Monday, November 11, 2019

11 — 11 — 11: 101 years since the end of World War I

From the World Socialist Party of the United States website

Exactly 101 years ago today the Armistice that ended World War I was signed and came into force. It was signed between 5 and 6 am but did not come into force until 11 am. Fighting continued in many places right up to the last minute: nearly 11,000 men were killed or wounded on that last morning of the war.

As the Armistice had already been signed, why could it not have come into force earlier – say, at 7 am? Or, even if it was not yet time to lay down arms, could commanding officers not have avoided offensive action?

Some did. One British general, acting on his own initiative, ended the war in his sector early in the morning. Prime minister David Lloyd George was annoyed when he heard of it and deprived the general of his pension. The prime minister was planning to announce the Armistice in the House of Commons later in the morning – few Members of Parliament are ‘early birds’ – and wanted the dramatic effect of the guns falling silent just as he was speaking. Lining up three elevens – ‘at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’ – also had a rhetorical appeal. It still has. Surely that was worth a few thousand casualties?

Another ‘softie’ was Major General William Haan, commander of the 32nd Division of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), who received a field telephone call from his subordinate in command of the 63rd Brigade asking permission to attack in order to straighten out a dent on his front. Haan retorted that he did not intend to throw away men’s lives on the war’s last morning to tidy up a map. 

Other commanders were made of tougher stuff. Major General Charles P. Summerall ordered V Corps to force a crossing of the Meuse River that last morning at the cost of over 1,100 dead and wounded. One of his men, Henry Gunther, was the last soldier killed in action in World War One. He died at one minute before 11 am while charging astonished German troops. He had been despondent over a recent reduction in rank and was apparently trying to redeem his reputation.

The 167th Field Artillery Brigade of the 92nd Division of the AEF, consisting of black men, was ordered to launch its final charge at 10.30 am. 

Many artillery units continued to fire on German targets to avoid having to haul away their spare ammunition. Another good reason, eh? 

In fact, the war could easily have been ended not a few hours but three days earlier, when a German delegation, headed by Matthias Erzberger of the Catholic Center Party, drove through Allied lines in order to negotiate an armistice. The delegation was escorted to the Compi├Ęgne Forest near Paris where, in a railroad dining car converted into a conference room, they were met by Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied armies. Foch presented the Allies’ terms and told Erzberger that he had 72 hours to obtain the consent of his government or the war would go on. ‘For God’s sake, Monsieur le Marechal,’ Erzberger pleaded, ‘do not wait for those 72 hours. Stop the hostilities this very day.’ His appeal fell on deaf ears. 

Foch had good reason to be confident that the Allies’ terms, harsh as they were, would be accepted. Six weeks earlier, on September 29, the German Supreme Army Command had informed the Kaiser and the Imperial Chancellor that the military situation facing Germany was hopeless. Then, on the night of October 29-30, sailors at the North Sea port of Wilhelmshaven, unwilling to be sacrificed in a final naval offensive, had mutinied and their revolt had quickly spread to other ports. The army too was starting to disintegrate under the impact of mass desertions. It was now politically as well as economically and militarily impossible for Germany to sustain further hostilities.

What socialists said about World War 1 at the time

Leaflet by Karl Liebknecht, May 1915:
The main enemy of every people is in their own country!
Rosa Luxemburg, The Junius Pamphlet: The Crisis of German Social Democracy, written in prison in the spring of 1915 and first published at Zurich in February 1916, illegally distributed in Germany:
  Gone is the euphoria… In the prosaic atmosphere of pale day there sounds a different chorus – the hoarse cries of the vulture and the hyenas of the battlefield. Ten thousand tarpaulins guaranteed up to regulations! A hundred thousand kilos of bacon, cocoa powder, coffee-substitute – COD, immediate delivery! Hand grenades, lathes, cartridge pouches, marriage bureaus for widows of the fallen, leather belts, jobbers for war orders – serious offers only! The cannon fodder loaded onto trains in August and September is moldering in the killing fields of Belgium, the Vosges, and Masurian Lakes where the profits are springing up like weeds. It’s a question of getting the harvest into the barn quickly. Across the ocean stretch thousands of greedy hands to snatch it up. 
  Business thrives in the ruins. Cities become piles of ruins; villages become cemeteries; countries, deserts; populations are beggared; churches, horse stalls. International law, treaties and alliances, the most sacred words and the highest authority have been torn in shreds… 
  Violated, dishonored, wading in blood, dripping filth – there stands bourgeois society. This is it [in reality]. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretense to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law – but the ravening beast, the witches’ sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form…
Friedrich Engels once said:  ‘Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.’ What does ‘regression into barbarism’ mean to our lofty European civilization? Until now, we have all probably read and repeated these words thoughtlessly, without suspecting their fearsome seriousness. A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This world war is a regression into barbarism. The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization. At first, this happens sporadically for the duration of a modern war, but then when the period of unlimited wars begins it progresses toward its inevitable consequences. Today, we face the choice exactly as Friedrich Engels foresaw it a generation ago: either the triumph of imperialism and the collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration – a great cemetery. Or the victory of socialism, that means the conscious active struggle of the international proletariat against imperialism and its method of war. This is a dilemma of world history, an either/or; the scales are wavering before the decision of the class-conscious proletariat. The future of civilization and humanity depends on whether or not the proletariat resolves manfully to throw its revolutionary broadsword into the scales. In this war imperialism has won. Its bloody sword of genocide has brutally tilted the scale toward the abyss of misery. The only compensation for all the misery and all the shame would be if we learn from the war how the proletariat can seize mastery of its own destiny and escape the role of the lackey to the ruling classes.

