Saturday, January 11, 2020

Running Commentary: Cause for alarm (1981)

The Running Commentary Column from the January 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cause for alarm

A recent report by the Greater London Council makes quite clear that those who control London’s fire brigade have more than one eye upon their balance sheets!
  The cost of running the Brigade has risen considerably in recent years — from the net revenue estimate of £53.2 million in 1978-9 to nearly £65.3 million in 1979-80. Of the £65.3 million estimate for 1979-80 staff costs account for almost £54.2 million, emphasising the labour-intensive nature of the Brigade. (The Future Development of the London Fire Brigade -Discussion Document).
The GLC has responded to the government’s concern to cut public expenditure by reducing the number of operational appliances, reducing the level of manning (from that settled between the FBU and the GLC in 1974) and proposing to shut down the River Station at Greenwich. All this is bound to result in inferior fire services. The reduced number of firemen and fire appliances will affect the speed with which emergency calls can be dealt with. And emergency fire calls in London are increasing: in 1965 there were 39,566, by 1974 the figure had increased to 87,307, it was 111,520 in the drought year of 1976 and the London Fire Brigade Management Study Group have projected that by 1985 the number of emergency calls per year will reach 168,000. Is this the time to start cutting services?

Lord Denning, speaking in the Court of Appeal in 1971, stated that: “The snatching of a fellow human’s life from a terrifying death may easily turn on a quarter of a minute—a matter of seconds”.

In the same case, Joseph Milner, then Chief Fire Officer of London, pointed out that: “It is well known in the Fire Service that the speed of attack is crucial to the control and extinguishment of a fire, and that the driver of a fire appliance knows that the risk to life and property is increased by any delay in getting to a fire.”

Workers in the fire service will freely tell you that cuts spell delays. In London there are extra reasons why services will be deficient. Firstly, the fire cover for the new Docklands Industrial complex has been reduced, meaning that less money has been allocated to protecting the massive industrial area than was advised by fire experts. Secondly, the expanding tourist industry involves the existence of thousands of hotels and these are notoriously prone to catch fire. Faced with the need to send fire appliances to a burning warehouse containing millions of pounds worth of commodities and to attend a small fire in a council flat, if there are reduced services, priorities will have to be made.

If readers are in any doubt about the callousness of the capitalist administrators towards human life they need only think back to the 1977 Firemen’s strike. Remember how they brought in inexperienced blacklegs from the army to break the strike? Remember how the Labour Home Secretary, Merlyn Rees, refused to meet the wishes of the FBU? Remember how the media tried to portray striking firemen —who only the week before were shown as dedicated, brave men-as irresponsible, anti-social militants? It is quite possible that declining conditions in the fire brigade will cause the FBU to call another strike. If they do, and if lives are lost as a result, workers should not condemn the firemen for their necessary participation in the class struggle. They should blame the social system which leads to strikes and other events which result in public suffering.

What next in Poland

Socialists welcome the heroic efforts of the working class in Poland to achieve trade union and other rights. Freedom of speech and freedom to organise politically are essential for the existence of a socialist party. But the chief essential must be a working class which understands and wants socialism. Sadly, that is not yet present in Poland (any more than in Britain).

In an interview in the Guardian (3.11.80) “Eva, a leading dissident intellectual, was asked what sort of society does Solidarity really want?” Eva hesitated. “I suppose people differ, but very few of us could be called socialists at all. We would even welcome multi-nationals and big combines. In theory we would not mind having capitalism back —not on the American pattern but like Sweden or Denmark.”

It has to be admitted that while people like Eva imagine that they could have capitalism “back” —as though Poland has ever had anything other than a society of wage slaves producing goods not for use but for sale on a market —the idea of socialism hasn’t yet got off the ground.

Jesus Napoleon Brezhnev

Those readers old enough to remember the days of Stalin will readily recall the sycophancy which surrounded the Great Leader. After his death, the Bolshevik gang went through the motions of deploring the Cult of Personality — of which they had all been the leading exponents. They are now building, at a place called Malaya Zemlya —the scene of a battle which nobody has heard of — a vast monument which will show the great martial deeds of the present Stalin, Brezhnev, who indeed has been created a Marshall.

