Monday, October 22, 2018

News in Review: Wages Battles (1961)

The News in Review column from the November 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Wages Battles
The big thing about Selwyn Lloyd’s small Budget was that it threw out a sort of challenge to the trade unions.

And one of the big things about this winter may be that the unions will accept the invitation to do battle.

The engineers have put in their annual pay claim and the railwaymen are certain to follow suit. If these unions get the same sort of treatment as the government has handed out to the teachers and the civil servants, there will surely be some big strikes.

This is what governments have tried to avoid since the war, preferring to inflate the currency rather than meet the unions head on. The Labour government, with its wage freeze, had perhaps the nearest to a strong anti-union policy.

Since then, the Tories have played it cool. But we were promised some changes when Mr. Lloyd went to the Treasury and the wage pause is one of them.

One fact, though, the wage pause will not change. Workers always have a struggle to get by and always have to fight to keep up their living standards.

That will be worth remembering if the wage pause gets a grip, and the usual bunch of muddle-heads mourn the days before Selwyn Lloyd as a time of free prosperity for the working class.

There just isn't any such thing.

Adenauer Again
Dr. Adenauer’s chances of keeping his grip of the West German Chancellorship were not, at one time, rated very highly.

Most observers expected a close result to the recent elections, with the Free Democrats holding the balance of power in a stalemate between Adenauer's C.D.U. and Brandt's Social Democrats.

And the Free Democrat leader, Dr. Erich Mende, was quite firm that, if his party was invited to form a coalition government with the C.D.U., he would assent only if Adenauer gave up being Chancellor.

Now that Dr. Mende has reversed his attitude and is agreeable to serving under Adenauer, there are one or two questions which many Germans must be asking, themselves.

How many of the four million-odd voters who put their cross against a Free Democratic candidate did so precisely because they approved of Mende’s apparent determination to get rid of the aged Adenauer? And are those voters feeling baffled, or annoyed, about this betrayal?

Whether Adenauer, or Erhard, or Brandt, is Chancellor will make no difference to the German working class.

But it should be instructive for them to observe the cynical manoeuvres of their politicians and to reflect that this sort of thing goes on all the time, all over the world.

Nkrumah Strikes
Dr. Nkrumah has made a habit of disappointing some of the well-meaning asses who supported him because they thought that he wanted to set up a democratic state in Ghana.

These people fall so readily and so persistently for any small-time nationalist who breezes along that it is fair to assume they are able to ignore any evidence which points out the error of their ways.

But surely even they were unsettled by Nkrumah's recent arrest of his political opponents, and by the propaganda which accompanied it?

When the Ghana government roped in the fifty politicians, the official statement justified the arrests by referring to “. . . acts of violence, secret meetings . . . strikes, sabotage, lockouts . . . conduct destructive and subversive, against the Constitution and other legal institutions of the State.”

Now this rings a bell. It is just the sort of vague accusations which colonial powers use to excuse the suppression of a rising nationalist movement.

To read it takes us back to the early nineteen-fifties, when Nkrumah was in gaol. The asses were braying, then, for his release, because he was supposed to be leading Ghana to freedom. Are they surprised that he has turned out to be no better than the rulers he replaced?

We know our asses too well. Even if they drop the dictator in Accra, they will soon be taking up the cause of some other Nkrumah of the future.

Labour Conference
What the theme of this year's Labour Party Conference?

Revolution ? Radicalism ? Reform, even?

Well, no—respectability.

Many responsible newspapers have been worried for a long time at Labour's inability to dent the Tories' confidence. None of them want to see the British capitalist class having to rely upon only one party to form their governments for them.

So they were full of concern that Labour should have a dignified conference. They all hoped for the sort of inoffensive, meaningless resolutions which would make the Labour Party appear as a party which any man of good will could vote for.

This is what is needed to make Mr. Gaitskell anything like a reasonable bet for Prime Minister.

The platform at Brighton played exactly as the press had advised and, except for one or two resolutions, the conference as a whole also fell into line.

This is the logical end to the Labour Party road of power conscious, capitalist reform policies. It is the end which Socialists foretold over fifty years ago, when the Labour Party were busily dubbing us Impossibilists.

Perhaps some of the Labour pioneers never thought it would come to this.

Blackpool, 1961, has done its share to show how wrong they were.

50 Years Ago: The General Strike (1961)

From the November 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

While we strongly sympathise with all real struggles against the employers' attacks, we never cease to urge upon the workers the need for class-consciousness for ending this system of society altogether, by political control.

The General Strike as a means of emancipation must surely fail, for the working class are propertyless, and if they cease work even the "short commons” that "work" means, cease too. Starvation stares them in the face. All acquainted with proletarian life know the terrible privation that strikes entail; the suffering writ large on the faces of the helpless babes, the toddling children and the struggling wives. Such agonising scenes as were to be witnessed on the hillsides and in the valleys of South Wales during the year-long Cambrian Strike. The stripped homes; the crammed pawnshops; the rising mortality: these remind us that strikes strike the workers as well as the masters. This is but a sectional strike; a strike with those at work helping those who are out. But when all the workers strike even that help fails, for they are all in the same boat. . . .

True, a general strike can paralyse industry. A prolonged General Strike can destroy society. For we depend upon continual production, and cessation means death. But death snatches its first victims from the toilers: they are most vulnerable—they have no stores, no reserves. Our masters have.
[From the Socialist Standard, November 1911]

Was It Worth It? (1961)

From the November 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard
The following letter has been received from a sympathiser and we think it will be of interest to our readers.
On September 4 dockworkers and railwaymen at Takoradi and Kumasi in Ghana went on strike against a deliberate attempt by the government to decrease the workers' share of what they produce. The austerity budget introduced in July provided for measures which would lead to an all-round rise in prices. In addition a compulsory savings scheme was introduced and a wage freeze announced.

The strikers were told that they didn’t really want to strike but that they were being forced to; if anyone wished to return to work the government would gladly provide protection. Very few workers took up this offer and President Nkrumah from a holiday resort on the Black Sea coast of Russia ordered his Ministers at home to get tough with the strikers. All those who refused to return to work were threatened with dismissal and troops were moved into Takoradi. The strike was, of course, unofficial since the leadership of the trade unions supports Nkrumah. The general secretary of the T.U.C. hurried back from the neutral's conference in Belgrade, quickly got to know the facts and did not hesitate to call the strike a “counter-revolution" and to denounce it as illegal.