Eugene Victor Debs, The Canton, Ohio Anti-War Speech, June 16, 1918
  Sam Johnson declared that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” He must have had this Wall Street gentry in mind, or at least their prototypes, for in every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the people… 
The working class, who fight all the battles, the working class, who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class, who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace.
Yours not to reason why; 
Yours but to do and die.
That is their motto and we object on the part of the awakening workers of this nation…
You need at this time especially to know that you are fit for something better than slavery and cannon fodder. You need to know that you were not created to work and produce and impoverish yourself to enrich an idle exploiter. You need to know that you have a mind to improve, a soul to develop, and a manhood to sustain… 
They are continually talking about your patriotic duty. It is not their but your patriotic duty that they are concerned about. There is a decided difference. Their patriotic duty never takes them to the firing line or chucks them into the trenches…

On the last day of the war: here
General background here
On the sailors’ revolts see the first part of Gabriel Kuhn (translator), All Power to the Councils! A Documentary History of the German Revolution of 1918-1919 (2012)

How Will You Vote? (1909)

From the November 13th, 1909 issue of The Western Clarion
How will you vote, fellow-worker?
   Have you given the matter a thought?
Will you prove befooled when the last votes polled,
   By bribe or promise bought? 
Will you vote for the same old parties
  By whom you’re bought and sold?
Will you bow once more, as you’ve oft before,
  To the cursed rule of Gold? 
Will you vote to be saddled and bridled
  And rode by a grafting crew?
Will you say that what was your father's lot
   Is good enough for you? 
Will you vote to be human cattle?
   For your babes to be the same?
Will you throw away your vote today

  To their wrong and your shame? 
Will you vote again for the master class,
  For their right to rule and rob?
Will you vote that the best you can hope for the rest
  Of life is (perhaps) a Job? 
A job that is merely lent to you,
  At your master's will to lose;
Thraldom for'you and your children, too,
   Is this the lot you'll choose? 
Will you vote for a life uncertain.

   Which constant cares annoy?
To suffer need, to sweat and bleed,
   That Idlers may enjoy? 
Or will you vote for a grand new right?
   The right to be really free,
The right to produce for the workers' use,
   The right to security. 
Will you vote for the Socialist demand?—
The means of wealth and comfort and health,
   And "naught for those who shirk.” 
Think of these things well, brother,
   And it will come to pass
That your vote will be a vote. to be free,
   A vote for the working class!
Wilfrid Gribble

Blogger's Note:
As well as being a member of the Socialist Party of Canada, Gribble was a founder member of the Workers' Socialist Party of United States in Detroit in 1916. (He was the WSPUS' first organiser.) He was one of the Canadian-based socialists who migrated south at the outbreak of World War 1, finding work in the burgeoning car industry.

The People's Democracy: Old nonsense from a new quarter (1970)

Pamphlet Review from the January 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the problems confronting the Socialist movement in its efforts to bring an understanding of Socialism to the working class is the number of organisations that spread confusion about the meaning of Socialism.

In Northern Ireland, for example, apart from the N.I. Labour Party, whose particular brand of “socialism” is the difference between a Development Commission and a Development Corporation —embellished, of course, with love of the Queen and the Constitution—and even, for a period, nebulous support of the infamous Special Powers Act—and the Communist Party whose conception of “socialism” is reflected in petty demands for reform and admiration for the brutal totalitarianism of their adopted state-capitalist motherland, we have a number of peculiar “socialist” and “socialist” organisations.

There is the political ignoramous Gerry Fitt and his personal political circus, ever ready to jump on on any bandwagon of prejudice or ignorance to milk a few working class votes. His party, the “Socialist” Republican Party, is a mere anti-Unionist group that pays lip service to the more vulgar ideas of the late James Connolly—insofar as those ideas are compatible with the prejudices of their Catholic supporters; indeed, they fearlessly avoid mention of any of Connolly’s statements attacking religion and its “sacred” institutions.

