Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Brick Walls at the Foreign Office (1951)

From the April 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

On March 9th, after five and a half years as Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin retired from the Foreign Office. This date was also his seventieth birthday and, therefore, was a traditionally significant date in the life of this man who has spent almost all his life in the Labour Movement. A convenient moment, indeed, to review briefly his commonly accepted success in this field.

From being a worker in the docks and an active trade unionist he eventually became the Dockers’ Leader and General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union—a foremost figure in the struggle of that section of the working-class on the industrial field against the employers, for higher wages and better working conditions. His political allegiance was given to the mouthpiece of the trade unions on the political field—the Labour Party. With the growth of this Party Ernest Bevin grew in political influence eventually reaching in the last World War the position of Minister of Labour and National Service in the National Government. From being in a position of receiving the lash across his shoulders he now held the stock of the whip in his hand.

In the years that had passed there had of course been no fundamental change in the economic basis of the country, or the World, in which he lived. Known to the workers as a strong trade unionist and regarded as one of their best friends in their struggle against the constant pressure of the capitalists to obtain more work for less wages he was chosen as the best person to receive their confidence in the war-time drive for greater production. His work in this sphere involved him in the execution of impositions and restrictions on the working-class so that greater production could be wrung from their sweating hides. He was chosen as the executive officer to give effect to the Churchill doctrine of “blood, tears, toil, and sweat,” particularly the latter half of it. It is of no use to call into question Mr. Bevin’s sincerity; all his life his cherished ideals have been those of a rescuer of the oppressed and downtrodden. Unfortunately the greatest sincerity is not enough—a knowledge of the causes of things is the key to the understanding of them and the solution to any problems arising from them. In particular, knowledge of the cause and development of the capitalist system and of the position of the working-class in this system is essential to any real approach to the solution of the problems that beset the working-class. This Ernest Bevin lacked.

It is not surprising, however, to find an article in the Daily Herald (March 10, 1951) headed “Idealist who had to turn Realist.” It is, and always has been, the failing of reformers to consider the real approach to the solution of the main problems facing the workers, namely, their poverty, their insecurity and their participation in wars, to be that of attempting to remedy the hundred and one various small ways in which these problems manifest themselves on the surface. They never attack the cause of these problems, which is the capitalist system itself, and claim that those who do, as does the Socialist Party of Great Britain, are the idealists!

With the Labour Party’s overwhelming victory at the polls in 1945, Ernest Bevin went to the Foreign Office, apparently still an idealist (according to the Daily Herald.)

In the article mentioned it states that “when he took on the job of Foreign Secretary, he had a clear idea of what he hoped to do. The first job, of course, must be the making of the peace treaties, the settling of the new frontiers, the building of an efficient Four-Power system in Germany. Then there were such problems as Palestine and Anglo-Egyptian relations. In his buoyant optimism he hoped that all this would get tidied up in a few months. Afterwards he thought he could get on with the real work of a Foreign Secretary—not have to worry about “power politics” but give all his mind to international, social and economic co-operation.

As the article later states, “these high hopes were never fulfilled. They all depended on Soviet co-operation in the making and keeping of the Peace.” As is common knowledge, disillusionment came quickly. At times the attitude of the Soviet statesman made him angry because he resented being accused of imperialism; because “his old belief in the democratic and peaceful intentions of the Soviet Government was being shattered.” Despite this frustration of all his hopes he went doggedly on, “still hoping that patience would bring a change.” After the conference in Moscow in 1947 Bevin said, “ It looks as if we may get an Austrian treaty. And if we do. that could be the beginning of an understanding.” This did not materialise, instead came the extended developments of the “Cold-War.”

As the article says, “It was then that Bevin realised that there was nothing for it but to accept and face an ugly situation in a spirit of hard realism.”

What does all this really mean?

This giving up of “ideals” was looked upon as an exception in the days of 1931 when MacDonald, Snowden, and other Labour leaders went over to the National Government in order to deal with the “real” problems. But what was thought, by supporters of the Labour Party, to be the exception in 1931 has certainly proved to be the rule during the intervening twenty years. Attlee, Bevin, Morrison, and other Labour leaders time and time again since 1939 have discovered that they have had to go against ideals they previously professed, or, as they would claim, the day when these ideals can be fulfilled must be postponed because some impediment exists which must be dealt with first.

