Tuesday, October 24, 2017

We can organise for socialism (1984)

Editorial from the July 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the miners came out on strike in 1972 they were given scanty chance of success for there were plentiful stocks of coal and competition from gas. oil and electricity was thought to have reduced the mines to the status of a dying industry. Who cared if the miners struck? The government were confident that they could simply sit it out.

In the event the miners won, partly by the tactic of sending pickets in strength to places which were not on strike but which were vital to industry, like power stations. In face of this threatened disruption the government capitulated; after the Wilberforce Enquiry the miners got a substantial pay rise. But inevitably that victory brought a reaction, for no government would happily concede so much industrial muscle to any group of workers. One reaction has been the industrial relations legislation which has outlawed picketing except in small numbers and then only at the pickets' own place of work. Of course the miners, realising that to conform to these laws would devitalise any strike, have tried to carry on much as before. On the other hand the government are determined that there shall never be another 1972; that is why the police have been out in such force during the miners' strike and why they have asserted the law with such vigour and with such disregard for legality.

The effect of this has been to place picketing squarely in the public eye and to make the picket, according to the political views of the person concerned, either a hero or a crazy, militant saboteur. Where do socialists stand on this issue?

A strike is the workers' weapon of last resort, with the unusual characteristic that it cannot be used without damaging the user. Just like other weapons, a strike has better chances of success if it is applied with maximum force; the most hopeful strike is one which is solidly unanimous. The implication in this is that such a strike follows a free, democratic decision with the strikers fully informed on what is at stake and sure that there is no other way of winning their point.

The function of a picket is to persuade workers against trying to work during a strike — against trying to blackleg — but in fact this often goes beyond mere discussion as the strikers mount a physical blockade of places of work so that nothing and nobody may move in or out of them. The present law is framed to prevent that happening and to reduce the "persuasion" to the most innocuous of discussion. Small wonder that the miners, with their long history of struggle, find the law such a frustration.

But it is necessary to ask why significant numbers of workers have to be persuaded to join a strike. Workers, after all. know what poverty is; they are familiar with the regular struggle to stretch a pay packet over the mortgage or the rent. food, clothes and travel, let alone such "luxuries" as a holiday. They know also that the employer does not easily concede a pay claim; indeed in present conditions the employers are likely to resist from the first to the last ditch. So why, in the face of this knowledge, should workers need to be persuaded to struggle to protect or to improve their living standards?

The importance of that question lies in the fact that, as we have said, the most effective strike is one supported by the total workforce, in a democratic decision taken with full information. Union leaders sometimes imply that they would welcome this but in reality they would almost certainly find it pretty difficult to deal with for it implies a level of consciousness higher than anything to be observed at present. Class conscious workers are few and far between at the moment; they are aware that capitalism is a society of two classes, defined by the way they get their living, and that these two classes are in continual, unavoidable conflict. While capitalism lasts this conflict will be over the division of wealth: the end of it will be the last stage in struggle — the dispossession of the capitalists and the transformation of the means of life into the property of the human community. It also implies a knowledge that class conscious, democratic workers have no use for leaders to formulate and hand down decisions to them — and. as history teaches, so often to betray the interests they are supposed to represent. But even a strike by such workers would still be a defensive act over the division of wealth: whatever its outcome it would leave capitalism intact.

This prospect is less dismal than it may seem, for such a strike would be evidence of the development of a mass movement asking some fundamentally important questions about society. Even if the strikers won, their class consciousness would forbid them to be satisfied with some relatively paltry wage rise when they could have the world, free of the problems of capitalism. Democratic and class conscious organisation on the industrial field is unlikely to take place unless there was also the same type of development on the political field, where the act of abolishing capitalism must take place. Workers who have seen through capitalism so that they appreciated the need to organise a strike of maximum power would also have grasped the urgency of political action to end capitalism and would be separately organised for that as well.

As the revolution draws near, socialists will be everywhere, running all sorts of organisations from a basis of democratic class consciousness. The majority of the world's people will be demanding, not the defensive restrictions of industrial action, but the acquisitive freedoms of an entire social takeover. They will organise the revolution for socialism because they will know that nothing less will do.

Socialism will be a classless society, free of all the conflicts and repressions of capitalism. Trade unions, as one expression of a class divided society, will not exist. In socialism human beings will co-operate in a massive communal effort for the common good. It will be a world of abundance, with free access to its wealth. People will read in their histories of these dark days of class conflict and poverty and they will wonder why, for so long, their forebears seemed to prefer to live like warring beasts rather than flourish like human beings.

Telling the difference (1984)

From the August 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

If you pay for a bottle of milk and with the first mouthful discover the contents to be whitewash, how would you react? Would the person who sold you the drink convince you that what you were drinking was milk because that was what was on the label of the bottle? Today, many nations around the world describe themselves as "socialist" or “communist” but it is a fact that the present economic and social system operates globally and socialism is yet to be established. If you observe the social arrangements in any region of the world, the hallmarks of a class divided society are evident: the division between the rich and the poor: the minority who own and control the means of life and the majority who produce all the wealth but have to rely on a wage, salary or dole in order to live; the rationing system of money; prisons and police forces to deal with the continuing discontent bred by the competitive commercial rat race, and so on, ad nauseam. If socialism is to have any meaning it must signify something different from capitalism. We would be easily fooled if we took societies like Russia, China or France to be socialist simply because their politicians find it advantageous to use that label. We would be taken in by the whitewash.

Socialists are sometimes challenged with the question: "There are so many varieties of socialism what makes you think your definition is correct? Why do you think your idea is the only one which deserves the label of socialism?" Our response is to invite such a questioner to consider the evidence. Consider the basis of society as it is organised in countries which are described as "capitalist” and "socialist". What are the principles on which wealth is produced and distributed? What is the basic lifestyle of the majority of the people? What social characteristics do these societies share and what distinguishes them?

