Friday, February 23, 2018

50 Years Ago: Lloyd George on his "War to End War" (1987)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “The whole surface of the ground consisted of nothing but a series of overlapping shell craters, half full of yellow, slimy water. Through falling into these ponds hundreds upon hundreds of unwounded men lost their lives by drowning.
   "Hundreds of thousands of British troops fought through the slough . . .  slept in mud-holes. When they squelched along, they were shot down into the slush; if wounded they were drowned in the slime; but the survivors still crept and dragged onward for 4 months, with their rifles choked with Flemish ooze . . . A tragedy of heroic endurance enacted in mud, and the British Press rang with praises of . . . the Commander-in-Chief!"
  A "highly placed officer from H.Q." on his first visit to the battle front burst into tears and cried; "Good God. did we really send men to fight in that?" — Lloyd George, War Memoirs, pp. 2208-11.
From an article "What newspapers did not tell", Socialist Standard. January 1937.

Promises (1987)

From the January 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Anyone's better than that bloody woman", is a phrase that is often heard. It will be used a lot more in the coming months with the prospect of a general election, where Thatcher's Conservative party will be seeking another five-year term to run British capitalism. The argument behind the disgust is that the Tories are largely responsible for the many problems people in this country are facing, and that, despite the many inadequacies of Labour and the Alliance, anything has to be an improvement on Thatcher.

All shades of political opinion will be asking people to cast negative' votes. Most of the so-called left-wing parties will be urging you to vote Labour — supposedly the mass party of the working-class' — despite the fact that they spend much of their time criticising the Labour Party. Some people in the Communist Party will call for a broad anti-Thatcher alliance, seeing Thatcherism as a new, worse form of Tory rule. The tactical voters, people who vote for someone they disagree with to keep out someone they dislike even more, will be out in force.

The argument works the other way as well. Thatcher and Tebbit will be issuing stern warnings about how the opposition will ruin the economy and leave the nation defenceless. Disillusioned Tory voters will be warned not to vote for the Alliance and let Labour in by the back door. The scare stories the government put out will be designed to focus attention away from their own numerous shortcomings.

Life for most people in the last seven-and-a-half years of Conservative rule has certainly been no bed of roses. Before she was elected in 1979. Thatcher made a big deal about the doubling of unemployment under the last Labour government. Pictures were distributed of a long queue outside a dole office with the caption. "Labour Isn't Working". The bitter irony is that unemployment hasn't doubled under the Tories — it's trebled. The frustration and anger people feel at the humiliation of the dole queue can only intensify when the government apparently shows no concern for their plight. The poverty of existing on a giro can only feel worse when ministers show righteous indignation at the supposed large number of social security scroungers.

More recently the Tories have been worried that their uncaring image may be losing them votes. Lord Young, the (un)employment secretary, has been told to make the right kind of noises about caring, and to present the various cheap labour schemes, like YTS. as being indicative of the government's concern. This real social security scrounger is obviously in a position and of the right social background to sympathise with someone getting £30 a week supplementary benefit.

The Thatcher government has made cuts in health and education and the number of new houses being built has been drastically reduced, despite the fact that thousands of people are homeless and thousands of building workers are unemployed. In view of the poverty workers endure, these cuts seem callous, although welfare can never eliminate the basic impoverishment of working-class life in capitalism

The Tories have passed several laws designed to weaken the trade unions. They have made it harder for workers to go on strike, and made the unions open to court action if they don't follow certain procedures for striking. They have also 'toughened up' the law and eroded many of the civil liberties that people 'enjoyed'.

Thatcher's 'Iron Lady' image, her projection as a strong leader, also worries many people, who fear her enthusiasm for nuclear weapons. Her support for the American bombing of Libya last year plus the Falklands War makes her seem a dangerous warmonger. She and her government are certainly maintaining the long tradition of conservatism by endorsing the slaughter of millions of workers in the interests of British capitalism.

The Conservatives have shown once again that they stand for the dominance of the privileged few, the small number of people who effectively own and control this country. It may seem tempting to vote for some other party just to get them out — until you consider the alternatives.

