Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Radio War (1949)

From the July 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

If, as the Communists are so fond of telling us, the Russian system is so wonderful and so enthusiastically supported by the Russian workers, why does the Soviet government go to such fantastic lengths to prevent them hearing the slightest piece of news of the outside world that has not already been carefully vetted beforehand? Why all these efforts to keep the Russian workers in a mental vacuum? At the last elections for the Supreme Soviet, 99 per cent. of the electorate were said to have voted for the Government candidates, yet so uncertain are the Russian ruling clique of their supporters that they cannot even run the risk of a few of them hearing any other propaganda than the propaganda they chose to put out themselves. Why this reluctance? Why this anxiety and fear? Fear it must be, for the lengths to which the Russian government is prepared to go are almost incredible.

As is well known a part of the Russians' own propaganda technique has been to use radio to the utmost, and they have turned the whole business of wireless propaganda into a fine art. Day and night, hundreds of broadcasts in dozens of languages go out over the short waves from Moscow, directed to all parts of the world. In retaliation, the British and American governments have recently taken to playing the Russians at their own game and have been putting out a stream of their own brand of propaganda in the reverse direction of Moscow. Evidently convinced that the Russian workers may not be able to stand up to this flow of words from the other side of the “ Iron Curtain,” the Russian come-back has been to resort to “ jamming.”

The number of Russians able to hear these broadcasts cannot be very large, yet so afraid is the Kremlin of even this small trickle that it has increased jamming to such an extent that the “Voice of America” and the B.B.C. can pierce the interference only in spots (Manchester Guardian, 9/6/49.) To ensure that hardly one small word can get through, the same paper says that the Russians have tripled the number of jamming transmitters to no less than 205. Such a terrific concentration of transmitters has been achieved only at the expense of Moscow’s own domestic radio programmes and foreign broadcasts, but the Russians seem quite prepared to go even to these lengths to blot out the aerial intruders.

Nor is this the end of the story. In an attempt to beat the blockade, British and American technicians tried the dodge of tuning their transmissions close to the remaining Russian domestic stations, but the dodge failed. So anxious is the Soviet government to protect its subjects from contamination that it is quite prepared to jam its own broadcasts!

What the result of this wireless warfare will be, we do not know. What it does provide is yet one more example of the hollowness of the claim that Russia is a contented workers’ paradise. If it were all the Russian ruling clique and their Communist apologists make it out to be, one thing is certain and that is that the Russian workers would be proof against any amount of Western capitalist propaganda. That they go to such fantastic lengths to keep the Russian workers in mental straitjackets shows up the claim for what it really is, a monstrous fabrication sedulously fostered by the Russian Government to further its own political and economic ends, and the parrot-cry of Communists, fellow-travellers and other workers politically ignorant enough to be taken in by it.

We pose the question again, .and any supporter of Russia is at perfect liberty to take up the challenge. Why is it necessary for a government with (so we are told) 99 per cent. of the electorate behind it, to take these, and other fantastic measures to prevent a little capitalist propaganda from reaching the ears of its subjects? Is it because the workers’ conditions are not all that they are cracked up to be? Or that the Russian government has not the overwhelming support it says it has, and the election results were faked? Or what is it?

These columns are open to any supporter of the Russian system to take up the challenge.
Stan Hampson

Death of a Clown (1949)

From the August 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

Coming out of the factory I bought a “mid-day” to look at the runners. A bob each-way on a decent priced winner would pay for a night in town.

“Seen the stop press?” the paper boy asked as he took my coin. I glanced down.

“Early this morning Peter Waring, the comedian who was yesterday sentenced to nine months' imprisonment, was found hanged in his cell.”

I hadn’t read much of the case. Every day in courtrooms up and down the country men, women and adolescents are being sentenced to so many weeks, months or years imprisonment for enjoying property to which they have no legal right. Borstal institutions are full of boys who wanted bicycles or girls who wanted gay new dresses for the summer; Holloway is full of women who were light-fingered in the chain stores; the Scrubs and the Pen are full of men who were fools enough to believe that merely because they produce they have a right to the product.

