Wednesday, October 25, 2017

All Brothers Under The Skin (1957)

Editorial from the September 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Socialists say that the workers in all countries ought to get together because they all suffer the same kind of hardships, live under the same social system and have the same interest in establishing Socialism, our opponents give us a curious medley of answers. From one quarter we are told how different the "British way of life” is from the way foreigners live—and how much better. From other quarters the story is that some foreigners are so much better placed. But just how different is the way different countries are managed? Look at wages, for example. In every country in the world, and at all times and irrespective of the political label of the rulers, you can be quite certain that those rulers will be saying that their hearts bleed for the workers, and that they believe in higher wages, but that just at present they cannot do anything about it because things are not going too well and the country cannot afford it.

You will also find that in each country there will be no difficulty at all in finding vast sums of money for armaments.

Again, if the workers get tired of waiting and come out on strike, you may be quite sure that the Government will oppose the wage demand and try to break the strike. Two countries have just been in the news, India and Poland. In India the Post Office workers demanded more pay and had been demanding it for quite a long while. The government refused it and made the usual plea of not being able to afford it, though they can afford armaments in plenty, and are reported to be considering making the A-bomb. The Post Office workers decided to strike, and were promptly met with drastic action by Mr. Nehru, the Prime Minister, in the form of an anti-strike Bill rushed through Parliament in a few days. “Those taking part in illegal strikes will be liable to imprisonment, or fines, and may be arrested without warrant." (Manchester Guardian, 8th August, 1957.)

So the strike was called off and the government has promised to set up a pay commission, which is taken to mean that there may be a small increase of pay.

And Poland
If the “new” India shows just the same kind of government resistance to wage claims as does Britain, what do we find in “new" Poland?

On Monday, 12th August, the bus and tram men in Lodz, second largest city in Poland, came out on strike for higher pay. The Daily Worker (14th August, 1957) published a report from their representative in Poland which admitted that the tramway workers have been preparing for the strike for weeks, and that the Polish Government is agreed that the men's demands “are not exorbitant, having regard to living standards, but they simply cannot and will not be met because the country cannot afford them."

The Daily Worker, which has been kept busy in recent months declaring support for strikes of workers in Britain, including bus workers, did not support the Polish strike. It admitted, but did not condemn, the use of militia in the strike. The Daily Worker reported as follows:—
  "The militia, to disperse the workers and avoid inviting trouble, threw tear gas capsules, not bombs. There were no fights between the militia and the workers. The troops were not called in, although among the lorries mobilised for various institutions to carry people to work, one-third were military vehicles driven by soldiers."
Apparently the people of Lodz were not as much comforted as the Daily Worker correspondent by receiving tear gas out of capsules instead of out of bombs, for the Daily Mail correspondent in Lodz reported the following conversation:—
   “The minister of Local Government, Stanislas Sroka, tried to persuade the strikers to break up their demonstration and return to work. They defied him. One woman, waving a tear-gas cartridge in his face and wiping tears from her eyes, demanded: "Is this what you use against women?” (Daily Mail, 13th August, 1957.)
But after the Polish authorities had resisted the demands that led eventually to the strike, they partially gave way and made the offer of a small increase, which the strikers regarded as insufficient. The amount offered would have cost £4,000,000, according to the Daily Mail (13th August, 1957).

One other detail of the Polish strike must surely make the British worker think that the government in Poland must be like that in Britain. When governments nationalise railways, buses or other services and industries, they always tell us that these things now belong to us. But members of the government habitually behave as if the nationalised undertakings belong to them, and it has a familiar ring, therefore, to learn that the Polish Minister of Local Government declared: "The tramways belong to the State, not to you, and they will run."

All the countries have capitalism, and all the rulers are brothers under the skin when it is a question of opposing workers’ wage claims.

Two of a Kind (1957)

From the October 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Khrushchev, in Prague in mid-July, made some sneering remarks about the British Labour leaders. A month earlier one of the Labour M.P.s, Mr. John Strachey, had been writing derisively about the Russian Communist leaders in the American Saturday Review. It appears that when a British Labour delegation passed through Moscow in 1954 one of the members, Mr. Sam Watson, had protested to Khrushchev about the abuse the Russians directed against the British Labour leaders.

Khrushchev recalled this in a speech he made in Prague on 11th July, 1957, and went on to say that he refused to withdraw:—
  “I do not deny that I myself call you lackeys of capitalists. I consider that this is correct because you are not against capitalists.” (Daily Mail, 12/7/1957.)
He added nastily (a little brazenly, in view of his own reputation for gutting and guzzling) that the visiting delegation “ate and drank a lot.”

Across the Atlantic the Saturday Review (8/6/57) had published an article “Communism and Socialism,” in which Mr. John Strachey. Labour M-P. for Dundee West, a former Minister of Food and Secretary of State for War, dealt with the present beliefs of the Communists and Labourites in comparison with what they used to believe.

