Sunday, April 21, 2019

Voice From the Back: The Need For Socialism (2013)

The Voice From the Back column from the December 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Need For Socialism

For the best part of [20] years Chrystia Freeland worked at the Financial Times and Reuters, so when she writes a book entitled Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich she has a fair idea of the subject. According to a book review by John Arlidge she has some revealing facts about the rich. ‘These people have become richer. Not just a bit richer. But profanely richer. The top 10% of Americans, for instance, receive half the nation’s income. Freeland shows that inequality in Europe is rising sharply too, and points out how the rules of the economic game have been rigged to favour the rich’ (Sunday Times, 27 October). The reviewer points out the book is stronger on the whos, hows and whys of the rise of the new global super-rich than it is on whether we should (or can) do anything about this inequality. From a socialist perspective we can, we should and we will do something. We will abolish it.

A Heartless Society

With gas and electricity prices rising a survey for Age UK found that 28 percent of pensioners said their main concern for the coming cold months was ensuring they could heat their homes. ‘The charity said the figures suggested the problems could affect as many as three million older people across the UK. Age UK also raised the alarm over the health dangers to the elderly people, warning that cold weather and poorly heated homes increased the risk not only of influenza but also of heart attack and stroke. There are about 24,000 excess deaths in a typical British winter, many of them preventable’ (Independent, 28 October). Britain is one of the most developed countries in the world yet it condemns millions of old workers to this health hazard.

A Pathetic Existence

The number of people who are paid less than a ‘living wage’ has leapt by more than 400,000 in a year to over 5.2 million, amid mounting evidence that the so-called economic recovery is failing to help millions of working families. ‘A report for the international tax and auditing firm KPMG also shows that nearly three-quarters of 18-to-21-year-olds now earn below this level – a voluntary rate of pay regarded as the minimum to meet the cost of living in the UK. … According to the report, women are disproportionately stuck on pay below the living wage rate, currently £8.55 in London and £7.45 elsewhere. Some 27% of women are not paid the living wage, compared with 16% of men. Part-time workers are also far more likely to receive low pay than full-time workers, with 43% paid below living-wage rates compared with 12% of full-timers’ (Observer, 3 November). This so-called ‘living wage’ condemns millions to a pathetic existence inside capitalist society.

Queuing For Handouts

Academics were commissioned by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to carry out an evaluation of the evidence on the use of food banks and soup kitchens in England. ‘The study, by a team based at Warwick University, was completed in March. It is understood to show a surge in food bank use with twice as many people turning to them for free food in 2012 as in 2011. The report is expected to blame the soaring cost of food; prices have risen by an average of 30% in the past five years, while average incomes have remained frozen’ (Sunday Times, 3 November). Users of these facilities are typically given three day’s worth of nutritionally balanced, non-perishable food. They must be referred by doctors, social workers or some other officials. This is the plight of a growing number of workers. Cap in hand, begging for food in a so-called advanced economy. Capitalism stinks.

Poisoned By Profit

One of the most rapid examples of the industrialised advance of modern capitalism is China. However, the Chinese workers must pay a terrible price for this advancing industrialisation. ‘The number of lung cancer cases in the Chinese capital Beijing has soared over the last decade. According to figures published by the state-run Xinhua news agency, they have increased by more than 50%. Beijing health officials say smoking is still the number one cause of lung cancer, but they admit air pollution is also a factor. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently estimated that polluted air kills millions of people every year’ (BBC News, 9 November). In their smog-polluted cities the advance of lung cancer is the inevitable outcome of the mad drive for more and more profits.

Sylvia Pankhurst (2013)

Book Review from the December 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire. By Katherine Connelly, Pluto Press

Author Katherine Connelly admires Sylvia Pankhurst for her radical but reformist political struggles, her opposition to the First World War and support for the Bolshevik revolution.

Sylvia Pankhurst was brought up in the political world of the SDF, Socialist League and ILP and raised on the radical poetry of Shelley, and A Dream of John Ball by William Morris. Sylvia was much more than a Suffragette, she wanted to link the struggle for women’s suffrage to universal suffrage and to industrial struggles by the organised working class. Whereas Sylvia was a ‘socialist’ in the ILP mould and had a love affair with the married Keir Hardie, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst were bourgeois feminists who wanted the vote on the same property qualification as men.

She worked in London’s East End, establishing the East London Federation of the Suffragettes which later became the Workers’ Socialist Federation. She organised and spoke at the solidarity meeting with workers from the Dublin Lockout at the Albert Hall in 1913 at which James Connolly spoke of the common struggle ‘against the domination of nation over nation, class over class, and sex over sex’.

After the First World War there was leftist internecine wrangling over the creation of the Communist Party of Great Britain, in which she took part, becoming a subject of Lenin’s criticism in his book ‘Left Wing’ Communism: An Infantile Disorder. She opposed reformism in November 1920 when she wrote ‘Although I have been a Socialist all my life, I have tried to palliate this capitalist system… but all my experience showed that it was useless trying to palliate an impossible system’. She had no time for the Poplar Labour councillors who went to prison for a rates strike. Author Katherine Connelly writes that she ‘dismissed the councillor’s efforts’ and was expelled from the newly formed CPGB in 1921.

Connelly, as a Leninist, sees Sylvia Pankhurst as a ‘left wing communist’ and says she ‘was not and never claimed to be a socialist theorist’, a way of dismissing anything she wrote about Leninism, the state capitalism in the Soviet Union or socialism. Pankhurst wrote ‘The words Socialism and Communism have the same meaning. They indicate a condition of society in which the wealth of the community: the land and the means of production, distribution and transport are held in common, production being for use and not for profit.’ She drew attention in January 1922 to ‘Russia’s new economic policy of reversion to capitalism’ and in May 1924 remarked that ‘the Russian workers remain wage slaves’ and of ‘the NEP and the advocates of State capitalisation’.

We can appreciate what she wrote about the future society in July 1923 ‘Since production will be for use, not profit, the people will be freely supplied on application. There will be no buying and selling, no money, no barter or exchange of commodities’, and in August 1923: ‘Full and complete Socialism entails the total abolition of money, buying and selling, and the wages system.’
Steve Clayton

Letters: Pseudo-scientific? (2013)

Letters to the Editors from the December 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard


Dear Editors

[Re Pathfinders, November] It is of interest, but sadly only to see how many and deep the misunderstandings are that plague the pseudo-scientific literature. That is unfortunate because articles like these contribute to divisiveness and hostility rather than promoting a search for a caring, supportive world that protects people from being exposed to violence.

The notion that socialism and democracy are somehow dependent on proving that chimpanzees are as peaceful as bonobos (a fantastical concept to anyone who knows both species) is completely absurd. Freedom and democracy depend on reality, not on some lovely fantasy of how we wish apes or humans would behave

I cannot imagine where you would get the idea that if there are some biological tendencies towards aggression, no one should be found guilty of war crimes. Frankly to spread such ideas seems to me deeply irresponsible.

Can I recommend that you read my book with Dale Peterson, Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence? It would dispel many of the ideas that you report in your article.