This is not the first time that Ghanian workers have protested. Last year they were demanding wage increases. The opposition newspaper Ashanti Pioneer supported these demands and in September the legal daily minimum wage for unskilled workers was raised from 5s. 6d. to 6s. 6d. The austerity budget will make the workers worse off than they were before September last. Not surprisingly, then, they have gone on strike. The reasons given for last year's trouble are interesting:
  T.U.C. spokesmen blamed the workers’ dissatisfaction on the remnants of a capitalist, imperialist, colonialist system which still darkened the economic and social horizon. The minority and the Ashanti Pioneer, felt that the workers were dissatisfied because they saw top trade union officials and Government Ministers becoming wealthier while the workers suffered. (Observer, 28/8/60.)
For daring to make such observations on the development of capitalism in Ghana and for supporting the demands for wage increases the Ashanti Pioneer found that in future it would be subject to censorship. The Ghana T.U.C. spokesmen are right in attributing the cause of the trouble to Capitalism. But it is not the remnants but the beginning of Capitalism that is responsible. Ghana is just entering a period of capitalist development despite all the talk about "Ghana's way to Socialism." As Capitalism develops and more workers are needed to operate the new machinery the tribes are broken up: simultaneously classes begin to appear among the urban inhabitants. Already Ghana has a wealthy upper class:
  Ghana's first gambling casino will open shortly—but only for foreigners and certain classes of wealthy Ghanians. A company set up to run the casino announced today that in conformity with casino licensing laws passed last year, Ghanians will not be admitted to membership unless they have a yearly income of more than £1.500 and are not members of the armed forces, judiciary, police force or public service departments. (Guardian, 9/6/60.)
Very few workers in this country, let alone Ghana, get £1,500 a year. As it is, with the legal minimum wage at 6s. 6d. a day these Ghanian capitalists get about ten times as much a year as an ordinary worker.

Little wonder, then, that the workers are beginning to feel that perhaps they have no interests in common with all classes of wealthy Ghanians including the Nkrumah ruling clique. Many must be asking themselves as they survey the part they played in the struggle for independence: “Was it worth it? ” Socialists have said all along that national independence movements merely end in the setting up of capitalist nation states and are therefore not worth supporting. The leaders of nationalist parties once in power are faced with the harsh realities of running and expanding Capitalism in their countries; and Capitalism can never be made to run in the interests of the workers. If we look outside Ghana we see the same sort of thing happening: men like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika with more regard for democracy than Nkrumah have been forced to act against the workers in their countries, as the following report from Tanganyika shows:
  Relations between Mr. Nyerere, Tanganyika’s Chief Minister, and the territories’ trade union leaders are sharpening. The strike at the Williamson diamond mine which Mr. Nyere firmly ended after 12 days, brought this division into the public eye. After Tanganyika obtained an elected majority in the legislative council in September, trade unionists expected quick action to improve wage levels. But Mr. Nyerere has to be pushed into rash promises or actions. Working closely with Sir Arthur Vasey, his Finance Minister, he is endeavouring to maintain the climate of quiet confidence for foreign investment. (Daily Telegraph, 29/12/60.)
Dr. Banda, after his sweeping victory in the Nyasaland elections, seems to be planning similar actions to those of Nkrumah. The Sunday Express (17/9/61) reports that Suzgo Msiska, leader of one of the two rival trade union congresses in Nyasaland "has lost a great deal of prestige in the eyes of Banda and his colleagues. No sooner had Malawi emerged victorious at the polls than Msiska brought 800 workers out on strike for more pay. Now Banda urges: ‘Msiska must go.’ ’’

In the Congo politicians like Lumumba were elected to power on promises of wage increases which the workers didn’t get. So they went on strike. At first Lumumba called out troops against them but eventually gave in and granted the wage increases, but not before he had devalued the Congolese franc. So that the workers merely received an increase in money wages.

The plain fact of the matter is that independence merely brings a change of masters for the workers—and their new masters are more often than not their former leaders. Socialists see no reason why they should help such men to power. Even the elementary democratic rights of “one man, one vote ” and freedom of political activity that independence may bring are not secure as in events in Ghana in particular show. To those Ghanian and other workers who ask if the struggle for independence was worth it, Socialists reply that it was. not. We do not, of course, expect colonial workers to suffer colonisation for ever. We are just pointing out that independence is not the solution to their problems. Indeed, in many cases it is just the beginning. Socialism is the only solution to the problems of the workers throughout the world.
Adam Buick
Newport, Mon.

Neutered tigers (1998)

Editorial from the May 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Asian “Crisis” goes from bad to worse. The entire region is economically paralysed and Japan—the local Superpower—is itself on the “brink of collapse”, according to the chairman of the Sony Corporation. It only remains to be seen how badly the world economy will be affected.

The real context of this crisis is what we have previously called the “casino” economy. Much of the Asian “tiger” success has been due to vast amounts of speculative capital being invested into property and equities creating rising asset prices which do not correspond to the real productive economy. Subsequently when the “paper bubble” bursts we see the “miracle” for what it really is—a false dawn!

This has not previously been the view of most economic commentators. Initially, when the crisis broke out in Thailand it was put down to a “liquidity crisis” (investors withdrawing their money) as the crisis deepened and Japan started to rock with its banking system about to implode, we were told that the cause of the problem was “corruption” combined with the fact that Japan’s financial sector needed to be “deregulated” and “restructured”. The most popular solution to the region’s problems (aside from the IMF bail-outs) has been for Japan to re-slate its economy by cutting taxes and increasing public spending—thereby creating a motorforce for the region. The extent of a possible world recession therefore depends upon the domestic economic management of the Japanese government. That this view is superficial in the extreme only demonstrates the poverty of bourgeois economics when faced with a crisis of capitalism.

Already we have seen one tiger after another come off the dollar “peg”, setting in motion a round of competitive devaluations. This will probably boost exports relative to imports and in Japan’s case (with a week yen and strong dollar) increase their trade surplus with America.

And this is where the problems may start. Imperialist tensions could well sharpen and a potential trade war complete with protective blocs and further attacks on the working class may be the portent of things to come. Yet again the instability inherent to capitalism hits those least able to protect themselves.

Lenin, Theorist of Nationalism (1998)

From the May 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lenin’s very notion that “imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism” supposes that one nation exploits another, so requiring a “national liberation” movement for the subject nation, which leads the working class of two different countries into a game of slaughtering each other. But the working class has no nation, only a world to win.

We know that, historically, unless a particular class monopolises the means of production and distribution and forces the rest of the people to sell their labour power, no capitalist production is possible. Private property is monopoly. Coupled with the division of labour it is the basis of commodity production as of exchange, money, the market, etc.

But to Lenin monopoly was not this class monopoly but the mere concentration and centralisation of capital. According to Marx, the very existence of capitalist society involves both monopoly (in this sense) and competition, which nullifies Lenin’s supposition that such monopoly is only a feature of “imperialism”:
“In the economic life of the present time you find not only competition and monopoly but also their synthesis, which is not a formula but a movement. Monopoly produces competition, competition produces monopoly” (Letter to Annekov, 28 December 1846).
The basic nature of capital always remains the same both in developed and undeveloped form–production for profit (i.e. the unpaid portion of labour). The defining feature of capitalist production is that it is based on wage-labour. Wages presuppose capital and vice versa. Here also, Lenin failed to understand why different rates of wages prevail in different countries. According to him, wages are higher in imperialist countries because the capitalists there bribe their workers out of the superprofits which they earn from exploiting the subjugated countries.