This is what Mr. Strachey had to say about how the Communist Party has betrayed Communism:—
    “We ought, of course, at the same time to notice, that . . .  the word Communism has been made to stand for something which is almost opposite to the original meaning of the word. The word Communism, traditionally, means a state of society in which the element of coercion has been eliminated instead of vastly increased. To More, as to Marx, it meant the vision of a society which was stateless as well as classless: in which all associations of citizens both for productive purposes and for all other purposes were purely voluntary, and in which equalitarianitm had been taken to the point where the distribution of the national income could be based upon the principle of' from each according to his abilities and to each according to his needs ’." 
Then Mr. Strachey told the readers of the Saturday Review what the British Labour Party now believes. It was a masterpiece of vagueness. The Labour Party, according to Mr. Strachey, seeks “the extension of the public ownership, in one form or another, to many large-scale industrial and productive enterprises within the community; but no one knows . .. how far it will prove useful and beneficial to push that process.” There is to be change in the direction of moving nearer to equality of income, but “not, of course, equalization of earned income.”

He excuses the vagueness by saying that “most democratic Socialists would, I think, attach less importance to particular objectives than to the principle of making the economy and the policy of their countries conform to what turned out to be the real desires of the majority of the electorate . . ."

It is not at all easy to gather from Strachey what the British Labour Party actually does now stand for. One thing only is certain that nothing in his article could justify his claim that the Labour Party’s aim is Socialism.

The Pot and the Kettle both justified
As Socialists ourselves we can heartily endorse the abuse Khrushchev and Strachey level at their respective parties. Of course, Strachey and Co. are hacks for “managed capitalism,” and, of course, Strachey is right when he says that what nowadays is popularly (and ignorantly) labelled Communism is the direct opposite of what Communism meant to Marx and still means to the S.P.G.B.

But what about Strachey’s own betrayal? He himself once subscribed to the Marxist aim of a Communist system of society (as, long before, did Keir Hardie, one of the founders of the Labour Party). Strachey could, of course, say that be has changed his mind, but at least he might be expected to give reasons why he supports Labour Party tinkering with capitalism and finds it more deserving of support than the movement to establish Socialism. And what has happened to the former fervid equalitarianism of Attlee and other Labour leaders ?

And what about Khrushchev? Why doesn’t he include himself in the capitalist hacks? He and his clique who rule Russia are fond of abusing British Labour leaders, but it would seem to be from them that the Russians have learned their own political trickery. Starting off with the proclaimed intention of establishing Socialism (or Communism) they quickly borrowed the old double-talk of the British Labour Party and give the name Socialism to the Russian State capitalism. It is indeed a case of one group of apologists for capitalism quarreling with another, and only the Socialist, looking on can see the real nature of the confidence trick both groups are playing on the working class.
Edgar Hardcastle

"Think of It—" (1957)

From the November 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are quite a few millions who have never yet made contact with the Socialist Party of Great Britain, although there are millions who scan the popular Press, in the columns of which the words Socialist, Socialism. Communist and Communism are daily used when commenting on world events.

The important point we emphasise once again is that the popular Press never defines these terms, invariably associated as they are with the Labour Party or the Russian Communist Party. The Socialist Party of Great Britain on the contrary has consistently stressed that the use of these terms has no relation whatsover to the Socialism which we advocate. We define what we mean by Socialism, and this definition is displayed on all our publications.

“Think of it—!” Also the Socialist Party has likewise persistently pointed out that the Labour and Communist Parties are purely social reform parties. These parties do not advocate Socialism or Communism. Consequently, therefore, we have always opposed their policies as confusion; as a betrayal of working class interests, because only through the establishment of Socialism can emancipation from the wage slavery of Capitalism be accomplished.

But the popular Press voices the interests of the Capitalist property owning class, and by persistently confusing its readers with the use of the words Socialist, Socialism, etc., in relation to the Labour and Russian party policies, they render a signal service to the ruling class.

There are, however, amongst the working class many who do appreciate the distinction which we have so far outlined, but who nevertheless are still unconvinced of the need of associating themselves actively with the work upon which [we] are engaged. To these, therefore, we repeat our appeal to more closely consider our claim. We recall again, therefore, a few of the more outstanding facts concerning our activities down the years.

For instance, this journal has appeared without a break, despite the difficulties of the war years, since 1904. Further, this publication has been supplemented with numerous pamphlets dealing with the more important events and phases of Socialist criticism. In the two world wars, for example, our opposition was clearly and promptly stated, war being the outcome of international rivalry of world capitalism for the domination of the world’s markets, trade routes, spheres of influence. This is a very brief record of our efforts to win the working class to Socialism but it has, above everything else, revealed the important value of our Socialist principles, distinguishing us from all other political parties. These principles, guiding the Party towards its Socialist objective, are as sound today as when they were first published; they have been the touchstone which has enabled the Party, through the most critical and testing rimes, to declare, without hesitation, its policy in relation to the circumstances and events of those times.

