Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Bad Night for Olga (1984)

Party News from the February 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lady Olga Maitland, who is famed as an Express gossip columnist, did not gild her reputation when she came to Islington last month to debate with the Socialist Party of Great Britain on the question: Is Britain Worth Dying For? Her supporters came too; they gathered in a tight knot and clapped loudly when she was introduced from the platform. By the end of the evening, with some help from socialist speaker Steve Coleman, she had reduced them to a demoralised silence.

She had, let us be fair, a pretty difficult job with the Orwellian logic that workers should be ready to die to protect their masters’ fortunes, that bombs are needed for peace, that social problems may be eased by squandering vast resources on war machines. As a diversion she proclaimed a ringing pride in her British passport although she confessed to being an impure specimen of British womanhood because her mother came from Yugoslavia. Being British means having something called Tommy grit, otherwise known as moral fibre, which is just the stuff to beat the Russians with. It may just be that the evil men in the Kremlin are not deterred by Tommy grit, even supposing that they have ever heard of it. So to make sure we must have armed forces, guns and shells and bombers and nuclear weapons.

If anyone gets killed as a result, well Olga is very sympathetic. Should we have felt better, knowing that last November she was at the cenotaph for the annual outpouring of cant about the workers who were misguided enough to die for capitalism? Well, we didn’t; someone was unkind enough to ask about the people who had not yet managed to die for Britain and who are now being denied the chance to work for it. This was Olga's chance to show off her knowledge of economics but the best she could manage was to wonder about the true level of unemployment, based on a little difficulty she is having in finding a skivvy to clean her windows.

Not a wet eye in the place and a restless, bewildered audience of more than three hundred wondered if this was the best the defenders of patriotism could do. Well yes, actually it is. Olga Maitland sounded silly and empty because she was trying to put a silly, empty argument. It was as well that it was so clearly exposed.

From the opposite end of the table Steve Coleman pointed out that workers have no country to die for; it all belongs to their masters, in whose interests wars are fought. Patriotism is a garbage reserved for the working class, for capitalism’s trade is not allowed to be hampered by any such ideological nonsense. We should not fall into the trap of supporting one lot of bandits against the other; workers everywhere have an interest in common against capitalists everywhere.

Olga's arguments were in tatters. There was little for her to smile about but bravely she managed it. A living example of Tommy grit.

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