Before 1914 the Labour Party could be called mildly pacifist, but their decision to support the Kaiser’s War put paid to that ideal for a while. From 1918 to 1939 it again became ideally peace loving but the Nazi “threat to democracy” again upset the apple cart. Since 1945 it has become a peace loving Party (whilst making a noisy clangour with its sabre rattling), but finds that the regime it adopted as its blood brother from 1917, “Socialist” Russia, is acting like a cuckoo in the nest. The pacifist ideal the Labour Party always has to discard when it comes to the conclusion that the only “real” solution to the differences between national groups lies in war. Their support of war is an important matter for reflection for it is in wartime that governments are forced to exploit the workers even more than “normal.” This increased exploitation is brought about by means of lengthening the working day and introducing more efficient methods of production enabling the workers to produce more goods in the same time. At the same time there is a shortage of man-power arising from the transfer of men from production to the armed forces and also the need for greater production. To enable the necessary production to be carried out smoothly it is necessary for the government to introduce all kinds of restrictive measures to prevent the working-class taking advantage of the "nation’s distress.” The most damaging of these restrictions prevents the so-called freedom of contract between employee and employer. Workers are prevented from leaving their jobs without permission, and strikes are made illegal unless the government are first informed to enable them to deal with the matter.

Ideals, such as opposition to conscription and to the maintenance of restrictive practices in trades and many minor reforms, have to be sacrificed on the altar of Mars.

The threat of war to-day is once again turning the Labourites from4 "idealists” into "realists.” This continual turning of the coat cannot be avoided. Their ideals may be the betterment of the working-class but they do not understand that the position of the working class cannot be improved within the capitalist system, nor the problems which this system throws up be solved unless the system itself be abolished. So long as they see no need to abolish the capitalist system, so long will the system exist and continue to throw up all sorts of "scapegoat” problems. Even if one problem is dealt with and seems to have disappeared, it will be found to re-appear in another form. Consequently, despite all their high ideals there will always be a multitude of problems, large and small, which will demand a “realist” approach and prevent the ideals being realised.

Morrison has gone to the Foreign Office in place of Bevin, no doubt with the same ideals as Bevin had when he started, but there is also no doubt that he will leave the Foreign Office a disillusioned and disappointed man. The problem of war cannot be solved in the Foreign Offices of the world. Wars in the modern world arise from the conflict and strife always present in the economics of capitalism. To sell goods capitalist nations must have markets, to produce goods they must have readily available supplies of raw materials: to protect the goods that are produced, the goods to be sold, and the property they own, the capitalist class must use armed forces to protect the strategic routes and supplies in the world. Wars are the struggle for the self-preservation of the competing national capitalisms when they are no longer able to achieve their economic aims by peaceful methods.

Any Foreign Secretary who believes that he can solve this problem, who believes that he can achieve permanent world peace, before capitalism itself is abolished all the world over is bound to fail in his task.

The only solution to the problem of war lies in the understanding of the cause of war. Not, of course, by one Foreign Secretary, but by the majority of the world working-class. Only then will the real problem be really dealt with.
N.S.

God Behind The Iron Curtain (1951)

From the April 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Vatican and many Protestant prelates in the Western bloc thunder against “Godless Communism" but their diatribes are out-of-date, for the Communist Party has adopted God as one of its allies. The Daily Worker admitted this in a recent editorial when it wrote, “The Communists and the genuine Christians have much in common. They can find ways of working together to achieve a peaceful world.” (Daily Worker, 29th December, 1950.)

It is true that in the early days of the Russian Revolution the Bolsheviks tried to liquidate religion, to tear down the ikon from the peasant’s hovel and replace it by a picture of Little Father Lenin. The programme of the Communist International adopted by the Sixth World Congress in 1928 contained the following attack on religion, “The fight against religion, the opium of the people, occupies an important position among the tasks of the cultural revolution. The fight must be carried on persistently and systematically. The proletarian power must withdraw all State support from the Church, and abolish the influence exercised by the Church.” (“Lenin on Religion” published by Lawrence and Wishart.) But religion could not be liquidated. The people of Russia were not Socialists and they shared with people all over the world the poverty, insecurity and frustration of capitalism. In their ignorance many of them turned for hope and consolation to religion with its message of the transience of human suffering and everlasting bliss in a world to come. The Second World War gave a fillip to religion in Russia and in 1943 Stalin made a non-aggression pact with Christ by approving the formation of a Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church. Since then the Patriarchs of this Church have been faithful servants of the Russian state. As good lieutenants of the God of Battles they gave enthusiastic support to Russia’s war effort; as humble followers of the Prince of Peace they have been prominent at the Peace Conferences which have been staged to support Russia's current foreign policy. And judging by the amounts that some of them have been able to invest in Russian War Loans they have benefited materially as well as spiritually.