Down the years again, in season and out, our representatives have advocated Socialism as the only alternative to this “thieves' kitchen “—the capitalist system. Times and circumstances have changed, but despite the “Welfare State,'' in which the working class are being deluded into believing “that all is well now,'' they are still faced with a constant struggle, through their various industrial organisations, in the attempt to maintain adequate living standards. Slums galore still exist throughout the land, and the constant threat of another world war hovers over their heads like a nightmare.

Today, therefore, we are attempting to contact the working class in various districts through the medium of organised canvassing, and we plead for your sympathetic consideration to the claims of these canvassers to hold your attention for a few moments. In this respect you can render invaluable help, so that possible meetings may be planned in your locality to enable us to state more fully the case for Socialism “ Think of it! “ This is all we ask, and having thought, we are convinced that you will soon be wanting to help us in our task.

Finally, the establishment of Socialism is not just a utopian dream, but a commonsense practical proposition. This frustrating cut-throat economic capitalist system which daily haunts working class life can be replaced by a more humane social order, Socialism, in which there will be an opportunity for all to give according to their ability, and to receive according to their need. Beyond this there will open out prospects for each and all to cultivate whatever latent talents they possess, which capitalist exploitation for profit, today denies. No longer will the nation’s youth be called upon to engage in senseless fratricidal fighting, but on the contrary inspired to play its part with every member of the community in establishing social relationships whereby the world's populations may live in peaceful harmony.

There are vast and incalculable potential power resources in existence today sufficient to ensure a free, happy and abundant life for the whole human race under the common ownership of such possibilities. “ Think of it!
Billy Iles

The Soldier and Accountant (1957)

From the December 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

“The Bridge on the River Kwai” is a film about the building of a bridge by a campful of British prisoners in Japanese hands during the last war and about the commando expedition to blow it up.

There is a scene set in Ceylon, when the commandos are foregathering to choose the last of the four officers for the adventure. They call in a young Canadian — a Lieutenant Joyce—and the senior officer asks him what he did in peacetime. “ Sir,” replies the Canadian, “I was an accountant. That is, I was articled to an accountant. I sat all day adding up columns of figures and checking them. Somebody had already checked them before me and somebody checked them again after me.” The audience laughed. They were meant to laugh.

The lieutenant was, as they say, on to a good thing, for the stiff collar, stripe pants fuddy duddies sitting in banks and' insurance offices and accountants' chambers are easy enough meat for a little fun poking. Even the crooners have tried their hand at it. “There’s nothing.” sang Bing Crosby, “ Quite as grotesque as a man at a desk, looking outside at the sun!” and went on to ask. “Does he think that he’s having fun?" Of course, he is not; the man at the desk is merely doing a job which, although humdrum, is very necessary in this highly commercial world. (Banks pay their clerks to handle money because society today needs to have it handled. Likewise, the accountant is important (he often gets enough money to be very important). His job is to check a company’s books, to make sure that stocks and balance sheets are straight, that nobody is fiddling the guvnors and that the guvnors are not fiddling the shareholders. He is a man with years of training behind him and when he certifies a company balance sheet it is usually accepted without question by the shareholders, for the accountant is generally a man of a high standard of professional probity. (Although a few are not above a shady deal and some spend a lot of time working out ways in which their clients can slip through loopholes in the tax laws.)

As the young lieutenant pointed out, there is a lot of boring work involved in the accountant’s business. Worst of all, perhaps, is what is known as “calling,” when a clerk reads off amounts of money from one ledger whilst a companion checks a corresponding entry in another ledger. Articled clerks are doomed to this, day in and day out, for several years. The unlucky ones do not even have the break of travelling around checking the books of different companies, for some are so large that as soon as one check has finished it is time to start another.

The young men who take on this work seem to conform largely to a type. Many have an air of precarious gentility ; they sport umbrellas, with the approved cane handle. Often in conversation they hint at a sophistication which is not really there; with better luck, it seems, they might have been doctors or lawyers. That is the clue to it. Many of these fellows have been to fairly expensive schools but their parents could not afford to send them on to university. To people of their background it is essential, often for snob reasons, to “become a member of a profession" as apart from “getting a job.” Missing university has meant that law and medicine cannot be considered; the cheap way out of the dilemma is to take out articles to an accountant. (In most parts of England this can be done without putting up any money and the clerk gets some sort of a wage during his period of articled service.) So these young men for several years get an apprentice’s pay but unlike the apprentice they cannot make a cheerful display of their penury. Behold them any Saturday evening, drinking bitter in the local Rugby club bar; or any morning on the Tube into the City. Observe the seedy suits and the Daily Telegraph, meticulously folded underarm.