But Waring was a celebrity. By nature of his work he was in the public eye and hence his tragedy had commercial value as news. The Sunday papers revelled in it. Each one probed into his past, examined every angle; each one attempting to outdo its rival in hounding the victim even beyond the grave. But the facts they produced examined carefully provide a useful object lesson in the effects of a system of exploitation upon the exploited.

He was born in Camberwell in 1917. D’you know Camberwell? An ugly place just like Stepney or Salford, Bermondsey or Birmingham, East Ham or Everton, or any other place where workers are hounded together to live, breed, and die.

Silly fellow—he objected to it, and vainly sought escape across the seas. At the age of sixteen he stowed away in the funnel of a liner and was badly burnt for his trouble. The second attempt won him twenty-eight days in jail.

Working as a footman he absconded with £100 belonging to Lord Sysonby—three years in Borstal. 1939, guilty of fraud—six months—again in 1941. And then came his big chance! His talent as a comic made him a top of the bill star.

Yet still the ugliness of his past haunted him. Was he not a child of the threadbare thirties? Still he strove for the antithesis of his youth. He wanted to enjoy the luxuries he had seen as a servant. In 1948 he was bankrupt.

Finally he was charged with obtaining money under false pretences, When sentenced he wept, “I am not a criminal. I have been foolish but—.”

What does it matter? So many workers end the same way. Seeing the good things of life always in sight, never in reach, they conduct a one-man struggle to make them their own. Always Nemesis, in the form of the state overtakes them and back they are pitched.

For this is a system of society based upon private property and all the powers spiritual and temporal are bound up in its protection. No one man can permanently assail its defences. But many men and women—the useful but propertyless section upon whose energies it depends, can when they are ready destroy it for ever.

You who can study the intricacies of racehorse breeding, forms and timing; you who are wily enough to make a few bob here and there at the expense of your masters; you who go to your graves still hoping for something to turn up; give a few moments’ thought to the world in which you live. Understand the comparatively simple workings of capitalism and the need for Socialism. Equipped with that knowledge nothing can stand in your way.

It's Laughable (1949)

From the September 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard
"All you Socialist fellows are alike. You all lack a sense of humour.”
This remark is thrown at Socialists time and time again, so let us examine the question of a sense of humour.

Psychologists and doctors tell us that laughter is a safety valve. Nature’s way of protecting our mental set-up from shock. We laugh at the fat man who slips on a banana skin because, were we to regard the accident coolly and thoughtfully we should no doubt suffer some of the mental anguish if not the physical pain of his fall.

But the realm of humour is greater than this. Take stock of the jokes of comedians who help to make our life more bearable in an almost unbearable servitude. They help us to laugh at ourselves. The more ridiculous a joke makes us look, the more we laugh—the tramp with a hole in the seat of his pants—parasitic mothers-in-law—the worker asking the boss for a rise —the raw recruit in the army and all these “funny" stories in which human beings have failed to reconcile their sex-lives with the economics and twisted morals of this social system.

The trouble with a Socialist, we are told repeatedly, is that he will take everything so damned seriously. For some inexplicable reason, some mental quirk, he finds it difficult and a little stupid to laugh at poverty, squalor and sexual maladjustment. The poker-faced individual will keep harping on economics. He spoils every joke by pointing out the unpleasant truth in it. Laughter was given to protect us from shock and the Socialist will keep showing up the shocking things that we escape seeing through humour. A regular boor and a bore is the Socialist. Even the antics of Labour politicians hardly raise a smile on his face and they are current topics of radio humour these days. Wisecracks on pre-fab houses start him off about “ ’omes fit for ’eroes to live in,” and industrial slums and the speed of the housing programme. They seem to have hit the mark, these critics. There does seem to be a lack of humour somewhere. Perhaps the reason could lie in the fact that these things are not so funny after all. Perhaps if all the canned humour ceased on the radio and in comic strips; perhaps if people in general turned a little less to humour for escape; perhaps when life gets unbearable even beyond a joke, people might come to see these things as needing a remedy. But then, they might also become so shocked and disgusted with their lot that they would throw the whole social system overboard and institute Socialism.

