Saturday, September 23, 2017

War, Crime and Punishment (1953)

From the June 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recently two young soldiers were convicted at Berkshire Assizes of robbery with violence. Instead of sentencing them straight away the judge gave them a choice—volunteer "unconditionally” for Korea or go to gaol. After they had a night to think it over their counsel told the judge: “They are eager to take advantage of your lordship’s leniency, and volunteer for overseas service.”

An editorial in the Daily Mirror (9th May) strongly criticised the judge’s action. The Mirror asks how the choice of the convicted men could be unconditional in such circumstances. But there are other aspects of the matter that should be brought out, and the main theme of the editorial (An Insult to the Army) is of little consequence compared to the deeper questions concerning the cause of crime and war in our present society.

The comments of the judge (Mr. Justice Hilbery) are indicative of the conventional attitude to crime. “You have been convicted of a very grave crime. When you robbed and attacked as you did each was not showing his true nature. Each of you is a better fellow than that. See active service and turn yourselves into "men of courage.”

From this it would appear that when people rob and attack others without the sanction of the law they are not showing their “true nature.” If, on the other hand, they take part in organised attack and robbery against other nations (for what else is war ?) then they are turned into “men of courage.”

The Daily Mirror believes that the men risking life in Korea are undertaking a high and honourable duty, and that it is not for courts to confuse military service with crime and punishment. In extenuation of the courts it should be pointed out that in the circumstances the confusion is pardonable. “War crime” is a name given, by the nation in a position to inflict punishment, to certain of the “military services” performed by the forces of other nations. And the military authorities themselves make it harder to see the dividing line when they treat as a criminal the conscript who is unwilling to fight by putting him in gaol.

Under the heading, “ R.A.F. is Training Burglars,” the Daily Mirror previously printed (18th March) a report of a case of two airmen who broke into a house after drinking. Their officer told the magistrates: “If you train a man 5½ days a week to break into houses and to create disturbances on airfields, it is fair to expect that he might be inclined to put his training to the test when he is in drink.” Further comment is perhaps unnecessary, except that such cases do little to dispel the confusion of organised burglary “in the national interest” with ordinary private enterprise burglary.

As a sidelight on the majesty of the law, however, it should be noted that the officer successfully pleaded that the airmen should not be gaoled, as they had good service records and the R.A.F. was short of such men. They were conditionally discharged. Possibly the magistrates considered that it would be a pity to send men who were doing such sterling work to the already overcrowded gaols when there are much more dangerous citizens at large. For example, two girls who signed “Mrs.” instead of “Miss” in a hotel register were recently sentenced to a month’s imprisonment. True, the sentences were later remitted, but that they should have been imposed in the first place shows that the law is administered in accordance with a standard of values that is more concerned with the sanctity of a property institution (legalised marriage) than with the protection of human life.

The Socialist views the problems of crime and war as inseparable from Capitalism itself. A vicious and competitive economic system breeds vicious and anti-social behaviour. A system based on a community of interests instead of on an antagonism will be conducive to co-operative behaviour and not, as at present, place obstacles in its way. Only with the establishment of such a system will wars and crime lose their purpose and hence their existence.

Korea—Cradle of Conflict (1953)

From the July 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many of those who have been fighting in Korea probably do not understand the reasons why they have been called upon to risk life and limb in this particular theatre of war; a large number probably had not even heard of that country before. It may be just as well for the interests of the great powers concerned that their workers have been kept in ignorance of the role of Korea in world affairs otherwise it might have been difficult to induce them to fight.

An Ancient Culture
With a history of 4,000 years the Koreans are an old civilised group with a high cultural level linked with that of China. They have substantially contributed to the cause of progress—printing was first brought to Europe from Korea. Korean celadon ware is considered to be amongst the most beautiful pottery to have been produced anywhere in the world.

A veritable Korean renaissance followed the founding in 1392 of a new dynasty (which dynasty has lasted until modern times) and in order to emancipate the population from the burden of learning Chinese ideographs an alphabet of 26 letters was invented so simple in outline and of such phonetic adaptability that they can learn to read in less than a month. They also invented the first metal movable type anticipating Europe by 50 years. Astronomical instruments of a high order were made and a whole new literature flourished. It cannot therefore rightly be said of the Koreans as it has been said of other people subjugated and exploited by capitalist powers, that they are in need of the civilizing influence of the West.