Recently there were two interesting programmes on Radio 4 on the subject of socialism. An International Assignment (5 May 1984) examined the question "What is Socialism” by looking at various societies on which this title is commonly stuck. The following month Analysis (6 June 1984) asked "Who wants socialism?", directing this question to an array, or rather disarray, of Labour Party politicians. In the International Assignment programme we were taken around the world and given commentaries, by BBC local correspondents, on the "socialism" of the area in which they were based.
All of the evidence confirmed the view that these places are really an integrated part of capitalism. Socialists use the word "capitalism" to describe the existing social system in which a minority owns the means of production — the land, factories, mines, offices, transport systems and communications networks — and where the production process is operated to produce commodities for sale at a profit. Under this system a person's needs can only be met insofar as he or she has the money to pay for them to be satisfied. The commercial system is inherently competitive. Not only do companies rival one another within national boundaries, but nations form into trading blocs which themselves are in competition with each other over new markets and territories to exploit. The real nature of global capitalism can be seen in the trading links between nations which, according to their labels, should be completely hostile to one another. Representatives of the wealth-owners of "Communist" Russia and "Capitalist" South Africa are in regular contact to arrange the pricing of diamonds on the world market. These countries are the main areas of diamond mining and the interests of profit on each side take priority over the rhetoric of their régimes. In an attempt to overcome the effect of the miners’ strike, Mrs. Thatcher's government negotiated with Poland's General Jaruzelski to import coal from Poland. There are clear social and economic differences between nations like Britain and Russia, although it is worth remembering that the greater freedoms enjoyed by workers in places like Britain have only been won after long struggles. Socialists describe the Russian Empire and similar nations as "state-capitalist" because the minority who own and control the means of life are the high-level bureaucrats and politicians who control the state machinery.

All of the BBC radio correspondents informed us of the difficulties encountered by governments trying to square their quest for profit with their mouthing of socialist slogans. Class-divided China was aching with problems for the majority whose work keeps them in poverty and their masters in luxury. The government said this hardship was a necessary expedient in building socialism. The correspondent seemed confused about this, and he had good reason to be. The programme sought an opinion from an English politician, that famed Labour Party egalitarian, Dame Judith Hart. She said that nationalisation was not really socialism and that we needed to work for another form of common ownership. Socialists would agree with her on that, but the Labour Party has never stood for anything but the profit system. Common ownership, where everybody owns all social wealth, and where there is therefore no need for government, is not something the Labour Party advocates.

The correspondent in Austria noticed that much of what many left-wingers in Britain advocate as problem-solving reforms already exist in Austria, with no great joy for the workers there. Seventy- five per cent of credit, insurance and financial business is conducted by state-owned banks and institutions. For the last fourteen years the government, describing itself as "socialist", has implemented a reform programme which would be supported by most left-wing parties. One third of the gross national product is accounted for by companies where the state is the main shareholder. There has even been a Welfare Slate there since before the second World War. But what about the workers? The basic condition of the wealth-producers is still all that it can ever be under capitalism: those who can get employment receive a wage which is worth less than the value of what they have produced. Their problems of poverty and insecurity remain unsolved.

The next port of call was France. More twisted doublethink. Since President Mitterrand and his “socialist" government came to power three years ago, France has perfected the technology for the neutron bomb; commissioned a new nuclear submarine and developed its own land-based missile system. Another difficulty which the correspondent observed was that the government justified its expansion of the death services — the military machine — by explaining that this created much needed employment. Those groups who campaign simply for more exploitation within capitalism, “jobs for all", have to answer for this.

The political travelogue continued. The locations were different but the tales were similar. In Portugal, where the radio journalist said that the reddest thing about “socialist” Portugal is its bank balance. With inflation running at over 30 per cent the government is hugely in debt and is inflicting a series of austerity measures against the workers, complying with an instruction from the International Monetary Fund. In Spain the government is blaming the severity of its anti-working-class policies on the trouble created by the previous government. Then to Africa, where a variety of grimly anti-working-class, autocratic regimes had adopted the name and vocabulary of socialism as titles of convenience. often as part of a strategy to attract military assistance from the Russian Empire.

Diluting the truth
Since its formation in 1906, the Labour Party has always sought political power to run the profit system. Its manifestoes have always been crammed with policies on the military forces, the financial and taxation systems, and a variety of ways in which wage-slavery should be controlled. Even the Labour Party’s declaration of intent to establish “socialism” is clear on this point: Clause 4 of its objects refers to the “common ownership of the means of production. distribution and exchange”. What does this mean? If there is common ownership, so that everyone owns everything, then there is no need for a means of exchange, there is no need for money. It is clear that what is intended by this object is another variant of state-capitalism — a social system with money and banks and working for wages and therefore with exploitation. Listening to the politicians speak on the programme Analysis, some of the reasons the Labour Party had its most catastrophic general election result for half a century became apparent. It is confused. Robin Cook, for instance, who was Neil Kinnock’s leadership campaign manager, stated that Neil was popular because he was articulating a vision of socialism and a set of priorities which is shared by the vast majority of mainstream activists. What vision of socialism was that? It must have been uttered surreptitiously between making dance videos with Tracey Ullman and trying to match the national chauvinism of Winston Churchill:
We must show that we have positive policies which are based upon the implacable requirement that the interests of the British people must predominate. (Leadership election manifesto 1983.)
Later on in the programme, Roy Hattersley, the Deputy Labour leader, was speaking about the need for Labour to build a new set of ideas:
We’ve rejected what the newspapers call Marxism or extremism by an immobilise position. We've decided that the best thing is not to have any ideas unless the ideas turn out to be too dangerous.
No political party can have no ideas, although the SDP/Liberal Alliance seems to be making a good attempt. Quite what Hattersley means by this remark is puzzling to say the least. John Golding, another prominent Labour politician, was more direct. He admitted:
I don't think there is any point in arguing about ideology or what is socialism. My own experience tells me that that takes you nowhere.
There can be no denying that the arguments John Golding has engaged in have taken him nowhere, nor that, so far as socialism is concerned, nowhere is the place the working class has been led to by the Labour Party. Discussion and debate and an understanding of what socialism is and how to get it are, however, indispensable preconditions for the democratic establishment of a socialist society. There is no point in simply spending energy “doing things” and "getting involved in activity" if you have no clear idea of your political objective. If you have a clear idea of what you want to cook and how to cook it. the result will he a success. There would be little sense in shovelling all the ingredients together and mixing them on the basis that at least you are doing something.