And that would never do. That would be no joke. Or would it?
L. C.

The Old Order Reigneth Not (1949)

From the October 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has often been asked by members of the audience at meetings of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, how will the new social order known as Socialism be established? The best answer to that question, would be for the questioner and indeed the whole audience, to go with the speaker, inside the British Parliament and to visualize this scene.

The benches are packed. Packed with Socialist delegates. Not M.P’s as hitherto known. It is a very fateful session. For what purpose have these Socialist delegates been sent there? Only for one single purpose. To put into effect one single decree or law which will end for ever and ever, the present order of society known as Capitalism. At the same time, throughout the best part of the world, in such Parliaments at Paris, Madrid, Rome, Cairo, Nanking, the Congress at Washington and even Moscow, similar and eventful sessions are taking place. One single decree or law is being deliberated upon and about to be put to the vote and which can only have one result. This decree may suitably be worded thus:
 “It is hereby decreed, that what is now known as the private ownership of the land and means of wealth, production and distribution is hereby abolished, now and for ever more.
  “In substitution thereof, there shall be instituted as what shall be known as the common ownership of the aforesaid land and means of wealth production and distribution.
 "Furthermore it is hereby decreed that the aforesaid land and means of wealth production and distribution shall remain under Common Ownership and shall be democratically controlled by and on behalf of the whole of the community, regardless of their colour or sex.”
The significance of the above decree will be readily understood by all and sundry. The result of the voting can only end in its passing. When this is done, then that is the end of Capitalist society. A new social order has now been born, known as Socialism. Prior to this fateful session a meeting of the Socialist electorate in the different townships, villages, communes, etc., has been held. And the Socialist delegates have been instructed something like this: —
  “When this decree comes up for vote in Parliament, or National Assembly, or Congress, etc., ye are hereby instructed to vote for this decree and nothing else. For so doing this is our will and pleasure.”
It refutes the argument that Socialism can be established by a minority group against the will and understanding of the electorate. Now the Socialist electorate know what they are doing. They have demanded this great social change and have said so in no uncertain voice. Thus will Socialism be established.
Nat Posner

Cuba: No ‘New Man’ (2017)