In Czechoslovakia, too, religion prospers under State patronage. The clerics who oppose the Government share the same fate as rebellious laymen, but those who are prepared to serve both God and Gottwald are well looked after. According to “Prague News Letter,” a periodical published in Prague (1st January, 1951) “All church expenses such as electricity bills, bell-ringers’ and organists’ wages, candles and wine are . . . met by the civil authorities” and . . . “several hundred million crowns were spent on other ecclesiastical needs, such as the maintenance of theological faculties and seminaries.” The same paper informs us that “ All priests have rent-free houses;” and the “average salary of priests in the Prague diocese . . . is about 6,500 crowns per month.” “Czechoslovak Life,” another journal published in Prague (December, 1950), states that this amount is “nearly twice the average industrial wage,” and the Czechoslovak minister. Josef Plojahr, himself a Catholic priest, declared that “Czechoslovakian priests are the best paid in the whole world, and not only the Catholics, but the priests of all other religions.” (“Soviet Weekly,” March 1st, 1951). It is hoped that this information does not become too generally known in clerical circles or there may be a mass invasion of Czechoslovakia by poverty-stricken Anglican curates. And what shall we do without our padres?

The Socialist Party alone maintains its hostility to all forms of religion. It considers all religious beliefs to be incorrect and a barrier to the acceptance of the Socialist case. Therefore one of the tasks of a Socialist is to show the falsity of religious ideas and not to compromise with them. A Socialist cannot be religious, and when Socialism is established religion will be dead, for the overwhelming majority of the world’s population will have become Socialists. If anyone remains who wishes to tell his beads or sing his hymns he will be tolerated. But a world of enlightenment and security will not provide fertile soil for the growth of religious ideas, which flourish in the rubbish heap of misery and ignorance.
J. M.

Persian Oil (1951)

Editorial from the April 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

Consternation has been aroused in British financial and government circles by the decision of the Persian Parliament to nationalise the oil properties of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., in which the British Government has large holdings and a controlling interest. In addition to the investment aspect British capitalism needs oil for industry and for naval, military and air bases in the Middle East.

The British Government announced that it has “a right and a duty to take all measures to protect legitimate commercial undertakings overseas,” and sent a “firm” note of protest to the Persian Government. In drafting the note the Government was in some slight difficulty. As the Daily Mail (16/3/51) jeeringly asked, how could a Government of nationalisers logically object to nationalisation. But the difficulty was overcome in the following tortuous wording of the note:—
  “It is necessary, first, to draw a clear distinction between the principle of nationalisation and the expropriation of an industry which has been operating in Iran on the security of a regularly negotiated agreement valid until 1993, and, relying on that security, has in all good faith spent enormous sums of money in development.
  “His Majesty’s Government are advised that under the terms of its agreement the company's operations cannot legally be terminated by an Act such as ‘ nationalisation."' (Text of Note. Times 17/3/51.)
Mr. W. N. Ewer, fomer critic of imperialism, was likewise ill-at-ease, and in his article in the Daily Herald (17/3/51) in which he condemned the Persian Communist-led Tudeh Party for their demand, “Throw the robbers into the sea!” was forced to employ the lame argument, “What would happen then to the 60,000 Persians working on the oilfields does not seem to worry Tudeh leaders.”

But other Powers, U.S.A. and Russia are also involved. If Persian capitalism pulls off this major stroke the other countries in the Middle East where American oil interests predominate will copy the example; not to mention the fact that American oil companies operate on the island of Bahrein which, though under British “protection,” is claimed by the Persian Government to be Persian territory.

Already in Iraq a similar threat to nationalise the oil industry has been made, which would affect American interests. American capitalism like British needs Middle East oil for military uses.

The Persian Government’s plan is that the nationalised oil industry would be operated by foreign technicians, since Persia has few of her own, and the contract would be offered to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. A Persian Government spokesman who announced this, added the warning note that “if British technicians would not operate the oil fields for Persia the invitation would be extended to the U.S.” (Sunday Dispatch, 18/3/51.)

There is, however, a major reason why the British and American Governments are likely to stand together over this issue for, in the background, stands Russia, whose expansionist aims in Persia, hitherto thwarted by American-British pressure on the Persian Government, may now seem to have the prospect of success. It has been hinted by the same Persian Government spokesman that one of the reasons for nationalisation is to forestall a revival of the Russian demand that they too should have oil concessions in Persia.

The real cream of the controversy is a Daily Worker editorial on 17th March, 1951, headed “Loot from Persia.” Starting off with:—“There has never been a case of more barefaced imperialist robbery than Persian oil,” the Daily Worker goes on to point out that the 1933 agreement between the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. and the Persian Government “will forever stand out as an agreement signed under duress with British cruisers and torpedo boats standing by in the Persian Gulf to make sure that Persia signed on the dotted line.”

The reason why this Communist indignation is so curious is not that its description of the 1933 agreement is untrue but that the Daily Worker does not even mention the attempt by the Russian Government in 1946 to bludgeon Persia into signing an agreement by identical methods.

In that year, with Russian troops in occupation of Northern Persia, the Persian Government was forced to sign an agreement establishing a Russo-Persian Oil Company giving Russia control of North Persian oil for 50 years. (This would have carried Russian control up to 1996 as against 1993 for the Anglo-Iranian Agreement).

