Sunday, October 8, 2017

Political and Economic Organisation: Some Common Objections Answered. (1931)

From the June 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Battlefield of the Struggle.
In a previous issue we outlined the policy of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. We showed that the class struggle arises on the economic field, but that the workers can only be victorious in that struggle by becoming conscious of their class interests and controlling political power. The objection is often raised that the worker is "robbed” in the process of production, and that it is on the industrial field that he must fight for emancipation. These objectors do not realise the truth pointed out by Marx, that economic systems are controlled politically. Marx showed that material conditions give rise to political institutions by means of which ruling classes dominate the economic world. The materialist view of history shows that the material conditions of production, etc., make necessary political machinery to govern or control the economic life of society.

Every class struggling for control of the economic basis of society has to become politically supreme in order to maintain or obtain economic possession.

"Economic Power."
We are often told that "economic power” is the key to the situation. The working class, however, have no economic power. The working class cannot live except by being employed by the masters. The instruments of production as well as the products belong to the employers, which leaves the workers in the position of constantly struggling for a job and wages in order to exist.

It has been claimed that because the ,workers are necessary to production, their "indispensability" is an economic power. But the workers can’t live on their quality of being necessary to industry. And as soon as they enter into production, they do so on the employers’ terms. If “economic power” depends upon possession, as in the employers’ case, then it at once rules the workers out from “economic power. ” The employing class have to "back up” their economic possession by controlling the political machine.

Is Parliament A Capitalist Machine?
One objection to the use of Parliament is that it is a capitalist machine. Parliaments, however, grew up long before the modern capitalist era, and they evolved along with the changes in the conditions of production. The fact that Parliament was used to bolster up the landowners and monarchy did not prevent the rising merchant class wresting it from the hands of their opponents and using it to legalise and defend their interests. The age-long efforts to prevent the workers having a vote, and the huge funds and resources used to maintain a capitalist majority, show how important a machine Parliament is for the ruling class. It is the seat of power. It is the main machine of the modern State, through which the armed forces are raised, maintained, controlled and moved. Before the workers can do anything with the State machinery, they first of all must win possession of it. Lenin is accepted by many critics as an authority, and he admits the truth of our position when he tells us,.in his "State and Revolution,” that the workers must make use of the present State.

Lessons From Our Masters.
Our critics themselves point to the efforts to try to keep a revolutionary out of Parliament. Does that not show that Parliament is an important machine with tremendous power? Why, otherwise, should they try to keep a revolutionary out? All the talk about the employing class abolishing Parliament if the workers became Socialists in large numbers indicates how anxious the ruling class are to prevent such a powerful weapon falling into workers’ hands.

In no modern capitalist country have the ruling class been able to abolish Parliament. Countries that are backward and where the population have not yet developed a modern outlook are the only examples where attempts have been made with any success. The general tendency is in the other direction, that is, to widen the suffrage and to promote Parliamentary constitutions.

Light From India and Russia.
The merchant class of India to-day want their own Parliament, as that will establish their political supremacy and give them real control over their wealth and industry. The modern struggle in India is an example proving that possession of wealth alone is not the real power, but that it is necessary for the owners to protect and maintain their possession by political and legal domination. Rival owners of wealth, national or foreign, enter the contest for political power because Parliamentary control is essential to run society their way.

In the backward Empire of Russia the Czar was driven to adopt a constitution and establish a Parliament (Duma), but finding it filled by many opponents, he thought the safe thing was to abolish it. He abolished it three times at least. But the ensuing disorder and chaos ended in the rout of the Czar and his oligarchy. The Constitution was too late. Even in those carefully devised Parliaments of Russia we found Bolshevik parties and Terrorist organisations representing workers and peasants.

The Dilemma of Direct Action.
What is the alternative to the use of Parliament in modern constitutional countries? Political organisation is essential both to carry on the propaganda of Socialism as well as to win power. The only suggestion of those who criticise Parliament is that direct economic action offers a better way. The political machine, however, is the instrument controlling the armed forces, and if that Parliamentary control is left in the hands of our enemies, the workers are without any means of taking possession of the machinery of wealth production, etc..

Even regarded as a means of education, political action is superior to economic. On the political field the class struggle can be explained and driven home far more effectively than in the workshop, where the trade or industrial rivalry between workers obscures the class line.

Lenin on the Economic Field.
Lenin waged war for many years against the large Russian body known as Economists,” who stood for economic against political organisation.