It is only since the eighteen seventies, that is. since industrial capitalism opened up Asia, that Korea has been a cradle of conflict. The Chinese ruling class considered that control of the peninsula was necessary for defence of their Empire and up to this time exercised a suzerainty over it. As Li Hung-chang, the famous Chinese viceroy put it in 1879, “Korea is the wall protecting China's Provinces, the lips protecting the teeth.”

China has been constantly threatened by the rising powers of Russia and Japan, both being busily engaged in wresting territory and concessions in Manchuria from the Chinese.

China has had the fear that Korea would “ripen like a pear and then drop into the jaws of Russia.” There were ice-free harbours for ice-bound Asiatic Russia and a footing on the mainland for Japan to be obtained as a result of successful adventures in Korea. A French expedition under Admiral Rose was severely handled by Korean forces and forced to retire from the scene. Again in 1871 an American flotilla was sent to repeat Commodore Perry's exploit in Japan but after killing a number of Koreans the American fleet left. In 1876 the Japanese succeeded in forcing Korea open. In 1894 through the Japan-China war Japan succeeded in forwarding Japanese influence at the expense of the Chinese.

The Japan-Russian war began with Japan guaranteeing the independence of Korea but ended with the Treaty of Portsmouth when the United States assured the Japanese that they would look favourably on the Japanese assumption of authority in Korea. In 1905 the Japanese by force instituted a virtual protectorate and finally annexed Korea to the Japanese Empire in 1910.

A Valuable Consolation Prize
Quite apart from the strategic value of the peninsula the wealth of the gold, copper, coal iron and tungsten resources and the profit obtained from exploiting the 19 million population is quite a considerable consolation prize for the successful “liberator” of Korea. Tungsten is used for hardening steel and is an essential in present day armament making, and as it can be found in but a few places in the world, the output from Korea is particularly sought after.

The Korean War
In 1945, after the defeat of Japan, the U.S.S.R. seized their chance when, by an apparent blunder on the part of the Allies, they were able obtain a belligerent occupants’ mandate in North Korea. The Chinese have for long been well aware of these aims. Even in 1894 when Russia was making friendly overtures to China Li Hung-chang wrote:—
   “Russia is to-day our greatest friend and our most to-be-feared enemy. She is our friend because Great Britain and France pose as our friends also. She is our greatest enemy because what the Russians call the trend of her destiny makes her so. She dominates all Northern Asia and hopes some day to have preponderating influence in China. She will help us to keep Japan out because she herself wants to get in."
In 1950 the American forces in South Korea defeated the North Koreans. This was the moment for China to step into the breach in North Korea to prevent, firstly, the Americans seizing the whole peninsula and possibly eventually installing a puppet Japanese control and, secondly, to forestall the Russians from completely taking over in North Korea.

Development of Chinese Patriotism
There were, however, further advantages for the Chinese in engaging in a foreign war. The Peoples' Republic of China, which had wrested control from the Chiang Kai-shek regime in 1949, were faced with many problems in carrying out their policy of developing China along Western lines. One of the legacies they had to take over from the past was the absence of patriotism. It is necessary for the protection of any capitalist ruling class if they are to survive in the jungle of world capitalism to have a working-class willing to fight for the fatherland. The war in Korea provided a chance for developing the beginning of Chinese patriotism. The Government succeeded in getting popular support for the war by identifying the maintenance of the rising standard of living in China with the necessity of repelling foreign enemies. The task was made easier by the U.S. being the supporters of the former discredited and very unpopular Chiang-Kai-shek clique.

There was the added advantage in giving the government a chance to glorify the Chinese army. Their armed forces are a great help to any ambitious capitalist group who wish to continue exploiting their own workers and if they can also seize the preserves of other national groups. But unfortunately for the rulers in China, soldiering is a despised occupation, and this attitude on the part of the general population has a harmful effect on the maintenance of reliability and efficiency of the armed forces. The internal propaganda which accompanied the military adventure in Korea helped to reform this view which was so harmful to the armed forces and therefore against ruling class interests. Many workers get killed or maimed in the war; the workers pay the price but the rulers obtain the benefit.

Was it worth fighting for?
An armistice has been arranged and there is a prospect that the war to “liberate” Korea will come to an end. Devastation, disease and death are the lot of many of the unfortunate inhabitants of this war-ravaged country, and together with the casualties of the many foreign nationals involved the military adventure in Korea has exacted a heavy toll. But it has been worth it—for the ruling class. China has obtained part control of North Korea at the expense of the U.S.S.R. and has driven into the Chinese working class a measure of patriotic spirit. The U.S.A. have retained control of South Korea with its strategic importance and vast mineral wealth. The U.S.S.R. have retained a large measure of control over the civil administration of North Korea, and in exchange for arms and ammunition supplied to China for use against the U.S. has obtained the bulk of Chinese exports at low prices. Japan has made plenty of profit on war supplies to the Allies, and may in addition, eventually be allowed by the U.S.A. to extend her influence in South Korea.