Austin Mitchell, the Labour MP for Grimsby, himself speaking in culinary terms, unashamedly expressed the role of the politician:
The job of the politician is to take the truth and dilute it with flavouring and colouring matter to make it saleable to a wider electorate.
There are many supporters of the Labour Party who want social equality, an end to competitive society and a peaceful, prosperous world. But they are not supporting a party which can ever bring about such a social system. Labour's record of managing capitalism is riddled with all of the anti-working class actions to which any government is forced by the economics of the profit-system. It has broken strikes, frozen wages, cut already low grade social services, closed schools and hospitals and acted as a recruiting sergeant for the bosses in times of war.

John Lennon’s song Imagine is about a socialist society:
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace . . .
Whether or not it was opportunism which prompted the Labour Party to use this song on a recent Party Political Broadcast (29 May 1984), it is scarcely a fitting anthem for a party whose leader had pronounced three days before:
We are committed entirely to the security and defence of our own country and full participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. (Guardian, 26 May 1984.)
Working class experience of mistitled "socialist” nations and misleading parties like the Labour Party will rub away their credibility, but that in itself is not enough. For socialism we need a majority of socialists ready to run the world in the most productive, creative and enjoyable way possible. It’s a good idea but it needs to be made more than that.
Gary Jay

The Democratic Way? (1984)

From the September 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

When stripped of its showbiz trimmings the 1984 American Presidential Election is looking more and more like a rerun of last year's British counterpart. In both cases the incumbent governments have presided over very large increases in unemployment, with all this means in terms of working class misery and have responded by reducing rather than increasing the scale of welfare benefits. At one time the Labour Party in Great Britain had high hopes that this would lead to the Tories' defeat, but bitter disillusionment awaited them in 1983. They failed then basically because they were unable to convince workers that they had alternative policies to reverse the downward slide. Views expressed by embittered lefties like Alec Kitson, that Labour's 1983 Manifesto was effective but that defeat came about through misrepresentation by the Tory press, are not supported by the facts. If the American Democrats harboured similar illusions about an easy return to power they will long since have abandoned them in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary. They have however made a start, choosing their candidates for the Presidency and producing an election programme. It has to be remembered that it is the party which wins the race to the White House which forms the next government irrespective of the results of the elections to the two Houses of Congress.

Walter Mondale went into the Democrats' July convention in San Francisco in an apparently impregnable position. The only way he could be thwarted would be by application of a new rule under which delegates can switch their vote before the first ballot. This is however designed to unite the party behind an obvious front runner and avoid prolonged balloting, not to block a candidate who is the clear choice of party workers. The only way such a tactic could have been employed in Mondale’s case was if the convention had considered that someone else (which could really only mean his main rival Gary Hart) had a better chance of defeating Ronald Reagan.

The primary campaign can be divided into three phases. At first Mondale appeared to have a clear run. After Hart's victory in New Hampshire in early March it was suggested that Hart’s “new ideas” might sweep him to the nomination. In the context of trying to obtain a better deal for the working class under capitalism, any claims by Hart to have new ideas merely revealed his political cynicism and his failure to maintain his momentum during the final phase of the primaries may well have partly resulted from this point having sunk home. However in the field of the Democrats' 1984 chances of success, Hart’s complaint that the pro-Mondale forces represented the old alignment of Democrat supporters had some basis, in as much as Mondale’s biggest wins came in traditional strongholds and relied heavily on his following in inner city areas, the trade unions and so-called ethnic minorities. In contrast Hart’s successes came mainly in areas where the Republicans were successful in 1980, some of which the Democrats must win back in November.

The effect of the often bitter primary campaign on the Democrats' chance was summed up in The Times (7 June 1984):
According to Mr Mondale, who is trying to assure himself of the nomination by acting as though he is already the Democratic choice, the bruising primary battle has not caused irreparable damage to the party. Opinion polls tell a different story, however. When he opened the primary campaign as the Democratic front-runner polls showed him leading Mr Reagan by more than two points. Today, after 57 Democratic primaries and caucuses involving 15 million voters and $45m (£32m) in campaign spending. Mr Mondale is trailing Mr Reagan by eight points.
The gap then widened further and the Sunday Times (1 July 1984) indicated that Reagan led Mondale by 19 per cent and Hart by 12 per cent. There were however then still four months to go to polling day. If Hart had been chosen as candidate for the vice-presidency his apparent pull outside the traditional areas of Democratic support might have helped Mondale. However the low rating that Reagan has among women voters (according to The Times of 9 June 1984 Mondale leads him by 16 percent in this category) probably had much to do with a woman being chosen as Mondale's running mate. Ronald Reagan is said to hold old fashioned biblical views on the role of women in society. The Times (7 July 1984) reported that the National Organisation of Women (NOW) passed a resolution last weekend warning Mondale that they might initiate a potentially embarrassing fight at the Democratic Party convention . . .  if he fails to nominate a woman.” These campaigners should have realised from the experience with Margaret Thatcher. Indira Gandhi and earlier examples that electing a woman into a traditionally male post will do nothing to promote equality between the sexes nor to alleviate the problems of capitalist society.