These organisations render considerable service to capitalism; they help to maintain the fog of working class ignorance on which capitalism depends for its continued existence and in that they confuse the workers as to the nature of the alternative which Socialism proposes.

The tragedy is that many of the sincere and enthusiastic workers who subscribe to the fallacious reasoning of these “socialist” organisations get so involved in their complex political fetishes, and its attendant vocabulary, that they become bitter opponents of Socialism — except as it relates to their ideas of “knocking the system” or promoting their pet reform.

In Northern Ireland we are now seeing the growing claims to Socialism of the Peoples Democracy and especially in a recent pamphlet Struggle in the North by one of the leaders of that organisation, Mike Farrell.

The Peoples Democracy is an organisation made up of all types of anti- Unionist, anti-establishment elements. Generally, they are young workers and students at varying levels of discontent with various facets of the system. Particularly, they are the political hot-gospelers of the different “leftist” creeds earnestly endeavouring to inject their various, and conflicting, ideas into the movement. The ideological umbrella of the movement is “action now” and the objective is a contradiction in terms known as a “Socialist Workers’ Republic”.

If we admitted to a degree of comparison in the forces that confuse the working class in its nebulous groping towards Socialism we should undoubtedly acknowledge that the PD is head and shoulders above the Labour parties, the ‘communists’ and the Fitt circus in their partial understanding of the situation and, indeed, we do recognise the courage and earnestness of purpose which the PD has shown in its opposition to the bigots and patriots at both ends of the Northern Ireland political spectrum.

Until a short time ago, when the organisation adopted the practice of having a card-carrying membership (at a disputed “suggested” fee of four shillings—later revoked), it was a loosely knit body. In these circumstances it was difficult to indict PD on the statements made by those claiming membership of that organisation with whom we have come in contact. The re-telling of faction struggles may be precocious and the revolutionary romantics may be for amusement only. We consider it fair, however, to discuss PD within the context of Farrell’s pamphlet which is an official PD publication. The pamphlet tells, accurately enough, the facts of the recent violence in Northern Ireland and advances the case for PD.

If we allow for the imposed brevity of a short pamphlet, Farrell’s analysis of the economic background to Partition and the use of religious bigotry as an instrument of policy by the political handmaidens of capitalism in Northern Ireland in 1912 and after — in their anxiety to preserve direct access to the British market—is correct in its essentials.

Perhaps his republicanism defeats a more penetrating analysis of the motives of the Southern capitalists and their political servants in side-tracking the working class of southern Ireland into a patriotic struggle. He simply tells us that "The Home Rulers were anxious to put tariffs on British imports coming into Ireland to facilitate the development of Irish industry”. He does not tell us that Sinn Fein were similarly anxious about the affairs of the rising native capitalists—a concern expressed thus by one of their leaders Griffith:
  No possibility would be left as far as (Sinn Fein) were concerned for a syndicate of unscrupulous English capitalists to crush out the home manufacturer and the home trader (The Sinn Fein Policy, 1917)
Nor does Mr. Farrell remind us that the “Irish industry” concerned was the concrete preserve of the southern capitalist class who owed nothing to their Northern counterparts in the matter of viciousness and contempt for the working class.

As in all national struggles, the working class were being used by the economically dominant class to win victories for their masters. True, the workers did not see the struggle in that light, indeed a few may, like Mr. Farrell and the PD, have subscribed to indefinite concepts of an equalitarian society, but because they lacked understanding of the nature of capitalism and the only alternative to that system, Socialism, they were easy prey for the chauvinistic smokescreen of those whose real purpose was their stake in the exploitation of the working class in southern Ireland.

Mr. Farrell agrees that the basis of discrimination is the economic system, capitalism. If this is so, and the World Socialist Party has continually advanced this view, if capitalism causes discrimination, is it not futile to lead the working class into a struggle against discrimination on the assumption that it can be ended within capitalism? Is it not dangerous folly to lead the workers into such a struggle, which inevitably means taking sides and creating the climate for fratricidal strife within the working class?

On the whole question of discrimination, however, Farrell is on shifting ground. Rightly he tells us that the privileges allegedly enjoyed by the Protestant workers are largely illusionary and the few examples that he gives devastates argument to the contrary. This is the line of approach which the WSP has continually put on the question of discrimination. Later, however, we find the pamphlet rebuking those “moderates” who ". . . fail to understand that by REMOVING discrimination in jobs and housing they are removing a buffer which has shielded the Protestant workers from the worst effects of the economic situation" (our emphasis). The error is repeated when we are told that the apparatus of discrimination is being dismantled—despite the fact that what Farrell admits to be its cause, the economic system, remains!

