Friday, March 13, 2020

The Socialist Peace Policy (1987)

From the March 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

The next general election might well be the last one before the next world war. Within five years from the date when you cast your next vote you, your family, your friends and all of the surrounding environment could be victims of this system's ultimate madness: the mass annihilation of modern war.

It requires no crystal ball, no advanced degree in foreign policy, to observe that the "healthy competition" of capitalist rivalry is becoming more vicious and ruthless as the weeks go by. In 1986 the governments of the world spent a record £634 billion on armaments. That amounts to £1.2 million every sixty seconds of the day and night. The increase in militarist expenditure last year was greater than in any previous year — ever. The foolish and the fearful might delude themselves that these weapons will never be used. The reality is that they are being built for use, the reasons for their use are increasing and it is only a matter of time before capitalism blows us up. Such a holocaust may not be the intention of the superpowers. But new superpowers, armed with their own weapons of mass destruction, are fast arriving on the scene. Militarist accidents are ever more likely. The ticking of the clock as the moments lead up to the next war is all too audible to those whose fingers are not placed tightly in their ears.

All of the major parties have "defence" policies which are really war policies. Or. to be blunt about it. they are strategies for killing large numbers of people. That is what they are doing when they ask you to vote for their "defence" policy: choose their strategy for murdering people you have never even met in preference to that of the next party. To vote for these parties is to become a willing accomplice in the preparations for mass murder. The absurd deterrence strategy is best described by the dictum. "If you want peace prepare for war". That is the policy accepted by most of the parties aiming to run capitalism. It is like saying if you want virginity among teenagers build brothels in the schools. You do not achieve peace by preparing for its opposite: if you prepare for war there will be a war.

Nobody should be taken in for one minute by the Labour lie that they are presenting a more peaceful policy. On the contrary. theirs is an alternative war policy — a policy dependent on conventional methods of murder being used by Britain, while at the same time remaining in loyal alliance with the NATO nuclear murder gang. It is like a gang of muggers saying that in future they will give up using knives and will rely on beating people up with wooden sticks. But at the same time they will remind their victims that their friends in the bigger gang still have knives. If anyone votes Labour in the belief that conventional weapons are about decent warfare they should go and talk to the conscript soldiers of Iran and Iraq, or the victims of the Falklands war. In their document. Modern Britain in a Modem World, the Labour Party states that
  . . . we must defend ourselves effectively by land, sea and air. And fully participate in NATO. The best defence relies upon troops, ships, aircraft and tanks.
If that is peace talk they have a perverse conception of peace. The next election will be the first one ever in which the Labour Party has competed for power against the Tories on a manifesto of promising to spend more on weapons than its opponents. Labour concedes that its war policy will cost more than that of the Tories. Would you vote for that as a means towards achieving peace?

Wars are not the result of workers in Russia failing out with workers in the USA. Most of the British workers who unthinkingly accept Labour’s line that "we must defend ourselves effectively" do not have any enemies in Moscow or Prague or Berlin or Tripoli. Most workers in Britain have never met a Russian, let alone fallen out with one sufficiently to want to blow them up. Most Russians have never met an American. If you repeat a lie often enough people may begin to believe it and so they keep on telling us that we must be defended against the Russians. After a while "Russians" are seen as monstrous, threatening, inhumane beings, fit only for nuclear attack. And to Russian workers, indoctrinated by the same lies from their owning class, we are perceived similarly as a wicked enemy. What you must never forget — because when you have finally forgotten it you are finally brainwashed — is that there is nobody out there you need to kill and there are no enemies out there with a grievance against you. War is not about our interests, but those of the bosses who rob us so that they can be rich and powerful. War is about the competition between capitalists. If we are to die it will be for them. Ponder that as you are asked to cast your vote for one of the " defence"" policies.