The battle was of minor consequence but is now being upgraded to the rank of a Stalingrad as a turning point in the war. Brezhnev’s part was unknown at the time but his heroism is now the subject of a book which won the top literary prize in Russia. Real authentic stuff, that was. Brezhnev wrote it himself.

A song about the battle is now frequently played on Moscow Radio. It is not made clear if Brezhnev also wrote the words and music and performs it at the Bolshoi in person. According to a newspaper called Babinsky Rabochy (which no doubt exists even if you’ve never heard of it), Brezhnev is “the outstanding Marxist-Leninist political figure and statesman of the modern age”. No, he didn’t write that himself, there being no shortage of Communist hacks (this one was called Geidar Alieyv) to do the jobs for this latter day Stalin.

Inflation again

One charge that cannot be laid against Enoch Powell, with regard to his views on inflation, is that he is not ruthlessly logical. Despite being no supporter of trade unions, he is quite prepared to admit, even proclaim from the rooftops, that you cannot blame inflation on workers’ demanding higher wages. Speaking at a conference in London on 14 November he denounced the new 6 per cent limit on pay rises in the local government sector as “folly”. After saying that governments alone cause inflation by increasing the money supply (a view the present Tory government is supposed to accept), he went on:
  On that view, pay rises generally, like other price increases generally, are not the cause but the inevitable consequence of inflation, and you might as well try to stop the rain by screaming at people not to get wet as to try to combat inflation by telling pay and prices not to respond to it. (The Times, 15 November)
If the rate of price rises has been falling in recent months, this is partly because the government has been inflating the currency less (for the government is, despite what it says, still inflating the currency) but also partly because in a slump such as capitalism is now going through the general price level tends to fall.

Political Notes: Shirley Williams agony (1981)

The Political Notes column from the January 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Shirley Williams agony

One thing which has always been clear about Shirley Williams is that she has never had any ambitions to be famous as the Best Dressed Woman of the Year, nor as the Hairdressers’ Best Friend. Passionate devotion to principle, she suggests, is more important than fussy appearance. Workers who are irritated by Thatcher’s steely perfection of grooming might have been deceived.

But Shirley’s passion seems recently to have run amok. Since May 1979, when she lost her Parliamentary seat at Hertford and Stevenage (when the voters showed what they thought of her principles by converting a Labour majority of over 9,000 into a Tory one of nearly 1,300) she has been absorbed in a game of political poker in which she deceives herself that holding a pair of twos justifies her continually raising the stakes.

This has now persuaded her into a commitment that she will not stand again as a Labour candidate if the party persists in disagreeing with her over the EEC, defence, the leadership and other issues. If she carries this through, Williams has probably seen the last of Parliament and her fans are desolate; “Please Shirley”, wailed one in the Guardian, “What do you want your supporters to do?”

Well perhaps Shirley doesn’t care, which brings us to the question—should anyone care? Her career as a member of former Labour governments read almost like a crusade to disprove the feminist fallacy that women would run capitalism a whit more kindly, tolerantly or compassionately than men. But Shirley is tough; she emerged from this experience as a politician intact enough for her defeat to be a shattering blow to those who had spoken of her as a future Prime Minister.

No worker, with an inkling of how their class interests are best protected will mourn the end of those governments, nor the political demise of any member of them. Capitalism was not changed —it was not ameliorated, humanised, tempered — by Shirley Williams’ rise and it will not be changed by her fall. For beneath those shapeless dresses and scarecrow hair is a being thoroughly devoted to the dirty work of perpetuating the social system which represses, degrades and slaughters millions of people.

Tory troubles

Poor Denis Thatcher, bearing the brunt of the Prime Minister’s frustrations that British capitalism will not work as she thinks it should and her wrath at her supporters’ dismay over the deepening slump. His only outlet is a fortnightly letter to his friend Bill and even that gets leaked to Private Eye.

With each upward twist of the unemployment figures, Tory hearts beat yet fainter. Official statistics on price levels, public spending, the notes issue, indicate that Thatcher’s government is not fulfilling its promise to control these things — although all their plans about greater prosperity for British workers were based on an assumed ability to.

Daily, Keith Joseph looks more distraught, like a man troubled with fundamental doubts. Geoffrey Howe has committed the cardinal sin of putting up an incompetent performance in the House of Commons, where they will accept almost any deceit provided it is articulated with elegance and confidence and bolstered with some mannered humour. Ted Heath glowers smugly and, forgetting the chaos and misery of his own time of the Three Day Week crisis, waits for the call to overthrow the Iron Lady.

