Friday, November 15, 2019

Final Demands (1992)

Cartoon from the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

They Said It . . . (1992)

From the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

  • I believe large wealth in private hands is only morally sustainable if it used to benefit people—The Duke of Westminster.
  • We might execute a 12-year old. It depends on the case—US District Attorney John Holmes.
  • The government deserves every sympathy in its present situationDaily Telegraph leader on the sterling crisis. 
  • We do not attribute emotions to Her Majesty—Buckingham Palace aide, on the Queen and the Fergie photos.
  • The Quayle family believes in the power of prayerDan Quayle, to a Christian Coalition rally.
  • A presidential campaign is not a democracyLyn Nofziger, Reagans political director, on the Bush campaign.
  • I'm not an expert on the economyNorman Lamont.

Shelley – Poet and Socialist (1992)

From the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

I became acquainted with Shelley in 1944. At the time I was eighteen years of age and a Republican remand prisoner in Belfast jail. I liked poetry and, searching for something readable in the prison library—a cupboard which they opened twice weekly to the accompaniment of bawling screws, who could see no justification for delay in lifting one of the books—I found a treasure: The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Eventually I got my own copy of Shelley and, over many, many years, I have prized it as the first real socialist literature I ever read. It is, I think, fitting that, on the 200th anniversary of his birth, an appreciation of his life’s work should appear in a socialist journal.

Poets, with their abstract notions of freedom and justice, can momentarily help a prisoner transcend the ignominy and degradation that the prison system imposes. But Shelley’s ideas of freedom and justice were no way abstract; his was no mere solace for the soul. Yes, there were the odes To The West Wind, To A Skylark, To A Cloud; beautiful word music in the classical tradition of English metrical composition.

But, more importantly, there was the wisdom that stripped to its essential ugliness a system of society that dissipates, wastes and destroys wealth in order to make its rich richer while mentally and physically impoverishing the producers of that wealth. There was the vision of a new world, a world of dignity and equality where cash would not be the measure of human need. And there was the indignation, the anguish, even the pain—sometimes written in a spontaneity of anger that defied the discipline of well-marshalled prosody. Here was a text-book of revolutionary thought that showed the futility of the cause for which I was imprisoned and extended my vision beyond the empty rhetoric of nationalism.

During his lifetime Shelley had come to Ireland to protest at the misery of the peasantry. Some Irish nationalists have equated this with sympathy for Irish nationalism but Shelley, whose constituency was the toiling masses everywhere, did not subscribe to the myth that the English working class were the beneficiaries of English imperialism. Thus, after hearing of the Peterloo Massacre at Manchester in 1819, Shelley wrote the Masque of Anarchy in which he describes the contemporary condition of the working class in England:
Asses, swine have litter spread
And with fitting food are fed;
All things have a home but one—
Thou, Oh Englishman, hast none!
This is Slavery —savage men,
Or wild beasts within a den
Would endure not as ye do—
But such ills they never knew.
This poem, consisting of some ninety-one short stanzas of varying lengths was written at Leghorn in Italy. According to his wife, Mary, when Shelley heard how the military murderers had waded into a peaceful reform protest “it . . . aroused in him violent emotions of indignation and compassion”. According to some purists, that anger adversely affected the quality of the poem.

Whatever its poetic qualities, Shelley’s Masque of Anarchy must rank, from a working-class standpoint, as the most didactic of English poetical works. His verse castigates every rotten facet of capitalism: its law, its judiciary, its priests, its parasite class and the foulness of its oppression. His words bear the reader along the path of anger and frustration seeking, it would seem, retribution, revenge.

But Shelley, in an age when violence was the tool of revolution, was too deeply perceptive of the need for democratic action if the revolution which he craved was to realise his vision. True, he makes us angry, makes us loathe this evil that murders people for profit but, on the crest of our anger, he stops us:
Then it is to feel revenge
Fiercely thirsting to exchange
Blood for blood—and wrong for wrong—
Do not thus when ye are strong.
What then? What should we do when “we are strong”? Shelley, the democratic socialist says we should use the unassailable power of our numbers. Poetically, he says we should think . . . decide:
Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest, close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war.
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number—
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many—they are few.
In 1888 Marx’s daughter, Eleanor, and her partner, Edward Aveling published an appreciation of Shelley under the title Shelley’s Socialism. The justification for their assumption is abundant throughout Shelley’s poems and prose writings.