The Democrats’ election platform was not finally hammered out until the convention met, when a 100-page document drawn up after much horsetrading by a 184-member platform committee was presented at San Francisco. This gives at least some idea of the stance likely to be adopted by the Democrats in November; for example, it calls for annual summit meetings with Russia starting next year. The Times (25 June 1984) reported that:
Attacking President Reagan as dangerous, reckless and out of touch with reality, it says the next President should update and resubmit to the Senate the unratified Salt 2 arms reduction treaty. On domestic issues, the document calls for new or enhanced government assistance for the various constituencies that form the party's backbone — the poor, elderly, blacks and other minorities. It also proposes tax increases for the wealthy and big companies to help pay for these programmes.
All this has a familiar ring to British ears. Although the Democratic Party has never claimed and is not likely ever to claim, to be a socialist party, here we have a programme that could easily have been put out by the Labour Party in Britain, perhaps accompanied by fanfares heralding a “new socialist dawn”. The only thing missing is any mention of a cosmetic nationalising of "the commanding heights". What is more, the Times report went on to say that "the document is more conservative than in recent years”. Coupled with the observation that the Democrats draw their main support from the same sections of the working class as do the Labour Party, this similarity of platforms intensifies the thought that the 1984 Presidential election is like a rerun of June 1983 in Britain. And it seems unlikely that the Democrats will be any more successful than Labour were then.. Which need not trouble anyone who is aware that Labour or Tory, Republican or Democrat, make no difference to the capitalist system.
E. C. Edge

The TUC and the miners (1984)

From the October 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just as the greatest strength which the working class can have is consciousness of its social position and active solidarity in action, so the greatest weakness it can show is political ignorance and class disunity. At the TUC conference the rhetoric of solidarity provided an unconvincing disguise for the realities of class sectionalism and political naivete.

On the agenda was the Miners’ Strike. What a great opportunity for the speechwriters of spontaneous clichés to stir the conference hall with slogans as empty as the bellies of the strikers. Even before the conference commenced there was a deal struck between the leaders — leaders, note — of the TUC and the NUM. Scargill and his mates left the luxury suite of the TUC's General Secretary, having agreed on a compromise resolution to the conference. (Incidentally, we did not notice the press demanding that the miners' leaders should ballot the striking miners before the deal with Murray could be supported by the NUM). The compromise motion — stripped of the inevitable verbiage — amounted to three propositions: the TUC calls on the government to implement The Plan for Coal; the TUC calls on unions to raise money for the striking miners; the TUC calls on unions not to cross picket lines where coal or alternative energy products are being moved.

Let us take a look at the motion which was, after all, carried by an overwhelming majority of delegates, claiming to represent millions of workers.

The Plan for Coal
The TUC places itself in a position of dangerous class collaboration when it issues advice to governments about how to run capitalism. In fact, at least half of this year's TUC conference was spent on political discussions about the running of capitalism which is a matter workers should have nothing to do with. Resolutions were passed telling the government how to run its indoctrination (polite term: education) service, whether to support NATO, how to expand the health service and — in the case being considered — why it must stick to the policy for the coal industry outlined by the Labour government in 1974. The job of trade unions is to fight in the field of employment (the industrial struggle) over the question of wages and working conditions. If union officials put all the effort which is currently wasted on devising plans for the system which robs them and giving aid to the capitalist Labour Party into engaging militantly in the necessary struggle over the rate of exploitation then the bosses would have more to worry about and the House of Lords would have fewer retired union bosses claiming their seats in the rest home for those who have given loyal service to the cause of privilege and thievery.

TUC insistence that the government should implement The Plan for Coal is futile on at least three counts. Firstly, the government which has changed the old coal policy was elected, like all governments. mainly by members of the working class, not by a majority of capitalists. It has been estimated that as many as 35 per cent of trade unionists voted for the Tory government in the general election last year. For trade union leaders, who happen to be supporters of the Labour Party's schemes for capitalism, to insist — on behalf of their members — that the government must accept their set of priorities for capitalism is an impotent gesture. Secondly, by endorsing The Plan for Coal the TUC — again, on behalf of millions of workers — is giving its support to a plan for profit. The Plan for Coal is a policy for the running of the energy industry within Britain and within capitalism. But workers have no stake in Britain or in capitalism; our interest lies in the production of coal and other energy products solely for use. The details of organising democratic production for need within a worldwide, socialist society is what should be concerning workers — not these miserable little pleas for the capitalists to exploit us this way instead of that. Thirdly, what a massive waste of time and hope it is for the TUC to pass such pious resolutions, which will be regarded with contempt by Margaret Thatcher and her ministers.

Financial backing
The original demand of the NUM was for a 10p levy on all trade unionists to provide for the strike fund. After the deal struck between the NUM and General Council the demand was dropped and a general appeal for unions to provide money for the strike was included. This again was not a matter for the TUC: it is long-established that it is up to individual unions what they do with their funds. It was pointed out by one delegate that the government certainly did not ballot anyone before spending the three billion pounds which it has paid out so far to break the strike. This is untrue: the government won its right to represent the exploiters through the ballot box. If, instead of wasting its time on pious motions. the united trade union movement — the workers within it, not just their leaders — were to have engaged in the political struggle to prevent the election of a government which will strain every muscle to defeat the power of organised labour (which would mean opposing the Labour as well as the Tory party), then the agents of capitalism would have been defeated at the ballot box. Face the facts: the only alternative to the mess which the working class is in is socialism.

Inter-union solidarity
It was the third clause of the motion which was the most important, for if it was adhered to there can be little doubt that the miners' cause would be much advanced. It was the most important promise and also the most dishonest. The hard reality is that TUC leaders voting against crossing picket lines will not alter the fact that "total physical support" will not be given to the striking miners by most workers who are simply interested in going to work to get their pay. Hammond of the EEPTU — one of the most disgustingly reactionary trade union leaders in the history of the movement, to be sure — was being honest w'hen he stated that the TUC could make whatever phoney promises it liked to the miners, but his members in the power stations (who would be vital to the implementation of clause 3) would not be refusing to cross picket lines. Ron Todd of the T and G admitted that passing the motion was one thing, but implementing it would be another: the truer way of putting that is to say that if the TGWU started expelling members for crossing miners’ or dockers’ picket lines it would lead to the destruction of the union. TUC leaders' promises are next to worthless; what counts is the active solidarity of the rank and file workers.

