Friday, January 12, 2018

50 Years Ago: Ruling Class Use of Religion (1980)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the eyes of the class that is supreme in society, religion is for the people, as Napoleon once pointed out, but not for the rulers. It is something to stupefy or drive into a frenzy the mass of the people, as the needs of the ruling class demand. Since the days of the native medicine man, religion has been a prop and a handmaiden to each ruling class, and a priestly group has evolved parallel with the growth of government. So much has this been so that each social evolution of the past has had a religious glamour cast over it and has involved modifications of the creeds of the defeated rulers. Apart from its philosophic unsoundness, the success and the curse of religion has been its propagation of the myth of another world.

When the oppressed are weary from the hopeless struggle for existence and might be moved to rise and throw off the yoke of oppression, the deadening hand of religion stretches out to them, bids them to be of good cheer and be patient, and all will be well in the hereafter, where “all good people" will live in a heavenly rose garden.

From an article, The Cloak of Religion, by Gilmac, Socialist Standard July 1930.

Political Notes: Humbug & Heffer (1980)

The Political Notes Column from the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Humbug & Heffer
In our May issue, we had a piece referring to the murky Stalinist past of the Labour MP Eric Heffer, who has now announced his intention of entering the race for the leadership of his pseudo-socialist party. As late as 1953, after the death of Stalin, he was extolling the virtues of the monster who had done to death millions of Russian workers in the process of building up the power of the state-capitalist regime. In the Guardian of June 28 there was a long interview with Heffer by John Torode, complete with the usual description of his fondness for smart clothes, good food and fine wine. (It is beginning to seem as though a would-be leader of these pseuds has first got to prove that he has all the worst attributes of a capitalist Pig.)

In the course of the article, Heffer is quoted as reviling the Fabians (who are of course members of his own party) as being “the other side of the Stalinist coin” and went on to remind readers of the way the Webbs had swallowed Stalin. No readers of this journal will have any illusions about the Webbs or any of their ilk; we have on many occasions publicised their appalling views, which fitted so ill with their claims for the Labour Party as a guardian of democracy.

There was never, at any time, the slightest excuse for the Webbs to eulogise Stalinism in the teeth of all the evidence of its atrocities. But by the time Heffer did his grovel, even those who had fallen into the Stalinist trap had, in the main, realised what a murderous dictator he had been. But not Heffer he was still kissing the dead tyrant’s feet. And yet here he is, a quarter of a century later, having the gall to criticise his fellow Stalin-lovers.

Workshy myth
This too is a headline taken from an article in the press (Guardian June 28). It is not bad enough that workers are made redundant (apart from those referred to in the previous note who cannot be thrown onto the scrap-heap because they simply live there and know- no other home). They have to be insulted as well. Workshy, lazy, do better on the dole than working. And the insults are not hurled merely by the capitalist class. All socialist propagandists will be familiar with members of our own class who are all too ready to heap insults on fellow members even less fortunate than they are. (They forget they are always liable to join them!)

Of course it is true that some jobs are so badly paid that workers can actually do better on social security. A fine advert for capitalism that is, to be sure. But the report in the Guardian made it clear that “the vast majority of the unemployed experience serious financial difficulty . . . on average their benefits total only 44 per cent of their former earnings”. We are further told that the “mean benefit” (le mot juste!) for men is the vast sum of £26.34 per week. Also that only 19 per cent get redundancy pay from all sources totalling more than £200. Riches indeed.

Bitter price for youth to pay
The above heading is not our own, but appeared over an article by Shirley Williams, the former Labour Minister of Education, in the Observer (June 29). The article was on the subject of youth unemployment, the fearful prospect facing thousands of school-leavers of never having the privilege of becoming an employed wage-slave. One of the gems offered by Williams was that the government should pay special benefits to young people engaged in training or further education at least on a means-tested basis.

The very term “means test” was always calculated to make a Labourite foam at the mouth, and yet here is one of their own leaders advocating it — and not a single twitch in the paper’s letter columns. In all of its 700 words, there was not room for one single mention of the word socialism. How can someone like Mrs Williams pretend to be a socialist and yet manage to deal with ways of solving capitalism’s problems without even mentioning the word? Let alone understanding what it means.

Make sense of this
In Portugal there is a Conservative government acting under a recently enacted constitution whose second clause provides for the “transition to socialism”. (Taken from an article in the Times Literary Supplement of July 4 which points out that nowhere in the constitution is the term socialism defined!) 