In one of his notes to Queen Mab, Shelley quotes Godwin with approval: “there is no real wealth but the labour of man”. Prometheus Unbound, The Masque of Anarchy, Queen Mab, The Ode to Liberty, these, with his prose writings, his prologues, his sonnets and his songs chronicle the misery of the peasant and the wage slave but always, there is the optimism of the true revolutionary; the clarity of vision, as here in Prometheus Unbound, of a future where:
The Loathsome mask has fallen the man remains
Sceptreless, free, uncircumscribed, but man
Equal, unclassed, tribeless and nationless,
Exempt from awe, worship, degree, the king,
Over himself, just, gentle, wise.
In this passage from Queen Mab he criticises the way money contaminates all human relationships:
All things are sold: the very light of Heaven
Is venal; Earth’s unsparing gifts of love,
The smallest and most despicable things
That lurk in the abysses of the deep,
All objects of our life, even life itself,
And the poor pittance which the laws allow
Of liberty, the fellowship of man,
Those duties which his heart of human love
Should urge him to perform instinctively,
Are bought and sold as in a public mart
Of undisguising selfishness, that sets
On each its price, the stamp-mark of her reign.
He saw money, “paper coin—that forgery of the title deeds”, as capitalism’s instrument of theft; he saw slavery as a natural result of property society; he saw the poverty and alienation of the masses and, especially, did he decry the intellectual poverty and deception which capitalism inflicted on its wage slaves.
Richard Montague

Lamont's long wait (1992)

From the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “We have already weathered the worst of the storm and signs of stability are already appearing".
So said Lamont on 6 December . . . 1930. No, not Norman, but Robert P. Lamont, President Hoover’s Secretary of Commerce. As Marx once remarked, when history repeats itself the first time is a tragedy, the second a farce.

Following the Wall Street Crash in October 1929 industrial production in America fell continuously until by the second half of 1932 it had dropped by nearly a half. During this period the politicians and economic “experts” regularly predicted that the bottom had been reached and that recovery was just round the corner:
1 January 1930:  “I have every confidence that there will be a revival of activity in the spring and that during the coming year the country will make steady progress."—Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury, in his New Year message.
15 February 1930:   “The bottom of the business decline appears to have been reached.”—Cleveland Trust Company.
15 September 1930:  “Business appears to be turning the corner, and industrial activity seems to be increasing."—Cleveland Trust Company.
5 November 1930:  “The prospect is that by March unmistakable signs of business recovery will be available."—Standard Statistics.
21 March 1931:  “The business decline, if not already ended will end in the present half year, and be succeeded by general business improvement."—Harvard Economic Society.
27 May 1931:   “We believe that the worst of the industrial depression has been witnessed."—Standard Statistics.
18 October 1931:   “The depression has been deepened by events from abroad which are beyond the control either of our citizens or our government."—President Hoover.
26 October 1931:  "Important forecast: During the winter and early spring, business will round out the U-bottom trough."—Babsons.
1 February 1932:  “In our opinion, evidence now at hand strongly suggests that business sounded bottom in the last quarter of 1931.”— Babsons.
As in Britain over the past two years, these predictions were worthless. And for the same reason. Capitalism is an uncontrollable economic system which will bend neither to the wishes of politicians nor to the opinions of experts. But Marx was wrong. Not about slumps being inevitable from time to time under capitalism but about what happens when the same event occurs twice in history. The predictions of Robert P. Lamont in 1930 were as farcical as those of Norman N. S. H. Lamont today.

(The source of the quotes above is Faith, Fear and Fortunes by Daniel Starch, published in New York in 1934.)

What is capitalism? (1992)

From the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just as some "experts” once justified the relations of feudal society as “God-given” and eternal, so today others seek to justify capitalism as an eternal state of affairs, holding good for all time. Why a small section of humankind should exclusively own, control and dispose of the means of life holding the rest of us to ransom, is a question we are encouraged not to ask. History, however, shows us that existing social relations are far from reflecting "eternal truths"; that society is dynamic, and that the society of today is just as much a result of socio-historical evolution as were previous social systems. A social and economic system comes into being through its ability to fulfil a useful social function. When it ceases to be of social use, it decays, and a new social system rises out of that decay.

