Saturday, September 15, 2018

Sting in the Tail: Class Act (1991)

The Sting in the Tail column from the January 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Class Act (1)

John Major, the Prime Minister, in his electioneering speeches for the Premiership was fond of repeating that outrageous piece of Thatcher twaddle "I am in favour of a classless society".

Overlooking the gall of the Conservative Party, who are committed to preserving the class ownership of this country, uttering such mindless piffle; it is strange that they should claim this as their aim when, from time to time, they tell us that we already have a classless society!

Class Act (2)

As reported in the November Sting in the Tail, Lady Porter's litigation against the Duke of Westminster's Grosvenor Estate has now been settled in the High Court.

The judge found that the term "working class" still exists. It says a lot for the British legal system that this momentuous decision took three days of court deliberation and cost Westminster Council, led by Lady Porter, £50,000.

Ever helpful to our "betters" the Socialist Party would draw to her Ladyship's attention an advert for socialist pamphlets in this issue of the Socialist Standard. She will find listed a pamphlet entitled "Socialist Principles" offered at 25p. post-free. She can read on page 10 of this publication the words:
  Now we have capitalism, the typical form of which is that the means of production and distribution are owned by a small propertied class, the capitalist class, who also own the products and sell them to realise a profit. Wage or salary earners are the employees of the capitalist class. They, with their dependants, are the great majority of the population and constitute the working class.
25p. instead of £50,000? Surely Lady Porter would appreciate this piece of local government cost cutting!

Class Act (3)

Behind all this posturing and acting of politicians on the question of class there is the fundamental fact that, as class is determined by ownership, there can be no doubt of the existence of two classes in Britain today.

Commenting on Inland Revenue figures for 1988 published in the government's Economic Trends which showed that Britain's total marketable wealth was £1,300 billion, the Daily Record (21 November 1990) said:
 Half the wealth - almost £700 billion - was held by the richest 10 per cent. On the other side of the coin, the poorer half of the population between them shared just £83 billion - less than 7 per cent of the total.
Thatcher, Major and Lady Porter are thus exposed by the statistics of their own institutions for what they are - apologists for the class divided society that they support so enthusiastically.

Tory Democracy

The struggle for the Tory leadership threw up an interesting insight into how Tory democracy works at Westminster.

Despised and ignored for 11 years, Tory back benchers were treated as VIPs by the leadership candidates. Just how unusual this was for them was reported in The Independent (27 November):
  "Of course they are flattered. They are used to being consulted about sod all, and getting their arses kicked by the whips", a former whip said. "They have never been asked their opinion before, and after this, they never will be again."
The experience of those back benchers is not all that different to that of the working class at election times. Between elections they are largely ignored except when being exhorted to work harder or to pull in their belts or told to stop being moaning minnies. Comes election time they are being addressed as the salt of the earth and so on. 

Funny old thing this Tory democracy.

Simple Simon

A news item on Radio One about the proposed slaughter of 20 million sheep in Australia as a result of the slump in the wool trade, apparently affected disc-jockey Simon Bates to such an extent that he requested the newsreader to phone the Australian Consul immediately because, as he put it: "If this report is true then it is one of the most shocking stories I've ever heard".

Really? Poor naive Simon. Never mind the Australian Consul, just phone any branch of the Socialist Party and we will rattle off a catalogue of shocking stories about food being destroyed while people starve, that will make your earphones curl. Be warned though, on a pay-phone you'll need to have a lot of coins ready for this long drawn out saga.

A Short Honeymoon

After trailing badly in the opinion polls the Tories have jumped ahead due to Mrs Thatcher's replacement by John Major as Prime Minister.

Many people, especially dismayed Labourites, find this hard to fathom but they should realise that so far Major has only had to say the things which many voters want to hear.

He hasn't had to make the decisions which all leaders in power have to make about what is to be done, as they see it, in the interests of British capitalism — decisions which inevitably run counter to the expectations of those voters.

This is why every Prime Minister (Tory and Labour) and the voters have, for a while, a honeymoon followed by a cooling-off and eventual divorce. This is what happened to Mrs Thatcher and sooner or later John Major's turn will come.

Maggie's Big Deal

When the pundits were asked what they saw as Mrs Thatcher's greatest achievement, many of them replied "she tamed the trade unions".

This simplistic view ignores the dominant role played by large-scale unemployment in reducing trade union effectiveness. The slump of the early 80s enabled employers to impose on their workforces just about any conditions they wanted to.

Once the boom of the late 80s began and demand for labour rose again, then those unions which were in a favourable position could stage a counter-attack.

A Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions leaflet dated 6 November updates the many nationwide successes gained in their 37 hour week campaign. Why didn't Mrs Thatcher prevent this?