Marx had a quite different explanation as to why wages were higher in these countries. Both productivity and the rate of exploitation (ratio of paid to unpaid labour) were higher there:
“The more productive one country is relative to another in the world market, the higher will be its wages compared with the other. In England, not only nominal wages but (also) real wages are higher than on the continent. The worker eats more meat, he satisfies more needs. This, however, only applies to the industrial worker and not the agricultural labourer. But in proportion to the productivity of the English workers their wages are not higher (than the wages paid in other countries)” (Theories of Surplus Value, Part Two, pages 16-17).
A lower rate of wages does not make any one country any less capitalist than another: 
“The different states of the different civilised countries, in spite of their motley diversity of form, all have this in common, they are based on modern bourgeois society, only one more or less capitalistically developed” (Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875).
To be capitalist, a country need not be as industrially and commercially developed as the USA, Britain or Germany. Nor is it necessary that each and every district of every capitalist country should be as developed as the Ruhr in Germany or Sheffield and Birmingham in England. The basic requirement is that the production system of the country is conducted on a capitalistic basis, i.e. is based on employers and employees. A country may be highly industrialised or a developed agricultural one or the chief supplier of raw materials for industry or whatever. This happens due to the division of labour amongst the various capitalist countries. So one “nation” cannot exploit another “nation”. Workers all over the world are exploited by the world capitalist class.

The absurdity of Lenin’s theory can be proved by a living example from the life of a worker of our Indian subcontinent. Suppose he is 70 years old and now a citizen of so-called independent Bangladesh. He was a subject of Pakistan and before that of the British Empire. According to Lenin’s theory, he was subjugated by “British imperialists” up to 1947, then by “Pakistani imperialists” up to 1972. Now by which? Yet all through these years he remained a wage slave, not free, though his masters and nationality changed. What a ridiculous proposition is Lenin’s theory!

Lenin’s theory of imperialism fails to grasp the world-wide nature of capitalist society by pitting the working class of undeveloped countries against that of the developed ones. It leads to upholding national interest against class interest, which is detrimental to the world working class interest and their emancipation.

It is now crystal clear that as capitalism is a universal and cosmopolitan phenomenon so also is the working class. The working class cannot emancipate itself nationally.

Marx, in his Inaugural Address to the International Working Men’s Association in 1864, denounced “a foreign policy in pursuit of criminal design, playing upon national prejudices and squandering in piratical wars the people’s blood and treasure”. But this is precisely what Lenin and his heirs practised in the USSR, East Europe, China, Cuba, etc. from 1917 onwards. Numerous open and secret treaties, wars and proclamations by so-called socialist states testify to this.

That “the emancipation of labour is neither a local nor a national but a social problem, embracing all countries in which modern society exists, and depending for its solution on the concurrence, practical and theoretical, of the most advanced countries” (IWMA Rules) should be the guiding principle of the working class of the world.
Asok Kumar Chakrabarti

Look to the Future (1998)

Editorial from the June 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

What are we to make of New Labour’s first year? Have we really noticed any real differences from the last administration other than the fact that the Conservatives were “old and stale”? A dispassionate analysis must answer “no”.

What we have witnessed in the last 12 months is the victory of “Style over Substance”—this in itself now a hackneyed cliché. Indeed, the government’s main programme now appears to be aimed at drumming up support for cosmetic changes like devolution and regional authorities around the country. Ironically, this has been met with a less than enthusiastic response from workers in Scotland, Wales and London.

But New Labour’s problems run deep. As the world recoils from the Asian “Sell-out” we will once again see the impotence of any government when faced with an economic crisis. Britain’s industrial sector is now officially in recession—what will be Mr Blair’s response? The otherwise slick New Labour machine also appears to be on a collision course with an unpopular and probably unworkable European Single Currency. The Tory eurosceptic right must be licking their lips in anticipation! That this superficial, intellectually-challenged government will eventually unravel is only a matter of time.

The working class must learn from this. Are we going to waste the 21st Century as we wasted the 20th? Are we going to continue to make excuses for the slick con-men who exploit us? With current production levels and modern technology do we need the restrictions of the market and money? No we do not. The alternative is global Socialism but this can only come about when a majority of the workers organise for it. Socialism is not just a “nice idea”, it is a material necessity.

50 Years Ago: Palestine and its Problems (1998)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Within a few hours of the proclamation of the new Jewish State by its self-appointed provisional Government, President Truman startled the world by publicly stating that America would recognise it. Commentators on Truman’s action attributed it to a late attempt to capture the Jewish vote in the forthcoming presidential election. This is too thin. While in fact it may have this result there is far more behind the action than electioneering propaganda. Jews and Arabs in Palestine, like the Greeks, the Italians and the Jugo-slavs, are pawns in a much greater game which involves oil and the struggle between Russia and the Western Powers for economic domination . . .

There are two oil pipe lines from Iraq to the Mediterranean; one through Syria to the Coast, and the other through Transjordan to Haifa. Thus it is necessary to placate or force the ruling groups in each of these territories to favour the production and transport of oil on behalf of Western capitalists . . .

The Palestine episode is thus another move in the strategical line-up of the two major imperialistic powers—America and Russia. Russia originally backed the Arabs—then they changed over to support of the Jews. Truman’s quick response to the establishment of the Jewish State was obviously aimed at getting in first and forestalling Russia.

[From front page article by Gilmac, Socialist Standard, June 1948]

Possibility of change (1998)

Book Review from the June 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Doctrine of DNA by R.C. Lewontin. Penguin Books, £5.99.

Every socialist should read this book. In less than 130 pages one of the co-authors of the excellent Not in Our Genes brilliantly argues against the sociobiologists’ claim that all human existence is controlled by our DNA.

His book, subtitled “Biology & Ideology”, is a collection of radio lectures he gave on CBS. The language is simple and straightforward and demands no specialised knowledge of genetics.

He is devastating when dealing with the role of science in the modern world:
“Science uses commodities and is part of the process of commodity production. Science uses money. People earn their living by science, and as a consequence the dominant social and economic forces in society determine to a large extent what science does and how it does it.”
He shows that despite its limited medical application a great deal of money is being spent on the Human Genome Project. This programme makes great philosophical and social claims that he, as one of the world’s leading geneticists, shows are nonsense. He further claims that the programme is lining the pockets of companies. “No prominent molecular biologist of my acquaintance is without a financial stake in the biotechnology business.”

