Friday, July 20, 2018

Sting in the Tail: Missing the point (1996)

The Sting in the Tail column from the January 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Missing the point

Paul Foot of the SWP, writing in the Guardian (20 November) bemoaned the closure by a Labour council of a day centre in Newcastle.

This had him recalling past arguments with Labour Party members in which they “scorned the luxuries of Utopian socialist visions” (presumably the SWP’s ease) and “boasted of their practical down-to-earth ‘municipal socialism’”, and asked:
  “Where are those arguments now? What is the point of joining the Labour Party if Labour councils are forced to cut the services which their predecessors provided to assist the people who vote Labour? ”
True enough, but by the same token shouldn’t Paul Foot be asking himself what is the point of him and the rest of the SWP urging workers to vole for the Labour Party at every election?

Blacker than black

The Advertising Standards Authority is the in-house watchdog of British advertising. It is supposed to ensure that advertising meets the criteria of honesty, legality and decency. Like most things associated with advertising it is a complete con-trick.

Hunter Marsden, a high-rolling American ad-man who works for the giant J. Walter Thompson agency, is reported in the Observer (5 November) on the present level of duplicity in world-wide advertising as saying:
  "Superiority claims are delicately stitched together by legal wordmeisters, aided by a hairy menagerie of weasel words, mouse type and squirrelly logic."
In other words, to paraphrase Disraeli, “there arc three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and advertising”.

No change there

The conference of the Scottish Young Conservatives in November threw up the usual quota of reactionary spoutings. For example, guest speaker Leslie Sharp, Chief Constable of Strathclyde "delighted the Tory faithful in Edinburgh with a robust attack on the link between poverty and crime, coupled with a strong defence of stiffer prison sentences” (Herald, 27 November).

And conference chairman Murray Roxburgh was loudly cheered by delegates when he blamed the strike by Scottish postal workers who were resisting the imposition of worsened conditions, on “lefty scum” (Teletext, 27 November). Roxburgh insisted that “management must have the right to manage”, meaning that workers must meekly accept whatever bosses throw at them.

However, the Herald also noted that:
   "Not so long ago, this event would have been big enough to take over a large hotel for an entire weekend. On Saturday, barely 70 gathered in a conference room at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh. ”
The conference also showed that although the SYC’s numbers have diminished, their obnoxious outlook certainly has not.

“Middle-class” nonsense

What a lot of daft and contradictory definitions there are of the so-called “middle class”.

In Britain many politicians and academics would have us believe that this middle class is getting bigger and bigger and even constitutes the majority of the population, but in America, Republican congressman F.K. Heineman of North Carolina takes a very different view:
   “When I see someone who is making anywhere from $300,000 to $750,000 a year, that’s middle class,' said Mr Heine man, a former New York City police officer and Raleigh police chief. ‘When I see anyone above that, that’s upper middle class’” (New York Times, 29 October).
The story reveals that the US Census Bureau has just released figures showing that only 5 percent of American households earn more than $109,821 a year, so the percentage earning from $300,000 to $750,000 must be even less.

Going by Heineman’s definition, the American middle class, far from getting bigger, is practically non-existent.

Dear Brutus

In the desperate competition for customers, banks and building societies spend millions of pounds on advertising, marketing gimmicks and giveaways. The Abbey National, though, has surely scraped the bottom of the barrel in its latest gimmick. It is offering a booklet “Your Astrological Guide to a Secure Future”.

It is written by Jonathan Cainer, described as “Britain’s most authoritative astrologer”. This is akin to descriptions like “most pregnant virgin” or “wisest idiot”.

Presumably the Abbey National are only being humorous in this latest gimmick, but given the “success” of predicting the market by the various “experts”, who is to say Cainer will be less accurate?

To understand how capitalism operates workers would be better advised to consult Marx’s Capital than squinting at the stars. As usual. Shakespeare had a helpful couple of lines to say on the subject:
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings. ”

Countdown to Murder (1996)

From the March 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
The recent resumption of violence by the IRA has brought forth the predictable, worn-out denunciations and justifications. For socialists, the twin ‘issues’ of nationalism and political violence are surrounded on all sides by capitalist hypocrisy and nonsense
Some time before the 9th February, the Army Council of the IRA met somewhere in Ireland. These seven people, representing the minuscule Irish Republican Army, decided to recommence their war with a massive bomb in London. Effectively, this decision resulted in the death of two men and the injuring of scores of people none of whom had any power of decision in relation to the political situation in Ireland.