In our present social system (which exists in all countries) the means of production and distribution (land, factories, offices, transport, media, communication, etc) are monopolized by a minority, the capitalist class. All wealth is produced by us, the majority working class, who sell our mental and physical energies to the capitalists in return for a price called a wage or salary. The object of wealth production is to create goods and services which can be sold on the market at a profit, not to satisfy human needs. Not only do the capitalists live off the profits they obtain from exploiting the working class, they go on accumulating wealth extracted from each generation of workers.

The influence of the capitalist class over the minds of the working class is also powerful. From the early stages of our life, they try to shape our way of thinking through the institutional brain-washing machine. In the society we live in vast impersonal forces are making for the centralization of power and a regimented society. The role of the workers in this regimented society today is unacceptable. They experience themselves as a commodity, as an investment, their aim is to become a success, that is to sell themselves as profitably as possible on the market. Our value as people lies in our saleability
not in our human qualities of love, reason or in our artistic capacities.

How did the capitalist system of society evolve? This system came out of the decay of feudalism. In spite of the horrors of the transition from feudalism to capitalism, capitalism was a great progressive force, which reorganized and linked up the world, developed the means of production to their present day level where they can provide plenty for all. Capitalism has now fulfilled its usefulness. Now the time is ripe for the working class to move on, into a different system of society— socialism—prior to that they must understand it, want it and accept it.
Michael Ghebre

Letters: Sinead O’Connor (1993)

Letters to the Editors from the February 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sinead O’Connor

Dear Editors,

It was wonderful to see the article on Sinead O’Connor in the January Socialist Standard. I wasn’t aware just how clearly she had come out about the money system, and it is very heartening to think that this stuff is getting discussed.

I had been more conscious of her strong feelings about the abusive upbringing of children. and your article has inspired me to set out my ideas about how the two areas relate to each other. I hope I can put this fairly succinctly.

To live under capitalism is to live for some other purpose than our own fulfilment, as Erich Fromm recognises. We strive and suffer, not to grow more fully ourselves, but to amass figures on a screen somewhere. Our lives only have meaning, and our needs will only be met, if someone else can extract some value from us.To live is to be used.

Does this not echo the reality of a child whose parents simply use her to carry their hopes and fears, and do not value her for who she is? Perhaps capitalism can be seen as a big abstract parent, telling us what we can’t have, punishing us for not being good enough. In the face of this system, our deepest needs have to be set aside as we try to satisfy its endlessly changing demands.

I have great respect for the Socialist Party’s realism in facing the fact that workers choose capitalism, that we arc often resistant to ideas of liberation, no matter how rationally argued. Perhaps our acceptance of such a punitive social system is merely our replaying in a different form our punitive childhoods. The resistance to change and new ideas certainly has a very rooted quality to it. I am conscious that you may react with suspicion to these suggestions on the grounds that 1 may appear to be saying “It’s not a matter of economics, but of personal insight”. But I’m not saying that. As long as we have a money system, leaders, coercion. countries, buying and selling and all the rest of it, then humanity will be held back from realising our true potential. and poverty and violence will remain endemic. What I am saying is that this personal dimension seems to me to be a hidden obstacle on the road to a truly free and humanistic society.

I am a parent myself, and no stranger to the pain of wondering if I’m being as supportive and respectful towards my children as they need me to be. Maybe sticking with what we know is a way of avoiding the fear of looking at who we are and how we relate to other people. Maybe the struggle towards a healthy society is connected with the struggle to become healthy individuals.

In any event, best of luck to you (and best of luck to Sinead O'Connor).
Peter Rigg
Nelson, Lancs

Rest assured, we don't regard the ideas of Erich Fromm with suspicion. Quite the contrary, in fact—Editors.

Class War again

Dear Comrades,
It was a pleasure to read your article on “The Politics of Class War”. The subject was dealt with very sympathetically and I hope that any members of the CWF who happen to read it. take up your offer to discuss their views further.

Although the article stated that the CWF attracted the attention of the tabloids down South, I had never heard of them or seen any reference to their organization in the Scottish Press—although, admittedly, I am out of touch with political affairs.

Nonetheless, their viewpoint as stated in your article seemed familiar. About fifty years ago when 1 was active in working class politics, there was a European organization—I think they called themselves “Council Communists" or Spartacists (I can’t recall which)—whose literature was sold by a Glasgow organization the "Workers Open Forum”. The “Open Forum” was just that—an open forum which provided a platform for all shades of working class opinion. Every Sunday evening workers could go to the Open Forum and hear speakers from the SPGB. the SLP, the ILP, the CPGB, the Anarchist Federation, the RCP and the Labour Party. Its committee also organized debates between the various organizations mentioned. Literature from these organizations was sold at all these meetings. As you will appreciate there was little opposition from the “Telly" in those days and the meetings were well attended.