He is scathing in his attack on claims that there are genes that shape aggression, xenophobia, sexism and racism. His last chapter “Science as Social Action” is an excellent summation of the pointless “nature or nurture” debate because he takes a thoroughly dialectical view, one that could not be bettered.
Richard Donnelly

The Worker’s Mirage (1998)

From the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard
The dangling carrot ‘Henry’ must pursue,
Still out of reach, but never out of view,
With every step he thinks ‘Tis mine at last
But so did Henry’s father in the past,
A greater stride he thinks will win the prize,
But still the carrot dangles ‘fore his eyes,’
Tantalisingly, promising a chew,
Still out of reach, but never out of view. 
There is no need of blinders for this moke,
He only sees the carrot, not the joke,
There never was a heavier burdened mule,
There never was a more obstinate fool,
As age and toil combine to slow his pace,
Yet still the carrot stares him in the face,
Still goads him on, his efforts to renew,
Still out of reach, but never out of view. 
The whip or stick could never have obtained,
A greater service, as with muscles strained,
And clenched teeth that strive to make the bite,
He labour on each day, sometimes at night,
Until the eyes grow dim and slow the tread,
And chest supports the balding, drooping head,
The once proud prance becomes a shambling gait,
The tired torso begs to pause and wait. 
And so there comes a time when he no more,
May grunt and swear, and sweat from every pore,
But there are not green pastures for this ass,
In which his few remaining years may pass,
The carrot now forever, from his view,
A pittance of a pension is his due,
His life mis-spent, through chasing a mirage,
The dangling carrot known as ‘Living Wage’
James Boyle (3/1/62)

Pakistan’s finest hour? (1998)

From the July 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

There could have been few more depressing scenes on our TV screens in late May than those conveying scenes of tens of thousands of members of the Pakistani working class rejoicing on the streets at news that Pakistan had detonated its first nuclear devices. Such was the jubilation that followed the tests that opinion polls found 90 percent of the population in favour of the news. Similar sentiments were expressed throughout the islamic world, where there was much celebration at the arrival of the “Moslem Bomb”.

The nuclear tests in Pakistan were ostensibly a response to India’s tests of 11 May–the first India had carried out for 24 years–though less attention and condemnation focused on the latter.

While the Pakistani press heralded the blasts as “Pakistan’s finest hour”, talk in the West was of sanctions and the withdrawal of aid programmes.

The most quoted and most hypocritical statements came courtesy of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council–the guardians of world peace who protect us with their joint 36,000 nuclear war heads–and in particular from President Clinton who informed us how we were “about to repeat” the worst mistakes of the 20th Century, when we know it is not necessarily to peace, security and prosperity” (Guardian, 30 May).

These were impressive words from the leader of a country with 15,000 stockpiled nuclear weapons, which carried out 936 tests between 1945 and 1991, which has twice used atomic weapons and which has threatened their use against North Korea, Vietnam and more recently Iraq.

As could be imagined, the tests by both India and Pakistan had the “experts” working overtime in an attempt to come up with new doom and gloom scenarios. While some suggested that China would now be forced to increase its nuclear arsenal, others suggested that Pakistan might pass on its nuclear technology to other moslem countries, and that the Middle East was now a more dangerous region in which a faltering peace process would speed calls for an Arab bomb to counter Israel’s monopoly on nuclear weapons.

What was noteworthy was the total absence of any challenge to the nuclear mentality which located the problem in a wider political and social context.

Of course, none of this appealed to the nuclear apologists of Pakistan. Much of the counter arguments coming out of Pakistan highlighted the hypocrisy of the West and aimed to justify Pakistan’s new found nuclear capability.

While Pakistan and India had not joined the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty observed by 185 countries, it was argued they were not morally bound to abide by the agreement, and fingers were pointed at Israel, which also has a nuclear capability, which also refused to sign the NPT and which has received no Western condemnation. France was also drawn into the equation with much reference to the recent atomic testing at Muroroa Atoll carried out without any mention of sanctions.

Speaking on behalf of Pakistan’s ruling party, Prime Minister Kushabhar Tkakre hinted at the implicit racism of the Western standpoint, declaring Pakistan’s tests to be “a repudiation of the policy of nuclear apartheid the West has sought to impose on us . . . we will not accept an unequal system” (Guardian, 28 May).

Fully aware of the misery that sanctions and the withdrawal of aid would mean, President Rafiq Tarar argued that a nuclear capability was worth all the pain, adding that if Pakistanis had to exist on one meal a day in future then he would join them.

Perhaps somebody should have reminded him that for many Pakistanis, one meal a day is a fact of life. Pakistan, like India, is after all no wealthy country. It has a GNP of only £295 per head and a foreign debt of over £18 billion. And in spite of a virtually non-existent social programme, spends almost 50 percent of its budget on debt repayments and defence. Indeed, Pakistan and India together spent £43 billion on defence between 1990 and 1996, while only £7.4 billion went on education.

So is there method in their madness? The corporate elite of both countries think so. They argue that the bombs they are developing bring also independence, respect and prestige, providing not only a means of defence but also a ticket of entry, in some areas, to the top table where the likes of Britain, France and the US do their wheeling and dealing. A nuclear capacity thus has less to do with any external threat–in spite of the fact that both countries have fought each other on three occasions in the past–and more to do with a perceived negotiating clout accorded to the possession of nuclear arms.

The workers of Pakistan and India need to think again. They can never be the beneficiaries of any status accorded the possession of nuclear weapons. If they must be jubilant, then let them celebrate their common identity. At the end of the day there is more that unites them as an exploited and impoverished class, with the same basic needs, than can ever divide them along national or religious lines. The nuclear tests that have rejoiced over alter not one iota the fact that they will continue to exist as malnourished and illiterate wage slaves in a system in which their needs can only ever come a poor second to the selfish interests of their masters.
John Bissett

Nuclear spectre (1998)

From the July 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The condemnation by nuclear powers such as the USA and Britain of the underground tests carried out by India and Pakistan once again shows the contradictory and hypocritical nature of world capitalism. That such a reaction should come from states armed to the teeth themselves, with short, medium, and long-range nuclear weapons, is nothing less than pathetic.

Nuclear proliferation, as with the proliferation of conventional weapons, is part and parcel of the capitalist system. To get rid of nuclear weapons, you must first get rid of their cause: the anarchic, competitive nature of this society. Only when this happens will we, as people of the world, be free from the threat of nuclear armaggedon.

CND has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt the futility of trying to rid the world of such weapons of death within capitalism. There are thousands of times more weapons now than when CND was first formed, all far more powerful. That’s what happens when you address the symptoms and not their cause.

The end of the “cold war” was supposed to usher in a new era of stability on the international stage. The recent underground tests carried out by India and Pakistan has put this idea into its proper context.

Talk of stability in a world armed to the teeth has about as much ring of truth about it as the book Alice in Wonderland and is about as sane as the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

The spectre of nuclear armageddon once again strides the planet.

Within the last two years China, France and now India and Pakistan have conducted nuclear tests.

If ever there was a time to look at the alternative to insane world capitalism it is now, before we see the sprouting mushroom clouds of nuclear detonations and the horror that will ensue.
Steve Colborn

Obituary: Ernie Higdon (1998)

Obituary from the July 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ernie, who died last September at the age of 71, joined the SPGB as a member of the Camden Branch in the late 1940s. A cable jointer by trade he spent some time working in Rhodesia before emigrating with his wife and children to NZ in 1965. He worked for the Auckland Electric Power Board and was involved in many disputes, local and national as a member of the Electrical Workers’ Union.