From the November 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Seen in its most favourable light (and not just as a theory of political dictatorship that it is), Leninism can be seen as the view that the way to socialism is for a minority of socialists to seize power at the head of a discontented but non-socialist working class and then using this power to educate this majority into becoming socialists.
This accepts that socialism is a classless, stateless, wageless, moneyless society based on common ownership and with voluntary work and free access to goods and services, and also that such a society can only function with majority support and participation. (Leninists call it ‘communism’, confusingly reserving the word ‘socialism’ to describe the state-capitalist regimes they establish when they come to power.)
This view is based on the premise that, due to capitalist control of the idea-forming apparatus, a majority can never come to be socialists while capitalist rule lasts; only a minority can and therefore it is their duty to seize power to liberate the majority. Lenin did not invent this view; he merely followed a tradition that went back to Babeuf’s ‘Conspiracy of the Equals’ in the French Revolution.
One Leninist who took this seriously was Che Guevara who was a minister in the Cuban government in the early 1960s. He liked to quote from a review Lenin wrote in January 1923 of a chronicle of the Russian Revolution written by the non-Bolshevik Russian revolutionary Nikolai Sukhanov:
'You say that civilization is necessary for the building of socialism. Very good. But why could we not first create such prerequisites of civilization in our country by the expulsion of the landowners and the Russian capitalists, and then start moving toward socialism? Where, in what books, have you read that such variations of the customary historical sequence of events are impermissible or impossible? ' (MIA Link.)
Answer: in everything that Karl Marx wrote.
Guevara wanted Cuba to ‘start moving towards socialism’ straightaway by, among other things, creating ‘the new man’. This meant the 'revolutionary vanguard', as the government, educating people into becoming and behaving like socialists, in particular getting them to participate in the running and work of society on a voluntary basis because they realised this had to be done in the common interest. Hence he favoured ‘moral incentives’ over ‘material incentives’.
In Socialism and Man in Cuba Guevara said that creating 'the new man' had to involve moving away from commodity production (production for sale):
'The commodity is the economic cell of capitalist society. So long as it exists its effects will make themselves felt in the organization of production and, consequently, in consciousness.' (MIA Link). 
Castro took the same view, declaring in an interview with a French magazine in 1967:
‘I am against material incentives because I regard them as incompatible with socialism . . .  What we want is to demystify money, not rehabilitate it. We even intend to abolish it completely’ (Nouvel Observateur, 17 September 1967).
Quite apart from considerations of how voluntary for some workers’ ‘voluntary work’ really was, this was never going to succeed because people in Cuba were not living in socialist conditions. Socialism presupposes that plenty for all is being produced. People can’t be expected to behave in a socialist way in conditions of continuing scarcity, such as existed in Cuba. Marx and Engels pointed this out in a passage in The German Ideology which is the perfect answer to Lenin’s question (though Lenin was not aware of it since this work wasn’t published until 1932). Discussing ‘the alien relation between men and what they themselves produce’ when there is private property, they wrote:
'This “alienation” (to use a term which will be comprehensible to the philosophers) can, of course, only be abolished given two practical premises. For it to become an “intolerable” power, ie. a power against which men make a revolution, it must necessarily have rendered the great mass of humanity “propertyless,” and produced, at the same time, the contradiction of an existing world of wealth and culture, both of which conditions presuppose a great increase in productive power, a high degree of its development. And, on the other hand, this development of productive forces (which itself implies the actual empirical existence of men in their world-historical, instead of local, being) is an absolutely necessary practical premise because without it want is merely made general, and with destitution the struggle for necessities and all the old filthy business would necessarily be reproduced .'
Moral exhortations cannot overcome the economic reality of material scarcity. Scarcity means that people are obliged to try to get as much money as they can, not for its own sake but to get access to what they need to live. In other words, ‘material incentives’ will prevail.
There was a rather less appealing side to the attempt to create ‘the new man’ as it also involved the 'revolutionary vanguard' stopping people hearing further the capitalist-individualist ideas that had been inculcated in them before the revolution. In practice this meant suppressing these ideas and the parties and individuals (imprisoning some) deemed to be advocating them, including some of the original Cuban revolutionaries who thought that the revolution’s aim was political democracy rather than socialism (actually, this had been Castro’s view at the time too).
Castro and Guevara were of course well aware that socialism (or communism as they called it) was not possible in isolation on the island of Cuba, but they did believe that progress towards it could be made. Fifty years later, however, there is still production for sale, money still exists, and ‘material incentives’ prevail.
The fact is that Lenin could not have been more wrong in imagining that progress towards socialism could be made where its essential prerequisites did not exist, neither objective (a sufficient development of productive capacity) nor subjective (a working class with a sufficient degree of culture wanting and understanding socialism). All a socialist minority that seized power in the absence of these conditions could do would be to preside over the further development of capitalism in one form or another; which, granting that Castro and Guevara did want socialism, was what happened in Cuba. State capitalism was supposed to be a step on the way to socialism but that's where it stopped.
Adam Buick

Editorial: The Devaluation of the Labour Party (1949)

Editorial from the November 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

The devaluation of the pound after repeated denials by Cripps that it would be devalued, is a symptom of the mental bankruptcy of the Labour Party. Gone is the easy optimism of 1945, when they were confident they could control and plan the capitalist system.

Now all can see that capitalist forces are in control, driving them from one panicky expedient to another, all of the methods resorted to by Liberal and Tory Governments in past crises.