Relevant clauses from the Russo-Persian Agreement, published in Soviet News by the Russian Embassy in London were as follows:—
  “1. In the course of the first 25 years of the activity of the company 49 per cent. of the shares will belong to the Iranian side, and 51 per cent. to the Soviet side. In the course of the second 25 years 50 per cent. of the shares will belong to the Iranian side and 50 per cent. to the Soviet side.
  2. The profits made by the company will be divided in accordance with the ratio of the shares of each side.
  3. The period of the activity of the company is 50 years.
  4. When the period of the activity of the company expires, the Iranian Government will have the right to buy out the shares of the Soviet side or to continue the period of activity of the company.”
(Soviet News, 13th September, 1947.)
Having signed the agreement while Russian troops were in occupation, the Persian Government, backed by America and Britain, complained to United Nations and having got the Russian troops out repudiated the Agreement.

Like the British Government now, the Russian Government sent “firm” notes of protest to Persia.

No secret was made of the part American capitalism played then in ousting Russia from Persia. The Manchester Guardian (3/2/1948), in an editorial rather critical of American policy, said:—
  “In general the United States Government has advised Persia against making any concessions to Russia and in particular has encouraged the Persian Government not to ratify the Russian Oil Agreement.”
On the present dispute the Daily Mail facetiously asked whether the Labour Government would “send a gunboat up the Persian Gulf ” in the event of Persia failing to compensate the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. It may prove to be more than a jest. If America and Britain put pressure on Persia and the Russian Government claims the right of armed intervention on the ground that its own security is threatened (a right the Russian Government has before claimed under the Russo-Persian Treaty of 1921) the attempt of Persian capitalism to stand up to the rival powers and play one off against the others may end with Persia being occupied by Russian troops in the North and British and American troops in the South,

Passing Comments: Tito (1951)

The Passing Comments Column from the April 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tito

In the last analysis, the Stalinist opinion of any country depends solely on whether the country concerned accepts unquestioningly the leadership of Stalin, or not. What is laudable in Bulgaria becomes blameworthy in Yugoslavia. Indeed, the very same attributes which are supposed to make Poland and Rumania Socialist countries earn for Yugoslavia the label of “Fascist.” The nationalisation of industry, the suppression of free speech, the dictatorship of a single party, all these, when found in Albania and Hungary, show those countries to be People’s Republics, while, when found in Yugoslavia, they prove conclusively that Tito is a tyrant and a reactionary. The latest example of this occurs in connection with the nationalisation of industry. When jt was announced in November 1947 that the Polish government had agreed to pay compensation to British shareholders in respect of shares that they had held in Poland’s nationalised industries, the Daily Worker made no complaint; but on March 8th, 1951, the Daily Worker comments sourly on the payment of compensation by Yugoslavia for exactly the same purpose. The same measure, in fact, which is praiseworthy in Poland warrants, in Yugoslavia, the statement that British capitalist interests “appear to have found Tito’s methods of nationalisation quite helpful.”

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Guarantees

The leaders of the Western world claim that, in their hands, the atom bomb and large armed forces are guarantees for peace. The Soviets are making the same claim. “The Great Soviet Encylopaedia” says that “the atomic weapon in the hands of the U.S.S.R. is one of the decisive measures for the defence of peace” (Daily Express, 7-3-51). These arguments may be useful in persuading the workers on each side of the Iron Curtain to accept further reductions in their standard of living, but they are not new. As far back as 1911, General von Schlieffen said of the German army: “On the fear inspired by this army, depends the peace of Europe.”

The peoples of the world could do without these guarantees of peace.

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The Family

What, in the orthodox view, are the glories of our Western way of life? Among them the Sanctity of the Family finds a prominent place.

But look at this news item: “A six-year-old girl, Robin Strasser, was taken from her mother in New York and given into the care of her grandmother by order of the Supreme Court Referee, today, because of her mother’s Communist activities.” (Daily Express, 9-2-51).

Theories are all right in their place: but when it comes to the case of a person who is against the regime, the Sanctity of the Family and the feelings of a six-year-old child are alike blatantly disregarded.

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Back to Work

General von Falkenhausen was convicted of having authorised the execution of 240 Belgian refugees while he was German Military Governor of Belgium and Northern France, and having deported Jewish and Belgian workers” (Manchester Guardian, 10-3-51). For this, the General was sentenced to twelve years’ hard labour: and since there is a Belgian law allowing a good-conduct prisoner Ho be released after serving one-third of this term, the time the General will have to spend in jail may be as low as four years. Lieutenant-General von Ravenstein, a former Panzer Division commander, is horrified at the judgment: he has remarked publicly that he would be very proud if he had acted “in the way General von Falkenhausen acted in his lifelong service for the Fatherland.” Von Ravenstein went so far as to say: “If we old German soldiers are appealed to now to become active again in military affairs, none of us will be ready for such work after this sentence.” 

