, a classical dispute between two capitalist powers. Very often these disputes start over something trivial, like a spit of sand in the Ussuri River. But the background is anything but trivial.

Demanding the Impossible (2017)

Book Review from the August 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Utopia for Realists'. By Rutger Bregman. (Bloomsbury, 2017. £16.99)

Bregman is a Dutch philosopher and he has produced a book that many are claiming is up there with Piketty in terms of recent works that have achieved real kudos and wide resonance among critics of the market economy.
In fairness, it is well-written and thought-provokingdefinitely a cut above the many philosophical pot-boilers that wordily say little and invite being left on the ‘New Titles’ shelves at Waterstones. Bregman is good at sensing where the problems in modern day society are and how they have morphed over recent decadesthe proliferation of ‘bullshit jobs’ from PR to the law, from public sector pen-pushers to private sector money-shufflers; the disconnection between the property-owning ideals of the free market nirvana, and the inability of people to secure their place within it; the massive rise in automation which counter-intuitively has led to people working longer and harder, and often with less purpose.
Where Bregman is less convincing is his prospectus for change. Most of the ideas he advances here are familiar onesa basic income scheme, a move towards a 15 hour work week, open borders, increased taxes on wealth . . . in other words, a reversal of the dominant trends within capitalism over the last three or four decades that were promoted by Friedman, Hayek and their latter-day neo-liberal evangelists.
Bregman sees these as being radical and seemingly utopian demands that are capable of realisation in the way that other supposedly outlandish reforms were previously (he cites votes for women and same-sex marriage among others). But manyin fact, almost allof the examples he gives of this nature were cultural changes that occurred within the market economy as it swept away the last vestiges of the attitudes that went alongside the feudal master/servant relationship. In other words, they were entirely compatible with the development of capitalism itself. Capitalism’s economic laws are rather different and do not bend so easily to the political will of those who would seek to curb their seeming excessesthe tendency towards an increasing work week in recent decades being a case in point.
That’s why Bregman’s book title is misplacedhis prospectus for change isn’t really Utopia for Realists but Utopia for Utopians. This is because the reason capitalism hasn’t delivered what many radicals have expected over the years is that in many ways it can’t. For instance, a basic income scheme is capable of realisation within capitalism only within certain parameters but these are circumscribed by the profit system and the need for the driving force of capitalism to operate businesses competing to accumulate capital without the state interfering to prevent this. At a higher level of technological advancement this applies to basic income schemes today just as it did the original Speenhamland system and the Poor Law in nineteenth century Britain. Within the market economy, these schemes are unable to abolish povertyin capitalism, the rich are rich because the poor are poor, and wealth accumulates to those that have it and only expands on this basis. In anything other than the very short-term, capitalism is incapable of behaving any other way.
The fact that until comparatively recent times the working class of wage and salary earners were often able to increase their absolute levels of income (and sometimes their relative share of income for a time) was the product of organised trade union action, but there were always limits to this. That the average skilled US worker hasn’t seen an increase in their real wages for around 30 years and that most workers in the UK and many other European countries have had real pays cuts for over a decade now illustrates this point well enough.
Capitalism has economic laws that are not easily transcended within the system (as has been illustrated by reformist governments of the Labour variety and also by more radical interventions such as the creation of centralised state-run capitalism in Russia and its satellites in the twentieth century). So what is needed is the sort of movement that Bregman identifiesradical, democratic, confident in its ideasbut one genuinely focused on challenging capitalism at source and creating a society capable of realising the potential that the market economy has unleashed. As Bregman himself rightly says:
‘A worldview is not a Lego set where a block is added here, removed there. It’s a fortress that is defended tooth and nail, with all possible reinforcements, until the pressure becomes so overpowering the walls cave in’(p.240).
Capitalism, with its interconnected production across the globe, its robots, 3-D printing and digital media, has brought about a real potential abundance of wealth that is now held back by the artificial scarcity associated with the market, money and production for profit. A genuine society of abundance will have no time for basic income schemes and attempts to institute part-time wage-slavery, and will instead mean a conscious move towards full unemployment and zero money income insteadonly achievable on the basis of common ownership, the abolition of the market and free access to wealth.
Dave Perrin

Elitism still haunts disenchanted Bolsheviks (1969)

Party News from the May 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists are active wherever workers are developing their ideas through discussion. So a few of us turned up at the weekend conference of ‘Libertarian Marxists’ in Manchester. This was organised mainly by people who had become disenchanted with Bolshevism in the shape of the so-called ‘International Socialism’ group.