Richard Wrangham

Professor Wrangham doesn’t seem to have read the article very closely, since it doesn’t say any of the things he thinks it says. It doesn’t say or imply that socialism depends on proving that chimpanzees are as peaceful as bonobos. Instead it disputes the claim that chimpanzee violence is innate, on the grounds that the evidence is both weak and hotly disputed by other scientists. If it is ‘pseudo-scientific’ to quote scientists who disagree with this view then we plead guilty.

The article does not indulge in wishful thinking about how humans ought to behave. Instead it questions the assumptions of those who seem to be guilty of ‘demonic’ wishful thinking, that is the defenders of innate aggression. Professor Wrangham may profess himself shocked that alleged biological tendencies could ever be used as a get-out-of-jail-free card for war criminals, but such alibis are the inevitable subtext of the debate and to wish away that unpleasant fact seems to us more irresponsible than highlighting it. Capitalism’s rulers are always keen to justify their system and its warlike ways, and will seize hungrily on the pronouncements of Professors Wrangham, Pinker and others to that end, whatever the evidence really says. Socialists meanwhile cannot be accused of the opposite ‘sin’, because we don’t claim that humans are innately peaceful, merely that we are innately adaptive. – Editors


Don’t agree

Dear Editors

The editorial in the November issue of Socialist Standard mentions Le Guin’s Dispossessed in a positive light. I am always astounded that otherwise intelligent people with impeccable views on everything else can be so brainless on this subject. It is a vile book, constituting, regardless of whatever the intentions of the author might have been, the very zenith of anti-socialist propaganda. It describes a society not unlike what Marx called ‘barracks communism’, with ideologised (through, for example, Odo’s: ‘excess is excrement’) repressive egalitarianism. A (‘free-market’) Libertarian wanting to show that ‘any attempt at socialism/communism can inevitably only result in’ poverty and eradication of the individual could hardly do better than this for a masterpiece.

And there are logical problems. For example, if the syndics of Production and Distribution Coordination are chosen at fixed periods by lot, how is it possible that they constitute (as Le Guin through her characters say) a ‘bureaucracy’? Or, another: how did Sabul’s position come about? Was he elected by his fellows, or was he ‘down-posted’ from Production and Distribution Coordination? (Thus a sort of democratic centralism, or is it lottery-centralism?) And to those who think it’s a great story, we might also ask: what kind of model is this in which the new society is one materially so limited as to eternally demand never ending sacrifice in consumption and work, like on some from-scratch ‘intentional community’, which even Kropotkin knew to oppose.

Opposite to this, a truly excellent socialist story is Voyage from Yesteryear by James P Hogan, which takes place in a stateless free-access world, a story in which anarcho-communism (never called such) is victorious over the forces of Market and State. Unfortunately there are people who think with their knee reflex instead of their brains: they look up the author’s name in Wikipedia, see that later in life he adopted non-popular positions in relation to the topics covered by the buzzwords ‘Global Warming’, ‘HIV’, ‘Holocaust’, assume that he was simply a rightwing crank, that anything written by him is untouchable, and will not go near this fine book.

Name and email address provided



Dear Editors

Here are one or two questions that come to mind that I would like answered.

1: What is the SPGB view on workers cooperatives?

2: What is the socialist response to the concept that this world is not just for we humans, but that we share it with other species. Is it their world too? Or are they there just to be used by humans?

3: I have some insurance policies and a bank account that pays me interest. Does that make me a capitalist?

4: There are many countries that call themselves “socialist”. Is there a nation that truly is socialist … or close to it?

Some of these questions may seem light hearted, but they are serious questions that came to me while reading your books and magazines.

Ian McRae, 

Socialists have no problem with workers forming cooperatives if that’s the best way they can survive under capitalism. However we disagree with the sometimes-made claim that they can be a route to socialism because, aside from any political consideration, unless they are in a small market niche with no competition, they tend to be outcompeted by the brutal cost and wage-cutting tactics of conventional companies (for more on this, see our review of The Co-operative Alternative to Capitalism, page X).

We are not unsympathetic to the plight of other animal species and we imagine that socialism would take a more responsible view of their welfare than does capitalism, however we don’t have a sentimental view of nature and think that our first concern needs to be the human population, many of whom suffer worse than animals.

Your bank account would only make you a capitalist if you were able to live on it without working. Even then, this wouldn’t mean that you were a ‘bad person’. The distinction between worker and capitalist is economic, not moral.

There are no countries even close to socialism, since all have market systems, money, hierarchical state regimes and nationalist politics. –Editors.

Mixed Media: The Mill (2013)

The Mixed Media Column from the December 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Channel Four drama The Mill set at the time of the 1833 Factory Act in the Quarry Bank cotton mill owned by the Greg family near Manchester is reminiscent of chapter ten The Working Day in Marx’s Capital: ‘there followed on the birth of machinism and modern industry a violent encroachment like that of an avalanche in its intensity and extent. All bounds of morals and nature, age and sex, day and night, were broken down’.

In The Mill  the employers are called ‘masters’, and the workers in The Mill are child apprentices who are indentured ‘property of Greg and Sons until 21, food, lodgings, work provided’ and the employers explain that ‘children toil in a mill rather than starve by the roadside’ or live in the Workhouse, ‘bastilles of the proletariat’ (Marx).  The children wake at 6am, finishing work at 8pm, completing a 12 hour working day, and are locked in their dormitories at night leading one visitor to question ‘is this a factory or a prison?’ to which the Gregs reply ‘for apprentices it is home’. The Greg family oppose improvements to workers’ conditions by citing William Senior, the bourgeois economist who argued that the last hour of work produced the profits for the capitalist ‘the whole net profit is derived from the last hour‘  known as Senior’s last hour.

Marx wrote ‘The House of Terror… realised a few years later in the shape of a gigantic Workhouse for the industrial worker… called the Factory.’  The Mill is set at the time when ‘the working-class, stunned at first by the noise and turmoil of the new system of production, recovered, in some measure, its senses, its resistance began’. The Mill includes an account of  John Doherty, Irish trade unionist active in the Ten Hours Movement and who with Robert Owen established the Society for Promoting National Regeneration. Doherty published the story of Robert Blincoe, a  former child labourer which is changed to the character of Esther Price in The Mill. A mass meeting of 100,000 workers at Wibsey Moor in Yorkshire as part of the Ten Hour Bill movement is also dramatised. The 1833 Factory Act was a Whig compromise which did not achieve the 10 hours working day and children aged 13 to 18 could still work a maximum of 12 hours.