Praising Mosley!
“What Mosley so valiantly tried for, could have saved his country from the Hungry Thirties and the second world war.” Michael Foot.
“Mosley is a superb political thinker, the best of our age.” A. J. P. Taylor.
Now it is well-known that Mosley is the hate-figure supreme of the Left. It is equally well-known that Foot has been a leading Leftie since time began and is now deputy leader of the Labour Party; and that Professor Taylor, that great historian, has also claimed to be a socialist. So it is possible that you might think the above quotes are figments of an overheated imagination. They may be incredible but they are still true. They are taken from the same edition of the TLS of the previous note and are part of the blurb to an advert of Mosley’s memoirs. Further comment would be superfluous.
L. E. Weidberg

Brexit and the Border (2018)

From the January 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Irish Border question has reared its ugly head again.
The Border’s roots go back to a split in the 19th and early 20th century between two sections of the capitalist class in Ireland. In the South were fledgling capitalists who wanted protective tariffs behind which to develop. In the North were the industrial capitalists – the Titanic was built in Belfast – who didn’t want to be cut off behind tariff walls from free access to markets in the rest of Britain and its Empire.
At the founding convention of Sinn Fein in 1905 its leader, Arthur Griffith, put the case for the petty capitalists in the South:
‘If an Irish manufacturer cannot produce an article as cheaply as an English or other foreigner, only because his foreign competitor has larger resources at his disposal, then it is the first duty of the Irish nation to accord protection to that Irish manufacturer … Under the Sinn Fein policy … no possibility would be left … for a syndicate of unscrupulous English capitalists to crush out the home manufacturer and the home trader’ (Sinn Fein Policy, 1907 edition, p. 15 and p. 23).
The President of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, J. Milner Balfour, put the point of view of the Northern capitalists in his evidence in July 1911 to the Committee on Irish Finance:
‘I think that any attempt to set up an independent Customs in such a way as to enable the Irish Parliament to create a Tariff between Ireland and the United Kingdom would be a very dangerous thing’(Minutes of Evidence, Committee on Irish Finance, cmnd 6799).
Dragging the workers into it
Both sides involved the working class in their dispute. The Irish Nationalists and Home Rulers, representing the petty capitalists of the South, relied on the Catholic majority on the island of Ireland. When Home Rule became an issue in the 1880s the Unionists, representing the big capitalists of the North, decided to play the ‘Orange card’, appealing to the Protestant majority in the North East, beating the Lambeg drum and declaring that ‘Home Rule is Rome Rule’. As a result the working class came to be divided on religious sectarian lines.
In the end the matter was settled by force of arms, in the Anglo-Irish war of 1919-21. The Treaty that ended this war set up an ‘Irish Free State’ in 26 of the 32 counties of Ireland, with the remaining six in the North East staying in the UK, but with their own parliament. Politically, the fears of both sides came about. ‘Home Rule’ did indeed turn out to be ‘Rome Rule’ while Northern Ireland became a Protestant statelet where the Catholic minority were victims of systematic discrimination.
At the beginning the Border did not have much economic significance despite its immense political significance as it had never been accepted by a section of the Nationalists and was vehemently insisted on by the Unionists. It assumed economic significance after 1932 when the anti-Treaty wing of the Nationalists under De Valera came to power and began to pursue the original Sinn Fein policy of economic nationalism. The result was a tariff war between the Twenty-Six Counties and the UK which went on until 1938 and which involved the erection of a ‘hard border’ with customs posts between the South and the North East of Ireland.
Anglo-Irish Free Trade
Successive Irish governments continued with the old Nationalist agenda of encouraging the development of Irish infant industries behind tariff walls. By the 1960s, however, both Ireland and Britain were keen to join what has now become the EU, but De Gaulle kept vetoing this. Instead, in 1965, Britain and Ireland signed an Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement which provided for Britain to abolish from 1 January 1966 all tariffs on Irish imports while Ireland would gradually reduce and eventually abolish tariffs on imports from the UK. From that point on, the economic significance of the border was considerably reduced. Even more so after Britain and Ireland both joined the EU in 1973 and its customs union (erecting a common external tariffs on imports from outside the EU). The border still existed but, following the 1998 Good Friday agreement had become less politically contentious.
It has become a bone of contention again because of Brexit or, rather, because of the British government’s political decision to interpret Brexit to mean withdrawing not just from the EU’s political institutions but also from the customs union and single market and its common standards.
Withdrawal from the customs union means that the UK would no longer have to impose the same tariff on imports as the remaining members of the EU, including Ireland, have to on imports from outside the EU into their country. In fact, the EU would have to impose the common external tariff on all goods entering Ireland from the UK, including from Northern Ireland.
Ghosts from the past
In contrast to a hundred years ago, neither the capitalists of the North nor those of the South of Ireland want an economic border on the island of Ireland. Both parts of the island are now more or less the same economically. Both are eager to attract overseas investment. In this respect there is still a difference – the rate at which profits are taxed in the two parts of Ireland. In the South the rate is much lower.
The DUP have been campaigning for Northern Ireland to have the power to align corporation tax with that in the South rather than being tied to that in the rest of the UK. This shows that their public humiliation of Theresa May when she was first in Brussels at the beginning of December to sign a deal on the matter was politically motivated, a reflection of the sectarian backwoodsmen and women that they are. They no longer represent the interest of capitalists in Northern Ireland. On this issue they don’t even represent the views of those who voted in the referendum as a majority in Northern Ireland voted Remain, i.e., to keep the status quo with no change to the border.
The problem is that hatreds stirred up by rival sections of the capitalist class in the past cannot be turned off just like that. They have a tendency to continue beyond their usefulness to those sections and come to haunt their successors, causing political problems. In the case of Ireland the Theresa May government has found this out the hard way, especially as they chose to do a deal with the DUP to get a parliamentary majority. Sinn Fein, too, is a prisoner of dogmas inherited from the intra-capitalist disputes of yesteryear – if their 7 Westminster MPs took their seats they could counter the 10 DUP MPs, but they refuse to do so as they are not prepared to go through the empty formality of swearing allegiance to ‘the Crown’.
Trade and tariffs are not really an issue for the majority class of wage and salary workers. These – and the politics associated with them – are capitalist issues of concern only to the capitalist class which that class can be left to settle itself. The trouble is that, in such intra-capitalist disputes, the working class suffer collateral damage in the sense of being stirred up against each other. In Northern Ireland this impeded the development even of ordinary, reformist Labourite, let alone revolutionary socialist, politics. For years there was only one issue in every election, towards which parties had to situate themselves – the Border. It really would be a tragedy if the sectarian conflicts of the past were to be re-ignited by short-sighted political decisions, as happened in the 1960s.
Borders are borders separating one capitalist state from another and have always been a nuisance for workers, impeding their free movement. Creating new borders, or reviving old ones, only makes things worse. And, besides, is a step away from the socialist aim of a world without frontiers.
Adam Buick

