Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Reason Why. (1920)

From the May 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Conscription has been officially abolished.

Yes, but not because you did not like it. Our masters have learned during this last war that the day of individual skill with arms is long past' Killing men and wrecking towns and villages is a business that is made quite simple for those who finally DO the business, and those who really pay for the upkeep of the Army and Navy (not you, my fellow worker) are out to cut down expenses in this as in all other things.

A standing army of 220,000 professional killers, and a half-baked army of umpteen territorials will be quite sufficient to keep the wage-slaves in subjection both at home and abroad, and that is all that our masters require until the next "war to end war" comes along.

Then you will see if conscription is finished. Together with its inseparable ally, D.O.R.A., it will be trotted out afresh for your benefit—to be the only hope of saving YOUR liberty, YOUR home (if the brokers haven’t already been in), YOUR everything. YOU, who will he called up to "make one," or perhaps your son, who is such a dear little fellow now, will very soon be taught "discipline" and smattering enough of the methods of killing to go into the new mud-alleys or trenches to make a heroic fight for liberty against "militarism" or some other terrible "ism."

A few hours No. 1 Field Punishment will brighten up your intellect considerably, and you will learn to be courageous too—when there’s a firing party and a hole in the ground waiting for you if you show a sign of being otherwise.

Yon might be one of the "knowing" ones who say "Never again: I've been had once,” but, my friend, when those terrible conditions come again, as come again they must under the present system of society, you will be in no better position to resist these dispensers of khaki suits, homes for heroes, and unemployment doles than you ever were.

Do yon ever think over this ? If you don't you are sadly deficient in self-consideration. If you DO, what conclusions have you come to? What can you do to help yourself?

THE ONLY WAY to help yourself in the matter is to do all yon can to help bring in a system of society where "international” fights are totally unnecessary, where YOU can live a life of peace with plenty, where NO unemployment exists, and where no human being starves in the midst of plenty as they do now under the aegis of something that many of us, in our pityfully blind ignorance, call civilisation.

The necessary system of society for these wonderful benefits to become yours and mine is the SOCIALIST system; nothing short

THE SOCIALIST PARTY of Great Britain claim, and prove their claim, to be the only party in Great Britain whose principles will benefit the working class. We have no connection with I.LP., B.S.P., L.P., S.D.P., or any other old P. of people who are only interested in two things: firstly, grinding their own axes; secondly, trying to make the present rotten capitalist system bearable to you, thereby prolonging the life of that system which grinds YOU down so mercilessly.

If you are a thoughtful man come and consider our principles and policy. You will be welcome at any of our meetings, no matter whether Executive, Branch, or propaganda meetings. We cordially welcome your serious interest. If you have questions to ask, come to our meetings and ask them. I assure you of a civil and scientifically considered answer. The keener your intelligence the keener your welcome from us, for we want the help of intelligent men, and intelligent men will want to help to spread our propaganda when they have got the knowledge of what we stand for. Never mind if you are poor in pocket—we are poor men and women ourselves—but the richer you are in sense—common sense—the better we will like you, for we are not out to mislead anyone.

A list of Branches, together with the times and places of their meetings, will be found at the end of this paper. Come to any of our meetings and enquire: it costs you nothing— and knowledge awaits you.

The Outcome. (1920)

From the May 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

To what the so-called practical politics of the Labour Party and I.L.P. lead is plainly demonstrated by the recent Stockport election.

It will be remembered that a vacancy occurred in the Stockport constituency through the death of Mr. Spencer Leigh Hughes. Immediately following upon this the Labour member for Stockport (Mr. Wardle), who held one of the "bait" posts which the Government allots to Labourites who serve them well, resigned on account of "ill health" (a term which covers a multitude of political sins). No doubt the two items are connected in many ways by various people, but the S.P.G.B. sums up the affair in two words—


In a review of the election result "The Lobby Correspondent" writes in the "Daily News" of April 12th:
 "The retention of Stockport was made possible by a deal between the Coalition parties in the constituency. This involved the resignation of Mr. Wardle, a minister, on the ground of ill-health."
Obviously Mr. Wardle's seat had been gained at the previous election by means of a deal between the Labour and the Coalition parties, and he was compelled to resign because of a new arrangement between the Coalition Liberals and the Unionists to split their vote.

Time after time these "deals" have been exposed in the Official Organ of our party ; also it has been shown how gratifying they have proved to the Liberal Party. Now, however, when capitalist groups have been re-shuffled in the course of development to suit variations in sectional interests, and Mr. Asquith is attempting to lead an


the tone of his particular group has changed somewhat. Speaking at the National Liberal Club Mr. Featherstone Asquith said "There was an experiment made at Stockport, one of the most ingenious feats that I remember of political legerdemain." (How Mr. Asquith must revel in memories of similar exploits !) He continues, "You cannot always get a sitting member so accommodating . . . as to convert a single into a double vacancy." ("Daily News " 15.4.20.)

True, Herbert, but he who pays the piper calls the tune, and the "practical politics," the double-dealing and trickery which leads to pelf and place for labour leaders, allows for such


And what of the great Sir Leo. C. Money, who, after being defeated at Tottenham, was rushed to do the "big man" stunt at Stockport. Commenting on the defeat of himself and Mr. Perry (Lab. Co-op.) he said: 
  "There has been no real Labour fight before in Stockport. For many years contests have been in the character of sham fights where in double-barrelled constituencies progressives were invited to divide their votes between the Liberal and Labour Parties." ("Daily News," 12.4.20. Italics mine.")
We confirm Sir Leo's statement but add that there has been no fight made by the Labour Party in any constituency in the true interest of the working class. More of that anon.