In a recent Labour Monthly was reproduced an article, written by Lenin on "The Working Class as Champions of Democracy.” Lenin refers to the "fundamental fallacies of all economists," namely, that it is possible to develop the political consciousness of the workers from within, so to say, out of the economic struggle, that is, starting solely or chiefly, from this struggle."

Lenin answers the fallacy thus: “Political class-consciousness can be imparted only from outside, that is, outside the economic struggle, outside the sphere of the relation of the workers to employers" (italics Lenin’s).

We hold that Lenin has carried his point too far and that there is a large field for education within the daily economic struggle, but Lenin’s insistence upon the political as the chief field of Socialist education is correct and has been proved up to the hilt by all past experience. Practically all those direct action agitators who talk about Socialism gained their ideas about the nature of Socialism outside the field of industry and in political agitation.

Some of the other objections to our position will be dealt with in a further article.'
Adolph Kohn

Russian Illusions (1931)

Editorial from the July 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is claimed by many that the Russian Government has discovered a means of developing Russian industry on Socialist lines and free from the disturbing effects of the world trading conditions that affect the other capitalist countries. Actually, the more Russian industry enters into the world market as importer and exporter, the more Russian industrial conditions will be affected by conditions outside.

For example, the world slump in prices has hit Russian industry as badly as any, and has necessitated hasty and difficult modifications of the so-called Five-Year Plan. Estimates were based upon the exporting of certain quantities of goods at certain prices, the yield from which was to be used for machinery and other imports. Owing to the unforeseen slump, Russian exports in January and February of 1931 decreased in value by nearly one-fifth as compared with the corresponding period of 1930, and this in spite of a big increase in the quantities of goods exported. The output of the exporting industries had to be increased above the planned amount owing to the fall in the prices obtained for the exported goods in the world market, and in order to pay for the imports. The machinery and other imports either have not fallen in price at all, have not fallen as heavily, or have been contracted for at a stated price. The final result has been that imports have had to be curtailed. The imports for January and February, 1931, were one-third below those for January and February, 1930. Thus does capitalism frustrate attempts at planning.

Mr. Fenner Brockway, the new Chairman of the I.L.P., writing in the New Leader (April 17th), assumes that Russian industry is being run on a “ Socialist basis.” This is quite incorrect and indicates either a misreading of the Russian industrial system or—more probably—a failure to grasp what constitutes Socialism. In Russia, as elsewhere, goods are produced, not for use, but for sale. The producers are a wage-earning class with no effective control over the machinery of production. There is great inequality, as in other capitalist countries. The first charge on industry is the payment of interest to the investors in the State loans. The way in which inequality of wealth is growing is shown by the increasing yield from the graduated income tax. Already the yield is over £60 millions a year. The Government is now itself catering for the wants of monied people by opening shops at which goods are sold at rates far above the official prices.

Mr. Walter Duranty, of the New York Times, telegraphing from Moscow, says: 
  In the large cities, industrial centres and construction camps the food ration of the masses is adequate for health and can readily be supplemented by anyone with money . . .     In the larger centres the authorities are attempting to meet the situation by opening a kind of “ State NEP” stores, where food and commodities are sold well above ration prices but below the rates of the “free markets" which the “State NEP ” stores are intended to replace.
(New York Times, April 3.) 
The Moscow Correspondent of the News-Chronicle (April 13th) gives further information about these stores :—
   New State-owned profiteering stores—selling to anybody with no questions asked about your ration book or whether, you are an “economic outlaw” — went on charging 8s. a pound for frozen chickens; 25s. a pound for an inferior sort of cheese; and 6s. a pound for poor salt herrings.
Mr. Albert Coates, the musical conductor, who recently returned from Russia, gives information about the prices a section of the population are able to pay for seats at the opera. Speaking to a Daily Telegraph representative, he said:—
    Many people still have a great deal of money in Russia, but they have to be careful. There is little or no actual starvation, but there is a system of food rationing.
    The price of seats in ranged from 24s. downwards. At every performance—and there is one every night and two on Sundays for nine months in the year—the opera theatres are packed, although the majority of the populace are said to be penniless . . .
    Beautifully gowned women and well-dressed men still continue to adorn the front rows of the Grand Theatre, Moscow, every night.
(Daily Telegraph, April 1.)
While the Russian workers are told that they must pull in their belts and reap their reward later on when the Five-War later on when the Five-Year Plan (or the second Five-Year Plan) is completed, the highly paid administrative and technical officials and the investors in State loans get their benefit now.