The main alternative is the Labour Party. Many people still see them as the party of the working people, a party out for a fairer society which will tackle the problems mentioned above. A brief look at what the Labour Party does when it is in power shows that they are no different to the Tories.

The Labour Party makes a great noise about the evils of unemployment and how it is going to get people back to work. At the 1983 election they claimed that they would cut the dole queues to under a million in five years. However, this was seen to be too wild and extravagant, so they now claim they will reduce unemployment by one million in two years. However, every previous Labour government has left office with a higher level of unemployment than it faced when it entered office. The claim that Labour is the party to tackle unemployment is a lie. The level may rise or fall but it is beyond the power of any government to affect it significantly.

Despite its current opposition to the cuts in services the last Labour government also introduced drastic cuts in the health and social services and in education. It was also willing to impose wage restraint and break strikes, hardly the actions of a party anxious to redistribute wealth and create a fairer society. Its current concern with tackling poverty can also be seen for the lie that it is.

It is important to contrast what Labour (or any other party) say when they are in opposition, hunting for votes, and when they are in power, having to act in the only way they can. in the interests of capital. The most obnoxious and deadly contradiction between what Labour says and does is in the sphere of war and peace.

The Labour Party claims that it is the party of peace, and has promised to get rid of nuclear weapons and rely on conventional forces. These so-called conventional weapons have been used in wars where millions have been killed, wars which the Labour Party supported. They are prepared, just like the Tories, to use armed might to protect the interests of capitalism, the usual reason why wars are fought.

Apart from the rhetoric there is no real difference between Labour and the Tories. The argument that you should vote for one rather than the other is untenable. The Liberal/SDP alliance claim to be a real alternative, or at least they try to present themselves as a nice bunch of people, much more decent than the rotten old parties. The leaders of the SDP were senior ministers in the last Labour government. a regime they only now find convenient to criticise. Their objection to the other parties cannot be very deeply felt as they are continually going on about the conditions necessary for entering into a coalition with them in a 'hung' parliament (where there is no overall majority, not the more attractive meaning).

The Liberals can present themselves as political virgins, uncorrupted by power. They have not been in office since the days when Lloyd George was Prime Minister and thousands of troops were being sent to their deaths in the trenches of World War One. From 1977-79 they kept the last Labour government in power. David Steel said they were doing it to prevent the worst excesses of Labour. These excesses obviously did not include the wage cuts imposed and the strikes broken by troops in this period.

Whether the politicians seeking your votes are really committed to changing things for the better, or whether they are just power-hungry careerists is really irrelevant. Once they get into power they have to administer the system in the only way it can be run — against the interests of the vast majority, the working-class. Capitalism is a system of society where the means of life are owned by a small minority, and the majority of people have to work for them in return for a wage or a salary. This basic class division means that workers have only a limited access to society's wealth, that their needs must constantly be denied in the interests of profit.

Attempts to work within the system to make things fairer, to reform away the problems people have, ignore this harsh reality. A society based on the exploitation of the majority can never work in the interests of that majority, no matter how caring or well-meaning the reformers might be. Unemployment, poverty, bad housing and all these other problems are inevitable in this system.

The fact that the main parties work within these limitations results in the narrow, limited political debate that currently prevails. So we are confronted with arguments about the level of unemployment, but not why — in a world of potential abundance — people are poor as a result of class division; and arguments about how best to defend a country, not why workers should be prepared to lay down their lives defending their masters' interests.

The only real alternative is the Socialist alternative, a world of common ownership and democratic control, where everything on and in the earth is used solely to satisfy human needs, where people take control of their own lives. Arguments about 'doing something now', about choosing the lesser of the evils on offer, serve only to delay the achievement of Socialism, to prolong the life of this miserable society.