As an illustration of how an opportunist can take advantage of a compulsory lapse from previous opportunism to

the foregoing quotation serves very well, while the following from the Printers' Register for 6.2.19 is an interesting sidelight on Sir Leo. Money's past:
"The 'Labour Leader' announces that Sir Leo has consented to become a regular contributor to its pages.
   "This announcement recalls Sir Leo's description of the 'Labour Leader' in the House of  Commons, when he wanted the Government to deal drastically with that paper. He said 'The "Labour Leader" ever since the war began deliberately pursued week by week a policy of  misrepresenting the present and past motives of the British Government, of . . suggesting that war was provoked by British Diplomacy and aggression, of publishing an article charging the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary with deliberately deceiving the House of Commons, and in various other ways seeking to make it difficult for the United Kingdom to prosecute the war with success. During the past eleven month's the "Labour Leader" has published repeated discouragements to its readers to support the national cause or take part in the war.' "
The noodle-headed but sincere members of the I.L.P. will be interested in this slice of Sir Leo's history. It may even lead them to critically analyse the sayings and actions of the "practical" politicians and refer to S.P.G.B. literature for more irrefragable facts of their 


Why this sudden conversion to the ranks of Labour ? Why this new-found interest on the part of Sir Leo, Lord Haldane, and others of their kind in the ability of Labour to govern ?

Methinks the wind has shifted slightly and sails are being trimmed accordingly. The Labour Party is attracting lords, knights, etc., to add to the fakirs already within its ranks. But adding remnants of the feudal aristocracy, disgruntled officers, petit-bourgeois, budding capitalist and pseudo-Socialist politicians to its membership—embodying schemes for nationalisation of this or that industry, better gaols for the workers, etc., to its programme—does not help the workers forward one iota in the accomplishment of their historic mission.

And so we address ourselves to the working class: —The machines and tools with which you produce vast quantities of wealth—themselves the product of labour—are owned by the master class. You are compelled to sell the only commodity you possess — the power to labour—to the owners of those tools for a miserable pittance varying but little from the actual cost of subsistence, while they, the minority in society, take to themselves the fruits of your labour.


You lose one master, but are compelled to find another, and because of your non-ownership of the means of producing the necessaries of life you are enslaved to the possessing class —the capitalists. Constantly you are confronted with the fear of unemployment, and conditions do not improve—they are getting worse.

Gulled by the cant and hypocrisy of Press, pulpit, and capitalist political agents (Tory, Liberal, and Labour), you have in the past voted back into political power, because of promises, the representatives of the class which is interested in governing you and keeping you in subjection. Your interests are opposed to those of the exploiters, and you will be exploited and oppressed by them until you realise your true position, and organise as a class into a political party with the object of capturing the

and overthrowing the present system of contradictions of wealth and poverty, and the conversion of the means of wealth production from instruments of profit-grinding into common property to be administered for the well being of all.

The remedy is in your own hands—the working class are the majority in society, and the majority must be brought to an understanding and acceptance of the principles of the S.P.G.B. as printed in this and every issue of this journal.

Line up! There is no hope for the working class except in the establishment of Socialism.
H. C.

Letter: Concerning Maresnests and other things. (1920)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the Editor. 
13, Park Parade, 
N. Finchley. 

Dear Sir,—I am sorry to read your criticism of Mr. Dell's book in your March issue. Your criticism is far more confusing and contradictory than Mr, Dell's clear thinking. For instance, if Voltaire is out of date and keeping with the present condition, how can Marx be up to date? Yet you quote Marx. If Marx lived later than Voltaire, Marx also attempted something more concrete in theories than did Voltaire. Many of his theories have miscarried, therefore they are equally out of date in their usefulness as Voltaire.

The Bolsheviks could no more use Marxism than any other old theory. Does the Editor really believe the workers will ever hold power by the use of the present parliamentary machine? I hare been accused of being an optimist, but I have yet to reach a pitch of exhilaration wherein I can believe that a volunteer army officered by Bourgeois will obey a Socialist parliaments laws for the abolition of capitalism. I would like to know why the Editor thinks that if armed the workers would readily fight, yet could not be got to strike successfully—especially when one considers that trade unionism the farthest the workers have yet reached to. What difference to the workers when faced
 with starvation whether badly armed or not at all ? In the division of classes you make a slight mistake by leaving out about half of the population. You have completely forgotten the unhappy, misled, aspiring, unsuccessful Middle Bourgeoisie. He is the hardest worked, heaviest taxed, and perhaps poorest individual in the country. I say this fully realising that this class of slave toils, yet produces not, and that this slave is a hindrance to the workers and the mainstay of capitalism in peace. This middle man would soon be deserted by the capitalist in time of hunger. During a prolonged strike this individual would perforce become convinced of the absence of any affinity 'twixt the capitalist and himself. Perhaps hunger and mutual suffering might weld the link with his
fellow wage slave of a differing grade. Mr. Dell is quite right when he says it is inconceivable that the workers will reach a stage of development when they will cease to be true to their education and see clear, while the machinery of public opinion is in the unscrupulous hands of the class who are under no misapprehension as to what is best for themselves and hence worst for the workers. So long as they guide, so long will the workers come in contact with the greatest obstacles in their march to freedom. All clear issues will be confused, all maresnests held up. Anything so long as it is
 not the real thing. I am not a believer either in the political machinery nor yet in trade unionism. I know that both have evolved with the present system. Yet I would like to see this machine used for the coercion of this present parliamentary machine. These two are of a kind. When the crush comes we would begin to think of the political machinery, a machine that will fit in with the new conditions as they arise. Then we might even arm the proletariat. But at present it is dangerous and useless and a hindrance. I would be very glad if you could find room for this.
J. Horn.