It was encouraging to find a number of workers, formerly committed to the extreme centralism of the Vanguard Party, who have seen through that fraud and come out against leadership. Unfortunately it soon became clear that élitist ideas were not dead.

The conference was dominated by three speakers (R. Sumner, S. James, M. Orr), who together took up 90 per cent of the time. The air was thick with talk of ‘the intellectuals’ and their relationship to ‘the workers’, and the notion that workers learnt only from personal experience whilst abstract ideas were beyond them—the usual leftist claptrap.

Among the gems were S. James’s announcement that she was a black nationalist, after she had denounced racism(!), and her revelation that “workers can’t read big books.” R. Sumner wanted ‘all Socialists’ to unite in bringing out a newspaper, without any ‘contentious arguments’ about what Socialism was. And M. Orr, an advocate of ‘self-management,’ when pushed, said that he was in favour of abolishing wages, but not in favour of abolishing money!

They looked to incidents like the 1956 Hungarian uprising, and the May events in France, to bring ‘Socialism.’ We should not, therefore, take them too seriously, particularly as Mrs. James’s model of a revolution without leaders was Castro’s takeover in Cuba, and Mr. Orr insisted that the socialist revolution would be carried out by a minority, while the majority of the population was passive.

When socialists joined the discussion, it took 20 minutes before this trio realised they had no answer to our arguments, and referred to the socialists present as disrupters. This was rich considering we had sat through two three-hour sessions (of what was supposed to be an open conference) without a peep.

Earlier we had been informed that a ‘new personality’ had come into the world, shown by the fact that the meeting needed no chairman. However, in order to exclude us from the discussion, a chairman materialised in the wink of an eye—self-appointed, not elected. This indicates what socialists have always said: formless, loose organisation does not remove the danger of leadership but increases it.

Whether the other workers involved will continue to let the ‘intellectuals’ do their thinking for them remains to be seen. At least one walked out in disgust at the reception given to the socialist case.

Labour's Irish Stew (1969)

From the June 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

While in Britain the Labour Party is now thoroughly discredited, in Ireland the Labour Party has high hopes for the coming general election on June 18. 

The Irish press are forecasting a defeat for the Fianna Fail government at the forthcoming general election. Loom-large in the running is the Labour Party.

The government lost the referendum last Autumn when the electorate decided to retain the proportional representation system of voting. The Labour Party played a large part in influencing this vote against the government. A constitutional change to the less democratic single-member constituency system, as in Britain, would have increased Fianna Fail’s chances of success in the election since the majority of Labour members of parliament acquired their seats on second preference votes. It now seems likely that Labour will hold the balance of power after the votes have been cast. The second major party, Fine Gael, were also opposed to the amendment to the constitution and hope that, should the situation arise. Labour will agree to form a coalition with them and end the eleven years of continuous Fianna Fail rule.

The Labour Party has put much effort into the scramble for power. It is the oldest political party in Eire but its prospects have never been so bright. It has, however, been the minority party in two previous but disastrous coalitions. Among its recent claims has been the promise that if it gets control of parliament "Ireland will be socialist in the 70s”. It has, so it says, committed itself to the ideas of James Connolly, but there is no party in Ireland claiming allegiance to socialist principles which adheres so little to the politics of Connolly as the Labour Party.

Recently, it published in its official journal Liberty a study of Connolly entitled *Orthodoxy and Unorthodoxy’. The author attempted to show that the remedy proposed by Marx and his adherents was worse than the evil it proposed to remedy, and copious extracts from papal encyclicals were used to illustrate the point. But if you refer to supporters of the Russian capitalist regime as adherents of Marx then you have the impossible task of substantiating the argument by showing where, in Marx's writings, state capitalism is proposed as a remedy to a ’private or mixed economy’. These articles, which were given editorial praise, illustrate Labour's misunderstanding of Socialism.

The economic answer put forward by Labour as a remedy for 'underpopulated' Ireland is a programme of nationalisation and control of capital investment. Farmlands will be handed over to those who are willing to exploit them fully by modern farming techniques. Labour has quite rightly pointed out that private enterprise has failed to answer the problems of underpopulation and mass unemployment.