Raising or lowering currencies in terms of gold has fairly often been the method used in the history of Capitalism for adjusting some of the financial and trading difficulties the system produces. Gold is still the standard to which the currencies used in world trade are related, even if, as in Britain at present, the relationship is indirect. The pound is fixed in relationship to the dollar—now 2.8 dollars to the pound—but the dollar is by American law fixed at a certain weight of gold, one ounce of fine gold making 35 dollars. The dollar too was devalued in the early nineteen thirties and fixed in 1934 at about three-fifths (59%) of the weight of gold it had formerly represented. The reduction of the pound from 4 dollars to 2.8 dollars, taken in conjunction with the earlier devaluation of the dollar, means in effect that the pound now represents about one-third (34%) of the gold it used to represent before the first world war.

Sometimes the change is upwards. This happened in 1925 when the pound, after being allowed to fluctuate for several years, was raised again to its 1914 gold level; only to be cut loose once more in 1931.

The purpose of devaluing the pound in September, 1949, was to try to give a temporary fillip to the export of British goods, while holding down wages in face of a rising cost of living; thus enabling exporters to sell at lower prices at the expense of the working class. Russia at the end of 1947, faced with a problem of high prices, an extensive black market and currency speculation handled the situation differently. They cut purchasing power by issuing new notes in place of the old ones, at the rate of only one new note in exchange for ten of the old, and by cancelling varying proportions of savings-bank deposits and investments in State loans—bondholdings were cut to one-third of their face value. At the same time this levy on savings was offset by a reduction of the prices of various essentials and by the abolition of rationing. The present devaluation by the Labour Government will not be the last; if and when the expected increased flow of British and European goods into America and American markets takes effect the demand may arise in those American industries adversely affected for another devaluation of the dollar in order to meet competition.

Although the Labour Ministers in devaluing and curtailing Government expenditure as a means of meeting Capitalism's crisis are behaving much like Ramsay MacDonald’s Government in 1931, they make the claim that they have one outstanding merit that distinguishes them from their predecessors, the merit of providing “full employment" The Daily Herald put this issue in a nutshell. The “dearer loaf," it said, quoting Cripps, will be “a vital contribution to the success of the national effort to balance our dollar trade"; and added, in its own words, “a vital contribution to maintaining full employment" (Daily Herald, 19/9/49). In effect the Labour Government, which insults the workers’ intelligence by describing itself as “Socialist," offers us the grim choice of evils, either to accept some lowering of the standard of living for all workers through rising prices, or to accept a drastic lowering of the standard of living through a big increase of unemployment. Either passively accept an all round worsening of conditions or be forced to accept it by the threat of unemployment and semi-starvation for large numbers.

The Labour Party spokesmen have betrayed their own lack of grasp of the realities of Capitalism by the way they have had to eat their own words. Cripps has, it is true, his defenders even outside his own ranks. The Manchester Guardian defended his repeated denials of the intention to devalue as a “necessary untruth," comparable with the patriotic lies of war-time; and in this was backed up by a Church dignitary, Canon Peter Green. But other Labour Party pronouncements proving that devaluation would be useless or harmful were on record and those who made them now have to be busy proving the opposite. On 19th May, 1948, the City Editor of the Herald, under the heading “Drop £ devaluation nonsense,” opposed devaluation on the ground that the assumed advantage of selling more goods to America (he took as his example bicycles) could only happen in a situation in which “we had spare labour (unemployment) and a glut of steel and rubber" to produce the additional bicycles, and that as these conditions did not exist, “all the theoretical benefits" of devaluation were non-existent too. (He overlooked the possibility that his Government might create the surplus for export by cutting the standard of living of the workers.)

“Fact,” the Labour Party Bulletin, for August, 1949, was even more unlucky. It came out against devaluation only a few weeks before Cripps introduced it. This is what it said: —
   “Thus, if devaluation succeeded in closing the gap (which is doubtful) it would do so by lowering our standard of living. The pound would buy less in Tooting and Bradford, as well as in New York and Winnipeg. Devaluation is therefore an alternative to wage-slashing as a device for cutting our prices at the expense of the mass of the people.”
This was a boomerang indeed. Capitalism offers to those who administer it just such choices of evils as the one mentioned. Having to choose between devaluation (with higher prices and frozen wages) and wage-slashing, the Labour Government chose devaluation in order to avoid a headlong clash with the workers. The clash is not avoided, only deferred.