The Socialist Party is the only party in Britain standing in the next election on a policy for peace. Not peace by means of building more bombs or building nice bombs or painting the bombs red or negotiating with capitalists for a delay in the moment of war. The Socialist Party stands for the abolition of all of the weapons of war: Cruise missiles. SS20s. plastic bullets. Exocets, the lot. We present ourselves to our fellow workers in the next election on the basis of the following propositions:

Capitalism is the cause of war in the modem world. The Socialist Party is unequivocally opposed to the worldwide capitalist system. We are opposed to it in Russia and China just as much as in Britain and the USA. The rivalry over profits, trade routes, markets and raw materials which is generated by capitalism makes war inevitable. It follows from this that you cannot seriously oppose war unless you are out to end capitalism. It is futile to attempt to remove an effect without removing its cause. The Socialist Party calls for votes from workers who want to end the capitalist system. There can be no other starting point for removing the threat of war.

Workers have no country. Nationalism is based on the lie that workers have their own country: that the British have an obligation to Britain and the French to France. Workers who do not own or control Britain have no obligation to the bosses who do own and control it. Our sole interest is in co-operating with our fellow workers across the world who also have no country. Why should we die defending what is not ours? On the contrary. our object is to obtain what is not ours: the world and its resources. The class war — between the parasites who possess and the workers who produce — is the real struggle that need concern us. And to win that we need not initiate the violence which is characteristic of capitalism. The workers are the majority and once we unite there is no force that will stop us taking the earth into our common possession.

Socialism will allow humankind to co-exist in peace. There is nothing natural about war. In fact, peaceful co-operation is more fitting for human beings who are conscious and potentially rational beings. Once we live in a world of common ownership and democratic control of resources there will simply be no reason to kill each other. No Empires to build or markets to expand or profits to increase. Socialism will be a social system in which war will be pointless, peace will be the norm. There will be no socialism without socialists to bring it about, just as there will be no capitalism or war without workers to support such insanity.

Stop and think when you cast your next vote. Think of the peace which could come about and think of the screams which are the human sound effects of war. Think — for your own sake, think hard.
Steve Coleman

Exposed — Northern Ireland protectors (1987)

From the March 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Life in Northern Ireland has changed considerably over the past year. There has been an uncomfortable return to the fear, mistrust and general apprehension remembered from the early seventies, when the troubles were at their height. The cause of this retrogressive step is that a small group of people, from both sides of the community, have successfully resurrected old hatreds, re-inculcated old fears and brought again to the fore the myths and misconceptions which falsely divide the workers of this province. That small group of people are the politicians of Northern Ireland.

In such an insane political environment it is difficult for these politicians to sustain the promise to represent the electorate, as the poverty and general deprivation of our existence exposes that nonsense. Their only other promise is to protect the electorate, protect them from some other group or ideology which threatens their lives, their culture. or their nationality. Just as Thatcher protects Britain from socialism and Kinnock promises to protect it from Thatcherism, so too in Northern Ireland we have our own band of "protectors". Paisley protects us against Republicanism and Catholicism as Adams protects us against Imperialism and Unionism. When the images we were protected against started to become less obvious and more obscured by our normal lives, then these politicians, in order to protect their own positions, had to focus the picture anew.

Relative Normality
To understand this, something must be said of what had been happening in Northern Ireland over the past few years. Socially, things had been returning to relative normality. Belfast has experienced, particularly over the past three years, something of a social renaissance as the city centre began to open up again. For the previous ten years that centre had. after six o’clock in the evening, all the hallmarks of a ghost town, with empty streets, dimly lit as a security precaution, and the traditional social attractions such as pubs and cinemas being conspicuously absent of people. This was the result of a decade of terror. the terror of the IRA bombs, of Loyalist murder squads, of trigger-happy British soldiers and of an abusive and vicious police force.

In this environment it didn't matter what side you were on, or even if you had no side at all, the safest place to be was with your "own sort", in your "own district". Why take the chance of going to a city centre bar when you could stay protected in your own area? This was the ghetto mentality that led to the establishment of ghettoes and Belfast is a city of ghettoes. where people will pay higher prices for poorer housing, just to stay with their own sort hoping for safety in numbers.

A number of factors started to indicate a change in this. Most importantly, things had actually quietened down a good deal. From ’82 to the end of '85. the incidents of violence in this war were becoming less frequent and less obvious. It seemed as though the day of the street riot had finished, with young people preferring an evening at the disco to a cold night out throwing stones. There was also a reduction in so-called terrorist violence with fewer bombings and fewer assassinations. Even the state violence, as dished out by the army and police, was less frequent, not only because there were less troops on the ground but, more importantly, because the government was attempting to establish a feeling of everyday normality to the province; this war was proving bad for business.