Our Reply.

Had Mr. Horn read the review he is so ready to criticise more carefully, he would have found many of his objections met in the review itself. For instance, he would have seen that our objection to following Voltaire was not that he lived a certain time ago, but that his views were those of the now ruling class. Our critic carefully ignores this point.

Which of Marx's theories have miscarried ? We are not told. When our critic can point to what he considers such a case we will examine it.

Whatever the Bolsheviks may have used, they certainly have made the loudest claims that their actions are the purest "Marxism." Mr. Horn should send his denials (without evidence) to them.

The question of the parliamentary machine is another point dealt with in the review. Our correspondent should read it.

The "volunteer" army of Great Britain is officered by wage slaves of the professional type not the bourgeoisie—and always obeys the orders formulated in Parliament. The Army does not question its orders, and if it is prepared to shoot down its fellow workers when ordered by the masters' Government to do so, surely it has no reason to refuse to shoot the masters at the orders of a Socialist Parliament. Only blind ignorance of the Army and its methods, and the system by which it is controlled, could account for such views as our correspondent puts forth.

The reason the workers could not "strike successfully" for the overthrow of capitalism is another matter fully dealt with in the review.

Mr. Horn first says that we have made a mistake in our division of the classes because we have left out the "middle bourgeoisie." Further on he calls this "bourgeoisie" "fellow wage slaves," thus agreeing with our description of this section. 
Jack Fitzgerald

"It is necessary to suffer . . . " (1920)

Thelma Bamberger
From the May 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is an old French proverb : "Il faut souffrir pour etre savant," which might be translated : "It is necessary to suffer to achieve wisdom," although one might wish it could be translated to mean that wisdom was the inevitable result of suffering. Truly the working class of the world have suffered untold miseries, particularly during the last few years; but, alas! they appear to be no wiser than before.

There were some amongst us who used to comfort ourselves, during the deluge of blood and fury that swept over Europe, with the reflection that surely the proletariat blindly seeking relief would lift their eyes to the right way, the Socialist way, out.

But we find that the terrible memories, the nights of horror, the weary years in blood-soaked trenches are all forgotten and, worse still, forgiven.

What do we read in the daily Press, the criterion of popular thought ? What does the average man talk about on his way to work in the morning ? Does he ask his neighbour why it is that, in spite of the fact that he was at the capture of Jerusalem, or that he assisted in driving the Germans out of their African colonies, he finds the struggle to live more difficult than before, that his wages are insufficient to keep him in comfort just as they were before, and that, despite the fact that "we" have won the greatest war (as yet) in history, his position has not improved one iota, but has, on the contrary, worsened ?

No ! listen to him and you will find that he is discussing the chastity of Mrs. Bamberger, expressing the opinion that there is "something in" the spiritual messages transmitted to the Rev. G. Vale Owen, or weighing the chances of his football favourites winning the English Cup. Anything but his own misery—and I defy you to produce a member of the working class to whom misery is not more familiar than the sort of tenth-rate happiness he sometimes enjoys.

A cynic said that nothing but a volcano could lift the working class from the position they now occupy in society. He was right and he was wrong! The volcano has come, yet the working class still grope in the mud and lava it has left behind. But there is still to come the volcano of organised political action. Nothing else will serve. Direct Action is an easily exploded fallacy, Nationalisation is a polysyllablic nothingness as far as the working class are concerned. The Labour Party have never understood the Class Struggle and never preached it. The other parties have been tried and found wanting. All that remains, therefore, is for the proletariat to provide their own volcano. The nucleus whence will burst forth the eruption is the Socialist Party.

It takes no more than average intelligence to understand why the working class are robbed and how to stop that robbery. It will take no more energy than they already sell to the master class to build up their organisation on sound lines. They have the brains to build beautiful houses, luxurious motor-cars, exquisite furniture for their masters. Why, then, will they not do things for themselves ? Why remain divorced from the wonderful potentialities of a world young in evolution, still ignorant of its own chemistry, and still possessing all that man can desire ? It takes no more than a little thought to understand the absurdity of slavery, and no more than intelligent class-conscious action to win through to happiness, comfort, and security for all men.

Discuss this in your third class "workman's" instead of the Lincolnshire Handicap !
Stanley H. Steele

Our £1000 Fund. (1920)

Party News from the May 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Voice From The Back: New York, New York (2004)

The  Voice From The Back column from the April 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

New York, New York

New York, like most major cities in the world, is really two cities. One of glamour, excitement and gracious living, and the other of toil, anxiety and quiet desperation. The journalist Gaby Wood encapsulates the contrast when she writes in the Observer (22 February) as follows: “Consider a recent New Yorker magazine guide to ‘thrift’ stores for designer clothes: a second-hand Chanel suit, it informed us could be had for only $800. And if you were really lucky and didn’t mind the odd leftover hanky, you might snap up a Hermes bag for $4,200 . . . It was reported this week that Woody Allen has had an offer of $23 million on his house but is looking out for $27 million . . . One fifth of New Yorkers now live below the poverty line – defined as an annual income, for a family of one adult and three children, of less than $18,392. Mark Levitan of the Community Service Society in New York says that if the poor here had their own municipality it would be the fifth largest city in the US.”