The party has also expressed its abhorrence at the petty foreign industries which have sprung up all over the country and have been encouraged by the government. These firms, mostly German and American, find it economic to set up such petty industries because fixed costs are remarkably low and the excess labour supply keeps real wages permanently depressed. Also, the nature of these industries is such that cheap girl labour suffices; in one small western town several such firms employ mostly girls between sixteen and 21 with flat wages from £2 10s to £7.

Labour sees the solution to this exploitation in a State-controlled system and call this Socialism. There is little need to elaborate on the stupidity of this assertion.

Even if Labour could achieve these reforms of private enterprise, the lot of the Irish worker would not be much better. There were promises of a better Ireland, employment for all, and riddance of British imperialism earlier this century. Now, 48 years after the 26 counties were given autonomous powers, and with the British gone, not only is Ireland still economically backward but its population has since declined because of emigration. The Labour Party has at least tried to make people aware of these problems but it points to state capitalism, under the misnomer 'Socialism', as the solution.

How will Labour act if they come into power? Will they too fill their bank-accounts as the so-called revolutionaries of the 1916 to 1921 rebellion have done? Labour claim that they are, in political jargon, a party of the Left. This concept, however, evades all attempts to understand it.

Labour can offer only empty promises like their opponents. They have resolved not to enter a coalition with a capitalist party — implying Fine Gael — if neither of the two major parties acquires an overall majority. But there is a strong possibility that Labour will hold the balance of power after the votes have been cast. Should this situation arise, it will be interesting to see how they will react.

Fine Gael are determined to enter into a coalition with them and may make far-reaching concessions. If Labour find themselves in this dilemma the probability is that they will start bargaining with Fine Gael. The only other alternative is to let Fianna Fail continue its long rule, with Fine Gael’s support. It is extremely unlikely that Labour will allow this to happen — when they have an alternative. But whatever happens one thing is certain: capitalism will not be threatened.
Patrick Garvey

The Stars and Stripes . . . Forever? (1969)

From the July 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

The American flag, in the general form it takes today, was born during the American Revolution and represents a clean break in design from the English-type standards that were in use in the colonies until 1777. Even General Washington, in his earlier battles, used a flag with English and Scottish crosses rather than the stars. Paintings such as the one showing him crossing the Delaware with the Stars and Stripes were inaccurate. So is the story that the first flag was made in 1776 by Betsy Ross of Philadelphia from a design furnished her by General Washington. The Continental Congress accepted the original stars and stripes (thirteen of each) design on June 14 1777.

The school texts, encyclopedias, and information almanacs supply the type of data concerning the flag, its growth to the present 50 stars, its dimensions, and its rules of display. Such information is of concern to patriots but more to the point is a discussion of the purposes which the Stars and Stripes serves, the interests which it supports, the very reasons for its existence.

All previous revolution, as Marx and Engels put it in The Communist Manifesto, were revolutions by a minority in the interests of a minority. Even though it did not exemplify the classic pattern of bourgeois revolution, in that it was directed against a colonial power rather than a landed aristocracy and church within the nation, the American Revolution was no exception. There were no serfs in the American Colonies, not even peasants in the ‘free' sense of some European peasants who worked the lands of (frequently absentee) landlords. But there was a great majority of impoverished small farmers, business people, artisans, and fishermen, not to mention chattel slaves and a tiny minority of privileged landowners, commercial-type capitalists, and financiers. The privileged minority was, nevertheless, dominated by the mother country and had something definitely to gain by a break in relations. It raised the cry of ‘freedom' (meaning freedom of commerce) and went about the task of convincing the majority of underprivileged that revolution against England would also be in their interests. Such a task was not easy, especially in a land like America which was largely populated by expatriate British, and desertions from the army and outright refusals to fight were rampant.

The new American ruling class, then, like all ruling classes, had urgent need for initiating ideas and attitudes and gadgets that would aid in preventing a new revolution from developing. Historians record that such a fear was uppermost in the founding fathers and a number of steps were taken to circumvent the possibility. The Stars and Stripes has served admirably, since 1777, as a symbol of a common interest among all Americans. As with the bourgeoisie of all nations, the American capitalist class has never hesitated to use the flag to stir base emotions in workers in order to fight workers of other countries and one another as well. This is the primary purpose of the Stars and Stripes, as it is of the Union Jack, the Hammer and Sickle, the Tricolor, and every other national emblem on earth.