Ernie stood for parliament on several occasions, and as the SPNZ candidate in the 1972 election, he campaigned against the Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon. Ernie was a formidable debater—a quality recognised by Muldoon who refused to enter into debate with him during that campaign.

A stalwart socialist Ernie was the driving force in the SPNZ, speaking in Albert Park on Sundays and writing for our monthly journal as well as a steady flow of letters to the editor of the NZ Herald.

Over two hundred people attended the funeral—a testimony to a socialist who walked through life with his principles intact.

The main eulogy was delivered by his son Jon. Other speakers were Auckland MP Sandra Lee and a comrade from the SPNZ who referring to the sickening adulation at the recent funeral of Princess Diana, made the point that none of the parasites of this world royal or otherwise—would be tall enough to clean the boots of Ernie Higdon.

It was a fitting farewell that on his coffin was placed his tools of trade—a blowlamp and his tools of leisure, his fishing rod and reel and a bottle of whiskey. Ernie would have chuckled at that!

Our condolences go to his wife Jean, son Jon and daughter Toni.
Alan Coombes

Instruction, instruction, instruction (1998)

From the August 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard
Why has education become the centre of Labour reformist politics? The Labour government believes that in a free-trade world dominated by vast multinational corporations a well-skilled economy has a better chance of attracting investment and business. It is adapting the education system to this end.
The Labour Party swept to power last year on the back of the tedious and mindless repetition of simple meaningless slogans, designed to appeal to all and sundry as the obvious thing to do. Behaving in the way of all leaders and treating the people with obvious contempt. The Blair hammered home his point “Education, Education, Education”, even to the extent of going to Russia and inflicting it on the workers there. The question arises, however, what exactly does this pointless piece of redundant sloganising really mean? Even The Blair does not know, calling forth committees to advise him on what the “Third Way” really is. Perhaps he needs some instruction from socialists to let him know what he’s up to.

The history of education is a long and tortuous one, of different classes struggling to define the "goods” of society’s intellectual wealth and who should have access to them. The problem was twofold, what to teach people (within the parameters of training for social roles, inculcation of specific cultural values, and regulating and controlling behaviour) and how to teach them (the practical implementation of these values). A singular example of this can be seen in the late 19th century when vocational skills were added to the curriculum of some schools for working types. Our masters chose to call that “instruction” rather than “education”, so as to exclude from the hallowed halls of education anything so dirty as the practical ability to work.

The wanna-be masters in the Labour Party conspicuously fail to address the first point, what to teach, going around talking about education as a simple matter of deciding how to best teach children an obvious and unquestioned curriculum, without looking too closely into it. The rhetoric of the Labour government is about how to “allocate resources” more effectively, to achieve more efficiency, to improve standards” of teaching. In short, all their bluster is about how they are going to teach, and not what they are going to teach. Content stays quietly on the side lines.

Central state control
To achieve this efficiency”, the Labour government has begun to implement what has been called a “central planning” system for education. Their Education Bill contained a host of Henry VIII clauses (parts of a bill that give direct discretionary executive authority to a Minister), giving the Secretary of State an enormous degree of control over the education system, and more than any predecessor, in what had previously been mostly a system of co-operation between central government and local educators. OFSTED (inherited from the Tory years, like most of the Labour plans— the government is the government is the government) continues to terrorise its way through schools, its panoptic gaze set to frighten the teachers into “improving’ their “standards”, a terror backed up by “naming and shaming” and the whole rhetoric of “failing schools” and “incompetent teachers”.

School league tables are meant to indicate how well a school is “performing”, but in fact help to instil “market discipline” as schools compete for pupils (and therefore funding: this factor is also strongly felt in the further education sector where cutbacks, bullying management and a mad scramble for pupils is wracking those who work there). The encouraged relationship of parents to schools is that of the marketplace. with parents as consumers, entering into a contract with the school that is itself (if it opts out) a self-run business. Here, quietly, the values of the market have been adopted, but Labour would just call it being “pragmatic”, and attack any opposition as ideologues or dogmatists.

Alongside this come the “Education Action Zones”, locally based cooperation between businesses and Local Education Authorities and the schools themselves. This produced the response of Don’t Let Labour Privatise Our Schools” from the Trotskyists of the “Marxist Party”, as usual for such types, missing the point entirely. EAZs are not about private companies trying to make a profit from schools; indeed, these will try and pass their participation off as largess. EAZs will provide more funding, to supposedly help kick-start schools in deprived areas, and improve their “standards” of teaching.They will be allowed to change the length of terms (in Middlesbrough, for example, it is proposed to change from a three to a four term system, and thus lose the long, and “socially disruptive”, summer holiday, in favour of a more spread-out system). Schools will get extra staff, be freed from national pay agreements (so that they can apply “flexible” salaries and conditions) and the national curriculum (so that they can concentrate on Literacy and Numeracy skills—the three Rs by a different name).

The EAZs represent a way for our masters to assert a more direct control, by-passing any awkward elected and potentially Bolshy local authorities, not for their own immediate profit, but so that the education system remains secure and run well by their standards and interests.

The content of the lessons is also of interest. Blunkett has already allowed all schools to cut time set aside for History, Geography and Art in their class rooms, in favour of a literacy hour. Added to the provisions for EAZs, this could mean that humanities and other more “ephemeral” subjects suffer, turning schools into places that simply churn out literate and useful workers, but who aren’t trained to think for themselves. Given that the action zones will occur in poor areas, this policy will reproduce a division in social role: the children of professional and better-paid workers will have access to a cultural and intellectual store that will be denied to poorer children, thus maintaining and reproducing a certain division of labour for the marketplace.

Naturally, the inculcation of social values will not be ignored, Labour ministers are discussing “Lessons in Citizenship” to replace the blatantly failing religious elements of the system. It doesn’t take much insight to see that the aim of such lessons will be to get people to accept the status quo and not to criticise the system (having undergone such lessons myself at school, as well as the whole Catholic rigmarole, I can testify to this). Here again, Labour’s rhetoric assumes an unchallenged system of ideas that merely need implementation.

Market driven
To achieve their marketplace system, Labour have had to retain, and in some cases implement themselves, ways of measuring the schools—teachers assessed, children tested regularly—all of them under tremendous pressure to achieve good results and pass the benchmark. This sort of thing has been tried before, the revised Standard Code for Education of 1862 for the Three Rs tests. Of course the obvious happened, and teachers simply began to coach the children to pass the exam, without bothering about them being able to think for themselves or understand the principles involved.

The whole process is openly driven by the employers’ need for a transparent benchmark of skill. The “continuing education” or training that the Labourites trumpet amounts to being able to engage in National Vocational Qualifications, which is a boring, unfulfilling, and at times patronising experience, which does not help the people undergoing it, and serves only to frustrate and punish those on the welfare forced to do such courses.