There was however another factor in the equation which, although not designed, was just as significant. The war in Northern Ireland has been going on in its present phase since 1969. Inevitably, over such a long period a whole generation has emerged, aged from sixteen to twenty-five, whose only experience is that of a violent political crisis. Not having the comparison of more peaceful times, their fear is not as stark; this is their normality and they don’t share the apprehensions of their parents; in a word they don't really give a damn. They are prepared to go into the town centre, prepared to go to the dances, to the clubs and to the restaurants.

Seeing this new market, the business community responded and in a relatively short period the city centre of Belfast began to come alive, as people started to leave their own districts to seek entertainment elsewhere. There is a similar pattern in many other towns throughout the province. This was not the answer to the problems of Northern Ireland, but at least it was a more palatable existence than that which we had come to accept.

Anglo-Irish Agreement
In November 1985 we witnessed, to much media attention, the signing of a document called the Anglo-Irish Agreement which heralded a new phase in the history of this war and again provided a stage for the voices of fear and intimidation from those representatives of sectarian politics. When Thatcher and Fitzgerald put their signatures to this document they seemed unaware of the response it would get and the violence that would be caused. They knew they were putting their names to an innocuous little document of meaningless solutions which would actually make no difference to the political basis of the war and would certainly have no basis of change for the lives of those on either side of the border. The Agreement was nothing less than a publicity stunt to show that two governments sit down together and talk. It was to gain public acceptance for a dialogue which had already been established for many years. Although naive, the civil servants who drafted the paper and the politicians who signed it, had no idea that their ineffectual little document would provoke such a back-lash.

Typically, the Agreement was rejected by the two extremes: the Unionists branded it "Dublin Rule by the Back Door" and the Nationalists dismissed it as a sell-out by the Southern government who had, for the first time, recognised the right of British control over Ulster. A peculiar unity of action was established from seemingly different quarters. a unity of opposition to the Accord and a commitment to ensure that it would prove ineffective. If this agreement was meant to bring greater peace to the province, then the best answer was to ensure that there would be greater unrest and greater violence. That was the conclusion drawn by both extremes and that was the menu they served.

The past year has shown the effects of that policy; we have suffered a staple diet of intimidation, terror, hatred and death. The IRA and INLA have answered the call of nationalism by blowing up buildings in public places and murdering workers who were foolish enough to join the police or army. The Loyalist thugs under the title of Ulster Freedom Fighters have targetted individual Catholics, particularly those living in Protestant districts, as victims of their murder squads.

Hypocrisy and Lunacy
The Unionist politicians have excelled in displays of indignation. No news story is now complete without a comment on the foolishness of these fascists. Adjourning council meetings, refusing to pay their rates, disrupting Thatcher's speech to the European Parliament — the list seems endless. Even poor old Peter Robinson (or Adolf as he is affectionately known) had to face trial in Dublin for the minor misdemeanour of leading a gang of baton-wielding, gun-toting democrats on an invasion of a sleepy Southern town.

The hypocrisy and lunacy displayed by both sides would be riotously funny were it not for its cost in human suffering and loss of life. The politicians attempted again to establish themselves as the protectors, standing guard over the ignorance and division which they hold sacred. If we didn't have division we wouldn't need these leaders to lead the divided factions. Unfortunately for the politicians. their attempts at confusion didn't quite pay off as they may have expected. Granted, they got a large degree of support, but even that is starting to break up with people questioning these leaders and starting to see through their thinly disguised motives.

The important observation however, is that a large percentage of people didn't get sucked into the whole hype at all. Those people, mostly young, who had successfully broken from the tribal politics of their parents, who had mixed in the new social climate with those of opposite religion and. because of these experiences, realised that their "protectors'' had been conning them. The swelling ranks of the disillusioned are seeking other answers to those offered by generations past. Their social adventure has allowed them to consider adventurous political answers — if nothing else they are now asking the correct questions. To them the answers are not found in the Paramilitaries, Unionist or Nationalist Parties, all of whom are finding it difficult to recruit.