When Lieutenant Joyce first appears in The Bridge on the River Kwai he is hungry for action, eager to do something exciting which he considers socially beneficial. At such times an accountant’s job does seem pretty poor stuff; no wonder Joyce is scornful. But really, the film is unfair. Consider the facts. This is a world where the necessities and luxuries of life are bought and sold, where nothing is made unless it can be sold. Because of all this buying and selling we have money. Because we have money we have banks, with clerks to keep the money flowing smoothly so that wages can be paid and goods exchanged. We have accountants to keep the books and see that nobody gets up to anything; we have policemen for the accountant to call in if anybody is up to anything. We have soldiers like Lieutenant Joyce to fight for the markets where the goods are sold and for the places where they find the raw materials which go to make the goods.

From any sane viewpoint, all these jobs are useless and wasteful; only a social set-up which starts from the underlying stupidity of commodity production could find any use for them. The film, of course, accepts without question the rightness of this set-up and is content to mock just one of capitalism’s futile occupations whilst glamourising another.
After all, if Lieutenant Joyce had survived the expedition and returned to Civvy Street he may have been asked what he had done in the war. “Sir,” he may have replied, “I was a soldier. A saboteur. I crawled and sweated through the stinking jungle, fighting disease and picking off leeches, watching my companions die. All this to destroy a bridge; a beautiful bridge, which had cost a lot of pain in the making. But if we had left it alone it would have been used by the other side in a war. It could have lasted for centuries but we blew it up.” We may ask : What is there to choose, in terms of benefits to humanity, between the work of a saboteur and an accountant’s clerk ?

Perhaps that question is best answered in the words of another character in the film, a British officer who witnesses the Bridge’s end. When it is all over he comes down to the river and looks at the destruction and the Japanese and British lying dead around him. He is furious with it all. “Madness!” he cries, “Madness!”

Produce for use (1984)

From the January 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard
As soon as labour, in its direct form, has ceased to be the main source of wealth, then labour time ceases, and must cease, to be its standard of measurement, and thus exchange value must cease to be the measurement of use value. The surplus labour of the masses has ceased to be a condition for the development of wealth in general; in the same way that the non-labour of the few has ceased to be a condition for the development of the general powers of the human mind. Production based on exchange value therefore falls apart, and the immediate process of material production finds itself stripped of its impoverished, antagonistic form. Individuals are then in a position to develop freely.
(Grundrisse, Karl Marx, translated by David McLellan. p.142)
Marx’s meaning here is clear enough. If the tendency which exists under capitalism to produce goods more and more cheaply thanks to advances in science and technology were continued indefinitely, a stage would eventually be reached where goods could be produced so cheaply — would require so little labour power to produce — that it would no longer make sense to sell them; the only thing to do would be to give them away or make them available for people to take freely, according to their needs, without having to pay for them. In conditions of abundance it makes no sense to put a price on goods. As Marx points out, the price of a product reflects the amount of labour time needed to produce it; in the early days of capitalism when direct labour was still the main production force, pricing goods according to the time it took an average individual using average techniques of production to produce them had a certain logic. However, when the main productive force has become science and technology, in which labour intervenes not as an individual contribution by a skilled worker but as the co-operative effort of a collective workforce, then it no longer makes sense to measure output in terms of its labour time content; it no longer makes sense to put a price on goods and sell them. The abundance made possible by modern technology points to a different system in which goods will be freely available.

Of course capitalism will never reach this stage of its own accord. It will not automatically collapse and be replaced by a society of free access to goods and services. It merely tends to make the price system — in fact, the whole money-wages-prices system — redundant. It is in this sense that it paves the way for a society of free access. But the end of “production based on exchange value” has to be a conscious political act.
Adam Buick

Capitalist Labour and Socialist Work (1984)

From the February 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism means far more than the mere satisfaction of material needs; creative, emotional and intellectual life will also be given full expression. It is for this aspect of the socialist case that the subject of work has particular relevance. William Morris said in one of his lectures, "if pleasure in labour be generally possible, what a strange folly it must be for men to consent to labour without pleasure, and what a hideous injustice it must be for society to compel most men to labour without pleasure.” (Art under Plutocracy, reprinted by us as Art, Labour and Socialism) The fact is, most workers do consent to labour without pleasure, in so far as they continue to give their support to capitalism which is the cause of all the problems surrounding work — the boredom, the pressures, the insecurity.

In all forms of society the requirements of life must be produced; work therefore is a nature-imposed necessity. The kind of work, the techniques and conditions under which it is done, depend on the stage of development society has reached. For example, capitalism requires arms production, with armed forces, a legal system with a police force, commerce, banking, buying and selling, but none of these activities would have any place in socialism. It is necessary that we study work in relation to society for only then will we understand how socialism will change our whole conception of work and what it will mean.