The Mill is a breath of TV fresh air with its portrayal of working class struggles in capitalism in contrast to the bourgeois class drama of Downton Abbey.
Steve Clayton

Fish In The Net (2013)

The Proper Gander column from the December 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Normally, you’d only call a relationship counsellor after you’ve met your partner, become irritated by their once-endearing foibles and then rowed with them about whose turn it is to wash up. But who do you call if you’ve got doubts about your relationship and you haven’t even met the other person yet? This gap in the market has been filled by Nev and Max, who then spew it out of the screen as Catfish (MTV, Viva). Their clients’ relationships spawned on Facebook or a dating website, and then floundered when the other half started making excuses why they can’t meet or videochat. The show follows Nev and Max angling for the truth behind the online persona of each client’s budding beau. When they’ve hooked something fishy, Nev and Max arrange for their client to finally meet the online lover. Will their tale be watertight, and are they really a prime catch? Instead, the net snares a ‘catfish’, someone who uses a fake persona, compensating for failings or problems in their life. Their desperation, and the upset they cause, is drowned in strummy guitar songs, also advertised by annoying pop-ups on the screen. There’s even an off-the-scale bizarre reunion spin-off, where the catfish and their victim are paraded in front of a wailing studio audience and quizzed about their humiliating ‘relationship’.

Appropriately for a show about deception, the programme makers themselves dupe the viewer. Usually, it’s the catfish who first contacts Nev and Max (for some unfathomable reason), but the editing gives the impression that the sceptical catfishee approached them.

There’s nothing new about basing a relationship on porky-pies; cynics would say that it’s common, deep down. What is new is the extent to which we can create and investigate our online personas, and TV’s thirst for turning this into a spectacle like Catfish. You can see the same trend in mind-polluting programmes like the paedo-entrapment equivalent To Catch A Predator and trashfest Cheaters. Catfish and its ilk plumb new depths to regurgitate alienation into entertainment. Fin.
Mike Foster

Brocialism and Manarchism (2013)

From the December 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Late October saw a few incidents which ‘feminists’ criticised. The Anarchist Bookfair in London saw a transwoman abused and an outdoor Catholic (not a religion known for being pro-women) called Ciaran O’Reilly heckled by ‘feminists’ (Sam Ambreen) shouting “kill all men”. At a meeting about Wikileaks in Liverpool, the same speaker was apparently harassed on account of rape apologism in respect of allegations against Julian Assange. Meanwhile Laurie Penny criticised Russell Brand (2 Nov 2013) for sexism after he wrote his views on revolution in the New Statesman.

The issue of feminism raises many questions. Do women bear the brunt of sexism? Generally, yes. Are women more likely to be victims of rape and domestic violence? Yes. Are allegations made by women less likely to even be investigated when reporting rape? Yes. Some have been surprised to find attitudes of sexism from ‘socialists’ and in the labour movement, (see Women in the Labour Movement statement) and even negative attitudes to disability (see LINK).

Feminists have characterised these problems as ones dismissed by socialists or relegated to the future, accusing sexist men of ‘brocialism’ (a portmanteau of brother and socialism) or manarchism (man and anarchism), but they must be speaking to the wrong so-called ‘socialists’. These observations are not ones dismissed by genuine socialists, as these problems have solutions that genuine socialists want and act to implement now. ‘Socialists’  perpetuating sexism only expose themselves as non-socialists. ‘Intersectionality’ is a modern term for different forms of oppression intersecting – for example, sexism intersecting with class society – but these types of concepts and connections were observations writers like Engels made way back in the nineteenth century.

Our socialism is in a sense  ‘feminist’ (although a better term would be egalitarian) as it is the socialism of the pioneering anti-sexist works of Lewis H. Morgan, Friedrich Engels, August Bebel and Eleanor Marx.

Rebutting Capitalism’s Apologists (2013)

Book Review from the December 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Managing Democracy Managing Dissent, (subtitled ‘Capitalism, Democracy and the Organisation of Consent’, published by Corporate Watch), consists of a collection of essays mostly authored by academics from sociology and related departments working in a variety of British and American Universities.  From the nature and scholarly style of the writing, the target audience is expected to come from a similar background and it seems unlikely that the book will become a left-wing popular classic.

As with any work, consisting of 20 separate pieces from more than ten different authors, the result is quite mixed. However, the four page foreword by Gerald Sussman is succinct and excellent and in many respects the reader will get the gist of the book from this alone. He neatly summarises developments in capitalism over the past 20 years and discusses the resulting ever increasing alienation of the working class from the system. Unfortunately from a socialist viewpoint, this alienation manifests itself in a widespread apathy rather than any active oppositional politics.

Regarding the main body of the book, there are some interesting observations amongst a voluminous mass of left-wing sociological jargon and analysis. A major part of it is an examination of the evolution of capitalism over the last hundred years though really the focus is a critique, specifically on American and to a lesser extent British capitalism. This gives the whole book a decidedly ‘anti-imperialist’ flavour in terms of politics and culture. The book is laden with clich├ęd terminology and the time-honoured denunciation of neo-liberalism, neo-colonialism, globalisation, ruling-class hegemony, etc. The usual villains in works of this sort are well represented and receive the customary castigation: the Pentagon and CIA, the World Bank, Wall Street, The City, Rupert Murdoch, the Freedom Association, Messrs’ F. Hayek & M. Friedman, etc. Some of the well-known incidents of American foreign interference since World War Two  are retold; the CIA’s role in the overthrow of Mossaddegh (Iran, 1953) and Allende (Chile, 1973), the attempted suppression of the Viet Cong in the 1960s and later the Sandinistas in the 1980s.

The problem with this analysis is that global capitalism is conflated and confused with American imperialism and the implication is that if America could be changed or reined in by some means, a better global society and socialism would naturally evolve. This ignores the fact that the workings of capitalism are independent of whatever country happens to be pre-eminent at any time in world history. As an aside, that man of the moment, Ralph Miliband, puts in an appearance too and there is a good quote from him where he states that as capitalism produces great inequality in the distribution of wealth then inevitably great inequality in political power results, irrespective of any egalitarian claims of the governments that administer the system.

The book is better where it explores the mechanisms by which the elite (the capitalist class or in contemporary parlance the 1 percent) control society. There is detailed analysis of the role of the media, the advertising and entertainment industries, in promoting acceptance of the status quo. Most of this is true but is old news. More interesting is the exploration of celebrity philanthropy (Bob Geldof, Bono, and so on), the role of western NGO’s in the developing world and their connection with the activities of the large charitable foundations (Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller and more recently the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). The book claims that by choosing which reformist movements to fund at home and abroad, these foundations act to marginalize what they deem to be movements dangerous to world order while sustaining safe and non-threatening movements for social change. The history of the various protest movements that have arisen over the past 50 years or so around the world is discussed and how these have either fizzled out or been co-opted into the mainstream.  So in this context the book examines the recent Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring and more locally in England, the Student Demonstrations of Winter 2010 and inner city riots of Summer 2011.

Concentration of power
The book does have useful information on how power in capitalism is much more concentrated than people might generally think and the enormous influence that very wealthy individuals such as the Koch Brothers and alternatively George Soros can yield in the political system. It examines how the same people can hold senior positions in western governments and when their political careers are over move seamlessly into heading up large multi-national businesses or significant NGOs and think-tanks to continue their defence of capitalism. There is also discussion of the criminalisation of direct action movements against certain unpopular manifestations of capitalism; nuclear energy, field sports, animal testing, the arms trade, environmental pollution and the legal response by governments and resulting police tactics (surveillance, infiltration, etc. of the groups involved).The activities of bodies including the American National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the British government supported Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) are explored. These non-profit organisations have stated aims such as the promotion of democracy and western values around the world but who the critics claim impose a soft, western oriented neo-colonialism in the countries that they operate in.