The marketplace drive for correctly skilled workers can be discerned in Labour’s approach to higher education, with tuition fees and the end of the grant.The Tories throughout their term of office “oversubscribed” to the higher education system, wanting to placate their “middle class” (salaried working class) constituency by assuring them that their children could go on to get a degree, but they tried to do this without increasing the funding for the system significantly (and by the dodge of simply renaming Polytechnics Universities).Whilst this was electorally necessary for the Tories, it produced a system that was turning out more workers of a particular sort than the market could bear, It also produced concerns over the loss of an “academic elite”, and a general lowering of standards. Such concerns came, of course, from the employers.The Labour Party had to do something to save the system, and their choice was tuition fees.

Today I read in New Statesman some idiot claiming to be a socialist and saying that it was the proper socialist thing to do to introduce tuition fees and stop subsidising middle class children going to university. This is typical of the hypocritical way in which New Labour is dealing with this issue, behind a smokescreen of deceit. Their tuition fees are meant to reduce intake, to streamline it, so that it fits better with the market’s needs (makes one so glad to be a desired commodity). Last October, when the Bill was launched, the mouthpiece of New Labour, the ever-wheedling and lick-spittle Guardian, announced how businesses were considering offering “golden handshakes” to graduates with the skills they need, by paying off their debts for them, thus guaranteeing that unless you have money, you can only get a degree if your qualifications fit market requirements. As with schools, universities must reflect the needs of the division of labour within capitalist society.

This is yet another example, if one be needed, of the way in which the marketplace frustrates rather than promotes self-improvement for the vast majority of people. The market is incompatible with any equitable sharing of society’s wealth of knowledge and culture. As it stands, what is called education merely reflects the society in which it exists, divisive, demanding, pressurising, merely an alienating system, a vast factory, for turning out workers tuned to our masters’ requirements.
Pik Smeet

50 Years Ago: Mr. Aneurin Bevan on Tory vermin (1998)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a speech at Manchester Mr. Bevan, Minister of Health, let himself go about the Tory Party. “They are lower than vermin,” he said. (Daily Mail, 5/5/48). For them he had “a deep burning hatred in his heart.”

It was not always so however. In 1940 when the Labour Party decided to enter into coalition with the Tory Parry under a Tory Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, Mr. Bevan said:
“The Government have been in office for two weeks and like my hon. Friend the member for Llannelly . . . I felicitate them upon the way in which they have set about their task” (Hansard, 30th May, 1940.)
The Press naturally made much of Mr. Bevan’s abuse of the Tory Party but actually a more revealing passage in his speech was one that attracted no comment. He said that Churchill’s policy would mean “cinemas, mansions, hotels and theatres going up, but no houses for the poor.” (Daily Mail, 5/7/48.)

It is that last phrase that is significant. Mr. Bevan and the Labour Party charge the Tories with seeking to meet the needs of the rich. The Labour alternative is to try to help the poor by building comparatively low rented (and small) houses for them. It is only Socialists who seek the abolition of both rich and poor, of both the property-owning class and the propertyless working class.

[From “Notes by the Way”, Socialist Standard, August 1948]

What Socialism means (1998)

From the August 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialism means a world society based on production solely for use, not profit.
It will be a classless society, in which everyone will be able to participate democratically in decisions about the use of the world’s resources, each producing according to their ability and each taking from the common store according to their needs.

In such a society there can be no money
–or, more precisely, no need for money. Money is only needed when people possess and most do not.

Imagine that all the things you need are owned and held in common.
There is no need to buy food from anyone–it is common property. There are no rent or mortgages to pay because land and buildings belong to all of us. There is no need to buy anything from any other person because society has done away with the absurd division between the owning minority (the capitalists) and the non-owning majority (the workers).

In a socialist world monetary calculation won’t be necessary. 
The alternative to monetary calculation based on exchange-value is calculation based on use values. Decisions, apart from purely personal ones of preferences or interest, will be made after weighing the real advantages and disadvantages and real costs of alternatives in particular circumstances.

The ending of the profit system
will mean at the same time the ending of war, economic crises, unemployment, poverty and persecution–all of which are consequences of that system.

The revolutionary change that is needed
is not possible unless a majority of people understand and want it. We do not imagine all humankind’s problems can be solved at a stroke.

Reforms of the present system fail because making profits must always be given priority over meeting needs, so the problems keep on recurring and ever multiplying.
It will take time to eliminate hunger, malnutrition, disease and ignorance from the world. But the enormous liberation of mental and physical energies from the shackles of the profit system will ensure that real human progress is made.

Utopian Capitalist? (1998)

Book Review from the August 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Robert Owen and the Commencement of the Millennium by Edward Royle. Manchester University Press.

Robert Owen (1771—1858) is generally described as a philanthropist and utopian socialist. This book puts a question mark against the first claim and an even bigger one against the second. It also offers ample evidence that Owen, whatever else he presented himself as, was first and foremost a capitalist.

Royle concentrates on one of Owen’s later projects, the community built on a green-field site in Hampshire and known as Harmony. Before that, Owen had played an important part in the development of New Lanark, a community based on four large cotton mills along the banks of the Clyde. Although Owen had joined a group of doctors, scientists and writers who were concerned about the conditions of factory (especially child) labour, their concern was to ameliorate such conditions, not to abolish them.

Cotton spinning mills were driven by water power, so industrialists like Owen moved into the countryside where they built new villages centred on their factories. Labour had to he attracted to such places and looked after as a scarce commodity. Communities were created in the countryside because the factories needed them. The factory master was in much the same position as the landed squire. He owned the property and provided for the work and leisure of his people. His self-interest combined with any humanitarian feelings to ensure concern for his people’s welfare. As Owen wrote in his autobiography. his chief object at New Lanark was “To discover the means by which the condition of the poor and the working classes could he ameliorated, and with benefit to their employers.”

Royle gives a relatively brief account of Owen’s enterprise at New Harmony in America, the so-called land of freedom and opportunity. In 1824 Owen, having had disagreements and disappointments at New Lanark. was ready to make a new start. He heard that the Rappites of Harmonie in Indiana were looking for a buyer for their community. He bought in, but soon realised his mistake. Unlike the docile and co—operative wage-slaves at New Lanark, the poorest families at New Harmony were accustomed to work only a few months each year and then to spend the rest of their time “in doing nothing, in drinking and in talking politics, which tend to nothing”.

The author spends most of the rest of his book telling us about the Harmony community. The details make fascinating reading. Owen does not emerge smelling of roses. His ”business methods show the gentle philanthropist to have had the financial teeth of a shark”. In 1833 Owen announced the formation of the Grand National Union of the Productive Classes, but he was not looking to create the alternative society to capitalism. Rather he used the Union to prepare followers for the reorganisation of society in paternalistic communities. Despite his opposition to the conviction of the Tolpuddle martyrs in 1834, he was never reconciled to the class conflict which the trade union struggle brought.