Is this a threat or a promise? For if the “work” von Ravenstein mentions is of the same order as that for which von Falkenhausen has just been sentenced, few ordinary people will be worried by his statement.

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Sanctuary—from what?

In one of his reports to the Security Council General MacArthur has remarked on "the avidity with which the North Korean citizens have sought sanctuary behind the United Nations lines” (Observer, 25-2-51).

This, in his opinion, is because of their “complete aversion to Communist rule and their fervent desire, at whatever hazard, for refuge within the protection of the United Nations.”

General MacArthur should know that the Chinese and North Koreans are far weaker in the air than the Americans, and therefore cannot bomb cities behind the enemy lines so efficiently. But it seems not to have occurred to him that the refugees may be inspired more by a desire to escape American bombing than by any choice they may have made between Chinese and American imperialism.

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Sleepness nights?

The outlook before the British people is gloomy. Nationalisation has been found to be no solution for the problems of the working class, though, in certain rundown industries, it has solved very satisfactorily the problems of the managers and the investors. The increasing world tension brings with it further shortages and sacrifices, and the threat of the atomic bomb. But the British workers are not suffering alone. They have their companions in misery: for example, his majesty the King.

The Daily Express draws our attention to the situation in which the King finds himself (9-2-51). Britain’s total “bill for the Monarchy,” it says, is just over £1,000,000 a year: of this the King himself draws £410,000. “Out of the grant the King must pay salaries, pensions, and expenses of the Royal Household, and gifts to charities,” What is left—£110,000—is the King’s Privy Purse, his personal fund for expenses.” Well, the King has been overspending by some £60,000 a year, so the Government is generously taking over an annual £40,000 of the royal liabilities; and the King is making economies to the extent of £20,000 a year.

So the working class family, as it plans to save a few shillings on the weekly budget, may take comfort in the fact that the King himself is voluntarily cutting down his rate of personal expenditure from £2,100 to £1,700 a week.
Alwyn Edgar

All Quiet on the Western Front (1951)

Film Review from the April 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

Any work of art which presents the truth about modern war is a rarity, and therefore Socialists should view the film “All Quiet on the Western Front” with particular interest. Made in 1930, directed by Lewis Milestone, it is based on Remarque’s famous novel of the 1914-1918 war as seen through the eyes of the ordinary German soldier.

The film opens in 1914, amid the patriotic fervour of the first days of the war. Whilst a military band blares outside a school, we see a group of youths inside all eagerly clamouring to join the army. Only one of their number tries to make a stand against them, but afraid of being called a coward, he reluctantly joins them, bewildered and terrified.

A brilliant sequence follows of the training of these volunteers, and here Milestone shows us how each individual is gradually converted into an automaton in uniform. This is one of the key points of the film, and is developed later in the battle scenes.

After a period in the trenches, where they get their first shattering experience of modern war, these youngsters retire behind the lines for a rest. Here the film becomes most interesting and outspoken. Whilst the soldiers are wolfing their rough food, they discuss the war and its causes. Some of the men think they are fighting because of the natural wickedness of the enemy, whilst others do not know why they are at war at all. One by one they speak, and we realize that all these men have been led blindly into a holocaust they do not understand. Eventually one of them says that the politicians and financiers are to blame, and that they should be the ones to do the fighting. This whole scene is most movingly and truthfully presented.

The greatest sequence of the film follows—the famous “Charge Across the Trenches.” The French attack, and move in hordes across No Mans Land, mown down by the German gunfire. The camera moves along the German trench, looking out on the advancing infantry, and with superb cutting and camera movement, Milestone shows us the ghastly carnage. We are made to feel that all these figures, the oncoming French, the Germans, the machine-gunners, the soldiers in the terrible fight with bayonets and bare fists, are not individuals, but a mass of men converted into brute animals, acting as animals do. A French soldier runs up to the barbed wire and places his hands on it, preparatory to leaping over. A shell bursts, and when the smoke clears, we see just a pair of hands dangling on the wire. The Germans are pushed back, but counter-attack. Now we are in the French trenches, and the camera moves along in the. opposite direction, showing the slaughter of the German troops. In this way is shown the link between the German and French soldiers, that they are really brothers.

The rest of the film is devoted to the deepening horror felt by the German troops, in particular the principal character (played by Lew Ayres). He is at first shown as an idealistic boy, but at the end he becomes an embittered man, revolted by his experience.

The film naturally suffers from the inexperience of the actors, unskilled in the then new sound-film technique. This is especially true of Lew Ayres, noticeably in the tragic scene with his mother, and also when he is trapped in a shell hole with a dying French soldier.