To achieve Socialism, workers must understand and desire it. and reject the insulting nonsense put out by these other parties. We must decide to work and vote for something really worth having, and not get lost in the muddy waters of capitalist politics, sifting through the shit for something worth voting for. At the next election, you will, as always, be faced with two alternatives: voting for Capitalism or Socialism. Make your choice!
Ian Ratcliffe

Out of the mouths of . . . (1987)

From the January 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Doesn't it all begin to seem a little silly One moment these two great nations are deadly enemies, then they are all pally . . . and all the time the media pour out endless pictures of two tired old men in heavy overcoats. How many of these summits have there been now? Has there been any change in the insane level of armaments . . .  is the world a safer place to live in because of these summits?
   It is to the mutual benefit of both America and Russia to make sure that nothing changes. No one asked me if I wanted to be represented by dear old Ron. . . .  leaders of the free world' and 'socialist world'. As if they were really in any kind of conflict. Basically they need each other. So after a few days of Ronnie and Mikhail shaking hands and kissing each other on the cheeks they send home a few of the spies that they both know exist in order to stop the ice melting completely. They have to keep the game going. There are too many forces on both sides with powerful vested interests in ensuring that everything remains the same. . . .
  powerful Californian scientists and industrialists who are going to make sure that nothing really changes and no real agreement is reached. That is where real power is.
   History will see the two great power blocks coming closer and closer together to squeeze the rest of the world over dwindling economic resources. That is the true logic of the situation and the rest is just a game.
You could be excused for thinking that these are extracts from a letter to the Socialist Standard. In fact they are taken from "Summit for Nothing ", the editorial of About Town (10 November 1986), one of the weeklies distributed free at bus stops and tube stations. Their content consists of approximately 90 per cent job advertisements, with the remaining pages filled with fashion and film reviews, job features and What's On.

Usually I don't even bother to open the paper, so you can imagine my surprise on reading this evidence for our contention that socialist ideas will evolve out of the capitalist environment. Mind you, "evolve" is the relevant word because, after such a promising start, the end of the article shows an incomplete understanding of the workings of the system. The final sentence "Next time they play at having a summit, I just hope they do it in private" shows that Robert Elms objection is to the play-acting of the figureheads rather than a wish to do away with the system of whose economic basis he is aware.
Eva Goodman

Running Commentary: Beating the wife (1987)

The Running Commentary column from the January 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Beating the wife
It seems that domestic violence or wife beating is to become a priority concern for the Metropolitan Police. Hitherto they have not been noted for their sympathy towards the plight of women who approach them because they are being abused by their husbands. Generally they prefer "not to get involved" in disputes involving domestic violence — tacit endorsement, in fact, of the sanctity of the family and a husband's "right" to do what he likes with "his property" especially when the wife has, in the judgement of the police, contributed to the incident by causing aggravation to her husband through nagging.

Now there are demands for a change in the law to enable the police to bring prosecutions against husbands who beat up their wives. Up till now the woman herself had to prosecute the husband and, understandably, many women were reluctant or even scared to press charges. So is the new attitude on the part of the Met. an indication of a new, more enlightened attitude towards women?

Not if these remarks by Walter Easey, police advisor to the Association of London Labour Authorities, are anything to go by. He said: “It has been a puzzle why there has not been more movement in the past. Wife battering is often an indicator of serious problems with drinking or drugs". In other words it fits into an overall pattern of deviant behaviour which might be of more interest to the police than wife beating. But wife beating is also an indication of serious social and sexual problems that are not confined to a small minority of deviants but are typical of a sick society. And neither changes in the law and policing policy, nor more prosecutions against men who beat up their wives will cure it.

Look at it this way, Sid
As is well known to everyone who cooks on a gas stove, privatisation is now the name of the game. Another might be How to Win The Next Election. For the Tories are obviously hoping that every applicant for shares in concerns like British Gas will believe the publicity which tells them that they can be a capitalist for £150. The Tories hope that this will be enough to so change their ideas about class society that they will stop voting for capitalism to be run by the Labour Party and start voting for it to be run by the Tories.

Of course if the shares' price goes up anyone who has bought them will be able to make some profit by selling them quickly; whatever they make will probably come in handy to pay the next gas bill or to clear up some other debt. That is how the working class live. On the other hand investment — the sinking of capital into an industry, buying land, materials, machinery, buildings, labour power in order to make profit — is the exclusive function of the capitalist class. They monopolise the means of wealth production and distribution and their position allows them to exploit the workers whose labour power they buy.