A great man speaks

The US president George W. Bush was showing his touchy-feely side recently (well, it is election year after all) by making a speech on International Women’s Week. “Earlier today, the Libyan government released Fathi Jahmi. She’s a local government official who was imprisoned in 2002 for advocating free speech and democracy,” the president said in a speech at the White House on Friday.” Yahoo News (13 March). As usual George got it wrong. Fathi is a man! And this same president is the man American workers are supposed to follow into war. Kinda scary aint it?

A very good year

Every year the magazine Forbes publishes lists of wealthy men and women and notes their assets. It is by its nature only an approximation. As soon as they have completed the amount, the interest on their capital makes the figure out-dated. Here are a couple of findings from the lists. “The Duke of Westminster, 52, is Britain’s wealthiest individual and the 36th richest person in the world. He owns assets, mostly property in Mayfair, worth $8.7 billion ( £4.7 billion), an improvement of $1.2 billion on the previous year. The second richest Briton, at position 84 and with assets of $5 billion, is Philip Green, 52, the shopping tycoon whose empire includes British Home Stores, Top Shop, Burton and Miss Selfridge. He has more than doubled his fortune in the past 12 months from the $2.3 billion he possessed last year.” Times (27 February). A good year for billionaires then, but how about you and your family?

The price of everything

When Oscar Wilde wrote “A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”, he must have had in mind the likes of Bjorn Lomberg the Danish statistics professor. Lomberg wrote The Skeptical Environmentalist, a volume that viewed global problems like pollution, global warming and deforestation in an optimistic fashion. Although even this apologist for capitalism had to admit that there were problems. “The world faces serious problems such as pollution, hunger and disease,” he said. “Which problems should be addressed first? There are 800 million people starving, 2.5 billion people lacking sewerage and billions affected by climate change. We all wish that there were money enough to to solve all problems, but our means are limited.” Independent (6 March). So what does the learned professor propose to do about these appalling problems. Why, set up a team of nine of the world’s top economists to look at 10 of world’s most serious problems and list their solutions “according to value for money”. We can hardly wait to hear of their learned conclusions. Neither can the starving 800 million. Those of them that are still alive at the time that is.

A killer system

Socialism is said to be impossible because human beings are genetically aggressive and cannot behave in a cooperative fashion. A recent TV programme The Truth About Killing (8 and 15 March, Channel 4) seems to deny that assertion about aggression. Here is the TV reviewer Ian Bell on these programmes. “We are biologically repelled from killing face to face. In the Second World War, only 15 per cent of men were prepared to fire at their enemy, only 2 per cent of those were trying actively to kill. For the military this was “a problem”; for the rest of us it might have sounded like grounds for hope.” Herald (16 March). Needless to say the military authorities set about de-humanising the future combatants with the result that the British forces reckoned by the time of the Falklands war they had trained their troops to be efficient killers. “Then came the sting in this tale – killing was one thing, living with it quite another; 252 Britons were killed in the war, 200 have committed suicide since the war.” All the evidence seems to point to most people, far from being naturally brutal, find the idea of killing repugnant.

Welcome to London

Following reports of the inability of thousands of workers in the London area to obtain affordable housing, and recent disclosures that you could wait 15 years for local authorities to provide you with rented accommodation, the following is a glaring example of the inequalities of capitalism. Tim Hyatt, head of lettings at Knight Frank, the estate agents is quoted as saying; “We just renewed a tenancy in Kensington at £9,785 per week to an American CEO, and another of £5,353 to an overseas banker.” Financial Times (20 March). Although these are exceptionally high he goes on to reveal that over 200 of their properties in central London are in excess of £1,000 a week. Not many school teachers or nurses are their clients we imagine.

Letters: Two Strikes (2004)

Letters to the Editors from the April 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two Strikes

Dear Editors

Thanks very much for the review of my book Off the Rails in your February issue which is fine and not in the slightest bit offensive.

There are however two points I would make.

(1) I am surprised that the author concludes that the wider aspects of social partnership are not discussed in the book. In fact the entire last chapter deals with this issue, its effects and the reasons for it. It also broadens the debate considerably to consider factors in the U.K. trade unions, albeit in an admittedly minimalist way.

(2) On the wider point of my “socialism” I think the author misses the point. The point about my views on Irish unions is that they were not indoctrinated but gained by my own personal experiences. Tongue in cheek . . . I learned to hate Fianna Fail by experience not because I thought I must. I have learned from bitter experience how society is organised to the detriment of workers and do think that some sort of social “revolution” is necessary. I started one in my own small employment in my own small country. I think it is every bit as relevant a tactic to start small and work up as to go for broke from the outset, a tactic that in Ireland has almost led to the death of real socialism.

Just for the record also let me record that I have always been available to help workers in every section of their employment, Irish Rail or elsewhere, regardless of grade or occupation.

Finally however I do appreciate the review and am very happy with it on balance.
Brendan Ogle
(by e-mail)

The first point concerns a minor issue; the background social factors are indeed briefly discussed in the last chapter but the preponderance of the book specifically concentrates on the dispute in question. This of course is the nature of the book.

The second point highlights a key issue. You state that you encountered the antagonistic class nature of society through personal experience; this is very much in accord with our viewpoint. However it is your response to this with which we would challenge.