These are not the features of Socialism, but of capitalism. Before they get Socialism, the Russian workers will have to tread the same path of disillusionment leading to knowledge that is being trodden by the workers in other countries.

A Tribute From An Unexpected Quarter. (1931)

From the August 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following passage is taken from an article, “Socialism as a Business Career,” published in the "National Citizen," the organ of the National Citizen's Union.
   A study of Labour-Socialism since the beginning of this century reveals some highly interesting circumstances. The movement has been, and is, many sided. It includes those who have clung throughout to the undiluted spirit of Marx as a cult or religion. Personal ambition, advertisement, the the power and pelf of office, from the Parish Council to Parliament, has not deflected.them from their principles or their preachings. When His Holiness the Pope announces that a good Christian cannot be a Socialist or a Socialist a good Christian, these people do not seek to “square the circle” with the terminological sophistry of “explanations” and “justifications of the Labour-Socialist position. They boldly state : “Yes; it is true. Buy our booklet on 'Socialism and Religion’; and you will see that Socialism DOES mean Atheism.” This type of Socialist remains exceedingly small in numbers, and the struggling existence of his organisation, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, is witness to the truth that Marxian Socialism, unalloyed with mixtures of graft, job-hunting, and political chicanery, makes no appeal to English democracy.—(July, 1931.)
The writer of the article, who signs himself “Life-long Trade Unionist,” appreciates the way in which the Labour Party machine has been constructed—on a foundation of “graft, job-hunting and political chicanery,” a foundation from which “cunning and even illiterate tub-thumpers" have risen to positions of relative wealth and eminence.

It is probable, however, that the Labour politicians do not feel any too secure in their eminence. There is always the danger for the Labour leaders that with growing knowledge the workers come to realise the rottenness of the foundation on which the Labour Party has been built. The ferocity with which the Labour M.P.'s have attacked their deserter, Sir Oswald Mosley, makes it look as if they feel very insecure indeed. We can assure the “National Citizen" that when unalloyed socialism does make headway among the workers it will produce a force far more formidable than the shoddy movement fashioned by the timid charlatans of the Labour Party.
P. S.

Rationalisation In Agriculture. (1931)

From the September 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

The March issue of the International Labour Review contains two very interesting and informative articles on Rationalisation in the U.S.A. and Canada, "The Economic Depression in North America ” and "More Mechanisation in Farming.”

In the United States, between the years 1919 and 1929, the output per head in manufacturing industries increased by 45 per cent. In agriculture the output increased by more than 25 per cent., and as a consequence during this time three million workers left the land to seek employment in the towns. 

So much is American capitalism in the grip of rationalisation, that American capitalists estimate their costs and profits on the basis of providing a complete re-equipment of machinery every two or three years.
   "Out of 200 large representative firms questioned on this point by the President’s Economic Survey, 43.6 per cent, required new equipment to replace its cost in two years, and 64.1 per cent, in three years ” (page 320).
To the uninitiated it might appear that there is very little room for further mechanisation in farming. This is not so.

There has been introduced into American and Canadian farming during the past two years machinery which has created a technical revolution. One machine, in particular, is worth special mention. It is known as the "combine,” and both cuts and threshes the grain in one operation, thus eliminating a whole series of manual occupations between the cutting and threshing of the corn that were formerly necessary. Operated by only two men, it can harvest as much as 40 acres a day. The results are a huge displacement of labour and the halving of the cost of production (page 336).

A large firm which formerly took on 30 men in the Spring and a further 120-150 during the harvest, now employs only 14 men throughout the year (page 305). It abolishes the need for additional harvest labour. "No extra harvest hands have been required during the last two years.” Bang goes the English unemployed worker’s chance of spending a holiday harvesting in Canada.

The "combine” was invented 10 years ago, but has only recently been introduced and applies as a result of competition. It can be applied to other crops besides corn, e.g., cotton.

A substantial part of the 1929 crop is still in the granaries, and the 1930 crop is still unsold.

As a warning to workers who might be considering emigration, a Canadian provincial government minister is quoted as follows: "We have now too many people because there is no work for them.” "And," says the article, "that in a territory of great wealth with little more than two to the square mile" (page 306).