Unity is Strength
Most strikes could be won by united action on the part of class-conscious workers in different industries and different countries. At present trade unionism is too sectional and too nationalist in its outlook. But why confine our ambitions to the limited aim of uniting to win strikes? Working-class unity, on the basis of socialist understanding, could win more than the crumbs or a bigger slice of the cake: it could win the world for the workers. Uniting for the feeble aim of the "right" to be employed (exploited) or "defending Britain's coal industry" is a waste of energy in comparison with the real struggle before us which is to win the world and everything in it for the people of the world.

Socialism will not be obtained by passing resolutions at the TUC. These opportunist union leaders who talk about representing the workers and who then spend more on a hotel suite for a week than most working-class families can afford for their annual holiday are enemies of socialism and will remain so as long as they seek to lead the working class. Socialism will not be helped by members of that viciously anti-working class party, the Labour Party, which has used the money of honest trade unionists in order to campaign for the power to govern against the unions. Socialism requires neither leaders nor followers. Workers must make our own revolution, consciously, democratically and united. If the miners learn any lesson from the TUC conference it is to ignore the sympathetic cheering and check the small print of the practical plans for action. Those seeking revolution rather than resolutions will have no great expectations about the outcome of the TUC's meaningless pledge of support.
Steve Coleman

Miners and the law (1984)

From the November 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who can now doubt the existence of the iron fist of the state? With the miners' strike now in its seventh month, the velvet glove of rhetoric about justice and the rule of law has been revealed as thread-bare. At each stage of the policing and judicial process the liberal concepts of justice and equality before the law have been cynically abandoned in the case of striking miners. We should not, of course, be surprised since the tactics used by the police and courts have been tried and tested in Northern Ireland and during the inner city riots in St. Pauls. Toxteth and Brixton — Dip-lock courts where judges sit alone without juries are paralleled in the use of stipendiary magistrates; internment without trial has its counterpart in the use of bail conditions which severely curtail freedom of movement even though criminal charges may not. in the end, be brought; and the militarisation of the police in recent years.

From the very start of the strike the police have implemented contingency plans that had been formulated long before the beginning of the present dispute. The “intercept” strategy — attempts by the police to prevent miners getting to the collieries to picket by setting up road blocks — was put into operation despite the fact that the police have no powers in this country to set up road blocks under existing laws. (The Police and Criminal Evidence Bill currently being enacted does give the police this power, but at present it is not law.) Suggestions have also been made that the police have removed, or tampered with road signs with the intention of confusing miners travelling to picket lines outside their own areas. So much for freedom of movement!

For those workers who do manage to get to the picket lines with the intention of trying peacefully to persuade their fellow workers to join the strike, there is the risk that they will be subject to indiscriminate arrest by police “snatch squads”; cavalry charges by police in riot gear on horses carrying batons; and verbal and physical abuse. Allegations by miners that during certain picketing incidents they have been subjected to physical mal-treatment by the police both during and after arrest are too numerous and too consistent to be disregarded. These policing tactics are being implemented by what has become a national police force organised by the National Reporting Centre. In order to avoid outraging local councillors — both Tory and Labour — who are implementing its penny-pinching policies on public expenditure, the government has now decided to pay for the extra cost of policing the strike. “Law and order" has once again been shown to be exempt from the cash limits imposed on other areas of public spending like health care, housing or education.

After their arrest striking miners are frequently subjected to political questioning by “plainclothes policemen" on areas wholly unrelated to the spurious offences with which they have been charged. The types of questions asked clearly reveal the intentions of the interrogators and those who have deployed them. Miners are commonly asked to reveal who organised the picket, how much they are paid for picketing, how their action is co-ordinated, whether they are union officials, what are their political affiliations, what their views are on the trade union movement, unemployment and related topics. Miners who refused to answer such questions have then been subjected to threats that they would continue to be held in police custody until they came up with the information required.

Once they have been charged miners go through the farce of appearing in court for the purpose of getting bail. At this point in the process the political use of the courts is at its most blatant. Under the terms of the Bail Act magistrates should decide whether or not bail is appropriate given the circumstances of a particular individual and whether conditions should be imposed. In the case of striking miners bail has been almost universally conditional upon the accused not attending NCB property in connection with the dispute, except their own place of work. In some cases the conditions imposed — that the accused should not go out between the hours of 11.00pm and 9.00am, or that he should not enter a specified area such as the county of Nottinghamshire — have amounted to a curfew.

Early in October a High Court hearing began concerning this issue. The NUM allege that Mansfield Magistrates Court, in particular, has been operating a blanket policy of bail conditions in flagrant disregard of the Bail Act. Evidence was given to the court that pre-prepared printed bail conditions were merely stapled to the bail form as pickets were brought before the courts, whether or not the miner was of “previously good character” and whatever his circumstances. It is unlikely that the NUM will win the action since the dice are loaded against them; however, their failure to do so will add to the considerable evidence that is accumulating to show that the courts are not impartial.

There can be little doubt that bail in these cases is being used as a means of social control, as a way to keep miners away from picket lines. This contention is given extra weight when the rate of successful prosecutions is considered. The conviction rate in magistrates’ courts is usually very high (around 90 per cent), but in the case of pickets there is evidence to suggest that the rate of successful prosecutions is much lower. The charges brought are frequently vague (behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace; obstruction) or derived from obscure and archaic legislation. They are also often based on the flimsiest of evidence, with the result that the police are. in a significant number of cases, dropping the charges (sometimes the night before the case is due to be heard) or not offering any evidence at all. Although it is too early to give firm statistics — the cases are only just beginning to be heard in large numbers — a preliminary survey of cases from the South Yorkshire area showed that more than 60 per cent of miners charged have been subject to bail conditions curtailing their freedom of action and movement for considerable periods of time (on average 124 days in the cases in the survey referred to) only to have the charges against them either withdrawn, dismissed or not proven.

It is possible that this pattern will alter now that the government has sent in stipendiary magistrates to deal with the backlog of cases. These are professional, paid magistrates who sit alone and who are not noted for their leniency. Again the liberal notion of judgement by one’s peers has been shown to be an expedient that the ruling class will dispense with when it is under threat.