Whatever its drawbacks, the book is motivated by a fundamental question that real socialists have faced and debated amongst themselves for many years. According to our view, society is based on capitalism which is inimical to the interests of the vast majority of the people of the world (who are the working class). However, in large parts of the world, workers have access to political power through the democratic structures (parliamentary elections based on an almost universal adult franchise) that exist in many countries. Of course this ‘democracy’ is limited and partial, to greater or lesser degree depending on the country. But nonetheless in principle workers in many countries have the option of replacing capitalism with socialism.

This clearly hasn’t happened so the question is why not? Apologists for capitalism will claim that workers are in fact broadly happy with their lot, identify themselves more by gender, race and nationality than class and do not ‘buy into’ the socialist analysis. Supporters of socialism (in the many ways that is defined, meaningfully or not) have a harder task rebutting this thesis and this book is one attempt, if not a very good one. We in the Socialist Party do not claim to have a definitive answer to this conundrum either. All that can be said is that when a majority of the world’s workers understand the nature of current society and realize that a much better society is possible, that dissent will produce real and fundamental change rather than more tinkering with the existing system.
Kevin Cronin

Mixed Media: The Pet Shop Boys – Love is a Bourgeois Construct (2013)

The Mixed Media Column from the December 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Pet Shop Boys single Love is a Bourgeois Construct was released in September, and it is not too often that Karl Marx gets a mention in a pop song or we hear the word ‘bourgeois’.

The new single is reminiscent of the boys at the  peak of  their popularity and success with their songs about life in capitalism in Thatcher’s Britain such as  Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money). In the new single they sing about  ‘searching for the soul of England, drinking tea like Tony Benn’.

They sing ‘love is a bourgeois construct,  it’s a blatant fallacy’ which is derived from a character saying of love ‘it’s a bourgeois fallacy’ in the 1988 novel Nice Work by David Lodge which is about the relationship between a feminist university lecturer  and an engineering firm manager. The novel  is a  pastiche of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Victorian ‘industrial’ novel of strikes in a cotton town, North and South.

The boys further add that ‘you won’t see me with a bunch of roses promising fidelity, love doesn’t mean a thing to me’. Alexandra Kollontai stated that ‘proletarian ideology cannot accept sexual exclusiveness and all-embracing love’, and that new socialist sexual relations would be ‘purified of all material elements, of all money consideration’.

They sing about ‘flicking through Karl Marx again’ which could be the Manifesto of the Communist Party by Marx and Engels where they write: ‘the bourgeois sees his wife a mere instrument of production’.

They also borrow the melody line of  Chasing Sheep Is Best Left to Shepherds by Michael Nyman which in turn is based on the ground bass from Henry Purcell’s 1691 opera King Arthur. Nyman’s music was for the 1982 Peter Greenaway film The Draughtsman’s Contract  which was a Lockean conspiracy thriller about class, sex, property and landscape set in the post 1688 bourgeois ‘glorious revolution’. John Locke’s 1689 Two Treatises of Government are the philosophical grounding of bourgeois capitalism: ‘master and servant are names as old as history, for a freeman makes himself a servant to another, by selling him, for a certain time, the service he undertakes to do, in exchange for wages he is to receive in the contract between them in civil society; the chief end whereof is the preservation of property.’ Later Greenaway dissected capitalism in Thatcher’s Britain in his 1989 The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.

The Pet Shop Boys clearly see the links between capitalism and the ideology of relationships, singing ‘while the bankers all get their bonuses, I’ve given up on the bourgeoisie, like all their aspirations, it’s a fantasy, you made me see reality’.
Steve Clayton

50 Years Ago: Labour and the TSR2 (2013)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the latest babies of British capitalism, proudly wheeled out by its doting parents, is the TSR-2.

This aircraft, it is claimed, can do almost anything by way of airborne destruction. In its ability to perform the most horrifying deeds, in the range of its destructive power, in its diabolical versatility, the TSR-2 is something like a precocious, delinquent child.

These horrors are going to cost something like a couple of million pounds each. Commenting on this, Mr. Denis Healey, the Labour M.P. (who put the cost at £20 million each), asked what this sum represented in terms of schools, hospitals, and so on. This is a common complaint, whenever the amount of money which capitalism spends upon weapons is discussed. Yet what do the Healeys expect? Capitalism has a list of priorities to which it allocates its resources and human comfort is not near the top of it. This was as true under the Labour government which Mr. Healey supported as under the Tory one which he attacks.

Indeed, Mr. Healey showed how small are the differences between his own party and the Tories on the issue of armaments when he went on to say that the TSR-2 is a waste of money, which could better be spent on military helicopters and other transport aircraft and on the Buccaneer, a naval strike ‘plane which is already in service

The best, then, that the Labour Party offers us on the matter of armaments policy is to look after the purse strings more carefully than the Conservatives have done. They will try to make sure that every penny the British ruling class spend on their weapons gets value for money.

(from ‘News in Review’, Socialist Standard, December 1963)

Bombed with Bibles (2013)

The Halo Halo! Column from the December 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nothing excites a Daily Mail hack more than a story about ‘Marxism’. And if they can fit in a bit about the erosion of Christian values too, so much the better.

‘North Korea executes 80 people in public ‘for viewing South Korean movies and owning bibles’’ ran the headline in the Mail Online (11 November). And while nothing we hear about the treatment of the working class in the North Korean dictatorship would surprise us, perhaps we should take this with a pinch of salt. The Mail got the story from a South Korean newspaper, the Joong Ang Ilbo. But, they noted, this paper could not confirm the deaths, but said its source is familiar with the internal affairs of North Korea, and had recently visited the country. Oh well, it must be true then.

‘Why the executions took place is difficult to ascertain’, the Mail informs us, but ‘they may have been carried out to quell unrest and stop capitalist ideology from growing, as they took place in areas of recent economic growth’.

Hmm, it’s difficult to understand the logic in the Mail’s thinking sometimes, but it’s hardly likely that the state capitalist dictatorship of North Korea would want to discourage its own economic growth is it?

But by now the Mail’s writer had the bit between his teeth: ‘North Koreans are forced to adhere to the Juche ideology,’ he went on, ‘a doctrine which mixes Marxism with the worship of North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung and his descendants’. Eh, what was that again?

While we agree, the ideas of the North Korean dictatorship must be a nightmare to live under (‘The Juche idea is the precious fruit of the leader’s profound, widespread ideological and theoretical activities, and its creation is the most brilliant of his revolutionary achievements’ for example), it has nothing to do with Marxism. (But if you’d like to wade through another 30 odd pages of the Great Leader’s ‘precious fruit’, all in the same vein, take a look at LINK).