Even worse, the traditional political heartland of the Tory Party — the small business people (or rather those of them who are still able to evade the Bankruptcy Court) is in revolt. “What disappoints our group most”, whines an open letter from the Merseyside Builders Action Group in the Guardian (3.12.80) “is that we are all small/medium sized businesses who supported your party at the last election . . .” This is a familiar experience to anyone whose memory extends beyond last week’s newspapers. During times of Labour governments similar agonies are expressed by trade unionists. Every new government arrives in office in a flush of enthusiasm, declares that there is much to do to sort out the mess left by its predecessors and gets down to work.

For a time its supporters bask in rosy optimism. Then doubts creep in, as reality exposes the empty pledges, hardened into disillusionment and panic. At times the very party seems to be on the point of disintegration. There is no reason why a Conservative government should not suffer this. Any party trying to run capitalism will quickly find that it is attempting the impossible and that its crisis-ridden fumbling promotes dismay and cynicism.

The Tories, as Denis might put it, are deep in the rough without the clubs to get out of it.

Godless Foot!

Those who are worried about Doing Things In the Proper Way will not have welcomed the election of Michael Foot to the Labour leadership. There must be anxiety in such circles that, if Foot ever gets to be Prime Minister, he will go to Buckingham Palace and try to kiss the Queen’s hands dressed in one of his donkey jackets.

Even more threatening is the fact that he would be the first avowedly atheist in Number Ten. How, to begin with, would he fill in those bits of the speeches all Prime Ministers make when they are  appealing for greater sacrifices from the workers in the interests of British capitalism — those bits which up to now have been reserved for a prayer that god should be on “Our” side? And what would happen to the nation’s moral fibre, if atheist Foot refused to appoint bishops when the posts became vacant? Would there be nobody to preach to the workers on their duties to uphold the exploitation and the parasitic privileges of the capitalist system?

Well the British Humanist Association which might have been expected to rejoice over Foot’s election, got it right: “. . . In the sense of day-to-day issues such as inflation and unemployment, it is perhaps not very relevant. We are still going to have inflation and unemployment . . .” Because it doesn’t matter whether the leaders of capitalism are religious or not, or which religion they preach, or whether they drink or gamble or smoke or lead promiscuous sex lives. What is important is that they hold their positions at the behest of the working class who support capitalism.

If he ever becomes Prime Minister Foot will oversee this social system in basically the same way as his predecessors. And if that is anything to go by, perhaps the workers had better start praying without further delay. It may soon be all that’s left for them.

Women walk in fear (1981)

From the January 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Everyone, whatever their political views, will have been disturbed by press reports of the brutal killings performed by the man the media have labelled “The Yorkshire Ripper”. Since the murder of student, Jacqueline Hill on 18 November “the 4,000 women students at Leeds University were coming to terms with the fact that they must not walk alone at night”, (the Guardian 21.11.80.) The police warn that the killer’s “record of street attacks shows that the main danger comes anywhere within dragging distance of a dark and secluded place —open land beyond the range of street lighting, a dark alleyway, backyards, a patch of wasteland. Those are the places to avoid, and there are far too many of them for a woman to walk safely by herself at night”. This restriction on the liberty of women to walk in safety after dark has been a feature of life in West Yorkshire since October 1975 when the “Ripper” first struck. For some working class women in the Leeds-Bradford area this has meant an almost total dependence upon male protection during the conventional leisure period of the day.

What has this insecurity got to do with socialists? Is it not simply an inevitable result of an inherent mile urge to have their way with women? Should we not leave such cases to the police and confine ourselves to discussion of political economy? And aren’t attacks on women an issue for feminists rather than socialists? We are obliged to respond to these questions and the only answer we can give is that the problems facing approximately one half of the working class are very much the concern of the only party which stands solely for the interest of the working class as a whole. The insecurity which women face cannot be solved within capitalism.

Capitalism has historically created a role for working class women as the attendants to male wage slaves. Not all working class women conform to this role, but most still do. This position has been sanctified by religion (it is the woman’s holy duty to be a wife and mother); by morality (the unmarried woman is seen to be either promiscuous or incomplete); by the education system (girls are still segregated in terms of what they learn at school and what opportunities they have when they leave school); and by law.