This is proving to be a crucial factor for Northern Irish politics. Not only does it mean that the traditional political and religious divides have become exposed, it also means that growing numbers are considering rational political alternatives. For that reason the World Socialist Party in Ireland is experiencing an unparalleled level of interest and even finding it difficult to meet the demand for our paper, The Socialist View.
Brian Montague,

Conquering mountains (1987)

From the March 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Amid great publicity and jubilation the EEC has slashed more than £1 billion off its farm budget. It has done this by cutting future Common Market milk production by 9.5 per cent and reducing the minimum price guaranteed to beef producers by 13 per cent. "EEC conquers food mountain" was how the Daily Telegraph put it (17 December) and the junior Farm Minister in parliament. John Selwyn Gummer, described the cuts as "a historic step forward".

The mountain at present consists of 1½ million tons of butter, one million tons of skimmed milk powder, 600.000 tons of beef, and 18 million tons of cereals. The British Agriculture Minister responsible for engineering the deal, Michael Jopling, was described as tired but triumphant after the talks. Calling the agreement an epic victory, he stated that the milk cuts alone would constitute "considerably more than the entire production of New Zealand". The ministers of the other countries were just as jubilant and at the end of the talks they all celebrated with champagne.

What did they have to celebrate? Not a reduction in food prices, for it was made clear that the cuts would not make food cheaper. Not an increase in their popularity with the farmers, for despite the provision of compensation for loss of earnings, many will lose money or go out of business. What then? Well, not much, other than managing to agree among themselves. Because what posed as a victory actually represents a capitulation — a capitulation to the market. The market decrees that money and resources shouldn't go into producing goods and services there isn't a buyer for. And when governments — in this case the EEC governments through the Common Agricultural Policy — try to control the market or at least direct it along their own channels, the market will, sooner or later, channel governments back along its own no buyer no production path. This is what's happened here.

But what's wrong with market forces reasserting themselves? What's wrong with not producing food for which there obviously isn't a buyer? Well, there is another way of looking at it and it starts to show up if we look at two words that are often used to describe the EEC food stocks — "excess" and “surplus". Are the stocks really in excess of people's needs? Are they surplus to requirements? It's true that if they were put on the market at the same price as already existing food, they wouldn't be bought. But is this because people don't need them? Or isn't it rather because people haven't got the money to buy them? Clearly many of the 30 million people on or below the official poverty line in the EEC don't get all the milk, butter and beef they need — and some get very little indeed. The determining factor isn't their need but the amount of cash they've got in their pockets. Seen in these terms, the EEC ministers' "food coup" is an application of the fundamental economic law of the society we live in — the law that goods and services are produced to be sold to people who have money to buy them, not to satisfy the requirements of people who need them.

A solution to this might seem to be to distribute the "surpluses" free or at lower prices to those who can't afford them. But within the market system this isn't a solution, definitely not a long-term solution, as it would inevitably force the current prices down, cut profits and cause economic chaos with producers, suppliers and retailers going out of business and making their workers unemployed too. As Gummer said in reply to a suggestion in parliament that beef and butter in the EEC stores be given free to pensioners: "Those who usually bought butter would not buy it if it was given away" (Guardian, 19 December 1986).

For just such a reason, this "solution" is not applied in the Third World, where many people do not simply go short of certain things they need through lack of money in their pockets but actually die of starvation and disease for that reason. Food supplied to them "free" from the economically advanced countries would upset the home markets. So it happens only on a very small scale and usually during what are called emergencies. Actually there's no country in the world that couldn't satisfy the food needs of its people if production were not geared to the market and sale at a profit. As it is, much of what is produced in Third World countries (and indeed in others too) goes abroad in search of those who can buy it rather than stay at home for those who need it.

What emerges from this picture of unsatisfied needs among vast "surplus" is that humans have got the knowledge, the techniques and the skills to produce food (and everything else) on an absolutely massive scale but we're not using them in the interests of humanity as a whole. Instead we're channelling them through a system of production and distribution that isn't geared to meeting those interests. It's geared solely to finding buyers on the market with a view to making profit and this means starvation, misery and destitution for many, the bare necessities for others and for most of us in countries like Britain, a life in which, whether we're in or out of work, we just about scrape by.