You advance the superficially attractive idea that a good tactic is “to start small”; what socialists would call the reformist approach. However, even your own experience as described in the book shows that such reformist activity leads nowhere and can cause more disillusion. The socialist opinion is that real meaningful change to the position of workers in society can only come about by agitation for a complete transformation of how society is organized rather than by modest adjustments. Of course it is true that these minor improvements may bring important benefits to individual workers but fundamentally they don’t change anything. These reforms can be easily revoked (and often are) in a direct or indirect fashion. That’s not to say of course that we are opposed to trade union activity; it’s an essential part of the struggle of workers within capitalism but it will never go beyond being such a struggle
Editorial Committee

Miners’ Strike

Dear Editors

I thought that your piece on the miners’ strike (March Socialist Standard), was as masterly as it was concise.

I can recall that at that time I was 20, and naive enough to unquestionably accept my dad’s New Communist Party stance: It was us versus them; Scargill was right, and Thatcher was wrong; Let’s break this government, and return Labour to power. I told you I was naive!

It took almost another decade before my new father in law put me straight. Like you, he explained that Scargill was as bad for the NUM as the government were; that the Police, and the army, were there to maintain the status quo; and whatever party was running capitalism would have resorted to this same course of action. The scales fell from my eyes.

Now I am twice the age I was then, and conscious of real socialism. I realise that simply voting for someone else to run the capitalist economy isn’t ever going to achieve anything. Instead of watching a change of puppets, we ought to aspire to be the puppeteers
John Stanley, 
St Helens

Background to terrorism (2004)

From the April 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Jenny Tonge MP, of the Liberal Democrats, was sacked from her front bench position for claiming she understood why militant Palestinians were carrying out suicide attacks against Israel, and for further suggesting she might have become a suicide bomber if she had been living for decades in a refugee camp. The Prime Minster’s wife, Cherie Blair, over a year ago, made a similar attempt to understand Palestinians, to equal outrage from the capitalist authorities and media here and in Israel. It was said Tonge’s comments were unacceptable and incompatible with liberal principles. Capitalists who support, or at the least are silent on, the terrorism of the CIA and the Israeli State were delighted she was disciplined. Tonge’s attempt to understand, we were told, amounted to tacit support for suicide bombers, which would also encourage them to continue or even step up their campaigns of terror. It seems therefore that people are not to understand the ugly side of our world or try to explain why humans behave as they do within the capitalist mode of production, for fear they might be seen as an apologist or even as encouraging the ugliness to continue. To explain and understand our world is a vital process to the progression of human society, a custom that socialists practice constantly and encourage fellow-workers to do too.

Right now the world is suffering from international acts of terrorism at a level unprecedented in recent times; hardly a day goes by without an act of terrorism – or certainly the threat that one might occur. Of course, there might well have been an overwhelming focus on terrorism by the media here since ‘9/11’ and in response to the campaign against terrorism feigned by both the US and Britain. One may observe, though, that threats of terrorism are more often reported than actual acts committed. We also observe, that the notorious three B’s (Bush, Blair and Bin Laden) are on a tirade of death and destruction the world over in their pursuit of power and wealth.

Now, a one-sided view of terrorism would suggest that terrorism is perpetrated by small groups in the shadows of society who make strange and uncompromising political or religious demands of the world, demands which “we” – the civilised and satisfied members of society – could not possibly meet and continue our present lifestyles. A more complete view might reveal that as well as the above groups, the uncivilised, terrorism itself is carried out by other groups in society who might be considered civilised. There are in society non-violent as well as violent forms of terrorism. In a sectarian society such as capitalism we have a variety of groups with specific interests to defend and promote: capitalists, gangsters, governments – chiefly among the latter, the United States of America through its international agent the Criminal Intelligence Agency. In addition, workers on a “work-to-rule” or out on “strike” might be viewed by capitalists as conducting terrorism, as would anti-Globalisation anarchists who are good at wrecking the world and building nothing.

The workers can however hit back even harder in their criticism of the capitalists. Over and above the terrorism conducted at home and abroad by their various State agencies and proxies, we can point to the various acts of terrorism which are the everyday activities of capitalists and which they undertake with the same vigour and coldness as Osama bin Laden for his cause. The pitiless use of unemployment; the reckless trashing of means of production and finished products (commodities) in times of economic crises; the callous wrecking of the environment; and the dumping of chemicals onto land, into the sea and the air. Furthermore, we can see the destruction of the human frame with use by the capitalists of cheap and inferior quality (junk) foods which are also full of chemicals unnecessary for human nutrition. We are witness to the decimation of wild life for their skins, tusks and other body parts for erroneous medicines and freakish commodities to eat, to wear and to embellish our homes and workplaces with. Finally, we can further elucidate the stinting of human emotions and potentials for creativity, leisure and happiness among workers in general by the relations provoked by the capitalist mode of production and the deleterious affects that it has on all aspects of our lives. Indeed, here we get to the crux of the matter – the actual cause operating in given circumstances to produce all the terrorism in human society – an economic system of society based on perpetual war and competition between individuals, businesses and countries – capitalism.

The groups contemplating acts of terrorism of the violent kind generally take their cue from the tactics of their State enemy who have engaged in acts of terrorism against them or their people. In the case of Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden his enemy trained and set him up in business.