The conditioning of male and female attitudes to womanhood goes on all the time. The adverts state what the ideal woman should look like; the fashion and cosmetic industry tell her what to wear; the cinema helps influence her speech and her style; women’s magazines trivialise her experience; problem page hacks inform her as to whether or not she is a “proper” woman. Men’s attitudes to women are similarly conditioned. Young boys soon learn to talk about females as sources of satisfaction. Notions of virility traditionally imply dominance, aggressiveness and ruthlessness—the very characteristics which, if frustrated in conventional social contact, can produce the brutality of a vicious attacker. Porn magazines and sex movies teach men to idealise a submissive, consumable womanhood. Women are to be won, bought or coerced: married, hired or raped. In a society where pleasure is a commodity to be bought, and sold what else can be expected than what Marx rightly called “a system of prostitution both public and private”? (The Communist Manifesto). The private prostitution referred to was discussed in an article in the January 1908 Socialist Standard entitled, “No More Family Life”:
  The present social system is based upon the ownership of private property, and the marriage contract is in essence a property contract. The single sentence from the Marriage Service, “with all my worldly goods I thee endow” is indicative. of this, especially as the recipient of this cornucopean shower immediately surrenders all control over it by promising to “love, honour and obey” the benevolent “bestower”.
The Guardian, reporting the recent murder of Jacqueline Hill, who was a religious Sunday School teacher, made an indicative comment:
  The killing points to a worrying change in the Ripper’s victims. He first murdered a Leeds prostitute in October 1975, but the last time he murdered a known prostitute was two and a half years ago. His last two victims . . . were both respectable girls (20.11.80).
The assumption here is that if women are not “respectable” it is less “worrying” for them to be murdered. Respectability through the editorial eyes of the Guardian, which supported two world wars in which millions of people were killed, is not the best criterion for the right to be free from sexual assault.

We would do better to think about the kind of sick society which produces men like the “Ripper”. He has been driven to his perversely anti-social behaviour by a system of living which on the one hand treats sexual activity as a social taboo and on the other trivialises and sensationalises the sexual act, so producing neuroses in those who do not conform to the image. If you have a social order which glorifies war there is no point in crying out in indignation at the violence of modern youth; if you have a society which turns sex into a commodity, don’t be surprised if some take without paying.

Feminists are mistaken if they believe that the need for social change is a women’s issue. Not all women are in a position of social inferiority: capitalist women who travel about in chauffeur-driven cars have no need to go on marches to “reclaim the night”. The problems facing working class women are rooted in their class position. The basis of their insecurity is their alienation from the means of wealth production and distribution. Wage slavery is not in the interest of either male or female workers, although admittedly, for some women being the slave of a wage slave amounts to even greater insecurity and powerlessness than that faced by working class men.

To demand that male and female workers stand in equality as wage slaves is an impoverished and futile reform because wage slaves can never attain real social dignity, even if men and women workers are treated the same by their employers. It may be utopian to want a society in which people never offend against one another, but it is not utopian for socialists to want a society which does not give rise to the brutal behaviour which is an everyday feature of capitalism. In a society where all men and women stand in equal relationship to the means of life, where norms will not be dictated from above, where there will be sexual freedom and diversity, such cases as the Yorkshire Ripper will be a nightmarish reminder of an uncivilised past.
Steve Coleman

The Super-Opportunists: A Criticism of Bolshevist Policy (1920)

From the August 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Fatuous Policy
The Bolshevik leaders are opportunists. They start out with a definite programme and policy but change it completely when they find the world’s workers do not support them. Lenin, Trotsky, Radek, and the other officials denounced Kautsky, Henderson, Longuet, and others for their reformist policy, but we now have Lenin and Zinoviev advising the Socialist workers of England to take parliamentary action and join the Labour Party.

The report of the Executive of the Communist Party of Russia to the 1920 congress of the Third International lays down the position that we should get inside the Parliamentary Labour parties. This advice is anti-Socialist, as anybody with a knowledge of the history and composition of the Labour parties know.