Now that another slump has begun employers are once more shedding labour and will doubtless be flexing their muscles again. Indeed, Rolls Royce have withdrawn the 9% pay deal it had agreed with some of its workers (The Guardian 1 December 1990).

The health of trade unions is more determined by the state of the labour market than the actions of trade union bashing politicians.

Lives and Profits. (1931)

From the July 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

A glaring example of the worthlessness of the Labour Government to the workers was afforded at a conference on “Safety in Mines," held recently in Sheffield and presided over by no less a dignitary than the egregious Mr. Emmanuel Shinwell, His Majesty's Minister of Mines. The proceedings were reported in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph for April 13th.

The participators in the “confab" included colliery owners and managers, mines inspectors, and union officials. His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Sir Henry Walker, placed his finger upon the core of the problem as gently as possible when he pointed out that “he was not satisfied that conditions in the mines were such as to induce the men to be as careful as they should be in relation to the risks they ran’’; and then, to mollify owners and men in one breath, suggested that it was all due to the miners’ reckless British pluck. Other contributions to the discussion dealt with the special risks attaching to different phases of the miner’s tasks, such as shot-firing, hauling, roof shoring, etc. Finally, however, Mr. E. Hough, Vice-President of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association, introduced a breath of reality by pointing out that the basic economic factors had not been dealt with. His remarks are not reported in extenso, but readers would have to be dense indeed not to perceive that the risks of mining are largely bound up with the piece-rate system, which is maintained because it is most profitable to the owners. When men have to work hell-for-leather in order to make their wages cover the cost of bare subsistence, they cannot afford to behave as daintily and cautiously as if they were in a ballroom. The risks of mining can be got rid of only when it is no longer conducted for profit, but that involves the introduction of Socialism.

Then up spake Mr. Shinwell. “It took him all his time to refrain from strong comment upon the speech they had just heard.’’ He was "much perturbed at the suggestion that the conference had avoided anything’’ or been animated by any other desire than to get at the truth about accidents. He emphasised the need for cooperation of masters and men, "Economic factors could be discussed in the proper place."

One can equally well imagine a bespectacled professor discovering the mangled corpse of an antelope upon the veldt and thus addressing the retreating form of Mr. Felix Leo: “Respected Sir, I have not the slightest doubt that the laceration endured by this unfortunate animal is purely accidental. I earnestly solicit your co-operation in removing the risk of its re-occurrence wherever possible. At the same time I strongly resent any suggestion made by vegetarians that it has any connection with your healthy appetite."
Eric Boden

Dislodging Somozas (1979)

From the August 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The history of the Central American states is a bloody one, with Nicaragua having more than its fair share of intrigue and assassination in forty-three years of dictatorship. In 1936 Anastasio Somoza Garcia, a used-car salesman who had become a general overnight, installed himself as dictator after ordering the murder of Augusto Sandino, the guerilla leader who had held the American Marines at bay for seven years. The general was assassinated in 1956 but power remained in the hands of his eldest son, Luis. In February 1967 Anastasio Somoza Garcia Jr. came into his inheritance, conservatively estimated at 600 million dollars.

The Somozas were no egalitarians. Prior to the civil war, one-third of the nation’s income went to the top five per cent of the population, who also owned half the arable land. Blindness and brain damage through malnutrition are common in the country’s northern rural areas, and only three people in ten achieve elementary education. More murders per head of the population are committed every year in Nicaragua than anywhere else in the world, and the proportionate numbers of chronic alcoholics exceed those of every other Central American state. The Somozas owned the country’s shipping and airlines, the cement plant, textile factories, sugar mills, the local concession of Mercedes Benz, travel agencies, oil refineries, banks, radio, television, boutiques, and human blood and plasma export businesses. The family also controlled and financed the armed forces.

Armed resistance to the Somoza dynastic rule gained momentum in the mid-seventies, becoming a serious threat to the repressive Guardia Nacional. On 22 August last year, two army lorries pulled up in front of the National Palace in Managua and twenty-six men. who appeared to be a contingent of the army’s infantry school, formed into three squads on the forecourt and marched inside. They were members of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) putting into operation a bold plan to occupy the seat of Congress.

American Democracy
The raid on the National Palace was prompted by an upsurge of support for Somoza by the American government, with loans totalling 150 million dollars (a year later the International Monetary Fund would add 33 million). Carter had written a letter to Somoza congratulating him for promises to restore ‘human rights’ in Nicaragua, thirty years of American support for the dictatorship having slipped his mind.