Acts of terrorism by small groups like Al-Qaeda are in response to their warped rationale. This unfortunately suggests to these groups that the only way they can place their arguments for discussion onto the local or world agenda is to kill people and destroy property. Here the media, who love to shock and scare us, duly aid the rise of the political/religious thug. Can anyone, even among the keenest political minds, truthfully say that they had ever heard of Osama bin Laden and his demands before 9/11? Now thanks to his outrages and as a result, his western notoriety – indeed, his world fame – his views of the world are truly worldly in the sense that there is hardly anyone on the planet who has not heard of him – he has his public voice. ‘Oh yes, I love it, when a plan comes together’, says Osama.

To promote violence and war in bourgeois society, a society based on perpetual war, is not too difficult for it is a violent society by its nature. Governments, religious authorities, most political parties, businesses and media institutions, all accept the need for violence in society to settle or solve particular problems, which our chaotic capitalist world throws up as the various protagonists go about their daily business of making a killing. Here the resulting relations suggest to humans that fighting and violence is a legitimate way to settle disputes. In the United States, eleven thousand individuals are killed every year, and that is just with firearms; the country promotes the death penalty at home and funds generously organisations that promote violence worldwide and act as their proxies in particular battlefields too dangerous for American soldiers for particular causes and interests dear to them.

Not all minorities with strange or unusual demands who are denied what might ideally be considered fair treatment by the media resort to violence. We in the Socialist Party, ready to celebrate our 100 years as a party in relative obscurity, know all too well about media attention – or precisely, the lack of it. While socialists have no time for terrorism or violence, and maintain that there will always be violence in a society founded on violence, we can understand the frustrations of political groups who cannot get access to the mainstream debate. Those who live in the US or Europe are told they are lucky to live in a democracy and are able to speak out against the excess of governments and private enterprise. We remember, though, top American news anchor Dan Rather complaining that one could not speak out against American foreign policy in the days, weeks and months after 9/11, and we further remember a majority of people in Britain being against the war over Iraq and it still going ahead.

The aim of Al-Qaeda has nothing to do with a “clash of civilisations”, as some have suggested. Instead, it is merely a tactic to force members of the “host country” (the country they seek to influence by acts of terrorism) to listen to their demands and to pressurize their governments not to do what irks them and to leave them be to set their own standard of life, in the part of the world where they live. Others have also suggested that the West gets only what it has asked for by interfering in other countries: why, so the logic continues, can we not accept the fact that a nation or people are likely to defend “their” country when we are supposed to stand up and defend “ours”? Well, welcome to capitalism. The capitalists who have something to gain (oil and huge reconstruction contracts in Iraq) do not take the risk and are generally protected against acts of terrorism, and do not fight on the battlefield. Unhappily, on all occasions, we the proletariat are the class who fight and die for others’ profits.

As long as we have capitalism, that is, competition and contest between capitalists and capitalist states, buying and selling, land grabbing for profits and other gains, which leads to bulling, threatening, spying, open hostility, conflict, terrorism and open military war, we will never be free of violence and terrorism.
William Dunn

RESPECT: the “unity” coalition (2004)

From the April 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

A new political gathering on the left wing has been formed and is attracting some attention to itself of late. But what is this group and what will it mean for the working class?

R.E.S.P.E.C.T, standing for “Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environment, Community, and Trade Unionism” was formed on 25 January when over one thousand people gathered in central London for the launching of the new organisation.  The group has been initiated by ex-Labour MP George Galloway, posing as some kind of figurehead, and the Socialist Workers Party, the Stop the War Coalition, and various smatterings of other left wing groups and trade unions.

The initial declaration of this new organisation uses the language of socialism: “We want a world in which the democratic demands of the people are carried out; a world based on need not profit; a world where solidarity rather than self-interest is the spirit of the age”.

Observers will have noticed that they remain silent on how this new world is to be obtained, instead focussing on the mass discontent whipped up by the political blunderings of George Bush, Tony Blair and other spokesmen of the western capitalist class, in particular on the recent invasion of Iraq and the anti-war sentiment this provoked.

The anti-war movement was vast up to a point, and served as yet another example of how capitalism’s interests are not tied up with those of the workers. The spontaneous outburst of protest against imperialist war was an inspiring event for any socialist, but, as we know, the movement was massively ignored by the powers-that-be, and led to a feeling of let-down among those workers who thought that capitalist parties represented them. Now that the war has reached its conclusion, many people may be searching for a new “political alternative”.

Respect has stated on several occasions that it wishes to be that alternative. For instance:
  “But the yearning for a political alternative is even wider than the anti-war movement. Pensioners, students, trade unionists, Muslims and other faith groups, socialists, ethnic minorities and many others have been deeply disappointed by the authoritarian social policies and profit-centred, neo-liberal economic strategy of the government.”
However, so far they have held back from talking about how they intend to get to this new alternative or even about whether they think it will work within the present economic system. The majority of their propaganda to date consists of highlighting the recent problems of the capitalist class in Britain and elsewhere, but where they fail is that they seem to be under the impression that the current administrators of capitalism are unpleasant, lying manipulators and exploiters by choice rather than the system itself being to blame.

On some level it is perhaps unfair to judge just yet, since Respect is young and has yet to make an impact on the political scene, and on one level they are correct: there is a yearning for change. There has been a yearning for change ever since class society developed, that yearning of course is more generally known in socialist circles as the product of the class struggle. The class struggle is the irrefutable antagonism of interests in present society between the class that owns and profits from the means of production, and the class that creates the wealth but does not possess any means of producing wealth of their own. Those who “yearn for change” are certainly aware of some form of injustice or antagonism inherent in present-day society, and may be attracted to the new Respect coalition. Unfortunately, since Respect is not direct about what exactly they are aiming for, and how it is to be achieved, they run the risk of becoming caught in the quagmire of popular but ineffectual reformism.