Capitalism has certain unalterable basic conditions of work that will remain until the system is abolished. Those conditions are — that work takes the form of employment requiring workers to sell their mental and physical energies — their ability to work — to an employer. In doing so, they surrender themselves to the direction and control of others. They work from economic necessity, not for pleasure, nor to express themselves. Workers do not own the tools and instruments with which they produce; they are owned by the capitalist class, and may only be used, with the consent of the capitalists, when they think it is profitable to do so. Workers have no say in the matter. Consequently, in the face of modern technology workers feel threatened by mechanisation and automation. and by the over-organisation of their lives and the dull conformism that it demands. The very thing workers produce is not for their use and satisfaction; it is for selling with a view to realising profit. It is a commodity which faces workers in the market as a force obeying only economic laws, with no concern for their wellbeing.

These basic conditions of work under capitalism ensure that workers have little or no control over their working activity, yet control is of the very essence of work satisfaction. Most writers on the subject, whatever their other disagreements, stress the need for autonomy in work. Under capitalism, therefore, workers produce only as a means to an end — to earn their living, to reproduce themselves as workers. They do not produce for the intrinsic nature of the work, to develop freely their mental and physical energies. Workers are alienated not only from the means of production and the product, but also from the very act of working.

The economic base of socialism will be the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by the whole of society, not a privileged section of it. The wage-labour and capital relation will no longer exist, therefore work would not take the form of employment. In dealing with socialism we can no longer speak of workers, only of freely associated people who own the social means of production in common, who produce for use and satisfaction. Production would no longer control the producers: at last they would be in control.

Capitalism has developed co-operation of labour, but only in the individual place of work, not in society at large. Socialism will be the highest state in co-operation and organisation of social labour. The lone individual can accomplish little; only in co-operation with others will individuals fully realise themselves.

Work will be an end in itself, done with the decision and inclination of the individual, not from external pressure. No longer will the same task have to be performed for a life-time through economic necessity. There will be great variety in occupation, which is important for work satisfaction, and greater efficiency.

Modern technology demands for its most efficient use interchange of activity, yet capitalism confines workers to small details of production, leaving them ignorant of other aspects, unable to adapt to the constantly changing needs of technology, as acquired skills are made redundant. When people spend their lives engaged only in fragments of production, they can only develop as a fragment, not as whole people. Thus capitalism cannot make full use of the technology it has created.

Socialism will be very different. The means of production will be used to the best advantage of all members of society. The productive process will present a whole variety of occupations, allowing people to move from one activity to another. Everyone will have opportunity to develop a range of skills and knowledge; thereby people will gain an insight into the productive process as a whole, instead of only tiny fragments of it. Society and individuals will work in direct relation to human needs; this is what having control over production means. Work will take on a completely different meaning; it will contribute to enriching the experience of life. No longer will it be a drudgery.

The objection may be raised that this all sounds fine, but even in socialism much unpleasant and boring work will still need to be done. Who would do the dirty and dangerous work? Well, most of it would be done with the aid of machinery, as Oscar Wilde said in The Soul of Man Under Socialism:
 All unintellectual labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that deals with dreadful things and involves unpleasant conditions. must be done by machinery.
Or more recently Lisl Klein in The Meaning of Work:
Technically there is probably very little which could not be done in the way of reorganising work so as to abolish those aspects of work which it might be demonstrated are harmful to the people doing them.
If there still should be awful work to do, we can only echo some more words of William Morris “. . . if there be any work which cannot be but a torment to the worker what then? Well then, let us see if the heavens will fall on us if we leave it undone” (Useful Work versus Useless Toil).

Handicraft is stressed throughout Morris's writing as a means of achieving happiness and satisfaction in work. He writes in an article, the Revival of Handicraft:
We do most certainly need happiness in our daily work, content in our daily rest, and all this cannot be if we hand over the whole responsibility for the details of our daily life to machines and their drivers. We are right to long for intelligent handicraft to come back to the world which it once made tolerable. 
But Morris was not against machinery, only against how it is used under capitalism. In speaking of unpleasant labour he writes: "If machinery had been used for minimising such labour, the utmost ingenuity would scarcely have been wasted on it" (Art under Plutocracy). Indeed, socialism is possible because the forces of production are developed to the point of potential abundance, which implies a high degree of technology. But socialism will have handicraft production as well. Some things that are now made by machines may be made by hand and vice versa.

Work involving the production of food, clothing and shelter is necessary whatever form society takes. Other kinds of work, such as composing music, painting, scientific research, may be done for its own sake. It is sometimes argued that if the necessary work could be limited to as short a time a possible, there would be more time to pursue the more satisfying. However in terms of fulfilment the distinction could not exist. For example designing and building a house is very necessary; we must have houses, but it can also be a very creative form of work in itself. Also, producing something we know to be useful is itself a contributing factor to work satisfaction. Again, painting serves no vitally useful purpose in that it does not feed, clothe or shelter us. But as long as people desire works of art, are they not also useful?