After acceding to the Sandinistas’ demands, repression began in earnest. Guardia units were ordered to move into rebellious towns and dissenters were rounded up by the hundred. The ‘Broad Opposition Front’, a coalition of anti-Somoza parties and labour unions, called a general strike. The Nicaraguan working class has developed very slowly as a result of the country’s backward coffee-planting and cattle-rearing economy; the introduction of the country’s one modern crop, cotton, is only recent, and the sugar refining industry has not yet grown to significant proportions. Resistance to the regime is particularly strong among independent businessmen, and the Federation of Chambers of Commerce lost no time in voting in favour of a lockout to reinforce the strike. The Sandinistas gained the support of sections of the opposition Conservative family, the Chamorros, and many of the younger set of Nicaragua’s capitalist class became linked with guerilla activity.

By June of this year, popular support for the rebels was such that only Israel would supply Somoza with arms. Having abandoned Somoza, the Americans directed their efforts to the search for a ‘moderate’ solution that is, one which would not endanger their interests in the area. The State Department called for a ‘democratic solution’and put pressure on its Latin American allies to urge the provisional government to accept an agreement less radical than one likely to be imposed by a Sandinista victory.

Change of Masters
The FSLN, influenced as it is by the Cuban revolution, have let it be known that on gaining power they will set up an ‘interim' government and start a programme for the redistribution of the country’s wealth. There are, however, no purely nationalist movements in capitalism; nationalist sentiment, mixed with economic factors, is made use of by the class that has an interest to serve by achieving its aims. Life without Somoza means not the emancipation of the exploited section of the population but a mere change of masters.

The capitalist world has reached the stage where, for economic reasons, small countries are driven into one or other of the big economic and military groups. In all important questions they must frame their policies and adapt their industries and trade agreements to the needs of their more powerful neighbours. If in Nicaragua the Somozas are replaced by the Chamorros, the working people might reasonably ask — what’s in a name?
Miles Webb

Why did the US invade Somalia? (1993)

Illustration by George Meddemmen.
From the February 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

The current crisis in Somalia is, in the first instance, a cold war hangover—a headache caused by the old conflict between Western market capitalism and Russian state capitalism. That the United States should see itself as the remedy to the problem is little more than the hair-of-the-dog philosophy. For it was the United States and, to a lesser extent, the old Soviet Union that created the crisis in the first place.

For well on 30 years superpower aid was essential to the existence of the dictatorships in the Horn of Africa which had few means of keeping control other than by military coercion, made possible by US and Soviet aid.

For over 30 years the US and the Soviet Union poured weaponry into the Horn— Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan. In the ten years before Ethiopia declared itself a “Marxist” state, the US gave Haile Selassie more military assistance than the rest of Africa combined (Africa consists of over 40 countries). The cache included 1,400 tanks, 1,000 heavy guns and 140 fighter bombers. In all, Ethiopia received $8bn worth of aid.

In Somalia, where 10 percent of the- GNP went on weapons, the statistics were not much different. During Said Barre’s reign, of all international assistance received, 93 percent of it came from the US. Almost 50 percent of this aid was in arms imports. In the decade 1979-89, the US gave Barre S500m in arms.

Said Barre, who took power following a military coup in Somalia in October 1969, soon realized the advantage of his country’s geographical position and the possibility of attracting superpower aid.

Barre, who claimed to have embarked on the path to “Scientific Socialism”, saw his country stricken with famine by 1972. Because of the links he had forged with Moscow, he was able to secure the use of Soviet planes to airlift 140,000 starving Somalis to more stable areas. This is arguably the sole redeeming act he will be remembered for, in spite of the fact that it set a precedent for large-scale superpower assistance.

The assistance Barre had received from the Soviet Union heralded his regime’s increased reliance on Moscow. Development of the northern port of Berbera as a Soviet naval base, the import of thousands of tons of weapons and the arrival of 6,000 military advisers were soon to follow.

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam was seizing power in neighbouring Ethiopia. Soviet influence became prevalent here when Mengistu announced plans to initiate strict “Marxist” ideology and expelled Ethiopia's previous backer, the US.

The Ogaden region of Ethiopia, which had been kindly ceded to Ethiopia when Britain had an influence in Somalia in 1954, and in which many Somalis continue to live today, became one of Barre’s chief goals.

In July 1977, Barres forces took advantage of internal disorder in Ethiopia and invaded the Ogaden, with the full co-operation of Soviet military advisers. Without warning, in an extraordinary act of tergiversation, the Soviets began airlifting $2bn worth of arms to Ethiopia. Military advisers who had co-ordinated the Somali assault on the Ogaden were flown overnight from Mogadishu to Addis Ababa to direct the counter-offensive.

Securing Saudi promises of financial assistance with which to continue the Ogaden campaign, and accepting a condition where Somalia would rekindle its friendship with the West, Barre kicked out the remaining Soviet personnel in the hope of receiving aid from the United States.