Wealth, over-abundance, misery and suffering side by side! When will the workers see this glaring anachronism; and the remedy, the dispossession of the owners of the means of living, and the establishment of Socialism?
Harry Waite

The Socialist Forum: Are the Workers Robbed? (1931)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent (“Jason,” Balham) questions the accuracy of the statement that the workers are ” robbed.” He refers particularly to three phrases used by us. The first was used in the War Manifesto reprinted in the August issue, and is as follows:
  . . . the workers’ interests are not bound up in the struggle for markets wherein their masters may dispose of the wealth they have stolen from them (the workers) . . .
Our correspondent objects that this statement is not derived from Marx and is not correct. He writes :—
   When Marx refers to the capitalists as the robber class he has in mind the original source of their capital—the primary accumulation obtained from robbing the Spaniards and Portuguese of their loot from Mexico, Peru and the Malay Archipelago, plundering Africa and the Indies, and expropriating the peasants, etc.
    It is palpably absurd to talk of the workers as propertyless proletarians and then to dilate upon the magnitude of the robbery of non-existent wealth from them. At the most the workers can be robbed only within the compass of their wages, insurance money, or loans, but such robbery enriches only a section of the Capitalist Class, operating in the sphere of circulation, and may be termed cheating rather than robbery.
   The process by which the capitalists augment their wealth is a process far more deadly than any mere robbery could be. It is a draining, pumping, sucking, squeezing, of labour-power, not stealing the worker’s wealth, but rather his health and vitality, by the purchase at its value of the energy derived through the expenditure of brain, muscle, nerve and bone tissue. Workers are poor not because they are ^ j robbed, but because they are enslaved.
Our correspondent considers that the phrase in our Declaration of Principles which reads, “the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers,” “tends to foster the . . . erroneous viewpoint.” He expresses the opinion that a third phrase used in the article, “ The Socialist Party and War ” (see August issue), viz., “robbing them of the fruits of their labour,” is “more correct.”

The capitalist buys labour power at its value, yet robs the worker. The value of labour power depends upon the cost of production of the labourer, and the cost of production of the labourer depends upon his cost of living. Inside this, however, is the fact that standards of living for different types of workers vary, and standards also vary between one country and another. The capitalist aims at lowering the general standard of living to the lowest possible level.

The labourer, when working, produces a greater value than the value of his means of living, and the capitalist takes the extra value produced. Our correspondent argues that this is exploitation, but not robbery, because the capitalist pays the labourer the value of his labour-power. In his eyes, only that which is illegal to-day is robbery. But although the capitalist pays the labourer the value of his labour-power, he does not pay him the value of his product.

We will leave aside the question of depressing the standard of living, wherein the capitalist obviously robs the worker of former advantages. It is to be assumed that the critic does not suggest the worker willingly agrees to wage reductions, etc. As the worker is deprived of wealth that he does not willingly give, he is plundered by force.

The workers fight for a larger amount of the total wealth produced, but are defeated in the long run by the power of the capitalists. The capitalist shows his power by the giving and withholding of jobs, which signifies inviting the workers to produce on certain terms or starve. Dick Turpin used a pistol to force wealth from his victims; the capitalist uses the threat of starvation for the same purpose. The one method is illegal robbery; the other is legal robbery. In the present discussion the main difference between the two is the question of legality. There is another difference. Dick Turpin did the job himself; the capitalist pays others to do it. When Dick Turpin met with opposition he had only his own arms to call upon. When the worker resists the capitalist, the latter can call upon the State power to bring the worker to subjection and force him to produce.

The difficulty is that the mass of the workers, like the victims of Hatry, do not realise that they are being robbed.

The original accumulation of the capitalists, by means of which they were able to obtain control of the means of production and subject the worker to exploitation, was also robbery. The plundering of the Eastern and Western countries, the plundering of the monasteries and the enclosing of lands by driving the original owners off, form the principal part of the capitalists’ early accumulation of wealth.

Dr; Annandale gives the following definitions in his dictionary ;—
Rob: To plunder or strip by force or violence; to deprive of something by stealing. Robbery: A taking away by violence or wrong. Steal: To take clandestinely without right or leave; to gain or win by address or gradual and imperceptible means; to perform secretly; to try to accomplish clandestinely.

The capitalist deprives, plunders and strips the worker of energy, leisure, pleasure, the product of his labour, and a host of other things, and it is done by force, and secretly or clandestinely by gradual and imperceptible means. Therefore the capitalist robs the worker. The customs of savage society do not permit this form of robbery, but the laws of capitalist society do. Therefore it is now legal robbery.

It is true the capitalists rob each other, but the robbery of the worker is the basis of the system.