Long before October 1968 the WSP was arguing that discrimination in Northern Ireland was on class and not religious lines. We pointed out that Catholic members of the capitalist class had no problems in the matter of jobs and houses and that they enjoyed the same multiple voting rights as their Protestant counterparts. Protestant members of the working class, on the other hand, faced the same problems as their Catholic class brethren. True, some political flunkeys in the lower echelon of Unionism were ‘rewarded’ with a house or job which, because they were members of the working class they needed—the fact that their need, by some odious order of capitalist priorities, was less pressing than someone else is simply an indictment of the class system that makes such priorities necessary. The very limited extent of such “privilege” is amply demonstrated by Farrell’s striking examples of squalor and misery in the most vociferously “loyal” of all the Protestant areas. Thus, in the exclusively Protestant Shankill Road area of Belfast 96 per cent of the “homes” have no hot water, bath or wash-hand basin and have only an outside toilet. In the 83 per cent Protestant Ballymena Rural Council area 55 per cent of the houses have no toilet of any kind and 47 per cent no running water. We would venture to suggest that if similar statistics are available for other Protestant areas, such as Sandy Row and Ballymacarret, they would be equally evident of misery and squalor.

Of course Unionist leaders, while publicly disavowing the practice, quietly nourish the notion among their Protestant supporters that they enjoy real privileges and when bodies like the Civil Rights Association and the PD approach the question on the same premise they merely help to concretise the fiction and, hence, the fears of Protestant members of the working class. Inevitably the struggle “against discrimination” becomes a sectarian-orientated clash between Catholic and Protestant workers on the relative claims of each for jobs and housing. So, in fact, the CRA and the PD, insofar as they equated religion to class, played the Unionist Party’s game and gave vicious teeth to the tiger of Unionist bigotry.

Farrell advances Lenin’s failed “imperialist” thesis and wrongly ascribes the plight of the workers in Ireland to British imperialism rather than capitalism.

Farrell pledges PD to support of the struggle for an Irish "Socialist Workers' Republic” without in any way indicating what is meant by “Socialist”. It could be that closer scrutiny of the meaning of the term is deliberately avoided in order to facilitate unity among the factions and potential factions within PD or, equally likely, it could be the misuse of the term to indicate national state capitalism. Whatever Farrell means by Socialist—and he insists that only “genuine Socialists” can win the Protestant workers—he appears to feel that the Catholic workers are closer to it than the Protestants. For example, in the struggle leading up to its achievement, he tells us:
  There is another way. Pressure must be maintained to make sure the reforms are implemented, but as they are, Catholic workers will realise that they are largely hollow and don’t solve the problems of unemployment and homeless families. At the same time Protestant workers must have it explained to them that the reason for the shortage is not the Catholics but the economic system (our emphasis)
Farrell tells us that there is “no point in trying to trick the Protestants” but surely the above not only exposes his notions on the relative proximity of Catholic and Protestant workers to what he deems to be Socialism but, also, that PD’s programme of immediate reforms are calculated to trick workers of all denominations and none. On the one hand, PD brings workers out on the streets in support of reforms; now they tell us the Catholics will “realise” these reforms are “hollow” and don’t affect their basic problems and Protestants will have it “explained” that the real problem is the economic system. Oh, the perils of “leadership”!

No reform could be more hollow than the solution of our problem proposed by the PD and Farrell and blessed by the holy name of the patron saint of Irish reformers, James Connolly. As we have noted, that solution is an Irish “Socialist” Workers’ Republic.

Capitalism is a world wide system in which the social labour of the world’s workers is harnessed to the profit-making activities of the capitalists through the medium of the wages-money system.

Socialism, the only alternative to capitalism, is a world-wide system which will avail of the wealth-producing techniques of social labour in order to produce the wealth required in a system of social distribution in terms of "from each in accordance with his mental or physical ability; to each in accordance with his needs”. Since social class is determined by the relationship in which people stand to the means of wealth production, and since in Socialism, all will stand in the same relation to these means, classes, including the working class, must obviously disappear—hence the expression “Socialist Workers’ Republic” is, as we say, a contradiction in terms. The sort of contradiction, indeed, that results from a lack of understanding not only of Socialism but of capitalism too.

It is not possible for one country alone to leap forward into Socialism in a capitalist world. Even if we follow the fanciful thinking of PD to the extent of allowing their hypothesis that the “Irish people” could organise “Irish” industry in the “National” interest, even if we don’t press the point that wage- labour and capital are two sides of the same relation, the absurdity of the proposition becomes immediately obvious. The “Socialist Workers’ Republic” would have to carry on production of commodities (wealth produced for sale and profit); that would require the import of raw materials from the capitalist world and would require the export of its produce to pay for such imports. Obviously, therefore, the mood of capitalism would have more control over its republicans.
Richard Montague

Saturdays evenings at No. 52 (1970)

Party News from the January 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

The cause of conflict (1970)

From the January 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ask that ubiquitous, approachable fellow the Man in the Street about the reasons for war and the chances are that his reply will be one of many variations on the same theme.