The Bolshevik leaders told us that the workers of the world were ripe for revolution and their support of Bolshevism was expected and depended upon. Now that it is plain that workers do not understand socialism and fight for it, Lenin is pandering to the ignorance of the world’s workers. In defence he says that by supporting the pro-capitalist Labour Party and helping to establish a Labour Party government, the workers will learn the uselessness of the Labour parties.

The Logical Conclusion
If that policy is to be adopted, then it is necessary for the workers to follow every false road, to support every reactionary measure, and to join every movement and learn from their mistakes—in other words, exhaust every possible evil before they try the right road. If this policy is right why did not Lenin support Kerensky’s policy of capitalism for Russia and let the workers painfully learn its uselessness? Such nonsense as supporting parties and Governments to gain power to learn their misdeeds is not the road to Socialism, it is the path to apathy and despair, and lengthens capitalism’s life.

The Coat Turned
After spending much ink and eloquence in denouncing parliamentary action Lenin tells us in his interview in the Manchester Guardian that it is necessary in modern capitalist countries.

In his telegram to the British Socialist Party Lenin calls upon them to support parliamentary action by means of a Labour party. After all the attempts of Lenin to show that Marx and Engels believed in smashing the State power, Trotsky tells us in A Paradise for the Workers that we have to get control of the State power and use it instead of abolishing it. Radek, in his Communism—From Science to Action, denounced parliamentary action and majority rule, but in a recent letter to a German Communist he completely changes round and advises parliamentary action.

The Opportunist Weathercocks
Lenin, in his letter to the German party, supports Parliamentary Action and the winning of the masses in defiance of all his previous advice and previous praise of the Spartacan minority action. The Amsterdam Bureau of the Third International was abolished because it told the English Socialists not to engage in Parliamentary Action or to support the Labour Party. All this demonstrates the absence of any principle and simply to veer with the changing winds.

We have been denounced for our attitude of insisting upon the need of Socialists making a revolutionary use of parliaments. Our position, however, was based upon Socialist principles and a recognition of the facts of history, not a desire to pander to popular prejudices such as support of a dangerous and fraudulent Labour party.

We have opposed Kautsky’s reformism and opportunism because it is not Socialism and is against the principle of the Class Struggle. We are equally opposed to dangerous teachings if they come from Lenin, Radek, or any other man who sets himself up as a teacher of socialism. Our position is that taken up by Marx and Engels and made plain by them in their writings. Engels says in his last (1890) preface to the Communist Manifesto that we must gain the minds of the masses. Bolshevism, however, has depended for its triumph upon the minority, who ignored the majority of workers. So true is this that Radek in his pamphlet ridicules anything else in minority action for Socialism.

Bertrand Russell, who accompanied the Labour delegation to Russia in June, records his interview with Lenin in the Nation (July 10th and 17th), and Lenin there admits the opposition of the peasantry. Lenin in reply to Kautsky (The Dictatorship and the Betrayer Kautsky) does not attempt to deny Kautsky’s charge that the Menshevik and Social-Revolutionary delegates to the Soviets were suppressed in order to maintain Bolshevik majorities. Russell states the Soviets are moribund and that any other delegates than Bolshevik ones are denied railway passes and so cannot attend the Soviet meetings. He also says that the All Russian Soviet meets seldom, that the recall is exercised for minor offences, such as drunkenness, and that the delegates continually ignore their constituents. We do not accept Russell as an authority, but much of his report agrees with Bolshevik writings.

We have always contended that the Bolsheviks could only maintain power by resorting to capitalist devices. History has shown us to be correct. The January 1920 Congress of the Executive Communists in Russia abolished the power of workers control in factories and installed officials instructed by Moscow and given controlling influence. Their resolutions printed in most of the Labour papers and the Manchester Guardian here show how economic backwardness has produced industrial conscription with heavy penalties for unpunctuality, etc. The abolition of democracy in the army was decreed long ago, but now that the army is being converted into a labour army it means rule from the top with an iron hand.

Russia has agreed to repay foreign property-owners their losses and allied Governments their “debts.” This means continued exploitation of Russian workers to pay foreign exploiters.

With all the enthusiasm of the Communists they find themselves faced with the actual conditions in Russia and the ignorance of the greater part of its population.

There is no easier road to Socialism than the education of the workers in Socialism and their organisation to establish it by democratic methods. Russia has to learn that.
Adolph Kohn