As to our critic’s references to robbery in the past, we would point out that from the strictly legal point of view it would in many instances be as incorrect to apply the word to the past as to the present. The enclosures of common lands, for example, were perfectly legal forms of robbery, according to the laws of the time.
Editorial Committee

A Word To Sympathisers. (1931)

Party News from the November 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

During and immediately before the General Election we distributed free of charge 170,000 copies of two leaflets, one on the fall of the Labour Government, and the other on the election issues. To do so we used up the fund we had earmarked for that purpose and in addition we have incurred a heavy debt. Now we have to replace that money in order to be able to issue further leaflets as occasion arises, particularly bearing in mind that another General Election may not be long delayed. We need money for other purposes. We are out-of-stock of certain pamphlets, and we have in preparation a new pamphlet on the Socialist Party and its principles. If only half of the readers of the Socialist Standard would contribute one shilling a month to our funds we could quickly clear off our debt and would have in hand, before the end of the winter, a substantial part of the money needed for the new pamphlet. We address this appeal especially to non-members because we realise that there are many who sympathise with the Party’s position but are unable, for one reason or another, to join up or take an active part in propaganda. We ask you to remember that the Socialist Party, unlike other political parties, receives no financial support from the trade unions or from wealthy individuals. The burden on our members is, therefore, a heavy one.

Send your donations to the Treasurer, 42, Great Dover Street, London, S.E.1. Acknowledgment will be made by post and in these columns.

Editorial: Futilities & Tragedies. (1931)

Editorial from the December 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Each year that passes brings out with greater clearness the contrast between the professions of the League of Nations and its accomplishments. Organised for the avowed purpose of solving international tangles by arbitration, and thus doing away with the recourse to force, every dispute it has set out to settle has demonstrated its utter ineptitude.

The latest manifestation of the League must be food for infinite laughter to all who have a sense of humour. The League holds numerous and heated meetings; its delegates sit day and sometimes till late at night; first-class diplomats from all nations represented make hurried trips in aeroplanes to its meetings; frenzied notes are sent out to Japan and China to cease fighting and arbitrate. And the result?—Japan goes marching on to protect the £200 millions her capitalists have invested in Manchuria.

The central fact is the permanent condition of capitalism. Where a group of capitalists are aiming at markets for their goods they are always prepared to use force to accomplish their object if cunning is not sufficient, and if they believe they can safely do so. The only deterrent factor is the fear of superior force. The permanency of force should have been made sufficiently clear by the abortive disarmament conferences and the way in which Germany, when restricted in the size of ships and weight of armour, succeeded in producing in smaller form as destructive ships of war as formerly.

The final and most effective reason for the maintaining of an armed force by each capitalist State is the enemy within its gates — the working class —who, at times when the burden of poverty and oppression becomes too much to be borne in silence and weakness, tends to revolt blindly and fiercely, and threaten the foundations of capitalist wealth. Although blind revolt cannot build a new society, it could damage or even destroy an existing one.

The amount of money willingly spent by various nations on the futile and fatuous work of the League of Nations is in striking contrast to the niggardliness of the expenditure on inside matters that affect the life and welfare of their workers. In factories and mines, and elsewhere, thousands. of workers lose their lives every year in the work of piling up wealth for the capitalist. When an event occurs that is outstanding and .cannot be conveniently ignored, the papers are full of tales of the heroism of workers and the cheap sympathy of those who profit by the workers' toil. One such event has occurred in England this week. At the Doncaster Colliery thirty-four miners have been killed and many injured in a disaster that has been a common feature of the mining industry.

Yet these very miners have been fighting for years against reductions in their already meagre wages, and in the forefront of the sympathisers are those who use the powers of Parliament to force down the miners' standard of living. Once again it has been shown that coal mining is an exceedingly dangerous occupation, but when the trouble has blown over this fact will be forgotten and all attention centred on the “League of Nations" and similar futilities.

Happy New Year (1986)

From the January 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

I've hated Christmas for as long as I can remember. Since the day when, as a child, I realised that I'd been conned every year of my short life by stories about Father Christmas only bringing toys to good children — a sort of "no-strike" agreement in return for a Christmas bonus between me and my mother. Later I realised that all of Christmas is a con — from the birth of Jesus which it is supposed to be celebrating, to the "peace and goodwill" that is supposed to appear miraculously at this time of year.

Nowadays I get a sinking feeling in my stomach when Christmas cards first go on sale in the shops (usually sometime around the end of summer); I start to feel decidedly fed up by about mid-November when fairy lights and tinsel are festooned around concrete street lamps in the High Street; and by December, depression hits with a vengeance and I can be found loitering in travel agents frantically seeking out cheap holidays to places where they don't celebrate Christmas.