Despite these faults, “All Quiet on the Western Front” is a good film, and its recent general release is doubly welcome. It should remind any workers who may have doubts, what war means to them.
Derek R. Bowen

More about savages (1951)

Down to Drink by Parnell Dempster, 1949
From the April 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

An art exhibition of a remarkably high standard was held in London recently. It consisted of pencil and crayon drawings, abstract patterns and nature-study notes, the work of seven to fourteen year old children of Western Australia. Not European children but black fellows’ offspring. To use one writer’s phrase “the flotsam and jetsam of one of the most backward races in the world, living under desperately miserable conditions, absolutely untaught.” A group of human beings shunned socially and ill-treated physically by their "superior” white brothers.

It would appear at this stage to be simply a picture of little geniuses producing works of art in spite of awful conditions. Reminiscent of the English species starving in garrets. But what of the contradiction the picture points? Man surely only responds to some stimulus, and excels in those things to which he has access. And Aborigines are no exception.

Precisely. These children have come under the influence of two Europeans who treat them kindly, an experience previously unknown to the native Australian. And of greater importance is the fact that they approached the children as teachers, not preachers. Over a period of four years they taught what they could. For conditions were appalling. Very few materials, cowed pupils, and severe climate being only three adverse items. But striving against all this they progressed, concentrating on art needlework and nature-study. The last mentioned was very fruitful for the school was set in land where animals abounded.

As the work progressed, the children’s response became evident. The note-books of eight year-olds would equal the average standard of many London fourteen year-olds. The drawings are really lovely—some are so adult as to almost cause doubt of origin. Perspective of incredible truth and delicate colours are common to all the pictures, as is also, the animated portrayal of kangaroos and men.

It is essentially an intelligent response. Work is balanced, clean and beautiful, the calligraphy amazingly clear and even. When asked by visitors to produce a picture, the children settled to the task with great concentration for as long as two hours. Nor looked up from their desks when people came round and watched them.

Another point of special interest, was the non-acquisitive attitude of these children. Given chalks and paper as presents, they left them in the schoolroom, when going home. It was explained to them that these were personal gifts but this they were unable to appreciate. No doubt as capitalism engulfs these simple creatures, this pleasant trait will quickly disappear.

Opponents might here utter the time-worn argument that conditions and poverty do not affect capacity, that they are no barrier to brilliance. But as socialists maintain, results occur only under suitable conditions. This article tries to show that the experiment in the dry-wastes of Western Australia backs up this contention. Possibly the only pleasant things in life to the Aborigine are the trees and sun and leaping animals, and it is these things about which ideas are expressed in simple pictures and patterns. To express it differently these people respond to a limited environment, sans books, sans houses, sans machinery, sans practically everything, in an intelligent, though limited way. A man who can tell by the appearance of leaves, how long since a kangaroo passed by, is not a cretin, as is proved by the performance of his children when in school.

Evidence has yet to be found of a division of Homo Sapiens which is congenitally backward.
M. L. Brown


Blogger's Note:
An unfortunate choice of title for an article that is arguing against supposed racial difference, which was the order of the day in polite society. Did a bit of digging, and my educated guess is that the article refers to an Art Exhibition/tour that originated out of the Carrolup Native Settlement in Western Australia. More details on the background of these young artists and this stain on Australian history can be found at the following links:

Obituary: Moses Baritz (1938)

Moses Baritz (circa 1912)
From the May 1938 issue of The Western Socialist 

It is with the deepest regret that I have to write the obituary of one who was so well known among the old-timers of the Socialist movement. I first met Moses in 1914 in those stirring early days of the war, and remember so well his huge meetings on Winnipeg Market Square in the weeks preceding August 4th.

He died at the age of fifty-four in the Manchester Victoria Memorial Jewish Hospital, and the “Manchester Guardian,’’ of March 31st, 1938, in a lengthy obituary, tells of his “vast store of knowledge of opera and particularly of Wagnerian music dramas. . . . He was one of the first to give radio talks on music and gramophone lecture recitals.” Again, they say: “He was for many years lecturer and musical adviser to the Columbia Graphophone Company, but he steadfastly refused to live in London, maintaining that the cultural facilities were better in Manchester.”

Of him personally they say: “As a man he hid a very generous disposition under a certain brusqueness of manner.”

Of particular interest to Socialists is the following quotation: “His interests were not only musical. He lectured in the United States, for instance, on economics as well as on music. He will be remembered as a leading figure in the lively debates of the Manchester County Forum before the war, and he was known on many platforms as a forceful advocate of Socialism. Research into the associations of Marx and Engels with Manchester was a particular hobby of his, and until recently he had been collecting material for a book on the subject.”

His mother, who is still alive, and is now ninety-two years old, was interviewed by one of the newspapers, and claimed Moses was not a success because he “got this Socialism,” while her other sons were becoming fairly successful business men.

As a debater, his like was never heard in Winnipeg, and his debate with Mr. Mobius, a clever German reformer who used to live here, is still remembered by all who were present.