The workers live by the sale of their labour power and their position is unchanged by temporary and insignificant variations in their income. Having money in the bank, winning a few pounds in the betting shop, selling some shares for more than they cost, all help to stretch the pay packet for a few workers but do not lessen their reliance on it. None of this changes how we get our living, our class position under capitalism, where our economic interests lie. It does not. in other words, remove the need to get up in the morning and go to work, to submit ourselves to the exploitation process.

Meanwhile, it is worth asking one important, but neglected, question. British Gas was a nationalised concern and we have always been told that nationalisation was public ownership — ownership by us. How then can we buy something which we already own? The answer is simple and also neglected. We didn't own it in the first place. Nationalisation. with its claim to give us all a stake in industry, was as much a confidence trick as privatisation is now.

Surely even Sid is not so daft that he can't see that?

Crime going up
Although its practitioners never produce any figures of profit or loss, crime is still, amid the recession, a growth industry. For England and Wales, 1985 was a boom year for crime: more offences were committed than ever before. The figure recorded by the police — 3.6 million offences — was a three per cent rise on 1984.

Some of the biggest increase was in sexual offences, statistics for which are notoriously prey to subjective influences. Rape, for example, went up by 29 per cent but this did not mean that nearly a third more women were being raped in 1985, rather that some changes in police practice resulted in more of the cases which were reported to them being recorded as rape. (What did these "changes" amount to? Presumably some women once came to the police station after being raped only to find the incident regarded as something less horrible).

The same might be said for some of the figures for violence against the person, some people, in some circumstances, would not dream of going to the police after being assaulted whereas other people would; all manner of factors can influence the decision either way.

But whatever allowance we make, however the statistics are weighted, it seems clear that the social disfigurement which is crime continues to flourish. This is happening after more than seven years of a Tory government who assured us. when they came back to power in 1979, that they had the answer to the problem. It was, apparently, a matter of more police — higher pay for them — and tougher punishment for the criminals — short, sharp shocks for the youngsters, longer stretches behind bars for the adults. Well there are more police but they are clearing up proportionately less crime now than when the Tories came to power — 35 per cent in 1985 as against 42 per cent in 1978.

Is there, then, no answer to crime? (we are referring, of course, to the illegal sort, not the offences which the capitalist system constantly commits on the majority of the human race and which are legally sanctioned as essential to this society's stability). Reformers, including those who want hanging and flogging, treat the problem in isolation from the social situation which gives rise to it. This is a society of private property and property is not just possession: it is also the denial of possession to others who, in some circumstances, will try to penetrate that denial through force or subterfuge. Poverty and all it means — stress, hunger, slums, a sub-standard existence — breeds frustration, and relief is often seen in terms of "get-rich-quick". The worker on the factory production line dreams of winning the pools; the criminal of the big, once-for-all, haul.

Whatever the Tories, or any government, may do will not affect the cause of crime. For that we must look a long way beyond the promises, if we are to have a society of harmony, a world safe to be alive in.

The Only Way (1921)

From the January 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

A deputation of a few London mayors headed a procession of unemployed to Downing Street, with the object of interviewing the Welsh wizard, to whom they look to solve the unemployed problem.

Somehow, the futility of it did not penetrate the skulls of even the mayors! If Lloyd George or the Cabinet were to solve the question, there would ho no further need for either him or his fellow agents.

Workers, you must realise that unemployment is a necessary prop to the capitalist system; therefore to abolish the evil of “out of work” it is necessary to overthrow the cause of its existence—it cannot be done otherwise.

The members of the Socialist Party know the futility of processions, demonstrations, and other such means the Workers employ. They also know that the political power which the working class give the master class by their votes, enables the latter to confront the former with armed force, and until the control of that armed force is wrested from the capitalists the unemployed and the working class as a whole might as well try punching a brick wall.

The only way in which the emancipation of the working class can be achieved is by studying the Socialist position, organising class-consciously inside the Socialist Party with the object of overthrowing the capitalist system. There is NO other way, and it cannot too often be re-iterated.

Don’t waste time running your heads against police batons: the cost of repairing a cracked skull would be sufficient to purchase all the literature necessary for your enlightenment.
W. A. G.