It’s no secret that state brutality and severe poverty are widespread in North Korea, so surely these downtrodden people are not putting their lives at risk by illegally importing bibles are they? Well no, as it happens, they are not. Here’s another story from the Mail (10 November).

‘Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the New Testament: Christian group air-drops bibles over North Korea using 40-foot hydrogen balloons’.

Yes, despite Christianity being banned, and the death threats the North Koreans apparently face, one sanctimonious and arrogant bible thumper has so much faith in his own delusions that for the past seven years he has happily put these people at risk by inflicting bibles on them from the air, 50,000 of them last year alone. ‘These are the most persecuted believers on earth’ he said. Too bloody right they are.

‘In sending the bibles over the border to North Korea, Pastor Foley hopes that North Koreans will read the scripture and see that the ideology they are forced to believe ‘is all a fraud’ reports the Mail.

And hopefully, if they get a chance to read this absurd religious humbug without being arrested, they will realise what a fraud religion is too.

The Floating Pound (1972)

From the August 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Government's decision to float the pound is yet another confirmation of the Marxian theory of inflation. Floating the pound means that the government is not using its gold and foreign currency reserves to maintain a fixed exchange rate between the pound and the dollar £1=($2.60 till 23 June). As a result the exchange rate of the £ (which is but its price on the foreign exchange market) can, depending on demand, float up or down — but in practice under present circumstances definitely down. The “Times" estimates that when, after a few months, a fixed exchange rate is restored it will be around £1=$2.40 (or its equivalent), an effective devaluation of between five and ten per cent.

Devaluation, according to the Marxian analysis, is an official recognition that due to the over-issue of a paper currency the amount of gold represented by a pound-note has been reduced. Acting on false Keynesian doctrines, successive British governments, Labour and Conservative, have denied that, given a certain level of production and trade, only a definite supply of inconvertible paper money (i.e. paper money not convertible into gold on demand) should be issued if prices were to be kept reasonably stable. And that, if more money than this amount was issued, the inevitable result would be a depreciation of the currency or, what is the same thing from another aspect, inflation (rising prices). Instead they have followed the advice of Keynes to “let the money supply look after itself* and via the Bank of England have provided government departments with the money needed to maintain their expenditure and to subsidize private capitalist industry.

In the last quarter of 1971, for instance, Britain’s money supply was expanded at an annual rate of 25 per cent! (The Times, 9 March, 1972). Only recently have a few academics come to realise what Marx, and indeed many of the bourgeois economists of his day, knew: that the inevitable result of oversupplying an inconvertible paper currency is depreciation and inflation.

For a trading State like Britain this can cause difficulties. For inflation (at least if it proceeds at a faster rate than in other exporting countries) raises the price of exports and makes them uncompetitive on the world market. At the same time imports increase because of the lower prices of foreign goods. The result is a balance of trade deficit, leading to a balance of payments crisis. Also, and this is partly what seems to have happened to Britain this time, export prices can be uncompetitive because of a lower-than-average productivity. The international bankers obviously know all this and have decided to express their lack of confidence in the official gold content of the £ by selling their holdings.

When this happened in 1967 the Labour government gave in (as it had to), devalued the £ and, at the insistence of the international bankers, abandoned their programme of social reforms and imposed a wage freeze. This time a Conservative government has given in, but in a roundabout way: floating the £ for a few months so that it can find its own exchange rate is in effect only a slow-motion devaluation.

What devaluation is supposed to do (as long as other countries don’t devalue as well, of course) is to bring the devaluing State’s internal price level in line with the world price level; its export prices fall and imports from abroad become more expensive; the deficit on the balance of trade disappears and the crisis is solved — until the next time.

For the capitalists devaluation is a policy aimed at restoring the profits they lost through their goods at home and abroad being uncompetitive. But what about the workers? In Britain, which imports much of the food consumed by the working class, it means a rise in the cost of living which can only be recouped by determined action to raise money-wages too. This will inevitably bring the workers into conflict with the government made even more determined to resist wage demands by a desire to regain the confidence of the international bankers. Could there be any more obvious proof that capitalism cannot work in the interest of the vast majority the class of wage and salary earners?

The Aristocrats (1972)

From the August 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Catch 22 had nothing on this — a confidence trick in which the victims not only feel sorry for the trickster but honoured to be his victims. Regularly each year hundreds of thousands of people who live in slums and semis and high rise flats pay up to shuffle their admiring way through the halls, staircases, galleries and gardens of what have been immortalised as the Stately Homes of England. From behind silken ropes they gaze at art treasures and old furniture, a bed where somebody slept sometime on their way to somewhere. From the hand of a real live lord they may buy a brochure, pay an actual marchioness for their tea. Often, they are overwhelmed by it all, uneasy at their intrusion in this vastly foreign world, embarrassed because they are viewing some splinters of yesterday.

Only in recent times have the aristocrats of Britain become troubled by self-doubt. Now it is not uncommon for some of them to speak as if they are a persecuted minority who might at any time expect to take their last journey on the tumbrel. Yet if the story of their decline proves anything, it can only be their enormous capacity to adapt. For example, the Labour Party once were perfectly clear, that they would abolish the House of Lords. In the end, when they had power, they did nothing to affect the existing hereditary titles and even added a few of their own.

Originally the aristocrats’ position was due to their extensive ownership of land (which they took or were given) simply because it was the dominant means of wealth production; the large estates of feudal England are comparable to a large ownership in ICI or Shell today. Anything they might be able to grab was often supplemented by kingly rewards for military help, for "peace” keeping or for any other participation in the high rank gangsterdom of feudal England. Some land and titles went to court favourites or to the descendants of royal bastards — the Dukes of St. Albans, Richmond, Buccleuch for example.

A high time for the acquisition of land at give-away prices was during the dissolution of the monastries. The lush Montague estate at Beaulieu, Hampshire, was founded when Thomas Wriothesley (pronounced, like many aristocratic names, quite differently from its spelling) bought what was left of Beaulieu Abbey from Henry VIII in 1538. It was through such expropriation that an enormous unearned income could be enjoyed by a small group of interrelated families.

The Industrial Revolution changed the dominant means of production and gave the aristocrats one of their earliest lessons in survival. Some estates were able to exploit deposits of valuable minerals; the Home lands in Scotland, for example, yielded rich coal royalties. Others prospered from the laying down of railways and others leased off parts on to which the towns expanded.

In some ways the 19th century was something of an aristocratic high noon. Reflecting the almighty standing of British capitalism at the time, they specialised in the spectacular. The core of the aristocracy was made up of about three hundred landed families some of them — the Northumberlands, the Devonshires, the Bridgewaters — owning hundreds of thousands of acres. They had built their own private railway stations, they diverted rivers. At Kedleston the Curzons moved an entire village half a mile. Their income was mountainous :
  No trade can flourish that for every pound does not pour a shilling into the treasury of a Grosvenor or a Bentinck, a Russell or a Stanley, a Neville or a Gower. (The Great Governing Families of England — Sanford and Townsend. 1865.)
As a sample of their political influence, about 150 seats in the House of Commons were to all intents and purposes in the gift of peers. The Reform Acts signalled the beginning of the end of this cosy, corrupt, powerful, magic circle; the Duke of Buckingham knew what he was about, when he symbolically resisted the 1832 Bill by bringing ashore a cannon from his yacht.