His historical lectures on the French Revolution and like subjects were attended by students and faculty from our local colleges and his encyclopaedic knowledge often was marvelled at. His memory was sponge-like in its absorbent qualities, and what he read he knew and could quote readily from, after one perusal.

He conducted classes for the Winnipeg Local one winter and left his mark in the memory of all who attended.

The I.W.W. was a potent force on this continent in those days and his opposition to that organization had an amusing sequel, as he was held by the authorities in Seattle during the war years as an I.W.W., and some respectable citizens of Winnipeg as well as others of us had to give lengthy evidence on his behalf before the U.S. consul before he was released.

He was widely travelled, having lectured in practically every city in Canada, most parts of the U.S.A. and also in Australia.

He had a biting and bitter tongue, was feared by his opponents, but highly respected for his vast fund of knowledge, his honest Socialist convictions and the lucidity of the presentation of his views.

When visiting London in the summer of 1934 he came down from Manchester to see me. His rotund figure more pronounced, his shortsighted eyes more short-sighted, but his voice not quite so loud. We lived the old days over, “do you remember” being repeated again and again, old battles re-fought, old bitternesses laughed at, old memories, old friends, old enemies all recalled. That day was to be repeated later in Manchester or Glasgow, but an attack of the illness that ultimately finished him made that meeting our last.

His hatred of Russian Communist trickery and double dealing made him keep valuable information about Engels and his life in Manchester from them, and I hope his material which he was collecting at that time and up to his death can yet be edited and published.

He was essentially a product of his city and his time — the youth of today turned out of schools machine-like and with ideas, clothes and mannerisms so much in common and so respectable could never produce a Baritz.

The Socialist movement is poorer by his loss. We pay honor to him, whose like we may never see again.
A.P.

London's Ring-Roads: How to Solve the Traffic Problem (1973)

From the April 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The ultimate argument for capitalism has always been that at least it works. The problems can be acknowledged, but while efforts to solve them are made the basic task of running society has to be accomplished; and in this capitalism passes the empirical test while Socialism remains untried. Unfortunately, it is quite untrue. Profit, the nest-feathering for which capitalism exists, is irreconcilable with social well-being or simple efficiency. The effect is that of a Fred Karno circus where the acrobats fall down, lions eat tamers, prancing horses have the botts and blazing hoops won’t light; but the ringmasters explain continually that with a change of management the greatest show on earth will get things right.

Thus, the politicians promise and plan for productive growth of which the system is incapable. Houses and flats are built by the million and the need for homes only grows. Schools everywhere like glittering palaces, and the attainment of literacy still elusive. The technical achievements fall flat, knackered by built-in obsolescence and cost-paring: each new wonder — motor-car, TV, household machine — leads at once to proliferation of repair shops in testimony to the models’ failure to work. The vision of space-travel is of men on their backs under non-starting rocketcraft all over the universe, with tow-in-and-mend stations on every star. Whatever capitalism does is done with atrocious inefficiency, its non-viability a comedy with tragic results.

Motors, Motors Everywhere
An outstanding example of this is the present-day struggle to accommodate road traffic. Generally, authorities find only one solution to attempt: the building of more and bigger roads. A new scheme for London was published at the end of February — a “box” of ring roads through the outer suburbs, girdling the city and linking the motorways which radiate from it. The existing ring-roads, North and South Circulars, have long become permanent traffic-jams in which the eight-miles-an-hour pace of Edwardian horse-traffic is seldom achievable. The box will take twenty years to build. It involves, of course, widespread destruction of homes and surroundings. At Blackheath on the south side it will go underground, not to spoil the select character of the area. To the north the intended route is through Epping Forest, which was rescued in 1870 from being nibbled-away by private enterprise to be eaten instead by governments and public corporations.

The question is: what is achieved? There are inevitably objections to the scheme, chiefly from the people whose lives will be affected by it. One argument says that the new roads are not necessary. Jeremy Bugler, writing in The Observer on 25th February, proposed that making more roads simply incites traffic congestion and that the occupants of sixty-nine cars could be put in one bus. Answers like these add to the confusion of capitalist practice. For one thing, the prime purpose of highways — and the most pressing today — is the commercial one of transporting goods. For another, the implication that people ride in cars unnecessarily for psychological ("status”) reasons is only a part-truth. The underlying fact is that the purchase of cars, their fuels and components is thrust relentlessly at everyone. Attributing the outcome to psychic weaknesses is to add insult to salesmanship.