William Morris gave the following definition of art: "The thing I understand by real art is the expression by man of his pleasure in labour” (Hopes and Fears for Art). One thing is certain: if we are to gain real pleasure in our labour we must be in control of our productive activity, but since this is an impossibility within the framework of capitalism, the only possible way to achieve this is through socialism.
P. B. Young

Directing "direct action" (1984)

From the March 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

In trying to fight back against the suppression of their trade union, workers at the Government Communication Headquarters at Cheltenham have complained about an implied “slur" on their patriotism. Speaking on this, Len Murray was quoted (The Times, 26 January) as saying, “It is grossly offensive for the Foreign Secretary to imply that . . . trade union membership poses any threat to national security”.

We have no reason to doubt that these members of the working class are just as patriotic as any others in Britain. Unfortunately. But what if they weren’t? While we are indulging in hypothesis, let’s suppose that a significant number of workers, say 10-15 percent of our class, had come to accept the socialist case and that this proportion was rising, as we would expect once that level had been reached. What could the government do then? Might it not then decide to leave things as they are rather than risk widespread industrial disruption as other workers, more class-conscious of course than at present, came to the aid of the GCHQ staff? Might it not be more preoccupied with how it might stop the further spread of socialist ideas than with the possibility of a tea-break stoppage at Cheltenham? Might it not be thinking of what concessions it might try in a desperate attempt to buy off the revolution?

In contrast, the emphasis on patriotism simply encourages the ruling class to play on these feelings by trying to convince workers of how “the nation" would be harmed by any moves against capitalist interests. Of course we support action by workers in defence of their union organisations. However, although it sounds contradictory, we have always argued that the way to get “something now” is not to demand this or that specific item. The way forward is to organise for socialism and face the capitalists with the prospect of losing the lot.

A Lesson for CND (1984)

Editorial from the April 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

While some CNDers, together with the Labour Party, are campaigning for more so-called conventional weapons to maintain British military strength if it unilaterally abandons nuclear weapons, a conventional war has been raging in the Gulf area for about four years. Estimates of the numbers killed to date vary between 200,000 and 500,000, proof (if any were needed) that conventional weapons can be just as deadly as nuclear ones. But there is another aspect of this war which completely undermines the CND case for trying to ban the use of one particular type of weapon.

As a result of incidents during the First World War. most states pledged themselves, in a Convention signed in Geneva in 1925, not to use chemical weapons (or rather poison gas weapons since all bombs are chemical) in their wars with each other. Iraq signed this Convention when it became independent and thus could wage war on its own account. Yet the evidence now seems to be that it has nevertheless used poison gas, perhaps even the dreaded “mustard gas" of the First World War, in its war with Iran.

Apparently the rulers of Iraq, who must fear that they are eventually going to lose this war, have decided that the preservation of their state and rule is more important than any “scrap of paper" they may have signed (the only papers deposited in Geneva in which they are interested will be their Swiss bank accounts) and that this desperate situation justifies the use of poison gas to try to stop the advance of the numerically superior Iranian army. Had they possessed nuclear weapons they would no doubt have used them . . . once again, even if they had signed a Convention banning them for which CND is pathetically campaigning.

Incidentally, the 1925 Geneva Convention bans the use, but not the manufacture or the stockpiling, of such weapons. Thus research into chemical and biological weapons (banned by a similar worthless Convention in 1972) continues in all the major states of the world, including Britain. These states also have stockpiles of such weapons: Russia’s is said to amount to 400.000 tonnes and America's to 150.000 tonnes. And of course it may well have been from one of these stockpiles that Iraq got its supplies, since exporting arms has always been one way of helping the balance of trade.

The fact is that, in a war-prone society divided into competing armed states it is quite unrealistic to expect that the use of particular weapons of war can be suppressed. As long as the drive to conflict and war exists—and under capitalism there will always be economic conflicts over markets, trade routes, investment outlets and sources of raw materials which will break out from time to time into open warfare — rulers will always be tempted to use all available weapons, including those that they may have formally agreed not to. Even if the manufacture and stockpiling of poison gas — or nuclear weapons — were also to be formally banned the knowledge of how to manufacture them never can be.

This is why the only way to prevent their use, and indeed of all weapons down to the rifle and the bow and arrow, is to create a society in which there would be no built-in tendency towards first economic and then military conflict. In other words to abolish capitalism and replace it by world socialism. This is why the only effective way to fight war and the threat of war is to struggle for world socialism, rather than flounder about in campaigns to try to ban particular weapons of war in a war-prone society.

Why Contest Elections? (1984)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

In the February 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard you devote much attention to the socialist ideas of William Morris and comment on them as being very advanced considering the state of socialist thinking in the early 1880s. I found the articles most informative and in particular his rejection of the "parliamentary socialists" outlined in “the policy of abstentions", with which I am compelled to agree.