It was at these meetings that I obtained the literature of the Council Communists and, speaking from a somewhat snaky memory, I recollect that their views were similar to the CWF. The exponents of their case that I most remember were Anton Pannekoek, a Dutch astronomer, who dealt with philosophical and scientific matters, and Paul Mattick who dealt with economics. I remember them mostly for their articles in the Western Socialist.

I further recollect that they organized a meeting, either in Paris or Amsterdam, to which the SPGB was invited as an observer. The Executive Committee of that time (some forty or so years ago) declined the invitation. At the time I thought the EC were mistaken in their attitude but I can no longer remember the arguments.

Can it be that the CWF are the modern counterparts of the Council Communists? Whether they are nor not, I hope that your invitation to a dialogue is taken up.
Bob Russell

As far as we know there is no direct connexion between the Council Communist group you mention and Class War— Editors.

Dear Editors,

Reading the October issue I thought I'd outline a few political points regarding Class War and anti-fascism, and the naive line of the Socialist Party.

I feel there is a great misunderstanding of the transformatory process, and the tasks to be carried out by the revolutionary working class. A revolution will entail new forms of power being used by the working class; both externally for the political struggle against the class enemy/counter-revolutionary forces, and internally for the control of anti-social behaviour (as I do not believe it will disappear overnight).

The sorts of working class active units I have in mind are closely related to the local workers councils or general assemblies. These decision-making bodies monitor the decisions made; and continuous action from, by and for the class is run by the local working class active units. Accountability in the struggle guides effective working class action on problems faced, and methods used in the past to see if they're working properly, and to devise new tactics if necessary.

“Punishment” may include violence if the class enemy is involved, and educative measures within the working class (historically this is the case). This does depend upon the particular situation facing the class though.

Also, no-go areas are not the only revolutionary strategy Class War has. I envisage widespread strikes, demonstrations, pickets, riots etc. Imagining that "the capitalist minority will be likely to cave in peacefully” is unrealistic, lacking historical backup, missing the range of bourgeois forces lined up against the working class, and the levels that they have dropped to and will drop to again.

You also misunderstand the nature of anti-fascist violence (back page, Socialist Standard, October), violence is only fascist if it is used with fascist ideas and intentions behind it. Anti-fascist violence is done with revolutionary working class ideas behind it, being one of the elements of revolutionary working class strategy.

Gerry Gable (bigwig of Searchlight) is against giving a (bourgeois) democratic platform to fascists; he recently said “I was in Germany recently and the coverage they were receiving was disgraceful. They would show young thugs attacking refugee hostels,' which was okay—it showed them for the mindless fools they are but then they would return to the studio and some well-dressed articulate neo- nazi would go on to justify these attacks in what some people would accept as a plausible fashion”. One of the working class anti-fascist strategies is no platform for fascists, the others being education and agitation.

Finally, I suggest Socialist Standard readers read The Coercive State by Hillyard and Smith. It’s a bit liberal but it carries lots of useful information on the "State of Democracy". Since it was published, however, things have got worse—people off the electoral register because of poll tax, etc. The message to be drawn is that we will never win on their terms.

I support Class War (and class warfare) because it is the war to end all wars!
Dave Clark
East London Class War 
London E8

The danger in the "transformatory tasks” outlined is that the revolutionaries punishing, educating and guiding the rest of the population might well take on the authoritarian attitudes of a new ruling class. The only way to avoid this is to ensure that no revolution proceeds unless and until a majority of workers understand and want it. It is Class War’s failure to see the crucial importance of conscious majority action which could lead them, like "revolutionaries” in the past, into the rut of leadership tactics.

We do not agree that only intentionally fascist violence is fascistic. We are hostile to fascists, not least for their policy of dragging working-class politics into the mire of violence, and we shall play our part in defeating their pernicious ideology, using the force of scientific reason. (See the article "What the Fascists Need” elsewhere in this issue).

We have read the book which you recommend, which does indeed offer a piercing critique of the viciousness of the modern British state. For the record, one of its authors is a member of the Socialist Party and can therefore be expected to understand what the state is all about—Editors.