The seven members of the Army Council based the legitimacy of their right to kill other human beings on the result of elections held in Ireland in 1918 when, with a minority vote of the people of Ireland, Sinn Fein won a decisive electoral victory and an endorsement of its claim to speak for tile people of Ireland. Even the name that the 1996 Army Council used in its statement ending seventeen months of ceasefire was a throw back to the twenties and as fictious as the historical myths on which tlie IRA and Sinn Fein base their claim over the lives of others.

According to the IRA and Sinn Fein the results of the 1918 election remain valid today — more than three quarters of a century later — because the British government of the time used violence to frustrate the establishment of a politically independent Ireland by Sinn Fein who, in accordance with the peculiarities of what passes for democracy in capitalism, had been given a mandate to establish an Irish republican state.

Transfixed in time
Based on this logic the IRA and Sinn Fein see the changing population of Ireland as transfixed in time without the right to waver from the decision of its dead generations. Those dead generations were essentially conservative and reactionary; largely Catholic, they would have bitterly opposed womens’ rights, abortion, divorce and many other issues that Sinn Fein supporters currently espouse.

As for Sinn Fein itself, in 1918 a primary object of its vision of independence was the legislative right to afford trade protection for a fledging southern Irish capitalism. Again and again, from its establishment in 1905, Sinn Fein leaders had reiterated the importance they placed on the question of protecting the south’s nascent capitalist industries. Indeed it was the implications of this very policy for the northern capitalists, whose highly developed industries were dependent on the British home market and Empire Preference that fuelled much of the conflict and which was translated by the politicians into nationalistic and religious bigotry.

Sinn Fein might still emphasise its national capitalist credentials for its American backers but at home it uses the lexicon of the Left. In essence, its strategy for employment, housing and education is to demand — ironically, from what it sees as the British occupying power in Ireland — massive financial intervention. In other words, it has reserved the right to change completely the policies on which it fought the 1918 elections and yet insists that the people of modem Ireland have to abide by the electoral decisions of their grandparents!

The Army Council
Given the power which the IRA reserves for its Army Council, the power over life and death for anyone on these islands — or indeed, further afield, if these mysterious seven people so decide — it is fair to ask who are they and how did they come by their awesome power.

The secret lies in the interpretation Sinn Fein and the IRA put upon the results of that famous election in 1918. Sinn Fein became the government of a mythical Irish Republic, a new 32-county independent Irish state and the IRA became the army of the Irish republic. The new ‘government’ reserved the right to delegate its powers to the army’s controlling body, the Army Council of the IRA. With the luxury of perpetual power without the inconvenience of accepting any of the subsequent electoral verdicts of the people of Ireland, north or south, the IRA, which, at some points in its history has numbered only a score of largely inactive members, can elect seven people, unknown to the general public and even to republican supporters, who have power over the lives of people and power to repudiate any democratic decision of the people.

It is the current Army Council, seven people who can seriously believe they have rights over and above the whole people of these islands or of Ireland alone, who have decided to revert again to the bomb and the bullet. That people who can accept such nonsense can wield such power is frightening but, despite the selective and blinkered condemnations of politicians and opinion formers — whose grossly undemocratic powers are, also, frightening — what passes for freedom and democracy in capitalist society has usually been founded on force and, always, capitalist peace is, at best, an accommodation between conflicting interests.

John Major and his pompous representative in Northern Ireland, Patrick Mayhew, were indignant about the decision of the IRA Army Council to end the ceasefire. Both pointed out, as we have so often done in the past, that the Provisional IRA have no democratic mandate to wage war. This, of course, can not be challenged but when Major and Mayhew make the claim it is on the back of the assumption that Britain has a democratic right to wage war in Ireland — for, of course the role of the British Army in Northern Ireland has been to resist a challenge to British power in Ireland. When, it is reasonable to ask, did a British government seek a mandate from the people of Ireland, or, even, the people of the UK, to rule Ireland and to wage war in pursuit of that rule?

Pressed to a defence of its violence, the IRA draws analogies with its opponents and, of course, the British and the Unionists have been as ready as the IRA to use violence, or the threat of violence, when it suited their interests. To the socialist, however, the claim that you are no worse than your opponents seems a poor defence!