Objection and Reconstruction
No doubt the new roads are necessary, in the same way that London’s Third Airport is necessary: given what goes on in capitalism. Indeed, the objections to the ring-road plan closely resemble those to the sites named in the airport controversy. The ruination of historic and attractive places; hardships and losses created; the noise and nuisance a major highway brings; and agreement that the thing is needed if only it is put somewhere else. The great weight of objections, too, comes from the better-to-do — conscious, apart from anything else, that they have bought better surroundings than most people get. The inference is that areas where poorer-paid workers live could be demolished without regret. In itself, that is true enough (the only thing to do in a sane society with great chunks of working-class housing, not necessarily old, would be to blow them up). But the well-off can, if they lose their fight, choose other agreeable surroundings. For the poor, the position is still as Engels described it in The Housing Question in 1872:
  I mean the practice which has now become general of making breaches in the working-class quarters of our big towns . . . from considerations of public health and for beautifying the town, or owing to the demand for big centrally-situated business premises or owing to traffic requirements, such as the laying down of railways, streets, etc. No matter how different the reasons may be, the result is always the same: the scandalous alleys and lanes disappear to the accompaniment of lavish self-praise from the bourgeoisie on account of this tremendous success, but they appear again immediately somewhere else and often in the immediate neighbourhood.
Augean Stable on Wheels
From such an upheaval, something effective should result. The strong probability, however, is that before ten of the twenty years are up the inadequacy of the half-build road system will become a major public argument; that new schemes will be announced for relief highways and other radial roads; and that palliatives for the traffic problem will redound in the Sunday papers. A new dilemma is emerging now from motorways and ring-roads in that the approaches to them become protracted snarl-ups, the gain in movement creating a compensatory loss. There are several instances where a town’s by-pass road has grown so congested that traffic takes the town instead; the authorities’ response has been to drive it back by shutting-off the town route, making congestion worse.

One needs only to look at any urban area to see the problems and contradictions. The destinations and amenities the car is believed to bring to hand are inaccessible from it: workplaces, shops, stations, public lavatories surrounded by traffic prohibitions make the approach more tortuous than by pedestrianism. The most characteristic example is a public telephone in its commonest place, a busy spot. The motorist cannot get near to use it, but when he does so on foot conversation is made near-impossible by the noise of the traffic.

Impotence
Needing the free flow of traffic, capitalism lacks the competence to obtain it. The brothers Goodman in their book Communitas give a plan of what a traffic-orientated commercial city should be like. The metropolis is seen as a gigantic department store, with the highways as its corridors (elevated or tunneled as well as at ground-floor). Intermediary streets are abolished; the highways lead direct to the central container where homes, workplaces and institutions can all be driven into. Round this automobile city is the recreation land, stadiums and holiday camps and imitation wild parks. The authors’ point is this the way to do it if you want that sort of thing. Yet capitalism urgently wants that sort of thing, but cannot manage it.

The reason is simply the conflicting pressures which refuse any coherent development. Whatever the public and the journalists may think, every local councillor knows that “planning” is simply scrabbling for the least unsatisfactory compromise available at the time. The limiting factors include the contrary demands of commerce and industry; the strength of the property market; government policies over housing and population distribution; and, of course, cost. One of the aims of nationalization was to reduce these self-conflicts in capitalism (incidentally, one of the earliest nationalizations, in effect, was bringing highways under corporate control to facilitate traffic movement), but it has done little or nothing. So far from executing an ideal communal will, the nationalized industries and undertakings have to compete in the melée with everyone else.

Another Kind of World
Can Socialism do better? The cause of all the chronic dilemmas and idiocies of capitalism is organic: its structure on the class ownership of the means of production. There can be no hope of solutions or efficiency until this fetter is broken. Given its replacement by common ownership, social cohesion and planning of the environment we want become possible for the first time.

Some immediate changes in town life on the establishment of Socialism are apparent. With the end of the use of money, numbers of buildings or their uses become obsolete. Banks (and the accountants’ and brokers’ offices which invariably live over them); labour exchanges and social security buildings; rates and rent offices, insurance offices, betting shops, estate agents’, solicitors’. There is the immense multiplicity of shops, for competition not convenience: supermarkets, electric wares and furniture stores juxtaposed down the Hight Street, each selling exactly the same as the others and vying for trade with special offers. The nationalized boards’ own showrooms, where electricity and gas are flogged as if in mortal combat with the popularity of rush-lights and turf-burning. Add, too, the socially wasteful services — repairs and replacements for rubbishy products and those made to “agreed standards”. To visualize the town with all these gone is to see a surprising difference in its shape, but the greater difference is in its function. Other, still more radical, changes can be envisaged: a new conception of housing, for instance.

The Real Alternative
The frequency and use of the motor-car arise from this general pattern of social life. A comparison can be made between Jeremy Bugler’s desire to get commuting drivers out of their cars and into buses, and the quite different conditions which would exist under Socialism. In the first, the suggestion is for legislation: to ban cars from town areas, or to promote bus services by subsidy, or both. In Socialism, the kinds and conditions of work would be very much different from those of today. