Thursday, January 4, 2018

Divide and Rule in Palestine (1937)

From the September 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Royal Commission's proposal to solve the Palestine troubles by partition has met with a mixed reception.

The recommendation is to split Palestine up into three pieces, an Arab State, a Jewish State, and a portion which will remain under the British Mandate.

At the recently concluded Zionist Congress opinion was sharply divided. A two-thirds majority, headed by the Zionist Chairman, Dr. Weizmann, voted in favour of the principle of partition, largely on the grounds that it was the best that could be expected from the British Government under the circumstances. The decision was only come to after long and heated discussion, and the news of it called forth protest from some leading Zionists in America and elsewhere.

Among the professed spokesmen of working-class interests there is also a conflict of views.

Communist writers, who claim that the Jews in Palestine have been building up a flourishing business under the protection of the British Government, back the Arabs. They urge resistance to the partition proposal and the establishment of an independent Arab State in Palestine, of which the Jews are to be members on an equal basis. The Communists put this forward on two grounds: The right of the Arabs to self-determination and the need to curb British Imperialism.

On the other side, opponents of the Communists, like Abramovich and Orenstein, favour the continuance of the mandatory system and oppose the Arab viewpoint. In doing so they overstate the Jewish case, though probably unconsciously, painting a beautiful picture of Palestine under the Jews, where Socialist ideas will flourish.

The state of affairs in Palestine is not clear cut. There is an old social system side by side with a new, and both subject to an over-ruling Imperial power. Within each again there are class interests that cut across racial and national feelings. And, to still further complicate matters, there is the peculiar international position of the Jew.

The Arab lives under a semi-feudal regime with the land-owner despoiling the peasant of nearly everything. The coming of the Jews introduced modern industrial methods which threaten the incomes of land-owners, partly by offering the peasants a way of escape from fleecing, and partly by competition. Hence the influential Arabs are opposed to the continued immigration of Jews and strive to stir racial hatred among the poor by using the religious bogey. They are opposed to partition and want an independent Arab State.

The Jew, hunted out of various occupations in the East and the victim of pogroms, has been drifting into Palestine for decades. The immigration  of the Jew has been vastly increased since the War, until at present it has reached from fifty to sixty thousand a year. How the Jews are permeating Palestine may be appreciated from the fact that, in spite of Arab immigration, the Jewish section rose from 17 per cent. of the population in 1930 to 30 per cent. in 1936. This antagonises the Arab, who foresees himself being swamped in the rising flood. On the other hand, the growing Jewish section pays the bulk of the tax revenue but receives the least benefit from it, which is a permanent source of complaint.

To the Jew, interference with immigration would have serious consequences. Palestine is perhaps the only place to which he has free access. A large proportion of the immigrants are representatives of families that have been left behind in other countries in dire straits, penniless and denied almost any opportunity of earning a living. To these the immigrant sends back contributions that enable the relatives to buy the necessaries of life. Thus, as one writer puts it, if the Arabs succeed in stopping Jewish immigration into Palestine it will mean starvation to millions of Jews.

The Jewish migration has brought with it to Palestine the capitalist system with its antagonistic classes. While, on the one hand, it is making the desert flower and bringing into existence flourishing towns, on the other hand it is replacing the feudal method of fleecing by the capitalist exploitation of wage-workers. To quote Mordekai Orenstein: —
  You will find in Palestine a highly organised capitalist class, a vigorous and aggressive Jewish clericalism, and a modern Jewish Fascism with all the usual characteristics from strike-breaking to the base murder of a distinguished working-class leader.
—(Page 10, “ Jews, Arabs and British in Palestine.”) 
He also adds that you will find there a strongly organised working class. But, towards the end of the pamphlet, he laments that: —
   Considerable sections of Jewish workers in Palestine have not as yet reached the realisation of the vital urgency of forging this supernational weapon [Jewish-Arab proletarian unity] in the political struggle in Palestine.—(Page 21.)
It may be added that partition, by restricting the area open to Jews, must have a considerable effect on their immigration, which is some explanation of Zionist opposition.

The attitude of the British Government is based on simple principles: The safeguarding of British capitalists' interests, as represented by such things as the oil pipe between Mosul and Haifa; security of Imperial air routes, communications through the Suez Canal, and so forth. Their policy of divide and rule leads them to favour different sides at different times, and to keep racial animosities alive as long as they do not become too dangerous.

The support of both Jews and Arabs during the War was bought by promises that have not been kept, and cause irritation to both sections.

The Mandate has evidently outlived its uses to British capitalism, and the partition system is to take its place. This will give Arab and Jew (like the North and South of Ireland) something to quarrel over for years to come, to the hindrance of propaganda for working-class solidarity against the international capitalist class.

TV Review: The digital watch (1999)

TV Review from the December 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is a sad fact that as the 1990s come to an end most viewers and critics think that the standard of television output has been lower in Britain during the last decade than at almost any other time in living memory. The sixties had The Avengers and The Prisoner, the seventies had Dad`s Army and Fawlty Towers, the eighties Only Fools and Horses and the "golden era" of British soap—but what did the nineties have?

The television industry in Britain, previously cited as the best in the world, has lost its way at the same time as the entertainment industry the world over has seen a dumbing down of its output of truly mammoth proportions. While almost everyone now concedes that the quality of TV programmes has dipped, there is, bizarrely at first sight, far more TV about than ever before. Indeed this may appear to be one of the problems.

Not only has quality perceptibly fallen, the quality that remains is now spread across a myriad of different channels. Today, despite the ongoing technological revolution in broadcasting, there is probably less new, quality TV across the sixty or seventy channels now available than there was across just three or four channels in the past. Broadcasting in the UK is now spreading itself very thinly indeed, and it shows.

There are two main reasons for this, both of them connected. One is the arrival of satellite—and now digital—television. Digital television service provision in the UK is currently a duopoly. It is an industry dominated by Digital Sky Broadcasting and its newer rival OnDigital, though as with most duopolies there is a fair degree of collusion and co-operation between the two. As digital TV is not restricted by the technical limits imposed by the normal UHF television waveband, they have been able to multiply the provision of TV channels in Britain several times over, presenting their subscribers with pick-and-choose portfolios of channels dedicated to drama, comedy, music, sport or whatever may take their fancy.

Unfortunately, these channels are heavily dominated by advertising in the main, even more so than their terrestrial rivals. Some of them undoubtedly provide a good service for the sections of the TV audience they are marketed at—Sky Sports being probably the most obvious example—but they generally offer low-grade television and repeats of popular old favourites such as those now offered by UK Gold and Granada Plus. Even Sky`s in-house Channel, Sky One, offers next to no new programming at all. It is recycled fayre, cheap and advertising-driven, with the bottom-line of one of the world`s biggest multinationals rarely out of sight and mind.

Down, down, deeper and down 
The other reason for the spread of low-quality TV has not been so intrinsically related to the arrival of new technology. Instead it is a phenomenon reflective of what is happening right under our noses in capitalist society. This is the lack of social cohesion and direction evident in a society now based on little more than the commodification of our everyday lives and the anarchic rule of the market.

Not only is there a lack of a coherent future for people to forge or identify with today and for programme-makers to tap in to, there is even a lack of a shared sense of past too. As society becomes more disparate, its members more "classless", isolated and bombarded by a sustained attack of cultural ephemera, "market segmentation" becomes all important: commercial exploitation based on the sustenance of diversity and division in previously homogenous markets. Class is no longer important in this scenario, instead we are defined by the lager we drink or the shade of lipgloss we wear.

As a result of all this only two types of new programme get made with any frequency. These are either highly specific, and necessarily low-budget programmes aimed at the plethora of culturally transient activity in existence at any one time, or generic blockbusters of various sorts aimed a mass audience on the basis of the rule of the lowest common denominator—trashy dramas, increasingly repetitive soaps and anything else which, whether by chance or design, achieves a high enough market share to warrant being flogged to death, from docusoaps to celebrity cookery programmes.

Hence the state of UK (and indeed, world) broadcasting at present—a massive proliferation of channels with a parallel proliferation of trash. Finding low-grade dross or endless repeats is no real problem now, finding new quality programming which has required some sort of sustained investment most certainly is.

Of course it need not be like this. Digital television in particular offers huge scope for the democratisation of broadcasting, with hundreds of channels catering for all tastes and perspectives, properly produced and free from the dead hand of the advertising people. Perhaps at some point in the new millennium society will be able to mould and create a worthwhile broadcasting system which is a fitting use of the advanced technology now at our disposal, and which can inform us, entertain us and empower us in equal measure. If the market economy is to survive for much longer though, we shouldn`t really be counting on miracles, should we?
Dave Perrin

Germany, November 1918 (1998)

From the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard
The German revolution of 80 years ago was the only ever nation-wide workers' revolt in an advanced capitalist society. It overthrew the Kaiser but not capitalism. It didn't and couldn't have done this as there was no majority for socialism amongst the workers.
Last Autumn saw the spectacle of Trotskyists and other assorted Leninists remembering the 80th Anniversary of the Russian revolution with great enthusiasm. The Trotskyist "Marxist" Party held a meeting for the occasion round my way. When asked by myself at a stall promoting the revolution meeting (with some very pretty looking flyers, it must be said) what exactly their platform was, their reply was "well, you know the Russian revolution?". I indicated that I was aware of its existence. "Well, we, er, well, we think it was a good thing". Great, nice platform, well thought out, mate. Likewise our local SWP enthusiast exhorted me to come to their big meeting on the Russian revolution and "see Tony Cliff before he dies", which struck me as insufficient incentive to attend what would doubtless have been a very tedious evening.
All of this inevitably led me into numerous dog-fights with these sort of people, about quite why the Russian revolution isn't the best thing that's ever happened, including one very nasty and terrifying encounter with a bloody-thirsty professional revolutionary from the SWP head office ("The Cheka were necessary, to stop counter-revolutionaries," she said, and I contemplated suicide, despairing over the condition of a human race that produced such a "socialist"). Inevitably, whenever I elucidated the crimes of the Bolsheviks, pointed out the many failings of the revolution, demonstrated how even Nice and Shiny Mr Lenin perpetrated the sorts of crimes they normally said only started with that Evil Mr Stalin, they had one last line of defence: "The Russian Revolution turned rotten because of invasion by umpteen foreign countries, and the failure of the German Revolution."
The point about invasion largely makes a mockery of their whole support for the victorious revolution, if in fact it wasn't victorious, and so can be dismissed. But their second point is worth a closer look. It is true that Lenin was probably predicating the success of his revolution upon a successful socialist revolution in Germany as well and hoping that it would spread world-wide from there. Fine and dandy, but all this changes Lenin from instead of being a dangerous man who thought he could lead the world to socialism, to a dangerous gambler who thought he could lead the world to socialism. Further, the proponents of such a thesis seem remarkably capable of over-looking the obvious conclusion to which this line of defence points—that Russia was really the side-show, an historical footnote, to the only ever attempted workers' revolution in an advanced capitalist state; and that all their celebrations of Russia and desire to follow its model are flawed, because Germany is the real case history that bears examination.
At the time of the first world war, Germany was the second biggest industrial economy in the world. This was despite having a full third of the population still living as feudal peasantry, and still retaining a quasi-feudal government under an autocratic hereditary ruler. It also had one of the largest workers' movements in Europe (despite socialism having been a criminalised creed for many years in Germany). The Social-Democratic Party of Germany (the SPD) had over a million members and some 4½ million voters, along with numerous papers, affiliated social groups, etc.
The SPD still talked of—and reckoned itself as—being a radical socialist party, though over the years running up to the war it drifted further and further towards outright reformism, partly because it had become so institutionalised. Running its own papers and allied with unions, it was very much a part of the fabric of society. Despite this, a small section of revolutionary socialists remained within the SPD, typified by Rosa Luxemburg, and who numbered some three to four thousand.
The true colours of the SPD were shown during the war, when nearly all of its members in the Reichstag openly backed the war, and the party spread propaganda to the effect that the war was necessary to stop the threat of tyranny from Russia. This slowly led to a split in the SPD, three ways, with the eventual formation of the Independent Social-Democratic Party (USPD) within the parliamentary party and then more slowly within the membership itself. The "far-left" contingent formed themselves into the Spartakusbund (Spartacist League) with Karl Leibknecht and Rosa Luxemburg as prominent members. However, they remained within the official ranks of the USPD.
By September 1918 it was clear that Germany had already lost the war. The most the ruling class could expect was to preserve their state more or less intact. They were desperate to avert a repetition of events in Russia and the massive upheaval there. The powerful generals in the army proposed a way of saving the German state by liberalising it and bringing some of the more obliging elements of the SPD into the government. These latter accepted and joined a government under Prince Max von Baden as Chancellor.
Workers' Councils
Under this regime events deteriorated. Long suffering workers began to vent their frustration at the grind and penury they faced after four years of draconian war-time restrictions. More and more workers and disenchanted soldiers and sailors began to strike and mutiny. By late October insurrection was spreading, as workers throughout the country rose up against the government. Beginning in the northern port of Kiel workers' councils began to be formed all across the country. By 5 November, Hamburg (one of the biggest cities in the country) became subject to control by a workers' council. By the 8th so had many of the great cities of Germany, Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt and even Berlin.
The outcome of the uprising was that the leader of the SPD, Erbert, took power, and his colleague Scheidemann unilaterally declared Germany a republic, in a bid to appease the rebels by ending the rule of the German aristocracy. The Kaiser went into exile. Whilst this part of the revolt was successful, it in fact merely finished the job begun by the revolutions of 1848, in establishing a fully bourgeois republic in Germany.
Very few of the German working class were revolutionary socialists. The vast majority of workers supported the SPD as a matter of course, including its general programme of the reform of capitalism. On the other hand, the revolutionary workers were tiny in number. When in February 1919 the Spartakusbund renounced its links with the USPD and formed a German Communist Party (KPD) it recognised this problem: "Socialism cannot be created by decrees; nor can it be established by any government. Socialism must be created by the masses themselves, by every proletarian". Their problem was that not enough proletarians wanted socialism. The November uprisings had been a reaction to hardship and tyranny, not a coherent wish to establish socialism. Contrary to what the SWP's Chris Harman writes in his book The Lost Revolution, in which he patronisingly claims that the workers were "confused" by the splits within the "socialist movement", what most workers wanted was for the SPD to end their hardship. The Spartacists recognised that the mass support needed to establish socialism was lacking and that socialism was not on the agenda at that time, and so they resolved to oppose the calling of a constituent assembly which they felt would help consolidate the German state and instead to try and make socialists within the workers' councils.
Some hot-headed elements of the German left (in the USPD and another group called the Socialist Shop-Stewards) were not satisfied with this reality, and 5 January 1919 mounted the misnamed Spartacist uprising ("Spartacist" within SPD circles had become was a catch-all for anyone vaguely disagreeing with the leadership, much as "Trot" has become in the modern Labour Party—the Spartacists, including Rosa Luxemburg, actually opposed an uprising, realising as they did that mass support for socialism just wasn't there). These elements led the workers of Berlin in a putsch to try and seize power, with the hope of it spreading nation-wide. It failed. Lacking any plan the workers who had followed the glorious revolutionaries stood around waiting to be told what to do, and when they were told it was a mish-mash of confused orders and muddle. On 11 January 1919 the SPD government sent in the troops, the notorious Freikorps, which very effectively crushed the abortive putsch. By 17 January both Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg had been murdered by Freikorps troops, and Berlin was under government control once more.
Crushed by the state
This was a pattern that was to be repeated in many parts of the country, as any struggles and gains by the workers were brutally crushed by military might. The workers discovered too late the danger of following leaders, and, much as the Bolsheviks crushed all independent working class activity in Russia to establish their dominance, so too did the SPD in Germany to preserve the German capitalist state. The workers discovered to their cost the impossibility of fighting against a co-ordinated and well-armed state, and if little blood was spilt in the initial revolt much was spilt when it was put down.
The workers of Germany persistently followed their old leaders, believing these would solve their problems for them, and even bring about socialism, and for a while they believed the lip-service the SPD government gave to "socialisation" of industry. In the end, however, they had to learn the hard way the folly of following leaders. The German revolution shows, not as Chris Harman believes, that if the KPD had had more discipline (read had it enacted the Leninist principle of "democratic-centralism" and obedience to the leadership) it might have controlled events more and thus been able to lead the workers to successful revolution (on Russian lines). It was that where the working class does not have the resolve to establish socialism, it will not, and trying to make socialists in the heat of an ongoing quasi-civil war is almost impossible. No amount of leadership but only a majority of socialist-minded workers could have made the revolution in Germany. The bloody defeat of the putsch and the uprisings showed how violence, especially by a minority, is suicidal against an existing organised state. History shows it is not the state that gets "smashed" but the revolutionaries and many innocent workers too.
Pik Smeet

"Better I die of radiation than my children of hunger . . ." (2006)

From the May 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the village of Orlovka, in the Chui region of Kyrgyzstan in post-Soviet Central Asia, there used to be a uranium mine. Its closure in the early 1990s led to massive unemployment in the area. But now the desperately poor local residents have found a new way to survive.

They sift through the waste dumped near the disused mine ­– "a moonscape of grey slag" – in search of material that they can sell to scrap merchants. There is iron and other metals, and graphite, but most valuable is silicon, which fetches $10 per kilo and ends up at electronics plants in neighbouring China. About a third of the diggers are children. Some of their teachers are there too, for they can't get by on the pittance called a salary. Injuries are frequent. Some people get buried alive when the holes they are digging cave in.

Of course, there are many such places in the "undeveloped" countries. But this one has an additional hazard. The waste is full of radioactive gas (up to 400 micro-roentgens per hour). The diggers, their bodies covered with festering sores, are dying of radiation sickness. They are fully aware of the fact, but as one man said: "Better I die of radiation than my children of hunger."

Now for a little thought experiment. Suppose these people had been rounded up at gunpoint and forced to do this work on the orders of some military junta or Islamist or "communist" dictatorship. Just imagine the furore that human rights organizations around the world would raise against the regime committing such atrocities.

But they were not rounded up at gunpoint, and no armed guards are needed to keep them at their labours. They are "independent market actors" – "entrepreneurs," indeed, legally free to leave the scrap collecting business whenever they like. So none of their "human rights," as the term is usually understood, has been violated. They are lucky enough to live in a country that has been fulsomely praised as a model "democracy" with an excellent "human rights record" – at least by Central Asian standards. And yet they are not a whit better off for all that.

For there is one human right that they lack, and without it other human rights are not worth very much. They do not have the right of access to the means of life. "I wanted to work on the land," another digger remarked, "but unfortunately I don't have any." Quite so. And back into the radioactive gas...

(Source. Institute of War and Peace Reporting (London), Reporting Central Asia, No. 438, March 10, 2006.)