It seems a daft way to live when all we need to do is get together and organise the resources the earth offers, the technology we've developed and the skills and energies we possess, to produce everything directly for use without the obstacle of the market and the buying and selling system. Not even the rationing regime we choose to live under at present can hide the potential that exists for abundance. We need only look at the EEC food mountains and the surpluses in so many other parts of the world. The step we need to take now is to establish common ownership and control over those resources and technology and free access to the abundance they will be able to produce when we put our energies to work on them voluntarily and co-operatively. That is the real mountain we have to conquer.
Howard Moss

50 Years Ago: The Strenuous Life
 of the Rich (1987)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

If you. fellow-worker in the docks, pushing your truck or wrenching with your hook — if you. fellow-worker, driving, stopping and starting that bus. which is larger than many a worker's house — if you. fellow-worker, staring and tapping at that adding machine until your eyes feel as though they will drop out — if you feel that your job is sapping your energy, robbing your manhood, your womanhood of a fuller enjoyment of life, then ponder over the difficulties of "our betters", who, though "they toil not", bravely face the rigours of their pleasures.
  One winter sports holiday in a season is strenuous enough to satisfy most us.
  But Mr and Mrs Vincent Paravicini are made of sterner stuff.
 They came back from Switzerland at the beginning of last month, and are shortly off again for another skiing holiday, this time at Kitzbtibel.
  Mrs Paravicini's mother. Mrs Maugham, is also going to Austria, to join some friends at Mittersill. —(Evening Standard, February 3rd, 1937.)
Having pondered, fellow-worker, it is possible that your sympathy will be aroused. If, however, you are still a man you will ask the reason why these idlers can live on your back.
[From the Socialist Standard March 1937.]

Health Care: The Socialist Alternative (1987)

From the March 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

What would health care in socialism be like? The Socialist Party can't give a blueprint; we can't conjure it out of thin air. But we can consider it in comparison with present-day society.

In socialism, no nurses or doctors would be prevented from contributing their different skills and energies by the dictat of the dole queue. Hospitals would be run in accordance with the wishes of the wider community and not, as at present, by some Health Board and balance sheet, or by some manager just out of the army.

Hospitals wouldn't need sponsored events and charity cans to fund the new kidney machine or body scanner. A system of production for use would unleash the productive capacities of women and men who would voluntarily co-operate to meet needs.

Health care wouldn't mean patching people up to stick them back in factories that poison their lungs, or back to the jobs and pressures that needlessly cause stress. It wouldn't involve leaving hospital just to return to cramped, damp, cold housing. In short, health care in socialism wouldn't just mean the absence of disease. it would mean taking full control of our lives.

These are just some ideas. Much more could be discussed — we're not short of arguments in favour of a sane society without money or wages, leaders or states. What we are short of. though, are socialists.

Between the Lines: Raiders of Zircon (1987)

The Between the Lines Column from the March 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Raiders of Zircon

When I was a little boy (not all that long ago; never all that little) Zircon was the sort of thing that made you sit on the edge of your seat in sci-fi movies. They Came From Zircon. Not to worry: the inter-galactic space warriors (always Americans with traffic warden uniforms) will beat off the alien enemies. The lesson of all those science fiction films was clear enough: us traffic wardens fight hard when it comes to defending Planet Earth against hostile beasties from the Outer Cosmos. It was not until I grew a few hairs on my chest that I discovered that Planet Earth is already occupied by hostile beasties called capitalists whose function in life is to rob blind the majority of earthlings who produce all the wealth.

Last month agents of the capitalists raided the offices of BBC Glasgow for the purpose of confiscating the film of a series of programmes called The Secret Society. You see, the series was made to show that Britain is becoming a dangerously secretive society in which almost anything worth knowing is being declared by law to be secret. How dare the BBC sponsor such subversive untruths? Britain, a police state — where do they get these ideas from? So Special Branch sent the boys down to do over the studio and confiscate the film and make sure that viewers will never see just how many secrets they're missing. Puts your mind at rest, doesn't it?