This brings me to your election fund. You state that you support parliamentary action without reform and to this end the fund will be used. I do not believe that we have a large enough body of socialist opinion uniformly spread throughout the country to put a socialist in the house of commons under the present electoral system.

Thus would not the “making of socialists" by increasing socialist propaganda be a better use of all election funds?
Vijay Kumar
Imperial College
London SW7

The SPGB is a political party; we aim at the capture of political power through the democratic, conscious action of the world working class for the replacement of capitalism by socialism. We argue that this must be through parliament so that socialists must contest elections national and local. This asserts our nature as a political party as providing a valuable method of propaganda for the socialist case. We are well aware of the depressing fact that the level of socialist consciousness, throughout the world let alone in this country, is at present too low to elect socialist delegates to parliament. (This is of course due to the level of consciousness and not to the electoral system.) In our propaganda we constantly point out the fundamental difference between a socialist party and those parties which seek to get power on a programme of reforming capitalism. Such parties are the prisoners of the reform-minded non-socialists who elect them and can therefore do nothing to introduce socialism.

Our funds are used for our propaganda in all its forms. There is of course debate about the most effective way of using them but contesting elections is not only effective; it is essential to us as a socialist party.

The Class War in Ireland (1984)

From the June 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has become quite common to see the question, "Is there life before death?" daubed on the walls of Bogside, Derry. This is not a piece of idle philosophical speculation for during the past fifteen years over 25,000 people have been injured and 2.200 have met violent and premature deaths in Northern Ireland. Young men, straight from the dole queues of Liverpool, Glasgow and London, parade with weapons up and down rows of terraced houses no different from those where they grew up. In ghettoes such as the Ardoyne there are still some who have not left the area at all since 1969, for fear of attack. All those involved, whether they are soldiers, IRA or UDA men, have one thing in common: they are workers, with no stake in the investments of British or Irish capitalism.

A Belfast doctor, interviewed on one of the television histories of Ireland, explains: "One has just got to be blunt, almost brutal at times, through the night, telling you your wife has lost both her legs, your young son has been killed in an explosion. This is the sort of situation which we’re faced with almost daily in this hospital”. This is the horrific reality of war. What, then, are the sides in this conflict supposed to be fighting for?

The idea of British workers supporting the rule of their British masters in Ireland has its origins rooted in the private ownership of a tiny minority. In 1654, the English Parliament ordered the English governors throughout Ireland to proclaim that:
all the ancient estates and farms of the people of Ireland were to belong to the adventurers and the army of England, and that the Parliament had assigned Connaught for the habitation of the Irish nation, whither they must transplant their wives and daughters and children before the First of May following under penalty of death if found on this side of the Shannon after that day.
Those "Protestant” workers in Northern Ireland who support the continued rule over that province by the British capitalist class do so out of a severely misguided loyalty. They have been conned into believing that their tenuous link with the "Protestant Ascendancy" will guarantee them security.

What does it mean, to preserve the "British way of life” in the slums of Shankhill? Every year on July 12, the pathetic banners protest defiantly: "This we will maintain", while all around the poverty cries out to be ended. Most people in Belfast live in rows of houses which were built early in the nineteenth century, during which the city's population multiplied eight times over. One in seven homes have now been declared officially unfit for habitation. Raw sewage leaks out into the Moyard estate in West Belfast, and cases of jaundice, gastro-enteritis and diarrhoea among children are frighteningly high. Rats are quite prevalent: a locally produced pamphlet states that some residents have been bitten and taken to hospital with the rat still clinging to them, because it had lock-jawed.

At all times and places, nationalism has always been the rallying cry of those minorities who hold power, or who hope to hold power in the future. Today's romantic rebels and guerrilla “freedom" fighters always become the respected capitalists of tomorrow. In Ireland nationalism has passed through three stages, according to which group has had the greatest hopes of becoming the parasitic "representatives” of Irish people in a particular period. First, at the end of the eighteenth century, there was the secular nationalism which culminated in the 1798 rebellion. The spirit of that movement can be seen from this song, written at the time by Jamie Hope:
Oh. Paddies, my hearties, have done with your parties.
Let men of all creeds and professions agree.
If Orange and Green, man, no longer were seen, man.
Oh. how easy old Ireland we'd free.
With the rise of the linen and shipbuilding industries of the North in the nineteenth century, the Ulster capitalists for a time took on the role of defending the independence of Irish capitalism and resented the limitations on their power imposed by the 1801 Act of Union. As their interests expanded they became more and more in favour of strengthening the bonds between Belfast and London, in order to gain easier access to the trade channelled through London. By 1914 the businessmen, politicians and landowners of the Ulster Unionist Council were so determined to remain part of the British market that they responded to the Home Rule Bill by arming the Ulster Volunteer Force, which was prepared if necessary to fight against Britain in order to remain under British rule.