Towards the end of the century the great estates were affected by an agricultural slump; in the nine years after 1877 the price of wheat was almost halved. Under this kind of pressure the estates began to crumble away and the slide has never been arrested. Between 1873 and 1967 the land holdings of titled aristocrats in England and Wales have declined by an average of 76 per cent. Among the richer ones who survived were those who owned valuable urban land — the Dukes of Portland, Westminster, Cadogan for example. The war of 1914/18 took its toll of aristocratic lives, killing twenty peers and 49 direct heirs to titles, so that the noble houses of the land could ignore the immeasurably greater suffering of the working class and convince themselves, as always, that they were making a uniquely tragic sacrifice for humanity. After the war, in the deepening slump which hung over capitalism like a black cloud, what was left of many estates could barely finance their own repairs and maintenance. Between 1918 and 1922 land was being sold off at about 700,000 acres a year. At the present rate of change of ownership another century might see the end of the old style estate.
  But the aristocrats will not go down without a fight: English peers have demonstrated time and again in the past hundred years that they are strong, tough people, who start life with enormous natural advantages, and are well able to compete effectively in diverse human activities from show business to ceramics. (More Equal Than Others — Lord Montague.)
The ruthless custom of primogeniture, in which a family’s wealth is inherited by the eldest son, helps to keep aristocratic fortunes and estates intact. Over the past twenty-odd years the price of land has at least kept pace with the rate of inflation and if the land can be sold for building there is practically no limit to the increase in price. Death duties, which are said to be so destructive to aristocratic fortunes, can be avoided fairly easily by anyone rich enough to employ knowledgeable solicitors and accountants. The £6m. estate of the last Duke of Marlborough, who died a few months ago, was kept intact on his death because he had taken the precaution of making it over to his heir, the ageing playboy who was then the Marquess of Blandford, more than the necessary seven years before. The interests of the Salisburys are held by Gascoine Holdings, a nominee company whose shares are in trustees’ hands. The effect of this arrangement is that the estates are unlikely to be hard hit by duties as a result of the death of the last Marquess of Salisbury in February. There are still some massive estates in existence; the Duke of Northumberland owns 80,000 acres, the Duke of Devonshire 72,000, the Duke of Beaufort 52,000, which is not bad as a level of impoverishment.

Much of the emotional driving force behind the will to survive comes from the aristocratic mystique — the article of faith that they are possessed of some exclusive quality which, inbred through generations, justifies their superiority. Blue blood is thicker not only than water but than any other colour. In fact only two families — the Berkeleys and the Ardens — can be traced with any certainty to before the Norman Conquest. The Berkeleys still live at Berkeley Castle, on the Severn Estuary, where Edward II was done to death by a couple of blue blooded noblemen who, exercising an imagination not unusual in their kind, forced a red hot spit into his anus.

These sort of deeds notwithstanding, the true aristocrat is convinced that it is purer to come into their position by descent from such brutes than by the modern counterpart — the successful exploitation of the working class under an industrial capitalist system. That is why more modern times, with the wholesale ennoblement of businessmen, has been so depressing for the guardians of aristocratic traditions. Perhaps the low point in their morale was the Maundy Gregory scandal, when Lloyd George sold nearly a hundred peerages for about £3m. into Liberal Party funds.

Scandals like that make it even more difficult for the aristocrats to sustain the deception that their high social standing involves an obligation to serve their underlings, instead of the other way round. One example of this alleged service to us is the exercise of their right to appoint vicars to the churches on their land, although here again they collide with cruel capitalist reality because some landowning firms also have the same right, among them Smiths Potato Crisps and Cornish Manure. Cruel reality also says that among the vicar-appointing aristocrats, who should be stern upholders of the sanctity of Christian marriage, there is a higher than average divorce rate.

How fares a businessman who achieves a lifelong ambition when he makes it into the top bit of the Honours List? One such family is that of the Devonports; the present Lord is only the second to hold the title. The family name is Kearley and the first Lord Devonport was once senior partner in the firm Kearley and Tonge, which originally prospered out of things like pickles and jam. He went into politics, spent five years as Parliamentary Secretary at the Board of Trade and was made a Baron in 1910. His son, the present Lord Devonport, went to Eton and now, an old man, lives in serene comfort at Peasmarsh Place in Sussex. At home in the lush countryside, playing host to the local hunt, he is the very picture of an English lord, descendent of an ancient aristocratic line. Yet it all started only sixty years ago and one wonders how kindly he remembers that he owes it to pickles and jam.

It is ironic that many of the more established (and therefore perhaps more confident?) nobles are prepared to exploit their position so freely. The opening of stately homes to the public is now an accepted part of the season, part of the evidence of noble poverty, but it is conducted with varying degrees of vulgarity. At Blenheim Palace the late Duke of Marlborough was always ready to turn away paying customers if he suspected them of vandalism. A rather different attitude is possible in the case of the Duke of Bedford, whose ancient home at Woburn Abbey has shops, cafes, an amusement park, an outdoor zoo — and a pub called the Flying Duchess. Bedford is now helping a petrol station chain in a "free gift" scheme. Pull in at one of their stations and you can pick up a brochure with a picture of the Duke and the Duchess, obligingly dressed in Regency costume and wigs, admiring one of the glasses which, although they are given the brand name Woburn, are available to any plebeian who buys enough petrol. Lord Bedford is in earnest:
  We are in a competitive business and like any other commercial undertaking half the battle is publicity . . .  I have been accused of being undignified. That is quite true, I am. If you take your dignity to a pawnbroker he won’t give you much for it. (Silver Plated Spoon.)
Although he is not yet quite on his way to the pawnshop, Bedford does work hard at his business affairs. (The strain of posing for that dreadful photograph!) There are other aristocrats who are actually employed, although usually in some trendy job, like Lord Lichfield who is a photographer or the Marquess of Hertford who is a public relations man. This goes to make good copy for the colour supplements and to convince workers who drag their way thought the day on a production line that they are witnessing the end of a gracious age in which, while every man knew his place, there was a place for every man. And shouldn’t that man on the line just feel guilty about it?

In fact any decline in the standing of the aristocracy is at most a change in the personnel of the privileged class. Death duties and other taxation are not a confiscation of wealth but only a shifting of it from one section of the ruling class to another. Parcelling up and selling an estate does not make it common property; it is a social adjustment within capitalism, not a social revolution to abolish the system. When it is done the majority of people remain impoverished workers, entitled at most to gape at a portion of their masters’ possessions, once they have paid to do so.

Anyone who doubts that, whether they are titled or not, there is still a privileged class, need only consider the facts. There are many figures which might be examined but just one of these — the Annual Abstract of Statistics 1971—shows that there are only 20,000 people in this country owning net wealth of over £200,000. On the other hand there are nearly 6 million owning between £1,000 and £3,000 and nearly 5 million owning up to £1,000. That is the issue on which the working class must concentrate, because it says everything about their poverty and suppression.