Members of the working class arrive at an understanding of the contradictions of capitalism and the case for socialism through a variety of means, one of the most important of which is their own experience. To expose the rotten core of capitalism and its coercive arms — the state, the police and the criminal justice system — will not necessarily result in a socialist consciousness, but making the nature of the state transparent can only contribute to the undermining of the belief — still prevalent among significant sections of the working class — that the administration of justice in capitalism is impartial. The miners’ strike, whatever its outcome, will have demonstrated that the liberal rhetoric of justice and equality before the law is meaningless given the basic inequality of capitalism. The remedy is not to try to make the courts and police fairer or more impartial but to do away with the need for them altogether; and that can only be brought about if the working class collectively and co-operatively work together for socialism.
Janie Percy-Smith

Party News (1984)

Party News from the December 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard


Late October. Doncaster. The Socialist Party was in debate against the local Young Tories. An audience of 40, including 30 non-members, listened to the case for capitalism, as defended by a young lawyer who argued that without the laws of property society would descend into chaos. The socialist speaker had to explain that capitalism is in chaos and that only socialist production for use will enable people to bring social affairs under control. Several striking miners were present and they were left in no doubt that the solution to the problems of capitalism involved much more than defeating "Thatcherism" and electing a Labour government of capitalism. The case for revolution received an enthusiastic reception from quite a few of those present and our comrades in Doncaster are looking forward to the speedy growth of the Party in the South Yorkshire area. The local Labourites agreed at the end of the meeting to hold a debate with us in the near future. Will they be true to their word?

In the same week. Islington branch ran a debate against a bunch of Leninist jokers who take themselves more seriously than any workers are ever likely to: the Communist Workers’ Organisation. They were arguing that a majority of workers can never achieve socialist understanding under capitalism but, instead of drawing from this unhistorical assumption the logical conclusion that socialism is therefore impossible. the CWO plans to set up socialism (as a leadership) without the workers being conscious.

The debate, which attracted an audience of 60, most of them non-members, proved to be an interesting education class in the follies of Leninism, part of the education being provided by the socialist speaker and the other part being demonstrated by the idiocies uttered by the bogus communists of the CWO. The latter organisation — about twenty of them throughout the country — regard themselves as the revolutionary vanguard of what they call "the class". According to them, office workers, foremen, policemen and trade union officials are not members of the working class.

In their published statement on the post-revolutionary transition period we are informed that the vanguard will set up a "proletarian state" — for, according to these Leninists, it is an anarchist fallacy to imagine that the state will disappear immediately in a socialist society. Their speaker stated (into the microphone, and obtainable from the Tapes Committee) that “there will need to be a socialist police force". Their second speaker, a Leninist caricature who ought to audition for Citizen Smith, thought that workers can't understand socialist ideas and they won’t understand them until the socialist revolution takes place.

A couple of silly romanticists salivated over the fact that the CWO's revolution would involve "a scries of bloody battles" (but not just yet) and that the CWO was all in favour of the miners using class violence (which the Leninist vanguard was prepared to endorse on a theoretical level, but would leave the miners themselves to the practical activity of serving the prison sentences).

The CWO, like a few other obscure Leninist sects with whom the Socialist Party has debated, has an infuriating habit of speaking in language that few workers can understand: when they attend a meeting they arc "making an intervention"; anyone with whom they agree is part of "the revolutionary milieu"; and democracy is only a "bourgeois fetish". The Socialist Party was accused of paying too much attention to "democratism”.

These would-be state-capitalist dictators are a laugh a cliché; the young Tories of Doncaster, confused and anti-working class as they were clearly shown to be,d could give the CWO lessons in political integrity. But we have more than a strong suspicion that public debating will not be engaged in by the CWO again in a hurry; after all. if you think that workers are too thick to understand the case for socialism — which is what the CWO position amounts to — why bother talking to the dummies?
Steve Coleman

Activity in Paris

It seems that several years of hard work by very few members has finally begun to pay off, with the possible formation of a regular discussion group in Paris. Our French language journal, Socialisme Mondial, now has about eighty subscribers. A series of press advertisements has produced a modest but steady response and a list of over one hundred current contacts throughout France. Recently, a couple of members visited about ten contacts in the Paris area, some of whom are now fully in agreement with the socialist case and could form the nucleus of a group there. We have also been exchanging literature with several other groups in Paris calling themselves "communist". Some of these contacts have proved quite fruitful. We can, then, report that a small but determined group of French workers is in the course of emerging from the political wilderness to challenge the stale myths of capitalism in all of its forms.
Clifford Slapper

Wood Green Branch Report. (1906)

From the January 1906 Socialist Standard.
Party News from the January 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

The propaganda of the Party in the district continues, notwithstanding the weather. Some very good meetings have been held by the local comrades in fog, and rain, and wind, and all those other elements which are usually considered detrimental to out-door meetings. Whether it is that the pressure of economic conditions is beginning to have a stimulating effect on the minds of the inhabitants, or whether it is a mere curiosity to know what possesses us that we should so diligently persist in our efforts, the fact remains that there is an increasing interest shown in our work. Probably the cause is to be found in the excellent lectures that have been delivered during the past three months in Dovecote Hall. These lectures have been an unqualified success. The approaches to Socialism, when examined in detail, are intensely fascinating, and we believe that considerable impetus has been given to the study of our Propaganda by means of these lectures and the excellent discussions that follow. We most heartily recommend a visit to the Hall to anyone, especially to those whose pet objection is Socialism. We can promise such a fair field but no favour.
Dick Kent

Important Notice. (1906)

Party News from the February 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our next issue, which will be published on March 3rd, will contain a further instalment of "The Extinction of Petty Enterprise," by Karl Kautsky, also an article on "Independent Labour at the Polls," showing the extent to which "Labour" candidates have compacted with the Liberal Party for the purpose of securing election to Parliament, etc. Readers should ensure an early copy by forwarding 1s. 6. to the S.P.G.B. Offices, 1a, Caledonian Rd., Kings Cross, London, N., for which sum The Socialist Standard will be sent post free to any part of the world for twelve mouths.