Royle quotes one acerbic critic’s view of the Owenites’ mission as “the relief of the upper classes from the gout; the middle classes from the ledger fever; the working classes from poverty; and all from misery”. At Harmony the aspirations of working men and women were sacrificed to the demands of the profit system. Capitalism still held control, and the working people there remained its victims.
Stan Parker

Which way is the “Third Way”? (1998)

Editorial from the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

According to figures released last month, Britain’s economy is moving away from its EU “partners” and towards the US. The Guardian, reporting on the figures provided by Eurostat—the official statistical arm of the EU—pointed out that the US in 1997 invested twice as much in Britain as in the rest of the EU and that two-thirds of all EU investment in the US came from Britain. As a result “it is more integrated into the global economy than the rest of Europe” (5 August).

Indeed, as the pro and anti factions of the capitalist class declare their hands, this can only give succour to the “Eurosceptics'” case that Britain’s future lies outside any further European integration and particularly the single European currency.

So where does this leave the Blair administration? Although Britain is definitely out of the first wave of entrants, New Labour has been clearly indicating an intention to join the Euro “when it is prudent to do so”. This is a subtle yet significant shift from the “wait-and-see” policy followed by John Major. This could be a dangerous strategy bearing in mind the popular prejudice against the Euro and the possibility of the Sun newspaper turning against the government. Couple this with the looming recession and Blair’s toothy smile may start to fade.

Of all the EU states, the capitalist class in Britain is the most divided on this crucial question. Broadly speaking, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), British Chambers of Commerce and much of the City are in the “YES” camp, whilst the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Businesses are in the “NO” camp. One may conclude from this that the bulk of big export manufacturers plus high finance see the “Euro Zone” as something they cannot afford to miss out on.

Commentators are however pointing out that Britain is the “odd man out” in Europe when it comes to economic policy. Whereas most of the other EU states see no possible alternatives than allying themselves with any Franco-German axis, the same is not the case for Britain. For two decades at least Britain’s free market supply-side approach has been nearer to that of the US than the corporatist “social model” that has been built up in the EU . Of course, Blair’s latest contribution to economy theory is the “third way”-between the US and EU approaches. That this is meaningless drivel and demonstrates Britain’s confusion is obvious.

But what of the working class? We have no interest in taking sides on this capitalist question. Whether or not Britain signs up to the Euro is an irrelevancy. Our interest lies in pursuing the class struggle and forging our own class agenda. Neither Washington nor Brussels but global socialism.

Voice From The Back: A high priest speaks (1998)

The Voice From The Back column from the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

A high priest speaks

"Markets are surely one of God’s great gifts to mankind. But alas, man is conceited. Nowhere is this more manifest than in politics". Sir Alan Walters, Financial Mail on Sunday, 5 July.

A worshipper sings

"Americans have been experiencing the heartiest bull market in history. The Dow Jones average of 30 blue-chip allegedly representative industrials has more than doubled, from 3,760 in June 1994 to flirting with 9,000 today. Unemployment is 4.3 percent while inflation and interest rates have inexplicably remained low . . . With the computer revolution at full throttle, the strictures of classical economics appear no longer relevant for the US. And the economic chattering classes-from the stately John Kenneth Galbraith through the cryptic Alan Greenspan to the trendy Esther Dyson can only anticipate millennium market madness. Let the good times roll". Crocker Snow Jr, World Times, Boston, 5 July.

Hunger persuades

"American legislation to put a time limit on welfare payments is proving a success as more people find jobs. Figures show that people are moving off the unemployment register twice as quickly now than before 1996, when Congress imposed the limits. The Republican law, which went much further than reforms being tried in Britain, was denounced as inhumane because it laid down that no one could receive more than a total of five years of welfare payments from the federal government during their lifetime". Telegraph, 20 June.

Sacrificial victim protests

"[G]rowing evidence suggest that the larger the income gap, the wider the health gap. For example, infant mortality in social classes IV and V in the UK is twice as high as in Sweden. In America’s booming economy, the gap has now reached the point where a child born in Bangladesh has a greater life expectancy than a child born in Harlem". Donald Read, Chief Executive, Association for Public Health, letter in Guardian, 23 July.

Noblesse oblige

"Land reforms proposed for Scotland could destroy traditional family estates, according to the Duke of Buccleuch, Britain’s largest landowner. The duke, 74, who owns more than 400 square miles, mainly in the Borders, said that the system of land ownership most [people] sought to preserve was falling apart . . . . In a 17-page document, the duke said that only 80 years ago nearly 90 percent of the countryside in Scotland was managed by traditional family run estates. Today it is less than 30 percent, due mainly, he said to a wealth tax in the form of estate duty". Daily Telegraph, 20 June.

Dirty neighbours

"The governments of Norway, Sweden and Denmark are demanding that the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria stops reprocessing after it was found that radioactive seaweed collected on their countries’ coasts is a result of new discharges from the site. An analysis by Southampton University shows that levels of Technetium-99-a rare radioactive element which is a waste product of reprocessing plutonium-has increased 15-fold in Norwegian seaweed since the early 1990s. A new plant that discharges Technetium-99 was opened in 1994 at Sellafield and the increases are linked to that". Guardian, 18 June.

Ssh-not a word!

" “Well, all this is a sanitised area,” he said, gesturing at the hotel atop the ridge, the manicured lawns, the trimmed shrubs, the tennis courts, the winding driveway up to the front door, the police checkpoint, more police again in the woods. “Really, you’re wasting your time,” he said. “Really, you are-there’s no one booked to play today.” He was a plain clothes member of Operation Orchid, the codename given by Strathclyde police to the impenetrable security ring surrounding this year’s Bilderberg meetings; a highly exclusive, little known and barely reported annual conference which has been held since 1954 at grand hotels across Europe and the USA. Attendees debate the state of the world and, critics insist, manipulate global politics and economics from behind the scenes. At Turnberry last month, the 120-strong guest list made intriguing reading . . . There was Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller, billionaire chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank; James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank; Giovanni Agnelli, head of the Fiat empire; Javier Solana, secretary general of Nato; Jurgen Schrempp, chairman of Daimler-Benz; the chairmen or chief execs of the Xerox Corporation, BP, Reuters and a bunch of big-league banks and law firms; John Deutch, former head of the CIA; Tory leader William Hague, Kenneth Clarke, Leon Brittan; Defence Secretary George Robertson; assorted other politicos . . . No reporters are admitted, no press conferences held, and no record of what was said is published". Night & Day, 14 June.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Film Review from the October 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Saving Private Ryan. Director: Steven Spielberg.

Steven Spielberg’s latest film is a distressing and harrowing account of one part of the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944 in World War Two, and one particular mission that followed. The plot is based on a true event. It concerns a group of American soldiers, led in the film by Tom Hanks, who have to find and “save” a Private James Ryan. Ryan’s three brothers have all just been killed in action and to ensure that their mother has at least one son left alive it is decided to send the one surviving brother home.