Last year I succeeded: I flew to Israel on Christmas Day — not a turkey, mince pie or tinsel angel in sight (so long as you kept well away from Bethlehem where they tend to get a bit excited about it all). The irony of it was that in order to pay for this extravagant piece of escapism I had to work every night for two weeks at the post office — sorting Christmas cards!

But despite my loathing of the enforced jollity of Christmas I always used to like New Year. I liked the idea of seeing the Old Year out and starting the New Year afresh with fine-sounding resolutions scribbled furtively in a diary which, if I kept them, were sure to make me healthy, happy and wise, or so I thought. Of course I never did keep them, or at least not for very long.

As idealism faded and cynicism set in even the resolutions took on a more jaundiced tone: to stop killing myself by smoking cigarettes (that one, kept for over four years, is lately getting a bit frayed around the edges); not to be so bad-tempered, and so on. I also began to realise that I could make all sorts of resolutions but I was fighting against enormous odds in trying to keep them (besides, that is. my own lack of will power).

The society in which we live makes it almost impossible for most of us to be healthy, happy, or wise, no matter how hard we try or how many New Year resolutions we make. How can we become more healthy when the environment in which we live is profoundly unhealthy? I might resolve to swim twenty lengths of the swimming pool every day and only eat whole foods, but that's not going to do me much good if I live next to a leaky nuclear reactor, or in a city where the air is polluted by lead-ridden exhaust fumes. I might resolve to give up smoking (again), but if I smoke to help me cope with the stress of everyday life caused by anxieties about money, work, housing or bills, then I might very well get a stomach ulcer instead. My resolve to be less bad-tempered is all very well, but if the reason I get bad-tempered is the daily frustration of not being fully in control of my own life then I am attacking the symptom and not the cause. How nice a person can you afford to be in a world that is not nice, where competition and aggression are highly valued attributes? And how can people become wise when they are constantly being fed misinformation, distortions of the truth and downright lies from the relatively harmless fairy tales about Father Christmas coming down chimneys to bring toys to good children to the infinitely more harmful fairy tales of politicians who tell us that if we, the workers, are good (work harder for less pay, don't go on strike, don't make a fuss about poor housing, health care and so on), then we will reap the benefit as "the nation" gets richer.

The truth of the matter is that, as individuals, we are extremely limited in our ability to change our own lives very much at all. We are part of a society which directly affects what we can or cannot expect from life, how we live our lives and even the way in which we behave towards each other. So if we want to be healthy, happy, caring individuals — if, in other words, we want to be fully human — we must first live in a society which permits those qualities to flourish. And capitalism, the society in which we all live now, certainly does not.

Capitalism is a system of society which divides people rather than unites them — capitalist from worker, men from women, blacks from whites, nation from nation. It teaches us competition not co-operation competition for jobs, housing and something that approximates to a bearable standard of living. The division between capitalist and worker is inherent in capitalism — their interests are totally opposed and can never be reconciled. But the divisions between workers are not inherent —they are encouraged by the conditions in which we live and work but could be overcome through a recognition of our common class interests, our mutual inter-dependence and, above all, the need for radical change.

So this year, when your self-image has recovered from the body-blow dealt it by your brother thinking you were the kind of person who would like the pair of pink lurex socks, or by your Auntie Flo being convinced that a Barbara Cartland novel was just what you always wanted; when you've been to Marks and Sparks to get a refund on a jumper in order to pay the electricity bill; when the last of the turkey has been metamorphosed into turkey curry; when you've replied "Quiet, but nice" for the last time to people who ask at work if you've had a nice Christmas; when the TV has stopped showing disaster movies, The Sound of Music and Jimmy Savile tormenting sick children in hospital; when the ankle you sprained leaping across the living room on Christmas Day to turn off the Queen has recovered; in short, when life has returned to humdrum normality, why not reflect on what your New Year's resolution will be this year? Are you going to make pious resolutions to become a "better" person, which you have very little chance of keeping, or are you going to make this the year you start to take control of your own life? It would be nice to think that people throughout the world are scribbling the words: "I resolve that 1986 will be the year that I will organise democratically with my fellow workers to abolish capitalism and bring about a society in which we can all start to become healthy, happy and wise".
Janie Percy-Smith

Much ado about nothing: The Anglo-Irish Agreement (1986)

From the February 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

By the time this article appears, the "Ulster Says No" election will have passed. The reader will know whether the alliance of "Democratic" and Official Unionists conned enough members of the working class. Did Sinn Fein — who don't want Ulster to say "Yes" and are opposed to those who want it to say "No" —take enough votes to win a seat at Westminster (which they have refused to accept) or did they simply ensure that the SDLP — who want to say "Yes" — was defeated? Did the so-called Workers' Party — more-or-less in the "Yes" camp — save all. or any, of its deposits? Did the Alliance Party — strong on unionism but tentatively in the "Yes" group — win a few more votes from imagined "middle-class" Unionists whose political stomachs are upset by the surfacing of anti-British violence in the Unionist camp? In the best tradition of soap operas, all this will have been revealed by now.