*    *    *    *

P. Gillies was expelled by the Tottenham Branch of the Socialist Party of Great Britain at their meeting on January 28th, for supporting the Liberal Candidate for the Tottenham Division at the recent parliamentary election.

The Ethics of Revolution. (1906)

From the March 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

In stating the case for Socialism the modern revolutionist proceeds from the material ground work upon which Society rests, to trace the manner in which present day capitalist society came into being, to show the forces at work within that society, and to explain how the foundation is being prepared for a social revolution. In showing how men's actions are mainly determined by their material interests, and how the economic factor is the chief determinant of material conditions, the Socialist takes little notice of the individual as such, but deals almost solely with the classes winch are in existence owing to economic necessity. It is generally admitted that environment is a principal factor in the creation of character; so that the strength of the Socialists’ claim as to the importance of the economic factor is at once apparent.

Some good people in the Labour movement, however, are keenly endeavouring to get the workers to study ethics. They urge that the world would be much better and happier if only people were more moral and altruistic, and they further argue that if the working class, the despised and rejected of men. would display a higher morality, the capitalist class would be converted to the Labour movement. The Socialist has one of his most insidious foes in the ethical culturist. Their position is a denial of the materialist basis of Socialism, because it is simply an appeal to the individual, as though the majority of individuals could elevate themselves above their environment. If the teaching of ethics were all that is required to bring social salvation, how comes it that after 2,000 years of the teaching of the ethics of Christianity for example, the hewers of wood and drawers of water are worse off than they have been for ages? Buddha, Confucius, and others taught the Golden Rule long before Christ, yet the world is little the better.

The teaching of love and brotherhood, in a system that exists owing to the robbery of one class by another, is immoral. The moral course is that followed by the Socialist, who points out why this robbery takes place, explains the method by which it is done, and shows how it may be ended. The Socialist alone, in the light of his economic determinism, can point to the moral advances of the past and lay his linger on each of the causes. The advance from cannibalism to chattel-slavery was only accomplished because the domestication of animals and the growth of agriculture made it more profitable to enslave a man than to eat him. The change from chattel-slavery to wage-labour occurred through the advent of manufacture by machinery which rendered “free” wage-labour more profitable, because the wage-labourer has only to be kept while producing profit, whereas the chattel-slave had to be kept whether his labour was profitable or not

Both cannibalism and chattel-slavery appear immoral now, because the advanced material position renders them unnecessary. Under Socialism, the worker having lost his commodity character. wage-slavery will appear just as immoral as chattel-slavery and cannibalism do now.

Standing firmly all the time on his materialist philosophy, the Socialist keeps clear of the illogical position taken up by the ethicist and the alleged Labour leader. Realising that with a society whose material foundation is conducive to a better relationship between man and man, a higher morality must ensue because of this advance in civilisation, he endeavours to teach his fellow members of the working class the opposition of the capitalist class and system to their interests, and the immorality of their position, and he organises them for the overthrow of capitalism, and the establishment of the higher system Socialism. The revolutionist is the most moral because he points out the causes of to-day’s evils, and organises to uproot them, while the Utopian ethicist leads the workers, consciously or unconsciously, in a manner calculated to breed despair, since they do not show the way to social emancipation, but on the contrary, blind them to the root causes of their misery. Revolution alone is moral, because it is consistent with the facts of life. The revolutionist is the true ethical teacher, because he endeavours to establish a form of society in which man's relationship with his fellows would necessitate a higher ethic than that of to-day
E. J. B. Allen

Paddington Branch Report. (1906)

Party News from the April 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

Throughout the Winter we have been very busy waging the fight, and have missed only two Sunday meetings and those through rain. Speaking to good-sized audiences and arousing keen interest in the principles of our Party have resulted in considerable discussion and good sales of literature, whilst constant reiteration of Socialism is every day turning the apathetic into the sympathetic, and the sympathetic into out-and-out followers. Just now we are being heckled by one or two of the very old school of Trade Unionism, who, having had the same questions answered by various speakers, still persist in asking them, so proving both their doggedness and the thickness of their skulls. Another phase of our activity is that every Sunday night a number of our comrades have made raids upon some of the strongholds of confusion, carrying death and destruction (figuratively speaking) into their midst, so that the name of the S.P.G.B. is dreaded by the misleaders of the working class.

Finally, and perhaps most important of all, the debate between our comrade Fitzgerald and a local councillor and Tory politician has been carried through with great success before a large audience, and our future task is to transform this triumph into a boom for the S.P.G.B.
F. S. Leigh

Second Annual Conference of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. (1906)

Party News from the May 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the Communist Club. Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, the S.P.G.B. held its 2nd Annual Conference on Good Friday and Saturday.

It wan unanimously agreed early in the proceedings to admit the press and the public.

Twenty-seven delegates attended, representing 13 branches. R. Elrick (Islington). was appointed chairman on Friday, and L. Boyne (Tottenham) on Saturday.

The report of the Executive Committee (which showed a gratifying increase of membership, an improved financial position, many enquiries from the provinces and prospects of the formation of several provincial branches, an extended circulation of The Socialist Standard and the holding of 600 propaganda meetings) was approved and adopted nem. con. Arising from its discussion the E.C. were instructed to organise a cycling corps to further extend the area of Party activity, 

Some considerable discussion arose over the election of officers. Eventually it was decided that as the only nomination for Secretary, and some of those for the Executive and Auditors, had arrived at Head Office late they were therefore invalid.

The following officer were then declared duly elected:
Treasurer: A. J. M. Gray.
Executive: A. Anderson. A. Barker. J. Crump. H. Davies. T. Dix. P. Dumenil. J. Fitzgerald. W. Gifford, W. T. Hopley. A. Jones. T. A. Jackson. H. Neumann.
Auditor: J. H. Kennett.
T. A. Jackson was elected General Secretary  pro. tem.
The voting on Amendments to Rules resulted in the alteration of seven Rules. The amendments will be included in further issues of the Party Manifesto and will be forwarded to Branches as soon as printed.