Britain’s role over the centuries has been brutal in Ireland and at times almost genocidal. Neither the Irish nationalists nor the unionists have been shy about using violence and in the present century it was the threat of illegal armed violence by the Unionists and their friends in the British Conservative Party that presaged the nationalist violence of 1916 and 1919/22.

The ceasefire broke down because of the utter hypocrisy of the British Government and the Unionists and the absurd strategy of the seven people who form the IRA’s Army Council. The argument that they will not negotiate with men of violence used by interests that are themselves no strangers to violence is hypocritical and when viewed empirically, shown to be nonsense. When Unionists use this form of cant it simply means that they see the IRA as militarily defeatable; if they envisaged the IRA as having the potential for a military victory, ‘common sense’ would gain a new fashion within Unionism!

Unfortunately the politicians in Northern Ireland have learned little over the past twenty-five years, especially the Unionists — apart from ‘loyalist’ spokespersons thrown up by the paramilitaries. Paisley was rabble-rousing and Trimble was looking over his shoulder and trying to compete with Paisley and both were intent in translating the IRA ceasefire into a victory for old-style Unionism. Ironically, Unionism’s potential victory was in the willingness of the IRA, for the first time ever, to discuss the establishment of agreed and stable institutions in Northern Ireland which the whole of nationalist Ireland had traditionally proclaimed to be an ‘unstable political unit’.

Decommissioning of illegal weapons became the peg Unionism decided to hang its policy on — as though the problems that created the desire for weapons would disappear if the guns were out of the way. There was no ‘decommissioning’ of angry tongues; Paisley bellowed the sectarian nonsense which is his political stock-in-trade and, when wiser council was called for, Trimble was competing with Paisley at Drumcree!

Of course the IRA are murderers; killers of innocent men, women and children. But they are not alone; they are part of a grand conspiracy against real peace and democracy in Northern Ireland and the components of that conspiracy are the self-interested politicians who see in the possibility of peace the eclipsing of their squalid political careers.

And after the recent killings by the IRA, the predictable reaction — indeed the nearest thing the IRA may have had to an excuse — was the latent hatreds which its actions re-awakened especially among prominent politicians and journalists. It was hard to believe that the baying voices with the quite proper accusations of senseless slaughter and challenges of right were around a few years ago when Major and his ‘army council’, without any recourse to democratic consent, undertook the slaughter of the innocents of Baghdad.

Behind all the ideologies and conflicts that underlie all wars and all violence are the contradictions created among peoples by the divisive interests of capitalism. It follows that the only real ‘peace process’ is the struggle to end capitalism and institute a democratic system of social equality in which such interests could not exist. 
Richard Montague

Our Parliamentary Campaign (1938)

Party News from the June 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Local Labour Party Wakes Up
For months past we have been making an organised move to contact the electorate in East Ham North, where we are running a candidate for Parliament at the next General Election.

The result is that the local Labour Party has issued a circular warning its members against the Socialist Party. The following is an extract from ; the circular: —
   “. . . . Socialist Party of Great Britain. Some of our members may have been confused by the campaign for members which has been run by the above-named organisation. We want it to be clear that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is a small, intensely bigoted organisation, claiming to be the only pure disciples of Karl Marx. They have no connection with the Labour Party, are not affiliated, and have no belief in Parliamentary Government, except to demonstrate its futility. They have announced that they intend to run a candidate in opposition to the Labour Party in East Ham North at the next General Election. Members ought to know where to place an organisation which is insane enough to split the working-class at a General Election". 
So far so good! But why Labour Party members should be “confused” between the Socialist Party of Great Britain and their own party is difficult for us to comprehend. Perhaps the authors of the circular would care to try again with an explanation of their statement. Perhaps they mean that our activities have set the minds of their members to doubt the validity of the Labour Party’s claim to be a Socialist organisation. We can assure them that our own propaganda will do that good and proper. Our exposure of capitalist politics and economics must inevitably reveal the Labour Party as an organisation which is pro-capitalist in outlook and method.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has never announced that we intend to run a candidate in opposition to the Labour Party. What we have stated is that our candidate will stand for the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. As all the other candidates, including the one from the Labour Party, will support capitalism in one way or another, we shall be in opposition to them all.