He will probably say that wars are caused by greed, or belligerence, or power-lust, or simply by mistakes. The common theme is that wars are fought for ideological reasons and that with better people, or better ideas, or better leaders, they need not happen.

This does no more than lead us to the next question: what is responsible for the people, the ideas, the leaders, the mistakes?

The 1914-18 war, for example, can hardly be called a surprise or a mistake because Europe had been preparing for it, openly and directly, for about forty years, and under all sorts of leaders.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Germany was an expanding competitor to the established powers of Europe, who had already grabbed most of the markets and raw material sources known in the world.

Germany could expand in only one way — by force. That was the background to the arms race and the militarism of the early 20th century and to the great war which followed. The war of 1939-45 was a continuation of this same process, with the Nazis expressing the frenzied ambitions of the German ruling class.

The “peace” conferences after 1945 did not settle any disputes; they merely adjudicated and compromised between a multitude of opposing interests and so carved up the world that the stage was set—as it was in Indo-China and Korea—for the wars of the future.

There could really have been no other result. The world today—capitalist society—is based on the class ownership of the means of producing wealth. The world is divided into states and power blocs, the ruling classes of which are forced to dispute over access to markets, raw material fields, communications, etc.

That is why so many world powers stand guard over the oil of the Middle East, why the Suez Canal was once so sensitive a spot in world affairs, why the Russians and Chinese fought over the industry and communications around Vladivostock.

As long as capitalism lasts there will be a conflict of interests; in other words, war is caused by capitalism and cannot be avoided under that social system.

The tragedy of this is that the Man In the Street has no reason to go to war; his interests are not involved. Yet he is the one who does the fighting.

He does this because he can see no alternative, which brings us back to his replies to our original question. In fact, Socialism will abolish war because it will bring a community of interests; it will be a society without frontiers, without nations, without classes, without conflict.

The issue at Pinkville (1970)

From the January 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whatever the incident at My Lai might have been, there is more to it than simply the question of whether it happened, and if it did who was responsible, and how many were killed as a result. More, even, than the Vietnam war itself; the massacre has caused the very concept of war—its motives, its morality, its justifications—to be questioned.

This is not the first time such questioning has happened, as anyone who knows about the murder of Dresden is aware. But at least it is hopeful, that the questioning takes place; if the Pinkvilles of capitalism were let pass without anyone trying to find the reasons why, the outlook for human society would be dark indeed.

The massacre is yet to be judicially proven but meanwhile the advance trial which is taking place in the newspapers, radio and television has allowed ample statement of both sides’ cases. The prosecution say that the killings were wholly unjustified, that if the men who are alleged to have actually fired the shots did so under orders, they should have disobeyed. This side says that soldiers should always show a proper restraint when they are in action, sparing as far as they can any wounded, or civilians, or prisoners they come across. These arguments are powered by strong emotions. It is difficult to imagine how even the most debauched war lover could justify what is said to have happened at Pinkville, and in the other incidents in Vietnam like the rape and murder of a young Vietnamese girl by an American patrol on Hill 192, in the same way as it was difficult to imagine any justification for Lidice.

The defence, which is by no means weak, disputes the story of a cold-blooded mass killing but perhaps betrays its own lack of confidence by pointing out that the fighting conditions in Vietnam are especially stressful, with the Americans having little quick means of distinguishing Vietcong soldiers from non-combatants. (A similar argument was used to excuse British soldiers’ trigger-happiness in Ireland about fifty years ago). Then the defence cites the provocation suffered by the platoon— the loss of a popular member in a booby trap, the sniper fire which greeted their approach to My Lai. Finally, there are the atrocities and murders by the Vietcong which, even when they have been sifted through all the usual modifying allowances, have clearly been ferocious.

In truth supporters of the war, whichever side they are on, fall in behind prosecution or defence according to their own allegiances. That is why, over Pinkville, it is the Vietcong supporters who are raging about the morality of war while the hawks in America try to avoid the issue. When the Vietcong atrocities are under the searchlight, the positions are reversed.

To make any sense in this confusion, it is necessary to recognise that there is a morality of war—a morality which quite simply justifies everything. A socially organised effort to kill and destroy cannot be gentle or humane. Once war is accepted then it follows that a Dresden, a Hiroshima, a Lidice, a Pinkville must also be accepted. Modern war has no non-combatants; the morale and well-being of the civilian population are as legitimate as targets as any military installation. Battle is a terrifying experience, in which human beings—those nice, clean-cut boys next door — are required to act like wild beasts. There can be no frontiers beyond which they are expected instead to act like sane, humane people.

Of more importance is the fact that support for war cannot be separated from support for capitalism. In a social system which has a basic affiliation to dispute, violence cannot be avoided. War, then, cannot be separated for whatever cause. Capitalism is a society of violence and the guilt for whatever happened at Pinkville extend a long, long way beyond a few soldiers.

Can you think? (1970)

From the January 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Inside capitalism lie the seeds of its own destruction — the working class, developing the consciousness which one day it will use to win political control, and large-scale highly productive industry and intensive agriculture, capable of providing for the needs of all mankind without distinction of race or sex. Because world capitalism is not ruled by a homogeneous, unified class but by many sectional interests forced into competition, these individual capitalists and individual states are compelled inescapably and sometimes reluctantly to develop the old, and introduce new, productive techniques (but also to inhibit their use by trying to ensure that only that which can be sold at a profit is produced) and to educate the working class to a correspondingly high technological level (but also to try to prevent it coming into contact with truly scientific ideas about the society which it now organises and maintains without the help of these parasitical owners).

Ideas such as: man has no instincts, either noble or savage. All his social behaviour is learned and socially conditioned.

The working class own almost nothing except their physical and mental energies. Certainly they have no country and so patriots (except the dead ones) suffer from delusions.

No god has ever been proved to have intervened in the affairs of man — but make-believe gods have been invoked to keep the serf at his plough, the king on his throne, the Ulster Unionist Party in office and the pope in his luxury palace.

Members of all ethnic groups — be they black, red, yellow, white or brown — have potentially the same intelligence. That these potentials are not realised is due to historical circumstances and environmental factors and not to biological differences.

Neither Russia nor any of its satellites, allies or former ‘fraternal states’ is controlled by the working class. Capitalists rule there and exploit wage slaves. Wherever wages are paid in exchange for labour-power a profit is being made, or the deal would not take place.

So-called overpopulation is only a problem because the prevailing social system cannot afford to feed the hungry.

For example, the Indian sub-continent, highly fertile in most parts as it is, with contemporary methods of agriculture could provide food enough to feed the whole world, not just Indians.

The race for the moon, like all other military-political-strategic ventures would be a long way from the top of the list of priorities in a sane and rational socialist world without money, prices and profits, where all goods would be free and all work would be entirely voluntary, where human beings would not be capital investments being kept as oiled and efficient soft machines by their weekly wage packets, but would be priceless co-participants in the conquest of human needs through the democratically controlled harnessing of science, industry and agriculture, the motive being freedom from want, freedom and time to pursue pleasing and satisfying activities instead of the monotonous and physically destroying enslavement to the hard machine in the service of their master—profit.

A hallucination? A dream world divorced from the objective realities? Do you still succumb to the human nature/original sin myth that is central to the apologetic ideology of capitalism, which justifies coercion, oppression, repression, moral codes (‘Thou Shalt Not’), exploitation, war, periodic crises, poverty and the existence of a class which produces nothing but consumes the best? Or do you still subscribe to the even hoarier view that resources are scarce and always will be scarce because they always have been scarce? How long is it since you took your head out of the sand and had a breather? The atmosphere will very soon be thick with socialist ideas. Not solely because of the efforts of our Party’s small membership but because others besides us are rational people faced with the general problems of the working class. If we have come to these conclusions from examining the world in which we live and the agents of change contained within it, then so can they. So can you.

Ideas spring out of the economic structure of society. They spell out Socialism a mile high. Freedom and plenty will not be the result of heaven-sent providence but of human effort, as everything in history has been. 
Michael Bradley

Immigration fallacies (1970)

From the January 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is an unfortunate fact that many workers in the Midlands and the South East of England are colour prejudiced. But this does explain why both Labour and the Tories are prepared to pander to racialism in order to get votes. Everybody knows about the campaign some Tories waged in the 1964 election. Widespread criticism caused the Tories to tone down their racialism but Labour learnt a lessen too: they made sure that before the next election they strengthened the Commonwealth Immigrants Act whose obvious purpose is to keep out as many so-called coloured immigrants as possible.

Most workers are opposed to immigration on practical grounds: they mistakenly believe that it is a threat to the living standards they have achieved by trade union and political action. Very few go for the fancy frills of racialism, the dangerous pseudo-scientific nonsense peddled by outfits like the National Front and the Union Movement. Of course a number of Tories too have attacked “race-mixing” on theoretical grounds: Enoch Powell and Duncan Sandys, exploiter of the Ghanian gold miners.