List of Reforms
To date, Respect has provided the working class with promises for a better world, peace instead of war, riches instead of poverty, happiness instead of misery, but is quite silent on a possible future away from capitalism, and have instead stated the following aims to adjust the present economic system:
1. An end to the war and occupation of Iraq. We will not join any further imperialist wars.
2. An education system that is not dependent on the ability to pay, that is comprehensive and gives an equal chance in life to every child no matter how wealthy or poor their parents, from nursery to university.
3. A publicly owned and funded, democratically controlled NHS, free to all users.
4. Pensions that are linked to average earnings.
5. Raising the minimum wage to the European Union decency threshold of £7.40 an hour.
6. Tax the rich to fund welfare and to close the growing gap between the poor and the wealthy few.
7. The repeal of the Tory anti-union laws.
8. Opposition to all form of discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs (or lack of them), sexual orientation, disabilities, national origin or citizenship.
9. The right to self-determination of every individual in relation to their religious (or non-religious) beliefs, as well as sexual choices.
10. The defence of the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Opposition to the European Union’s ‘Fortress Europe’ policies.
11. We will strongly oppose the anti-European xenophobic right wing in any Euro referendum. But we oppose the ‘stability pact’ that the European Union seeks to impose on all those who join the euro. This pact would outlaw government deficit spending and reinforce the drive to privatise and deregulate the economy and we will therefore vote ‘No’ in any referendum on this issue.
12. Support for the people of Palestine and opposition to the apartheid system that oppresses them.
13. An end to the destruction of the environment by states and corporations for whom profit is more important than sustaining the natural world on which all life depends.
So ends this rather lengthy list of reforms and promises.  It is aimed at drawing in many disillusioned people eager to see the better world promised come to realisation. The reforms won’t work though, because of a basic misunderstanding of the type of society we live in. We live in a capitalist society, a society where goods are only produced for profit. In such a society, it’s logical that the creation of profits must take precedence over everything else. Hence the Socialist Party’s policy of not advocating reforms, since attempting to attack this profit-making machine with piecemeal reforms, rather than consistently aiming for the complete abolition of capitalism itself, is doomed to failure and frustration.

There is a chance those among the SWP already know this, since it ties in with the Trotskyist approach to reforms and struggle, but as long as they hold that the working class as unable to develop a revolutionary understanding of society, they will continue to attempt to deceive us by providing us with “transitional demands” in the hope that the workers will become so enraged at capitalism being unable to work in their interests that they will want a revolution. In reality people can simply become disillusioned with the reforms put forward by the left wing and abandon any interest in politics.

It would be of interest to see just how large a hold the SWP has on the rest of the coalition, as they reportedly made up half of the delegates at the founding conference. Speculation on the chance Respect may go the way of the Socialist Alliance seems already to have entered the minds of many people, and it’s a strong possibility that infighting between the SWP and the other groups may break out just as it did in the SA.

Voices from the remnants of the Socialist Alliance
At the conference to launch Respect in Portsmouth, it was interesting to note that questions from the audience and replies from the speakers hinted that the Socialist Alliance was a spent force, and one that nobody would wish to see again. It seemed to be held by the audience of students and workers that the SA had failed miserably, and that its policies had been ineffectual and misguided from the very start.

While this would be a ray of hope to revolutionary Marxists that the working class are starting to become increasingly annoyed at Trotskyist attempts to manipulate them, it’s of interest how some of the parties who made up the SA are reacting to the Respect Coalition.

The so-called “Socialist Party” of England and Wales (SPEW, formerly known as Militant Labour) have issued a statement to the new coalition, claiming that they will support them in the European elections but feel unable to join with them for the moment. They dredged up the past where they butted heads with the SWP inside the SA, with the end result that they left the organisation and the SWP consolidated its stranglehold. They also appear to be upset that they were not invited to join with the coalition earlier, a strong indication of the antagonism between Militant and the SWP, but since they are not a part of the new coalition (something the SWP is certainly pleased about) it seems they will have little effect on the future of Respect.

Although the Communist Party of Britain (who publish the Morning Star) never was a part of the Socialist Alliance, their reasons for not joining with the Respect Coalition shed light on the SWP’s relationship with the rest of the Leninist Left. In a statement on the new group they said:
    “We reject participation in the Respect Coalition proposed by George Galloway and  others. It is a narrowly-based front for the SWP which has emerged from the remnants of the failed Socialist Alliance, and is likely to divide not only the labour movement but  the anti-war movement as well. Its main constituent organisation holds quite different views to those of our party on the role and potential of the trade union movement and its leadership,     on the national question and the nature of imperialism, and on the socialist countries past and present.”
The text is somewhat sceptical as to the ability of the non-SWP factions in Respect to resist an attempt by the SWP to overwhelm the entire organisation, but time will tell if such scepticism is well founded.

Other statements follow that the CPB believe the new coalition could be harmful to a movement that wishes to “recapture” the Labour Party and “return” it to the interests of the working class. How exactly a pro-capitalist party such as Labour, which is and always has been for the continued existence of capital, can be turned towards the interests of socialism is something that will remain a mystery.