50 Years Ago: Violence and secret organisation (1980)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

On March 6th the American Communists organised a demonstration in Union Square. New York City. The police were ordered to clear the streets on the ground that the Communists had not obtained a permit for a parade. Five Communist leaders were arrested and the crowd beaten up by the police with great brutality. That, of course, is a common story. There is. however, an additional feature of some interest. The Police Commissioner, Mr. Groves Whalem, declared on the following day that he had his agents inside the Communist Party keeping him informed as to all their plans and the movements of their leaders. We refer to this because it illustrates once more the danger to the workers of organisations which advocate violence, and attempt to carry on illegal activities in the absurd belief that they can do so in secret. The only sound line for the socialist movement in countries such as Great Britain and the USA is to organise on a basis which makes secrecy unnecessary. This rules out the Communist policy of street fighting, but that policy is one which is of no use to the workers. On the contrary, it has, in many countries, often been engineered by the authorities themselves through their inside agents.

From an editorial, Police Spies and the Communist Movement: Socialist Standard, August 1930.

50 Years Ago: Labour Government Tells The Unemployed To Emigrate (1980)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

We recall how the Labour Party cried to high heaven when the Tories and Liberals told the unemployed to get out of the country and look for work elsewhere. Mr. Tom Shaw, at present Minister for War, was suitably ironical eighteen months ago concerning the “ecstasies" of the Imperialists" about the development of distant parts of the Earth”. The last Conservative Government set up a transfer board to move unemployed miners to imaginary areas where jobs were vacant. How the Labour Party scoffed at the idea of solving unemployment by moving the unemployed from one depressed area to another. But now the Labour Government, according to the Daily Herald of 12th August, is considering a big Empire settlement plan by which the unemployed will be employed on development schemes in the Dominions. So Mr. Lansbury and the Labour Government have nothing else to offer to the unemployed than to ship them off to the Dominions, in spite of the fact that the Canadian Government and the Australian Labour Government are faced with alarming and continuous unemployment of their own and firmly declare their determination not to receive Great Britain’s surplus workers.

From an editorial "Labour Government's Solution — Unemployed to Emigrate", in the Socialist Standard, September 1930.