So in conclusion, Korea—cradle of conflict—is a pawn in power politics.
Frank Offord

A Labour M.P. on Russia (1953)

From the August 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the early years after the Russian revolution most people who went there went looking for something and they usually succeeded in finding what they looked for. It often depended on their prejudice or ignorance whether they found good or evil. Some claimed to see Socialism there but the S.P.G.B. said that the new rulers of Russia could not do otherwise than build up capitalism in Russia at that time and in that stage of economic and historic development. We rejected then as now all claims that Socialism was being introduced.

What to others has been miraculous achievement has to us been the normal course of capitalist industrial expansion; in a country which arrived late on the capitalist scene and had a lot of catching up to do.

If people who go to Russia believe that Socialism or Communism exists there, they will look at Russian institutions and see differences which don’t really exist or they will magnify superficial differences out of all proportion. This self-deception or misguided observation undoubtedly exists, quite apart from deliberately coloured press, screen and radio propaganda.

Mr. Harold Wilson, President of the Board of Trade in the Labour government, recently returned from Russia and wrote two articles for the Dally Mirror (June 8th-9th, 1953) on what he saw.

On the whole Mr. Wilson painted quite a rosy picture of Russia but he shows very clearly what is his own standpoint. The report opens with the revealing statement that “ten years from now Russian Production—unless China absorbs some of it—will be challenging us in the world markets.”

“The Russians are behind us now—but they are catching up.”

Although the articles were open to be read by something over 4,000,000 members of the working class, the “us” referred to is the British capitalist class because “world markets” are not the assets or interests of the workers. This fact holds good for our fellow workers in Russia too.

We are told “most women work, and old men too.”

“Of two old men, waiters at my hotel, one was nearly eighty.”

Piece-work in Russia
Mr. Wilson, when in the Labour Government, was thereby associated with government propaganda to encourage “piece-work” as a means of stepping up production. He also used to be on the staff of the Ministry of Labour and must be familiar with the complaints of British workers that as output rises piece-rates are cut by employers. He found the same in Russia.
   “They are on piece-rate there. But the piece-rate changes. As some people work faster and earn bonuses so the rate is cut—and all workers have to keep pace so that they can earn a living wage.”
The ex-Labour leader was not kind enough to tell us if in his opinion this sort of thing is Socialism, but if it is then they had better insert another “ S” in the U.S.A. and call that socialist too for exactly the same conditions prevail there. Of course we know that the Daily Worker will tell us it is “socialist wages” and “socialist competition” but they never say where it differs from capitalist wages and competition.

It seems that the Russian propaganda agencies have got the workers at it to even a worse degree there than ours have here.
   "Anyone not pulling his weight would not only be reported to the factory committees. He would be taken into a corner by his fellow-workers and get rough treatment. He would be letting the side down, perhaps imperiling the wage-rate—and hampering production." (Mr. Wilson's italics.)
Those capitalist powers ranged up against the Russian bloc MUST of necessity pretend that a totally different set-up obtains there, and the Russian bloc of capitalist nations must play the same game.

How else could they kid their respective wage-slaves to treat each other as enemies. It was exactly the same old story about Germany. If the workers of both sides got the idea that it was fundamentally the same system the world over, when they were told it must be fought they might think of fighting it at home, only with knowledge and understanding instead of bombs and guns.

Wages, Prices and Capitalism in Russia
In comparing prices of goods in Russia with their equivalents here, Mr. Wilson unavoidably makes obvious the fact that workers in Russia do the same with their wages as they do here—eke out an existence from pay-day to pay-day. “A man’s suit of the lowest price and quality costs £8 17s., a pair of low-grade shoes £1 14s. 6d. Medium quality rayon stockings—only the well-to-do wear the Russian equivalent of nylons—were 16s.” He puts the wage rate for an “unskilled worker” at roughly £5 and says “ Rents are low. They are fixed in relation to wages—usually between three and five per cent, of the weekly wage. Even so it takes hard work to provide any margin of extras.”

So there are low-grades and high-grades, low-qualities and higher-qualities, the well-to-do and the not so well-to-do.