Generally, politicians take elections very seriously. It is true that, following an election, irrespective of which group of political con artists get elected, the condition of the great majority of people, the working class, remains unaffected. Be that as it may, before an election it is the business of politicians and their parties to convince us that the elections are about our problems; about unemployment, poverty, slums — indeed, about any of the mass of social ills that affect society in general and the working class in particular.

The fact that all these social ills continue to exist after countless elections and the implementation of the policies represented by all the political parties — somewhere, if not in Northern Ireland — clearly demonstrates the failure of conventional politics and politicians. Nevertheless, unless politicians wish their business to be reduced to the level of a beauty contest or a dog show, they have got to go through the motions of trying to convince us that their election or rejection has some relevance to our problems.

Not about facts
On the 17 December last, the Belfast Telegraph published Thatcher's views on the Anglo-Irish Accord as given to its London correspondent. Her views are significant in one respect: they reveal that the whole exercise of the Anglo-Irish Accord is wholly unrelated to the facts of life of the ordinary people of Northern Ireland. "We are dealing" said Thatcher, "not with facts, but with perceptions".

It would be difficult to find a more contemptuous way of telling the working people of Northern Ireland that the purpose of the Anglo-Irish Accord is to kid them about the future. Here, straight from the mouth of the messiah of British capitalism is the message: the Accord is not concerned with facts — that is, with the realities of our lives. It is merely concerned with "perceptions" — that is, with the way we see things.

Of course Thatcher is right; the Accord, and the election it caused in Northern Ireland. is not about facts. It is not concerned with the fact that more than one in five people in Northern Ireland have no job or that, in some working class areas, a man with a job is a curiosity; it is not concerned with the fact that those who are working are paid, on average, some £20 a week less than workers in the rest of the UK or with the fact that wages in Northern Ireland are among the lowest in western Europe; it is not concerned with the fact that some 40 per cent of the population are wholly or partially dependent on social security payments in order to live or with the fact that slums and insanitary hovels are more prevalent in Northern Ireland than anywhere else within the EEC. Nor is it concerned with the fact that, if there was real peace in the province and all those currently engaged in jobs associated with the troubles were stood down, the miseries that are facts for the great majority of working people in Northern Ireland would be extended to many more people.

The Accord
The purpose of the Accord is. as Thatcher says, to make people in Northern Ireland see things differently. It establishes a Ministerial Conference under the joint chairmanship of the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs in which the two sovereign governments, the British and Irish, will be equally represented. Both sides will have an input into the Conference which may make recommendations to the British and, effectively, the Irish governments on matters related to Northern Ireland. The British government undertakes to give reasonable consideration to such recommendations but is not bound by the Accord to accept them. Within the Accord, the Irish government recognises the right of the majority within Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom and the British government recognises the right of the nationalist minority in Northern Ireland to identify without proscription or legal encumbrance with their "cultural" aspirations and to engage in nonviolent political activity to promote a united Ireland.

The Accord provides for the Conference to relinquish to the control of an elected Northern Ireland Assembly all or any of the matters within its competence providing that such an Assembly enjoys wide cross- community support — effectively, from catholics and protestants — and is desirous of taking over all or any of the matters within the brief of the Conference. In other words, should the local politicians reach a political accommodation that would allow them to establish a power-sharing Assembly and should that Assembly agree to deal with the matters presently within the consultative competence of the Conference, the latter is agreed to hand over such matters to the Assembly and. should all such matters be handed over, the Conference will become redundant.

Changing perceptions
How do the British and Irish governments see the Accord working? What perceptions do they wish to change and what effect would such change have in Northern Ireland? More importantly, especially since some Unionists and the loyalist paramilitaries have intimated that loyalists should, if necessary, be prepared to sacrifice their lives and freedom resisting it — what real difference will the Accord make to the lives of the working class?