We are living in a capitalist society where a privileged class owns the means for producing wealth so that the rest of us have to work for them. We are called, appropriately enough, the working class. Capitalism is international (including state capitalist Russia) and so is the working class. As far as Socialists are concerned, all workers the world over are brothers. While the economic system is world-wide, for political purposes the world is divided by frontiers into artificial national states. As Socialists we don’t accept that these frontiers have any relevance. We don’t recognise them. Nor do most workers in search of jobs. For it stands to reason if you have no property and depend for a living on working you must go, if you can, where the jobs are. Since the war many jobs have been going in North America and Western Europe. So to these parts have come workers and impoverished peasants from the rest of the world. To the Common Market have come people from North Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East. To Britain have come people from India and the West Indies. Surely the point that these post-war migrations bring out is that capitalism is an international system and that the world is one economic unit.

The racialists claim that this migration to Britain has caused problems in housing, education, and the health services. Without denying that throwing people of different customs together in the economic jungle of capitalism can cause inconveniences, it is quite untrue that immigration can be said to be the cause of bad housing, cheap education and inadequate medical services. These problems existed long before the migrants came. They are problems for the working class everywhere and all the time. Besides, since the war more have left Britain for overseas than have come here. Immigrants are in the same position as the rest of us: propertyless, having to find an employer to live. They, too, are members of the working class.

In a Union Movement pamphlet Robert Row repeats a common argument of the racialists that is accepted by many workers. Migration, he says, has caused over-crowding in our big cities “with its attendant evils of taking houses which should be inhabited by the British who built them”. This is nonsense. Houses, even palaces and mansions, are all built by the working class but under capitalism workers are only allowed to live in the sort of house or they can afford. This charge of taking “British houses” might make sense if immigrants took the best. Yet all the evidence suggests that immigrants have to put up with the worst housing. The best houses go, of course, to the rich who get their money from exploiting workers, black and white.

Capitalism is the cause of working class problems. Under capitalism, how we live is restricted by the size of our wage packet or salary cheque. And the economic laws of capitalism ensure that we don’t get much more as the price of our energies than enough to keep us in efficient working order. This will be our lot as long as capitalism lasts. We will have to put up with, not the best that is available in housing, education, food and clothing, but with the cheap and second-rate.

These are problems that affect all workers, irrespective of so-called race or colour or nationality, whether they live in America, Britain, South Africa or India. They are problems which can only be solved by the joint action of workers everywhere to convert the means of production from the class property of a few into the common property of the whole community, through the establishment of Socialism with production solely for use, not profit.

Colour prejudice is just an idea (1970)

From the January 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anyone who ever gets involved in arguments with racists sooner or later runs up against their assumption—sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit—that their prejudices are based on an eternal, natural law. The assumption which follows this is that racism has an existence independent from other social factors and that, unlike other ideas, it came into being regardless of whatever else was happening in the world and will, therefore, remain regardless of whatever else happens. The importance of examining this theory is not so much to assess the value of the racists’ assumption but also to look at an example of the forces which operate for changes in society and in its ideas.

Let us begin with the simple statement that the Negro, who has suffered centuries of oppression in America, did not choose to go there in the first place. He was taken there—mostly by force. This transportation began at a time when manufacture was developing in North West Europe and a plantation economy taking root in the West Indies and the American South. The first Negroes were brought from Africa in 1510, to work the gold mines of what was then Hispaniolia. By the beginning of the 17th. century there were settlements all along the east coast of America, from Massachusetts to the West Indies.

These settlements represented one corner of a triangular trade, which supplied raw materials to another corner which was European industry. The third corner was Africa, where the Negro slaves were to be found. The sides of this triangle were the voyages between the corners— first the carriage of manufactures from Europe to be exchanged for African slaves who had been captured in tribal wars and raids; then carrying the slaves across to America to be traded for raw materials; and finally bringing the materials to Europe, to feed the appetites of the manufacturers there. At first the Negroes were treated in the same way as white indentured servants and were allowed to buy their freedom; they were not subjected to any race prejudice. It was the demands of the plantations, with crops depending on regular, disciplined tilling, which brought the pressure for outright slavery. Virginia, the first American colony to import Negroes, legalised slavery in 1617.

The side of the triangle representing the carriage of slaves from Africa to America was called the “middle voyage’’ and it was here that great cruelty was imposed and suffering endured — and vast profits made. It is possible now only to estimate the numbers who underwent the horrors of the middle voyage but a cautious figure would be 15 million, with a death rate of about 20 per cent. The central fact of this trade was that the slaves were not regarded as being any more sensitive than inanimate cargo. Thus they had to be packed into the holds of the slave ships as tightly as possible—one writer describes them as lying “like spoons”—and there could be no second thoughts about jettisoning them if disease broke out aboard, or if the ship ran into heavy weather. Those who survived the crossing were cleaned and oiled and polished for the auction.