The first thing to be straight about when ascertaining what social system prevails in any given country, is a definition and an understanding of what constitutes a social system and how to tell one system of society from another.

A system of society is the particular form under which men come together with the means of production and the sum of social relationships arising therefrom at a given stage of historic and material development. The fundamental feature which distinguishes capitalism from all other systems is the "relationship of wage labour to capital.

Marx on Capitalism
All kinds of things have been falsely attributed to Karl Marx. Lip-service has been paid to his teachings by those who try to pass as socialists. In Russia his name has been used to justify and bolster up state-capitalism. In the western bloc his name has been dragged through the gutter as a means to discredit something Marx never stood for. Both sides have freely adapted him to suit their ends, to stabilise their positions in the propaganda war.

How few have ever attempted to study the works of Marx and other socialist writers is made plain by the wide-spread confusion of the working-class. Consequent ignorance and confusion make it immensely difficult to put over the real socialist case, and people like Harold Wilson only foster that ignorance and confusion.

Marx spent the better part of his life attacking the wages-system and seeking as we do, its abolition. In “Capital” (William Reeves 5th edition) he asserts:—
    “Capital is only produced where the holder of the means of production and of subsistence meets on the market the free labourer who comes there to sell his labour-power, and that single historic condition includes an entirely new world. From that point capital proclaims itself as an epoch of social production.”
   “That which characterises the capitalist epoch is this, that labour-power acquires for the labourer the form of a commodify which belongs to him, and his labour consequently assumes the form of wage-labour.” (page 131- 132.)
In “Wage Labour and Capital ” Marx wrote:—
   "Wages, therefore, are not a share of the worker in the commodities produced by himself. Wages are that part of already existing commodities, with which the capitalist buys a certain amount of productive labour-power."
(Page 12. Marx’s Italics.)
  “If the silkworm's object in spinning were to prolong its existence as caterpillar, it would be a perfect example of a wage-worker.”
(Page 13.)
After showing how exploitation takes place under capitalism (through the working-class creating greater values than they receive in wages), Marx goes on to say, in his own italics:—
   "Capital therefore presupposes wage-labour; wage-labour presupposes capital. They condition each other: each brings the other into existence."
(Page 21.)
The only reason for workers needing a wage packet at the end of the week is because they are a propertyless class. Owning no means of production they therefore, in order to live, must hire themselves to those who do own. The State is the administrative and coercive apparatus of class rule, and only exists in societies torn with class struggles waged over property in the means of production.

Housing and Hovels
Further similarities between capitalism in Russia and capitalism (State or Private) in the rest of the world come out when Mr. Wilson tells us:—
   “I saw some of the houses. Housing is Moscow’s black spot
   “In the city centre, a stone's throw from the Kremlin, there are over-crowded hovels far worse than anything in our big cities. In most of these whole families live in a room 15 ft. square. But re-housing is going on fast with skyscrapers springing up. The homes I went to see on a suburban estate were much better.”
Looking round the shops and meeting the people Mr. Wilson observes:— “Sunday in a Moscow department store is like Saturday in a British department store.” The people he met were not “ sinister men with guns in their pockets nor shivering wrecks waiting to be thrown into the salt mines.”

The masses there seem to have the standard working-class outlook:— “Next to production, they talked about football.”

Mr. Wilson did not say anything about the weighty allegations of the widespread use made of forced labour by the Russian Government and we can well understand that Russian workers who resent the dictatorship may have considered it safer not to express such views to him.

He was there before the sudden removal from office of Beria so we do not know what explanation he would have given for the political set-up that renders such events inevitable.

Perhaps he ponders on how much safer it is to be a Minister administering capitalism in Britain than to be doing the same in Russia. Russia in fact is going through the phase of catching up with capitalism in the Western countries. As Mr. Wilson puts it:— “In a generation they have carried through an industrial revolution that took us 150 years.”

Being first to appear the British capitalist-class had it all their own way for a while and could allow the development of more than one party to represent sectional interests of the ruling class, land-owners and industrialists.

Some of the early struggles the workers had here are yet to be won by their fellows in Russia. A good point is made by Mr. Wilson in closing: — “remember that the ordinary people of Russia are just—ordinary people.” This can be said for every country in the world.

We want the “ordinary people” i.e„ the workers of the world to equip themselves with socialist understanding and put an end to the system that robs them, by bringing about Socialism, a wage-less, class-less world based on common ownership of the means of production.