But no flag, in itself, can be expected to raise emotions in the desired manner. Americans, generally, are not stirred by the Union Jack, nor does the Stars and Stripes bring a tingle to the spine of the average Briton. A system of indoctrination is needed. In America we have the Pledge of Allegiance, written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy of Boston and recited by schoolchildren all over the country to this date. [1] And there is The Star Spangled Banner, a national anthem (fortunately unsingable by most voice ranges) about the flag, written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key during the war with Britain. Although it is virtually impossible to enforce laws and codes of custom concerning these patriotic exercises on a universal basis, there are laws, penalties, and prescribed codes of custom in many areas of endeavour in the various states and on a national level.

For example, Section 69 of the General Laws Relating to Education in The Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1966) goes into the subject of proper display of the flag in the schools and continues:
Failure to display flag as above required for a period of five consecutive days by principal or teacher in charge of a school, or failure of teacher to salute the flag and recite pledge of allegiance or to cause pupils under his charge to do so . . . (provides for a penalty of a $5 fine for every such period).
And failure by a school committee subjects each member to the same penalty.

In its zeal to enforce respect for the national anthem, Chapter 264, Section 9 of these Massachusetts laws reads:
National Anthem: Whoever plays, sings or renders the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ in any public place, theatre, motion picture hall, restaurant or cafe, or at any public entertainment other than as a whole and separate composition or number without embellishment or addition in the way of national or other melodies, or whoever plays, sings or renders the 'Star Spangled Banner', or any part thereof, as dance music, as an exit march or as a part of a medley of any kind, shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars.
And Section 9 of the same chapter provides a penalty for misuse of the flag of a fine ranging from $10 to $100, one year in jail, or both.

On the federal level, a joint resolution by both Houses resulted in Public Law 829: a codification of existing rules and customs on flag etiquette. The Law was approved on December 22, 1942. But there was, apparently, no desecration problem since there were no provisions for penalties.

The most agonised reaction to desecration and defilement of the Stars and Stripes was that of the Congress of 1967-8. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the burning of the American flag by an opponent of the Vietnam war in Central Park, New York, in May 1967. By a vote of 385 to 16 the House of Representatives passed a Bill that provided penalties of one year imprisonment, $1,000 fine, or both. The Congressmen were outraged and vied one with another in the vitriol of their language. Mendel Rivers of South Carolina demanded: “Let’s deal with these buzbards," and James Haley of Florida emoted:
Load a boat full of them and take them 500 miles out in the ocean and handcuff them, chain the anchor around their necks and throw them overboard. (Time Magazine, June 30, 1967)
So enraged were the Representatives, in fact, that they completely forgot to refer in their Bill to burning. The language deals with “publicly mutilating, defacing, defiling or trampling upon," omitting reference to the act that motivated the Bill.

But the Senators, in their version, saved the day and inserted the flammatory word. So Public Law 90-381, which became law on July 5 1968, provides for the following penalties:
(a) Whoever knowingly casts contempt upon any flag of the United States by publicly mutilating, defiling, burning, or trampling upon it shall be fined not more than $1000.00 or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.
And section (b) carefully defines what is meant by ‘flag’ in order to avoid the possibility of a legal technicality that the object mutilated, defiled, burned, or trampled upon was but a replica or picture of the flag or some other official emblem other than the Stars and Stripes. The term is all-encompassing. It took 191 years. But there is now a Federal law to avenge maltreatment of “Old Glory’ and it specifically applies to desecration by Americans abroad of America’s flag as well.

Socialists do not include flag desecration in any list of revolutionary activity —not because we respect a nation’s flag but because revolutionary socialist activity must be dominated by consciousness and understanding, not upon unreasoning passion. Nor are we flag wavers.
Harry Morrison 
(World Socialist Party of the United States)

[1] The Republicans, in 1954, had the words "under God" inserted after “one nation indivisible." But the Supreme Court decisions on religion in the schools (1962 and 1963) now makes the use of this phrase questionable in the classrooms.