Barre was offering his country on a plate and the US almost snatched his hand off. Somalia was even prepared to forget its territorial claim to Northern Kenya for admission into the Western bloc. Barre was, however, disappointed that his new backer would not support Somalia over its Ogaden campaign, the US not wishing to contemplate the dilemma of being on the losing side. A more harmonious relationship between Kenya and Somalia meant that the region could be more readily incorporated into the Pentagon’s Persian Gulf strategy—a useful base for the Rapid Deployment Force that would balance out the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

By late 1980, the US had secured a defence pact with Somalia which gave US forces access to air and naval bases including the Soviet-built port of Berbera. US aid was pouring in by now and by 1987 Somalia was stockpiling weapons. Barre, though, felt that US aid was not coming fast enough and struck up loyalties with the Soviet Union again in 1988, the same year he clinched a deal for massive arms supplies from Colonel Gadaffi.

Strategic position
“Scientific Socialism” this certainly was not. When Barre took power Somalia was self-sufficient in food. By the mid-eighties Somalia was amongst the most food-dependent nations in Africa. Somalia was a state capitalist dictatorship under Barre, when it was easier to arm a man than to feed him. It mattered little to the superpowers that the Horn countries lived under constant threat of drought and famine, the well-being of the peoples of the Horn was of secondary importance to the actual geographical location of the region.

Peace was never going to be a long-term luxury here. Regional conflict and internal strife were made all the more likely because any gain by one side was soon going to be cancelled out by increased superpower aid to the other—a similar situation had existed during Iraq’s war with Iran.

Somalia under Barre slipped into chaos, with the US doing their all to assist, supporting him all the way and making little or no attempt to think that things could be otherwise. As the cold war came to an end and the threat of “communism" evaporated, the US pulled out, dropping Somalia in the proverbial shit.

When the US abandoned Barre for good in January 1991, Somalia was already in the early stages of turmoil. Clan leaders and warlords began their struggle for power and the crisis in Somalia deepened when famine hit. Barre soon realized he could not hold power much longer and fled the country.

The deployment of 30,000 US marines in Somalia is the second time in as many years the US has invaded a Moslem country— “invaded” because this time the US were not invited. All that was missing from the beaches of Mogadishu when US troops came ashore on the morning of 8 December was Audie Murphy and a clapperboard. The whole operation looked carefully prepared for the worlds media—an advertisement for a failing capitalist superpower that can only assert itself on the international stage by ostentatious militarism.

As one UN observer noted:
The operation stinks of arrogance. All this bullshit about 80 percent of food being looted and all that—it's all very well stage-managed by the US. The whole operation is a test case for future conflict resolution. It's as if the US had a new vaccine they wanted to test. Now they have found an animal to test it on. (Guardian, 9 December 1992).
It is probable that US forces have been shipped to Somalia under the cover of a humanitarian mission to be ready again as a Rapid Deployment Force. Possibly the biggest threat to US interests, now that the former Soviet Union is out of the scene, is Islamic fundamentalism, which sees the US as the “Great Satan". North African states are already viewing the US operation as something of a check on Khartoum for its backing of Islamic fundamentalist groups in North Africa and the Arab world. 

Recent IMF austerity programmes initiated in the Horn have not helped the current crisis. During the great famine of 1985, Eastern Sudan was producing 800,000 tons of grain—not for home consumption, but for export to pay off IMF loans. At the same time. “Marxist" Ethiopia was exporting thousands of tons of green beans to Britain.

The New Internationalist (December 1992) was right to speak of starvation as being the "result of unequal power in the market”. In the modern world, profit is the name of the game and all players must abide by the rules. There is nothing altruistic about the IMF or the World Bank:
The World Bank and the IMF have pressured Horn governments to adopt market-oriented strategies based on agriculture exports. Their main priority is to get the regional economy in a good enough state to meet its debt obligation and compete on the international market.
Capitalists could easily add a footnote to this: the sooner the US troops stabilize Somalia, the sooner Somalia can finish paying these debts.
John Bissett

Obituary: Sid Catt (1993)

Obituary from the February 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Comrade Sid Catt died on 26 November after a long (three years) and painful bout with cancer.

Sid joined the Palmers Green Branch of the SPGB in 1939 and was an active member, organizing Sunday morning canvasses in Ealing. speaking at Jolly Butcher's Hill in Wood Green and serving on the EC for a period.

After emigrating to Canada in 1957 he helped organise the Toronto Local of the SPC which was a very active branch for a time. After the local folded he retained his membership of the SPC and at every opportunity expounded the case for socialism, always showing pride in being a member of the World Socialist Movement and debating and discussing with all workers with whom he came into contact. He will be missed by these local contacts as well as by his friends and his daughter and her family.