A keen and interesting discussion centred upon a resolution moved by J. J. Humphrey (Fulham) and seconded by W. T. Hopley (Paddington) respecting Trade Unionism, during which both supporters and opponents realized that very wide issues needing careful consideration were raised. The resolution was defeated by a card vote and it was unanimously agreed on the motion of H. C. Phillips (Romford) and F. Blewett (Battersea), "That the E.C. be instructed to call a Special Party Meeting to discuss our position re Trade Unionism, and that a poll of the Party be taken on all resolutions arising therefrom."

It was agreed on the motion of the Paddington Branch that an organiser be appointed.

The audited Treasurer's statement was, after discussion, unanimously adopted.

After the adjournment on Friday, a Social and Dance was held, lasting until midnight, at which many comrades and several friends of the Communist Club assisted the Amhurst Quadrille Band to entertain a crowded and well satisfied company.

The 2nd Annual Conference showed to all whom it may concern that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is moving steadily forward to the attainment of its ideal


Copies of the Photograph of the Conference may be obtained at Head Office, price 2/- each, postage 3d.

Captains and Guides. (1906)

From the June 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

The National Union of Teachers has been in existence for 35 years. It has three representatives in Parliament, a membership rivalling in numbers the great Trade Unions, each member a “captain and guide of the democracy.” An Archbishop sends greeting to its latest Conference, Vicar and Major, Ex-Cabinet Minister and M.P„ all unite to “welcome” and patronise the delegates assembled at said Conference. All are greeted with rapturous “applause," and all is as well as well can be in this best of all possible educational worlds.

And yet—and yet—the career of a “captain," the lot of a “guide," is still like unto the policeman's life “when constabulary duty's to be done." List to the plaint of the President. “A career inadequately remunerated, passed under harassing conditions, practically in many cases, the servants of officials who rule with an iron hand, depending for their livelihood on voice and brain, and, if these fail, cast aside without remorse."

Every "elementary” teacher will agree with this picture. Who can say who will be the next to swell the scrap-heap which the present state of Society is ever tending to increase? In case of breakdown, his service to the State entitles him to a pauper's dole, his old age is rewarded with little better. He is a little higher than the artisan, and a little lower than the bank clerk. In any case, he is absolutely dependent upon wages for his subsistence. He is, in short, a proletarian. Does he ever seriously consider that, for class purposes, he is ever busily employed in manufacturing better material for the merchant and sweater, sturdier stuff, mayhap for "cannon fodder," obedient tools to shoot their own kith and kin if necessary. Does his ever-increasing dread of inspector and "organiser,” his anything but dignified scramble for “promotion" ever give him time to reflect that a proportion of his scholars will inevitably join the ranks of the unemployed, that a Social System which he (for the most part) accepts as “ inevitable.” but which is merely rendered possible by his mental inertia, and the mental inertia of his fellow-workers in all walks of life, will condemn some of the scholars to join the army of shame in our great city?

I rejoice that there are faint gleams in our ranks (I speak as a teacher) of the dawn of class consciousness. The utterance of the President at Conference was an indication in this direction, as was that of the President of the London Teachers Association last October. “Did the man in the street but realise that the struggle between the Old and the New in education was in progress, and that he was interested in the result, that Democracy was contending against Privilege, he would come in and help. '

But there is clearly a very faint perception among teachers of real issues that will have to be met, perhaps not so many decades hence. I put it to the less prejudiced of the profession would any historian imagine from the proceedings of the Conference that 13,000,000 were on the borderland of of, or beneath, the poverty line? Men who have hardly learnt to think outside their Catechism, who are apparently proud of their subordination to a church whose chief “educational" aim has been to keep the teacher in his proper station, and to see that he inculcates in his pupils due respect for his “pastors and masters,'' unite with more or less sincere believers in “ Simple Bible Teaching,” to cheer such “tosh" as “if the Bible is excluded from the schools, they shut out in the slums and towns of the great cities tens of thousands of little scraps of humanity from the sweetening and bee-utifying influences of Christian truth." Really, they must have been exceptionally conscientious down Bristol way in times past. One cannot help calling to mind how, in this unregenerate Metropolis, whole "Scripture" lessons were quietly, but firmly, appropriated for instruction in other than “Christian truth" when the “Annual Parade Day” neared. And —“Christian Truth ! ” "What is Truth" said jesting Pilate. Should he be polite enough to “wait for an answer” to-day. one might reply, “Dunno. I’ll ask you one, what is Christian Truth ? "

Comrades—.Socialism is “in the air." In any case it behoves you as teachers and students to acquaint yourselves with a force that has already commanded the attention of serious men and women of all classes. We are not “all Socialists now.” That is one of the lies resorted to by a class that well understands the real import of the radical change implied by real Socialism.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has been formed to do educational spade work in the matter of Socialism. It is a frankly intransigeant body, which believes firmly in Socialism as the only possible way to economic salvation and clean living. Rejecting all compromise, viewing all “palliative" mongering with distrust and suspicion, it is determined to make for the goal of Social Salvation by ever insisting on what is becoming more and more patent to thinking people, that “he who would lie free, himself must strike the blow.” The initial step is to bring home to the dumb, driven masses that before they enter the Land of Economic Freedom, they must recognise their bondage. Alas! how shall they learn it, while the captains and guides of the coming race are but dimly conscious themselves. The ideal held out by the S.P.G.B. is high “The World for the Workers." Your petty vexations, the harassing conditions under which you work, the lack of opportunity for self-culture, the reeking schoolroom, the barrack school and battalion classes, the sickening fear of comparative and actual failure are but part of the burden under which all Labour is groaning. If 35 years of Unionism has effected so little for you, might it not be worth while to seriously review the position, and dominated by a set definiteness of purpose, recognising your position as but units, useful units in the great capitalist game of Grab, infuse a more dignified, less cap-in-hand attitude into your Union? The declared reason for the existence of the N U.T. is the furtherance of the interests of the child. Is there not a danger that it may become the happy hunting-ground of the eloquent Party-man in a hurry to round his own life into a success?
A. Reginald