To this end once again the Socialist Party of Great Britain extends the hand of socialist fraternity to the workers of the world.
Harry Baldwin

Who are the Victors in Korea? (1953)

From the September 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

Korean Armistice
AFTER three years of war—the last two years of it accompanied by bargaining between the leaders of the two sides—an armistice has been signed in Korea. As the smoke drifts away from the last shell and the last bomb, as the last wounded are taken to hospital and the last dead are buried, the conflict is continued in the statements put out by each side. The boastfulness of the United Nations leaders claiming that the war has ended in a victory for them is equalled only by the boastfulness of the Russian and Chinese Governments claiming the same thing. But what are the real results of the war? Who has gained, and who has lost?

The Balance Sheet
On the Soviet side the war was fought by the soldiers of China and North Korea. On the United Nations side, the troops were supplied by South Korea, the United States, and sixteen other nations. One has only to read the casualty-lists to know that the peoples of these countries, at any rate, lost by the war. The Commonwealth countries lost one thousand dead and five times that number wounded and prisoners. The Americans had twenty-three thousand dead, and more than a hundred thousand wounded. The casualties of the Chinese and North Korean armies have been estimated at two million (The Times, 28-7-53; references which follow are also to The Times unless otherwise indicated). As for the North Korean people, they were subjected to one of the heaviest bombardments of modern times by American planes; and of the ten million North Koreans at the beginning of the war, John Foster Dulles, the U.S. Secretary of State, now calculates that one in three have died as a result of the war (28-7-53). It is difficult to find an estimate of the South Korean casualties, but they can scarcely be low, since the original South Korean Army was largely destroyed in the first North Korean advance; and towards the end of the war the South Korean Army, reconstituted by the Americans, was holding three-quarters of the line and was bearing the brunt of repeated Chinese attacks. Altogether, some five million people, at the very least, must have died in the Korean peninsula as the result of the war.

Not tomb enough
After three years of modern war, what is the gain and loss of territory? On the eastern side of the peninsula, the South Korean border has been pushed northwards to include about two thousand five hundred square miles of former North Korean land; on the western side, the Communists have gained about a thousand square miles. On balance, file United Nations have gained some fifteen hundred square miles—less than two per cent, of the area of Korea. It works out at more than three thousand people killed for each square mile of territory won. The net gain of territory is hardly enough to bury the dead. This is indeed
                                 a plot.
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause.
which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain.
Price per yew: Three thousand million dollars
The position in Korea now was outlined by an appeal on behalf of the United Nations Association Relief Fund (29-7-53). Of the people of Korea, it said, “Two and three-quarter million are refugees. Four million are destitute. Their homes and industries have been wrecked. Seventy per cent. of their agricultural implements have been destroyed, and over half the country’s rice-growing lands lie idle.” These figures are tragically significant especially when it is remembered that at the beginning of the war the total population of Korea was only about twenty millions. No less than three thousand million dollars’ worth of ammunition was used every year in the Korean fighting—and this means that factories and manpower were devoted to producing this vast quantity of bombs and shells instead of producing goods which the people of the world need. In a reasonable economic system this amount of productive capacity could have been devoted to consumer goods. But the facts remind us of the tremendous productive potentialities which must either remain latent or be used for destructive purposes under the capitalist system of society; we can only use the world’s productive power fully for our benefit under Socialism.

The gainers
Who then gains from the Korean war? The Chinese and the American ruling classes have both gained to some extent. Neither has conquered and brought within its own sphere of influence the other half of Korea; but each has saved its own share for itself. In a future war China could use its Korean foothold to attack Japan, and America has kept South Korea as a base for any future assault on China. And each side has kept part of the valuable Korean mineral supply—gold, copper, coal, iron, mica and bauxite are all found in the peninsula. We have recently had a powerful reminder that the need for such raw materials, and the need for markets, does motivate foreign policy, in a speech delivered in America:—
   A total struggle—let us never forget it—calls for a total defence . . .  Again and again, we must remind ourselves that this is a matter not only of political principle but of economic necessity. It involves our need for markets for our agricultural and industrial products, our need to seek in return from the rest of the world such essentials as manganese and cobalt, tin and tungsten (11/6/53).
The speaker was President Eisenhower, who should know.

The Socialist attitude
To Socialists, Korea is a demonstration of the brutality of capitalist states struggling among themselves; a reminder that war is the only final arbiter of the differences which are inevitable under capitalism; and a foretaste of what is in store if the rulers of each side decide on another “big” war.
Alwyn Edgar