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) remained in the Socialist Alliance, and is a small but vocal group of Trotskyists, so far refusing to join Respect and heaping all manner of warnings of impending disaster on its reformist and opportunist tactics. Focussing on George Galloway, who has been set up as a “leading figure” in the coalition, they have attacked his pathetic claim that he needs “£150,000 a year to function as a leading figure” and also his shady ties to the former dictatorship in Iraq. The AWL attacks Respect’s soft approach to socialism, in so far as Respect’s only mention of the word socialism is that it makes up the “S” in the word R.E.S.P.E.C.T.  Up to now the AWL has been the most eloquent voice of protest and warning heard from the Leninist Left, but its repeated calls for the standard Trotskyist demands of nationalisation and state control do not impress the revolutionary Marxist nor any worker who does not simply wish to see the current free market regime replaced with a system based on state capital.

While the CPGB (not to be confused with the old CPGB whose name they picked up and who publish the Weekly Worker) has joined with the Respect Coalition, like other groups, it has voiced concern about overwhelming SWP involvement in the new coalition’s politics, via a leaflet that they distributed at the Portsmouth meeting, which is summed up in the following:
 “In order to keep a disparate alliance together, the Socialist Workers Party, which will surely make up the bulk of the convention, and its allies are     junking principle after principle to launch Respect.”
We are certainly hearing voices of caution from several groups, some outside of the Socialist Alliance and some within, who are wary of SWP interference in this attempted new movement in left wing politics.  This could be a simply matter of political feuding; some left groups may be jealous of the SWP’s numbers and disturbing tendency to use this to pack meetings or on some occasions intimidate and/or initiate violent attacks on its political opponents.  

However, we should not forget that a lot of these groups would not for a moment hesitate to act in the undemocratic and pushy manner that the SWP do, if they thought it would hasten their aim of introducing a state capitalist regime in Britain such as that which was started by the Bolsheviks in Russia.

While it may seem unfair to judge a new political movement before it has had an effective chance to prove itself, it would seem that we should not get our hopes up for Respect. As stated and proved, they have made it clear they are advocating reforms to capitalism, and while these reforms may at first seem attractive, it is certain they would always be at odds with the very nature of the economic system we live in, i.e., capitalism. Lacking an honest revolutionary stance for a new society, reformism becomes caught in a pointless and frustrating circular battle with an economic system that is based on exploitation. As long as the accumulation of capital takes precedence, either in the hands of the individual capitalist or state institutions, the primary concern of exploitation of labour and making profit will take precedence over the concerns of human need.

It may seem cynical to write off the coalition completely, but when even former allies in the Socialist Alliance are showing such doubts on its ability to create a new workers movement, it’s clear to socialists that Respect should be treated with caution if not scepticism. The fact that if and when Respect have any success, George Galloway is bound to come under attack by the media for his supposed friendly links to the old regime in Iraq. A man such as Galloway with such a dubious political background can only spell trouble for Respect’s appearance as credible left wing organisation, but for the moment they seem oblivious to this danger.

One thing is certain though, a socialist organisation will get nowhere without a firm grasp of democracy, sound Marxist principle, a disdain to conceal its socialist objective, and a membership in full possession of the facts about current society and the revolutionary alternative. Respect has none of these organisational principles, and is showing no sign of understanding or desiring to develop any of them.
Dan Read

50 Years Ago: Shall Germany Re-arm? (2004)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

An argument used by Labour Party and other opponents of German re-armament is that the Germans have caused two world wars, are a militarist nation and cannot be trusted. In other words that the Germans are an “inferior race” by comparison with all or some of the others.

In the controversy each national group can state what, in its own estimation, is an unanswerable case. As each group maintains that is own armaments are purely defensive, and as each can provide ample evidence of fiendish barbarities used by other Powers in war, this is easy. All war is bestial and no nation has a record much less horrifying than any other. The whole argumentation is bedevilled by a blank inability to recognise why capitalism needs arms and why wars occur. The capitalist-minded patriots of all countries denounce the methods used by the others but fail to recognise that they are pursuing the same objectives in the same way. They all seek to control sources of raw materials, seek to invade new markets, and seek strategic bases to protect their territories and trade routes. But each and every one regards its own activities as necessary, lawful and legitimate, and for those who accept capitalism and seek to perpetuate it so they all are. Given a capitalist world Russian attempts to dominate the Dardanelles or seize North Persian oil (as in 1946) have just as much necessity and legitimacy as the British hold on Suez or Abadan or the American control of Panama or oil resources in the Middle East. It is the law of the jungle.

Not recognising this, those who argue superficially about war being caused by American, Russian, British or German aims of world domination allow themselves to be deluded into the belief that aggression is an inherent characteristic of one particular nation or is the outcome of some ideology. It is only necessary to glance at the present trouble spots of the world to see how remote this is from the truth. Is it “ideology” that sets Egyptian capitalism against British at Suez, Russian against Turkish in the Dardanelles, French against Indonesian, Argentine against British over control of territories in the Antarctic, America against Russia in Europe, the Pacific and elsewhere, Israel against the Arab States, India against Pakistan over Kashmir, British against African in Kenya? The list could be enormously extended and the explanation in all cases is that capitalism is by its nature a competitive, expansionist system breeding rivalry, hatred and war. There is no way out of this terrifying threat of continuing wars except by abolishing capitalism and establishing world socialism in its place.

(From editorial, Socialist Standard, April 1954)