The possessions of the aristocrats — their houses, their furniture, their art treasures — show what dedication and craftsmanship the people of the world are capable of. When these abilities can be used to enrich the lives of us all, instead of those of a privileged few, the world will be a gracious place indeed, one great stately home where we are all owners.

The Irish Capitalist Republic (1972)

From the August 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just before he was tied to a chair and shot by a firing squad in May 1916, the injured James Connolly is said to have remarked, “The Socialists will never understand why I am here”. Well might he have felt guilty, from a socialist and working class point of view, about what he had done. For he was being executed for his leading part in the Easter Rising, an armed insurrection aimed at establishing, with aid from imperial Germany, an independent, and unavoidably capitalist, Republic in Ireland.

Before the war Connolly, who was well acquainted with Marxist and Socialist ideas*, had been a prominent and successful trade union organiser. At the time of his execution he was the secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and “commandant” of its armed defensive force, the Irish Citizen Army. This had been formed in the course of the great Dublin lock-out of 1913 to protect union members from police violence and intimidation, but Connolly turned it into a Republican body. He himself was almost certainly admitted to the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood before being appointed commander of its forces in Dublin during the rising.

The 1RB had no social programme and was simply dedicated to using physical force to establish an Irish Republic. The Declaration of the Republic which was proclaimed from the steps of the GPO in Dublin does, it is true, express a few democratic and reformist sentiments, but only in the vaguest terms. Its main concern was obviously “the Republic”. In fact when, only a few years later, it came to adopting a definite social programme the IRB endorsed Arthur Griffith’s long-standing policy of Irish capitalism, stock exchange and all. Connolly had died not for international Socialism, not even for trade unionism, but for an Irish capitalist republic.

The Easter Rising, and the merciless execution of its leaders, did have the effect of transforming the Irish political scene: the Nationalist parliamentary party rapidly lost ground to Sinn Fein. Taking their cue from the Ulster Unionist, the Nationalists and Republicans too had formed an armed militia before the war. Called the Irish National Volunteers, prominent amongst its leaders were secret members of the IRB. On the outbreak of the first world war the movement split, the great majority following the pro-war lead of the Nationalist MP’s. It was the minority, who retained the name Irish Volunteers, that the IRB planned to mobilise for its 1916 insurrection but the plan misfired and only a few of its units actually took part. After the rising the Irish Volunteers were popularly known as the Sinn Fein Volunteers.

Sinn Fein, now republican, began to win by-elections at the expense of the Nationalist parliamentary party. In the 1918 British General Election Sinn Fein won a large majority of Irish seats, 73 compared with 6 for the Nationalists and 26 for the Unionists. In accordance with their abstentionist policy, instead of going to Westminster, they met in Dublin in January 1919, declared themselves to be the parliament (Dail, in Irish) of an independent Irish Republic and appointed a provisional government under De Valera with Griffith as Minister of Home Affairs. This was no idle declaration since behind it stood the armed Sinn Fein Volunteers, to be renamed later that year the Irish Republican Army or IRA.

For two years a brutal war of reprisals and counter-reprisals waged between the IRA and the British Army with its notorious “black and tans” (no-good soldiers) and “auxiliaries” (no-good officers). A truce was arranged in December 1921 and negotiations for a peace treaty started. The British government offered the 26 counties of Southern Ireland political independence as “the Irish Free State”, nominally subject to the British Crown, and threw in the power to impose tariffs to protect Irish industry as an added concession. A majority of the IRA and the Sinn Fein government accepted this; a minority including De Valera, regarding the Treaty as a betrayal of Republican ideals, did not. The new Free State government with Griffith as Prime Minister resolved to crush this minority and eventually did so, but only after a bitter Civil War which didn’t end till 1923 and which killed more people than the previous war with Britain. Although the IRA stopped fighting, they didn’t give up their arms. They hid them and continued to exist as an illegal underground organisation.

The new government settled down to governing Irish capitalism, in the interests of the bigger capitalists and big cattle ranchers who exported to Britain, and with callous indifference to the problems of the working class. “It is no function of government”, one Minister once said when criticised about the level of unemployment, “to provide work for anybody”. Strikes broke out as wages fell; trade union membership declined; poverty, ill-health, slums, unemployment and emigration continued. Independence, in short, had made no difference whatsoever to the position and problems of the working class. They had merely experienced a change of masters from the capitalists of Britain to the capitalists of Southern Ireland.

Civil liberties began to be eroded as Home Rule came to take on some of the features of “Rome Rule”. In 1925 divorce was abolished. Until that time people living in Ireland had been able to get divorced on the same terms, strict as they then were, as people living in England. This was stopped, and it applied to Protestants as well as Catholics. In 1929 a “Censorship of Publications Board” was set up which proceeded to ban the import and sale of books the Catholic hierarchy found offensive. Education in Ireland always had been denominational, but the new government made no attempt to set up non-sectarian State schools. Quite the contrary. It gave the Catholic Church a virtual free hand in the education of those whose parents were Catholics, i.e., the overwhelming majority of Irish school-children. The only price they had to pay for this was the cost of subsidising separate Protestant schools for the small Protestant minority. But the move that was to make the South of Ireland virtually a Catholic State—the 1937 Constitution—was the work not of the pro-Treatyites but of their Republican opponents.

In 1926 De Valera led a group of supporters out of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing, after a small majority had refused to endorse his proposal to use the ballot-box and Free State parliament to try to establish (or restore, as he put it) "the Republic”. Thus was founded Fianna Fail, now Ireland’s normal governing party.

Fianna Fail inherited its economic programme from the original Sinn Fein, promising “to encourage native industries that minister to the needs of the people, to protect them by such tariffs, subsidies and other methods as may be necessary”. The new party also promised protection for agriculture and "to break up the large grazing ranches and distribute them amongst young farmers and agricultural labourers”. Fianna Fail in fact was basically the party of the small farmer and its agricultural policy, which included increased tillage in place of raising cattle for export to Britain, opposed their interests to those of the big cattle farmers which the then government (whose political descendants are Fine Gael, the main Irish opposition party) tended to represent.

Fianna Fail made rapid headway and by 1932 was the majority party, with De Valera as Prime Minister. The new government proceeded to do precisely what the Belfast capitalists had always believed a Home Rule government would sooner or later do: erect tariff walls behind which Irish manufacturing industry could grow. Indeed the declared—and quite unrealistic—policy of Fianna Fail at this time was “a self-sufficing Ireland, an Ireland not dependent for its economic life on its external trade” (Fianna Fail 1926-1951).

Steps were taken to emphasise Ireland’s formal independence from Britain—the oath of allegiance was abolished; the Governor General sacked, and a brand new republican constitution enacted—none of which had any relevance whatsoever to the problems the working class of Ireland were facing in the midst of the Great Depression of the thirties.