Many great fortunes were made from the triangular trade. In 1789, the total trade of France amounted to £17 million of which San Domingo, with its slave economy, was responsible for £11 million. The bourgeoisie of Bordeaux and Marseilles, and the merchant capitalists of Manchester and Liverpool, owed most of their wealth—their big, comfortable houses, their carriages, their women—to the slave trade and all that it meant in human suffering and degradation.

There was of course a contradiction in the erection of an entire, and very important, economy on slavery at a time when the countries which were responsible for it were themselves developing the commodity production of capitalism, which needed free labour power. An attempt was made to resolve this contradiction by the simple expedient of classifying the Negro as an inherently inferior being. Thus American slavery could be distinguished from earlier forms, which were in harmony with the prevailing mode of wealth production, by its conscious dehumanising of the slave. Negro families were broken up either during or after the middle voyage ; the slaves were forbidden any education in reading or writing and they had no legal existence other than as the property of someone else. In 1857 the Dred Scott decision, which caused such an uproar, merely gave formal confirmation to something which had existed in fact for a very long time.

By that time the theories of racism, having taken something like three centuries of the slave trade to form themselves, began to emerge. Before then, the climate of opinion was such that the slave was regarded as outside the pale of humanity—without law, morals or religion. As each wretched shipment came in, religious divines rejoiced at all those souls saved from the moral depredations of paganism and idolatry. (At first any slaves who accepted conversion to Christianity automatically won their freedom. But by the end of the eighteenth century the Church had decided that there was after all nothing inconsistent in the converted Negro remaining a slave—and of course the slave owners agreed.) Dr. Cartwright, a professor at the University of Louisiana, diagnosed the slaves’ lack of interest in their work, and their tendency to run away, as mental diseases with impressive names—dyaesthesia and drapetomanie—for which the only cure was a whipping.

And not only the pro-slavers were affected. In 1765 Granville Sharp, who was later an abolitionist, intervened to save the life of a slave who had been flogged almost to death. At the time Sharp did not regard this incident as anything more than an act of private charity—certainly not as a condemnation of slavery. It is not surprising, that the whole thing eventually became rationalised into a theory, or perhaps a series of theories. In the early nineteenth century, for example, the “Teutonic Origin” theory—the idea that all worthwhile cultural achievements were the work of the peoples of North West Europe—took root, fostered by intellectual leaders like Bishop Stubbs of Oxford.

What this means is that any measures which, say, the American government now takes on civil rights must run up against opinions and prejudices which have become entrenched over centuries. These opinions have been responsible for some pretty dreadful episodes; for example the Tuskegee Institute documented 1,797 lynchings of Southern Negroes which took place between 1900 and 1964. This figure takes no account of the undocumented killings—the quiet murders with the body dumped in the river or the swamp and few people beyond the victim’s family marking their disappearance. More recently, between 1964 and 1967 over forty Negroes and whites have been murdered or lynched in Mississippi alone, without any effective action being taken against those responsible, although often their identity is general knowledge.

In addition, widespread, persistent segregation exists, in spite of the many Bills which have been passed to outlaw it. Sometimes this segregation is open, as it is in the schools of the Deep South, eight out of nine of which are still segregated. Sometimes it is a more subtle, de facto segregation, in which the whites simply move out of a district and leave it, with its schools, to the Negroes. The effect of this in Washington, D.C. is that in nearly all district schools black pupils are in a majority of over 95 per cent.

Herding any depressed group into a particular section of a city brings its own problems and tensions. In the case of the Negroes in America, these are accentuated when coloured workers from the South, thrown out of work by the increased use of mechanised farming methods and pesticides, migrate into that section. This produces the classic immigration situation, of desperate people pouring into an area already run down, an area of crumbling buildings which house rats and lice along with the people and where rack renters and other exploiters can take rich pickings.

There is a short, evocative word to describe these areas. Ghettoes. Officially, their names are, for example, Watts in Los Angeles and Harlem in New York. It is no cause for surprise, that they are breeding grounds for all manner of social disorders; in Harlem in 1964 the juvenile delinquency rate was twice that for the city as a whole, the proportion of drug addicts about ten times, the incidence of venereal disease in the under-21s six times.

Yet the very existence of the ghettoes, and the ways in which the Negroes protest—by riots, burnings, Black Power cells—are all taken by the racists as evidence to boost their conviction that Negroes are sub-human and therefore deserve nothing better than confinement in more ghettoes, and subjection to more prejudice and fiercer suppression. This racism is self-perpetuating, feeds upon its own appetite—and all in the conviction that it is an eternal and immutable truth.

And that really is the key to it. Contrary to what the racists think, racism as much as any other idea is a product of the prevailing economic conditions in society. Which means that, like other ideas which in their day were just as reactionary, just as powerful, it must change, and die, as conditions outside it require.