It was hoped that the loyalists would accept the Accord, however reluctantly, because it contained the Irish government's effective repudiation of its constitutional claim to jurisdiction over Northern Ireland. On the other hand, it is hoped that catholics and nationalists will see their interests protected by the Irish representatives within the Conference and would, accordingly, be more willing, or less unwilling, to identify with the Northern State and co-operate with the forces policing that state.

Given a degree of success in this direction. it is hoped that elements within the northern nationalists who support the IRA will increasingly withdraw their support. Not only would this retard the IRA's capacity for waging terrorist warfare, it would also help to create a political climate in which the Northern and, more especially, Southern authorities could take the necessary steps to deal with terrorism. This, more than anything else, must be the desired purpose of the Accord; terrorism continues to destabilise authority both north and south of the border and, of course, the ever-present threat of bombings in Great Britain is a constant dread for the British authorities. The cost of maintaining security in both parts of Ireland is now astronomical and is especially damaging for an Irish government beset with persistent economic problems and a growing cash crisis.

The Northern Ireland problem, as far as the various authorities are concerned, is the IRA. In keeping with the naive logic of government, it is unnecessary to deal with the social realities behind political violence; a few cosmetic changes, a simple change in perceptions, and the terrorists will be isolated and banished. This is the why and the wherefore of the Accord; it has nothing to do with the problems of poverty, unemployment. slums or the frightening insecurity which bedevil working class life in the province — the very problems that fuel sectarianism. hatred and political violence.

According to the Accord makers an end. or even a substantial diminution, of IRA activity would be followed by a loss of influence on the part of the more extreme brands of Unionism. The currently enfeebled Official Unionists could regain the centre stage and. freed from the necessity of looking over their shoulders, these "moderates" would be able to do a power-sharing deal with the "moderate" nationalists. A power-sharing government could emerge in Northern Ireland, the Anglo-Irish Conference could be ended and the British and Irish governments allowed to return to the serious business of running a troubled capitalism in their respective territories.

In effect, the perceptions that Thatcher and Fitzgerald are concerned with changing the bigotry, hatred and patriotic rubbish that they wish to adjust — are those that their political forebears, together with the Ulster Unionists, developed out of the slime of Irish history. The perceptions of both Unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland the way the working class see things — was originally fashioned by the English authorities in the interests of English and Irish landlords in Ireland and was refined — if one can use such an expression for the deliberate promotion of hatred and division among the poor — during the 18th and 19th centuries. Later, the political representatives of a divided Irish capitalist class, Unionists, constitutional nationalists and Sinn Fein, developed that bigotry, hatred and patriotic rubbish as a weapon to promote the interests of the conflicting sides of Irish capitalism in the present century*. Now, with a united capitalist interest, north and south, the old slogans and shibboleths that form the present perceptions of the working class have become an expensive embarrassment. It is these, and only these, that the Accord hopes to adjust.

War of the big battalions
If a change in perceptions did result from the Accord and if these proved effective in ending violence and "normalising" politics in Northern Ireland, the World Socialist Party would acknowledge something that kept our fellow workers out of the cemeteries and the jails and. obviously, the difficult task of spreading our socialist image would be rendered easier without the shadow of the gunman official and unofficial  and in circumstances where less emotional bitterness prevailed. Unfortunately, perceptions are hard to change when the economic conditions that underpin them remain and grow stronger every day.

Nor are we impressed by the cynical deception behind the Accord and the contemptuous efforts of its authors to con workers into the belief that it has anything to do with the social realities of working class life.

Perhaps the most disgusting aspect of the Accord is its obvious intention, promoted by the Pentagon, to clear away the difficulties currently preventing the Irish government from becoming a strategically important member of the Western Alliance. It is a typical irony of capitalist authority that an alleged reform is set in the shadow of a grosser evil. Britain, America and Ireland may deplore a shabby tribal conflict in Northern Ireland but, because war is a persistent and glorified feature of capitalism, they will see no contradiction if part of the formula for ending that conflict is to bring Ireland into a war of the big battalions.

Seeing things the way they are
We can with absolute confidence predict the result of the elections as far as working people are concerned. Irrespective of who gets in or the size of their vote, and whether or not the elections have any bearing on the ultimate rejection or implementation of the Anglo-Irish Accord, life for the working class will remain the same. Our poverty, our unemployment. our slums and mean living will still be with us for these are the constant realities of capitalism however we may perceive it.
Richard Montague

*See IRELAND — PAST. PRESENT AND FUTURE. Available now from the SPGB and the World Socialist Party.