The new 1937 Constitution was a peculiar blending of Irish Republican ideology and Catholic social and political teaching. It embodied all the aspects of “Rome Rule” which had come to the fore under the Free State. Article 44(2) proclaimed that “the State recognises the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of its citizens”. Article 40, making censorship constitutional, declared that “publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punished in accordance with law”. And Article 41 baldly stated, “No law shall be enacted providing for the grant of a dissolution of marriage”. So pleased was the Vatican with these arrangements that they have never bothered to draw up a formal agreement with the Irish government about the position of the Catholic Church as they have done with the governments of other Catholic countries. Nor has the Catholic hierarchy ever been bashful about interfering in politics, to denounce some harmless social reform or some luckless politician.

During the 1930’s the IRA rapidly degenerated from a popular movement into the small gang of terrorists it is today. In 1936 the De Valera government banned it. When three years later the IRA launched its notorious bombing campaign in England (whose main achievement was the killing of 5 and the injuring of over fifty innocent workers in Coventry in August 1939) the Irish government took even more drastic action: it introduced the Offences Against the State Act which gave it the power to intern without trial members of any organisation it chose to declare “unlawful”, and which, together with the “special position” of the Catholic Church, is the other great undemocratic feature of the Southern Irish State which survives to this day.

Trade unions in Ireland too have had to suffer from more restrictive laws than in Britain, at least until the introduction of the British Industrial Relations Act.

While Ireland was politically a part of Britain the law on trade unions was the same, though industrial conditions were different. Ireland was largely an agricultural country and, outside Belfast, its towns were commercial rather than industrial centres. Corresponding to this lower level of industrial development the leading Irish trade unions tended to be general rather than industrial, as best typified by the Irish Transport and General Workers Union founded by James Larkin which is still the largest union in Ireland. In 1895 most of the trade unions operating in Ireland, including those with headquarters in England, set up an Irish TUC which in 1912 decided to finance an Irish Labour Party. For years this was only a trade union pressure group trying, none too successfully, to get a few reforms of benefit to the working class and which, since wage workers were till recently a minority of the population of Southern Ireland, never seriously aspired to be an alternative governing party for Irish capitalism. Later, however, on two occasions, in 1948 and again in 1954, it did join with the openly conservative Fine Gael and others in anti-Fianna Fail coalition governments and so has taken part in running capitalism for the benefit of the Irish (and British) capitalist class. The Labour Party now says it won’t enter into a coalition with “capitalist parties” again, but it probably would if the occasion arose—not that it’s not a capitalist party itself of course.

In 1941 the Fianna Fail government brought in a Trade Union Act which largely anticipated, by thirty years, Britain’s Industrial Relations Act. Only trade unions which, in return for a financial deposit, had been granted a “negotiation licence” by the State were to continue to enjoy protection against claims for civil damages arising out of strikes; any other union which tried to negotiate over wages and working conditions not only lost this protection but was to be subject to continuing fines till it stopped. A further section allowed a majority union in a particular industry to claim sole negotiating rights for that industry on application to a special tribunal and subject to an individual ballot of the workers involved. This was later declared unconstitutional, but the rest of the Act remains in force. The Irish Republicans, including the Fianna Fail government, had on nationalist grounds never liked “English” trade unions operating in Ireland and the third section of the Act was partly designed to drive such unions out of Southern Ireland. It didn’t work but for a while nationalism did split the Irish trade union movement. After Partition trade unionists North and South of the Border continued to be united in the Irish TUC, a sound arrangement since the Border was of no relevance to the working class in either part of Ireland. But after the second world war, under nationalist influence, the ITGWU split from the Irish TUC and set up a rival and exclusively Southern Irish Congress of Irish Unions. All-Ireland trade union unity did not come again for twenty years when the two rival centres united to form the present Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).

Up until 1922 social benefits in Ireland had been the same as in the rest of Britain, but afterwards lagged behind as mainly agricultural Ireland could not afford to pay (or would not have gained much economic advantage from paying), the same level of benefits as industrial Britain. Indeed, paying lower pensions and benefits was one of the reasons given for the 1912 Home Rule Bill. The Primrose Committee set up to examine the financial implications of Home Rule was particularly concerned about “the extravagance and waste that results from too close an assimilation of the scale of expenditure in Ireland to that of Great Britain” and specifically singled out the newly- introduced Old Age Pensions as an example. Paragraph 13 of their Report declared:
   . . . it is impossible not to feel that, if the Government had had to construct a scheme of Old Age Pensions especially for Ireland, they would have devised a much less costly and a much less comprehensive scheme than the one now in operation. But the Act had to be framed to suit the conditions of the industrial workers of Great Britain, and, in consequence of the political connection, had to be extended, unchanged and unadapted, to a population whose conditions were widely dissimilar. If Home Rule had been granted to Ireland before the passage of the Old Age Pensions Act, it is very doubtful indeed if an Irish Parliament would have in that regard followed the example of Great Britain. So much has been almost in terms stated in public speeches by the leading Irish politicians (Report by the Committee on Irish Finance Cd 6153).
The Committee conceded that current pensions should not be reduced, but insisted that an Irish government would have to give priority to cutting expenditure below the level the British government has been forced to shoulder in Ireland adding.
  From what we have said in Paragraph 13 it will be gathered that we regard Old Age Pensions as an item of expenditure on which reduction would be not only legitimate but desirable in the new conditions to be established in Ireland—of course in respect of future pensions only (Report Paragraph 55).
So, from one point of view, “Home Rule” and “Independence” for Ireland was a way of saving the British capitalist class money on unnecessary social reforms. Social benefits in Southern Ireland are still less extensive than in the rest of Britain (including Northern Ireland) but the gap has been closing as Ireland has become more industrialised.

If anything, then, the working class in Ireland suffered—with less political democracy, a divided and more restricted trade union movement, lower social benefits—from so-called independence which was for them, as we said, basically only a change of masters. But for the nascent Southern Irish capitalist class it meant the political power to legislate to further their own economic interests. This their governments did, through protection, during the period 1932- 1959. Then, as protection became increasingly inefficient, the Fianna Fail government completely reversed its previous economic policy, took down the tariff barriers and invited outside capitalists to invest in Ireland. In 1965 an Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement, providing for full free trade between the two countries by 1975, was signed. And now, along with Britain, Ireland is to join the Common Market (E.E.C.).

When this process of full economic re-integration with Britain is completed Ireland will be back where it was before 1922—and the thousands of young men who sacrificed their (and other people’s) lives “for Ireland” will be clearly seen to have died and killed merely to have got about thirty years of protection for Irish capitalist industry to catch up with the rest of Britain plus a few superficial political changes which, where they weren’t for the worse, amounted to little more than “painting the pillar boxes green” as the popular saying accurately puts it.
Adam Buick

* As a member of the Social Democratic Federation at the turn of the century he [Connolly] had been involved in the “impossibilist revolt” against its undemocratic and reformist nature which led to the founding of the Socialist Labour Party of Great Britain and the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Connolly had been the chairman of the first SLP Conference.