What has attracted so much attention about this film is the initial 25 minutes, where we are thrown straight into chaos of one part of the D-Day invasion without any introduction to the characters. One of the invasion beaches, code-name Omaha, was a disaster for the young Americans that were chosen for the first wave of attack. As soon as the invading boats let down their doors all hell broke loose, with the sea becoming a blood bath. But words cannot convey what Spielberg shows, we can only witness it on screen. Much debate has centred on how true his depiction is, although many survivors believe it to be authentic, with some veterans claiming that the reality was even worse. After the initial battle the film settles down into developing the main characters and the story of how they find Ryan. Eventually the film is climaxed by another battle, almost as sickening as the first.

Whilst Spielberg can always be relied upon to tell a good story, albeit without much subtlety, I found Private Ryan sometimes unsure of itself on the issues it raised. Spielberg admits this was deliberate as he wants his audience to draw their own conclusions. On two occasions the American flag is seen flying, but it’s not one we are used to. It is faded and grey so that we can barely make out the colours but the significance of this is uncertain. One theme in the film appears to be the question of the value of saving one man when so many others are being slaughtered. Another is the possibility of humans behaving decently when death is always a threat. What the film does not directly question is the purpose of the war or its justification. It cannot even be said that the film is, in itself, anti-war despite its violence and loss of life. For that stance we have to re-visit films like Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 classic Paths of Glory, which also has class as a theme as it contrasts the poverty of ordinary soldiers with their generals living in luxury. As socialists we always question why a war is being fought. Invariably it is bound up with ownership and control of a particular part of the world. As ordinary people do not share in the benefits of this ownership and control we have always taken the position they should not get involved in fighting any war. Spielberg does not address any of this.

Where the film does succeed more is in its depiction of “human nature”. Socialists are sometimes confronted with the argument that war is, at least, party caused by “human nature”. That we are naturally aggressive and that conflicts come easy to us. Spielberg shows this to be nonsense. His men kill but only because they know no other way. On the beach they do not thrive as individuals-they are lost, isolated in a situation that is alien to them. All they fight for is the chance to get back home, and when they get shot they cry out helplessly, almost pathetically, for their mothers. At the same time when Ryan is found and has the chance to escape home he chooses to stay, not because he wants to fight but rather he cannot bear to desert his comrades. Such a noble portrayal of people has nothing in common with those that argue that we are aggressive, selfish creatures always concerned with looking after our individual interests.

Even as I write this review 48 hours after seeing the film, the images of grotesque suffering still stray painfully into mind. Spielberg doesn’t glorify the fighting or lean towards cynicism, he merely attempts to recreate experiences as close to reality as possible. It is left to us to condemn what happened, which is just as well because if we are to stop the threat of future war then it is only us that can do it. Film-makers can portray and interpret history but ultimately we must draw our own conclusions. Many of us, particularly the younger generations, will be filled with bitter incomprehension that as a society we can allow such atrocities to happen, along with great determination that a society that breeds such conflicts should never be tolerated.
G. T.

50 Years Ago: From an opponent . . . (1998)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

. . . we are more accustomed to receive curses than compliments. But compliments do sometimes come from unexpected quarters. The following is from the Daily Graphic, Wednesday, October 6th, page 2. It is contained in an article by “Candidus” entitled “‘Idealists’ who fear free speech”:-
  “The only Socialists who have been consistent in their attitude to Russia—and, for that matter, in their attitude to genuine Socialism—are the members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, commonly known as the S.P.G.B. The ‘official’ Socialists are terrible snobs. They have a deep respect for size, so they sneer at the S.P.G.B. as the ‘Small Party of Good Boys.’ But, dialectically, the S.P.G.B. possess all the aces, not least in reference to Russia.
  “From the outset the S.P.G.B. detected the true nature of the 1917 Revolution and foresaw the consequences of it. They have just published a brochure entitled ‘Russia’ which is a collection of the articles on the Soviet Union that have appeared in their periodical from 1917 onwards.
  “I am far from sharing the S.P.G.B.’s political philosophy. I should, however, be less than fair if I did not bear testimony to the Party’s remarkable record of consistency and acumen, as manifested in this brochure. It is easy for me to respect an antagonist who is both honest and intelligent. I may add, as a final word, that the articles in the brochure are written in admirable English.”
[From Party News Briefs, Socialist Standard, November 1948]

Inhumanity of war (1998)

Book Review from the November 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The World Within War: American soldiers’ experience of combat in World War II by Gerald F. Linderman. The Free Press, New York 1998. £20.

Linderman’s book is a definitive exposé of the psychological trauma of combat on America’s young men. As such it is worthwhile reading just as a refresher course in the real effects of war in the raw. The loss of sense of time (the “infinite extension . . . of the living instant”), the erosion of the facility of logical thought and concentration, the inability to react to events, the loss of moral values and ultimately the will to live, which turned men into living robots with “Thousand-Yard stares”. It is also useful for its recounting of personal experiences of war’s brutalities and pathos. However all this is rather familiar “War is Hell” material. Where Linderman really excels is his contrast between the European theatre (“The War of Rules”) and the Pacific theatre (“War Unrestrained”) particularly in the field of taking prisoners.

In the war against the Germans a certain code of combat evolved to some degree independent of the wishes of the high command. For instance, orders from the US command prior to the D-Day landings that no prisoners were to be taken were generally disregarded. The general attitude of the US fighting soldier turned out to be “they were conscripts just like us” and faced with the massive superiority of the Allied armies the Feldgrau was often only too willing to give in. The US military machine saw advantages in this and rapidly re-evaluated its position: it was not in their interests to make surrender impossible as enemy troops would fight to the end causing heavy casualties. On the other hand neither high command wanted to make surrender too easy, too safe or too certain. When periodically prisoners were killed—through fear, callousness, anger or even envy—the culprits, even if brought to justice, were almost always exonerated. This attitude and the German’s response meant soldiers never surrendered unless forced to.

The war in the Pacific was something else altogether. The brutality of the US-Japan war is infamous. Everyone knows of the brutalities of the Japanese towards prisoners of war. Far from being an innate response (earlier wars against the West show the Japanese in a more favourable light) this attitude was a result of intense propaganda activity by the Tokyo government against the West. For this was a war of anger against the western powers conducted with fierce nationalist determination. If the Japanese took prisoners reluctantly and treated them inhumanely the US troops responded with gusto. The Japanese who found opportunity to surrender was a lucky man—for the Americans this became a war of extermination carried out with disgustingly racist terms (“they ain’t nothing but a bunch of monkeys”). The brutality of the war in the Pacific was unparalleled even on the Eastern Front. Civilians sheltering in fear in caves on Okinawa were killed by poison. The taking of body parts, ears, fingers, gold teeth from corpses or even live prisoners was common and taking a skull was almost de rigeur.

So what is the relevance of all this to socialists? Just this: all wars are anti-working class. Not just because of why they are fought but in the ways they are fought. War produces inhumanity. To assert to the contrary, as do many on the Left is to pander to the tastes of the capitalist history mongers with their glorification of war and their whitewashing of atrocities of their own armies.
Keith Scholey