One of the programmes was about the Zircon project, a spy satellite which none of us are supposed to know about — which is funny really, because it is supposed to be spying on our behalf. Now, had the programme been shown it is doubtful whether many workers would have been much the wiser about Zircon. But with the aid of that idiot cunning for which the present government now has a Reagan-grade reputation, the police raid had the effect of making large numbers of workers want to know what it is that the state is so eager to hide from us. Censorship will not succeed in stopping people wanting to find out what is happening in the world. Back in the good old days the men from Zircon would have exterminated Malcolm Rifkind with a laser gun but last month all we got was a mundane emergency debate in the House of Commons in which Gerald Kaufman (whose jackets might well have been designed by the firm which used to produce laser guns) said that the whole affair was intolerable.

News From the Nozzers

If Zircon doesn't make you think of creepy things in black and white movies nozzers certainly should. Nozzers are skinheads with legal permits: trainee members of the Royal Navy BBC2's four-part series (Mondays. 10.15pm) was called Nozzers and about what it is like to suffer the misfortune of becoming one.

A nozzer s life is not a happy one. Most of them joined to see the sea; instead they spent their first week's training learning how to straighten the pillows on their beds and shine their boots and march up and down like clockwork Nazis. No wonder they all felt homesick. This was one of those films in which the producer allows the viewer to relish the suffering of some other sucker. What can be better after a day at Dagenham screwing bits onto Ford Fiestas than watching a bunch of nozzers being sent on an assault course which involves crawling through mud-filled pipes and running through cold water? At least someone else is having it worse than you.

When nozzers go down to the pool for a swim it does not involve a few lengths and a bit of splashing about: in Nozzers we were shown them being poked with sticks by the swimming instructress to test their readiness to drown in icy water. Alas, most of them were all too ready. How can human beings descend to such undignified thuggery? But watching Nozzers they seemed more pathetic than contemptible: wage slaves driven into a sick institution as an alternative to unemployment or other forms of dullness. Prince Edward was no fool. (Well, perhaps that is something of an overstatement). Not for him was the life of a nozzer — or whatever the marine equivalent may be. He decided to retire while the going was bad. But the poor kids shown in this series — what is the alternative for them?


While it may or may not be the case that all the nice girls like a nozzer, if they have been watching the TV ads carefully they will be insisting that he wears a condom. TV ads have travelled a long way since they used to just advertise Omo and going to work on an egg. In recent times ads have been used to mould public morality, warning us about smoking and drinking and now "unsafe sex”. The symbolism of the AIDS ad is about as subtle as a Bernard Manning gag. Rocks, hammers chipping away at them, darkness — why can't they just come out with it and tell us what's naughty instead of all these laboured hints?

The Tabun and Sarin Show

A scientist holds up a cube of sugar: "A piece of tabun or sarin of just this size kills 2,500 people when it is dropped on them". Tabun and sarin are chemical weapons, a means of murdering vast numbers of people which is just as deadly as nuclear weapons. These weapons are currently possessed by Russia, the USA. France, Iraq, Syria, Israel and South Africa. As many as fifteen countries might possess such weapons and many more soon will.

Iraq has been using these weapons in its war against Iran and that was the subject of Panorama (Monday, 2 February. 9.30pm. BBC1). Chemical weapons have been outlawed internationally for some years, just like CND would like nuclear weapons to be. But that has not stopped them being used. As Tim Renton, the British Foreign Minister, admitted, no law can stop "unscrupulous" companies making profits out of selling chemicals to governments intending to use them for weapons.

Now what can Mr Renton mean about profit making being an unscrupulous pursuit? After all, was it not Norman Tebbit who, as Minister of Industry, defended in the House of Commons the sale of torture equipment by British companies to foreign dictatorships on the grounds that such trade was part of the usual competitive process? In fact, Panorama showed that Iraq's chemical weapons production complex at Samarra was constructed partly by German, British, Australian and Indian firms.

If, by the most remote possibility, there was ever an international decision to outlaw nuclear weapons it would be as wholly unenforceable as that concerning chemical warfare. And even if it was enforced, what would stop governments which had previously used nuclear weapons threatening the world by converting to chemical weapons? There will be no solution to the hideous weaponry of modern warfare — all too clearly depicted in its awful effects on the Iranian casualties shown in Panorama — until the war-producing system is abolished, together with its Zircon Project, its nozzers. its moral sermonising and the rest of its blemishes which pop out like sores from our TV screens.
 Steve Coleman