The third wave of Irish nationalism was based largely in the South and associated with the religious ideology of Catholicism. In the late nineteenth century the capitalists of the South, without the advanced industry of their counterparts in the North, wanted Home Rule—domination over Irish workers by Irish, rather than English. rulers. They felt this would allow them to establish tariff boundaries around Ireland, in order to build up the less developed capitalism of the South under Protectionism. In 1905, in support of this movement, Sinn Fein was founded by Arthur Griffith, a racist who was fanatically anti-trade union. His desire to establish an Irish stock exchange and Irish police and prisons was part of a myth that Ireland could become "self-sufficient" and cut off from the rest of world capitalism.

The Proclamation of the Irish Republic in 1916 was, of course, accompanied by all of the traditional obsession with flags, “nationhood” and so on. The IRA today claim that they are still acting on the mandate given to Sinn Fein at the ballot box in 1918. to carry on the functions of executive government throughout Ireland, including the decisions of war and peace. But the 1918 election was won on Sinn Fein's old policies, not its more recent support for state capitalism.

From the 1920s to the 1960s the Republic of Ireland pursued a rigidly protectionist course. Over half of industry was nationalised. In 1937, there was enacted one of the most repressive codes of religious and moral law of any modern Catholic state, forbidding divorce and stating that a woman must support the state "by her life within the home”. The 1937 Constitution also described the traditional family as “a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law”. Protectionism ended in the 1960s with the rise of the multi-nationals, the 1965 Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement, and the 1973 accession of Ireland to the EEC.

Belfast now has the highest unemployment rate in Britain, about one in four workers. Ten per cent of the people in Belfast are in one-parent families. For fifty years the Unionist Party ruled Northern Ireland by denying any religious discrimination while practising just enough of it to retain Protestant support. This reward itself demonstrates the poverty on which this sectarianism was based. When Paisley led Protestant workers against the Civil Rights movement, he was urging them desperately to cling on to less than nothing. In the words of an Orange song about church and state being more important than democracy: “Let not the poor man hate the rich nor rich on poor look down. But each join each true Protestant, For God and for the crown”.

This dangerous rubbish is part of a long tradition of divide and rule. The Orange Order was formed in 1795, as part of a resentment against the onset of capitalism, and intimidated the relatively independent Catholic weavers. A Dungannon magistrate said at the time:
As for the Orangemen, we have a rather difficult card to play; they must not be entirely discountenanced—on the contrary, we must in a certain degree uphold them, for with all their licentiousness, on them we must rely for the preservation of our lives and properties, should critical times occur. (Quoted in Liam de Paor, Divided Ulster, p.26)
The issue is not one of religion or nationality, but of class. Under Unionist rule, Catholic businessmen had extra votes, just like their Protestant colleagues. Nationalists are fighting a war to replace one set of rulers by another. The way in which the champions of Irish “freedom" step straight into the iron-capped boots of their predecessors is summed up by a woman in Turf Lodge, a decaying, overcrowded estate on the Falls Road:
The hoods have taken over. They hijack our vans, our shops. In the beginning it was all our cause, our country, but I don't believe in it anymore (National Geographic, April 1981).
Workers in Northern Ireland are beginning to recognise their shared interest, regardless of the terrible legacy of rival religious superstitions and of rival capitalist interests of North and South. For example, the Cross Group has brought together Catholic and Protestant women whose husbands have died in the war, and helped them to realise that they are not “Protestant" or “Catholic” at all, but working-class pawns in the old conflicts and ideologies of property which they are forbidden to enjoy. Andy Tyrie, who became the commander of the Ulster Defence Association in 1973, has since rethought:
I grew up in Ballymurphy when it was a mixed neighbourhood. I learned that Prods weren't anything special—we lived in the same houses as Catholics, got the same money for the same jobs (National Geographic, April 1981).
Opinion polls have suggested that a majority of workers in Britain may now be in opposition to the British army presence in Northern Ireland. But the issue is not which army is where, but why there should be a need for armed force at all. Kenneth Newman, who was appointed Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police after heading the Royal Ulster Constabulary, has described Northern Ireland as “a laboratory situation":
I have it very much in mind that British police forces would be faced with similar problems in the years ahead. Not just from the Provisional IRA. but from certain obvious developments in the demographic areas and urban developments (Irish Times, August 1976).
The "Irish" problem will be solved when the world’s workers end the social problems of the world: the monopoly by one international class of the vital wealth-producing machinery of the world. Only in this way can we secure, in the words of the Declaration of Principles of the World Socialist Party of Ireland, the “emancipation of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex”. Socialists repudiate the Irish nationalism of James Connolly but we endorse to the letter his declaration that "Whosoever carries the outworks of the citadel of oppression, the working class alone can raze it to the ground".
Clifford Slapper