*      *     *

“A Small Organisation”
What a statement! The Labour Party was small at one time, and we well remember in its early days it was constantly charged by the Liberals that it was “splitting the votes of the progressive forces" whenever it ran candidates for Parliament.

We would hardly remind the East Ham Labour Party that there was a time when the entire Labour Party representation could have been carried to Parliament in a four-wheeled cab.

” Parliamentary Government”
We challenge the East Ham Labour Party to substantiate their statement that we do not believe in "Parliamentary Government.” We charge them with confusing the minds of their own members, inasmuch as underlying their statement is the suggestion that we think that Parliament is futile. We flatly deny this misrepresentation of our position. May we ask them to read some of the literature we have distributed in the constituency, in which we show the importance of controlling Parliament and the whole political machinery as a means of establishing Socialism ?

We suggest that the East Ham Labour Party might care to arrange for a public debate with us; we are as anxious as they are that their members should not be confused.

*      *     *

More S.P.G.B. Canvassers Wanted
Now for a few words to our own members. The campaign in the constituency is steadily and surely gaining ground.

The East Ham Branch has arranged a series of lectures, and this must be made widely known.

Outdoor propaganda meetings have, and are, being held, but all this is not enough. A number of members have already canvassed some of the wards with satisfactory results. Some of them report that a discussion about Socialism on the doorstep, in the passage or the parlour, is sometimes welcomed by people who dislike answering the door to the landlord and the men with the vacuum cleaners.

We know that personal contact is a most effective way of making our case known, and we are sure that no member of the Socialist Party would like to feel that, but for his or her inactivity, our campaign would have been more successful. Therefore, we appeal to all who can do this to let us know as soon as possible. We must have more canvassers, and we intend to run a school, if necessary, to show how canvassing is done. Let us hear from you.
Robert Reynolds
(The Parliamentary Committee.)

These Foolish Things: One World (1996)

The Scavenger column from the February 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

One World 
“. . . A Brave New World is being created out there. Not, as one hoped, by one world idealists or UN diplomacy, but by the global corporations for the simplest of all reasons—profits. The state can either play along with them or have delusions of grandeur. The cost of delusions will be severe and will, be paid not by politicians but by the citizens.” Meghnad Desai, Professor of Economics, London School of Economics. Letter in the Guardian, 24 October 1995


Over 100 million landmines have been laid in 64 countries. They are still being laid. Eight million old ones still lie buried. Five hundred people are being killed and injured by them every week. But mines are a very profitable product, so the likelihood of production and sales being halted in capitalism is rather small.

Top Gun
 “No amount of impassioned argument by lawyers and no predictions of the tragic human costs of possible conflicts can obscure the fact that international law simply does not prohibit per se the use of nuclear weapons.” Conrad Harper, legal adviser to the US State Department, said. The US held nuclear arms for self-defence and deterrence, he said. Reuters.


Serious accidents in the mining industry are up by more than 28 percent, according to the first official figures since privatisation . . .  [At Thoresby] one worker died and seven were given hospital treatment after a huge outburst of oil and gas 1,000 feet underground. Guardian. 2 November 1995.

 “I am one of the miners involved in the tragedy at Thoresby Colliery on October 12. Just 48 hours before the underground accident that killed Andrew Fielding, we were visited at the face by members of the management team and the safety engineer. We reported that the fumes gave us headaches, dizziness, nausea and some of our men were vomiting. The fumes were getting stronger each shift. The management’s attitude was that we would have to persevere. They told us: ‘The fumes are like dog shit—you might not like the smell, but it won’t hurt you.’ We were actually sent a bottle Olbas Oil to put into carbon masks to disguise the smell and 100 paracetamol tablets for our headaches . . . “ Peter Davies, letter in the Guardian, 2 November 1995.


The report of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), 15 November 1995, states that the number of refugees in the world being looked after by the Commission is now 27 million, but that contributions to the fund for improving their conditions are decreasing . . .

Social cancer

Booming sales of cigarettes to developing countries including China, Russia and Brazil have helped BAT Industries, Britain’s seventh biggest company, to record pre-tax profits of £1.8 billion in the nine months to the end of September.

BAT, whose brands include Lucky Strike, Kool, Kent and State Express 555, said the figures, up 22 percent on the same period last year, reflected an exceptional performance from its tobacco division. Guardian, 9 November 1995.
The Scavenger

The Scavenger thanks readers for items sent in. Regrets some will have to be held over to next month.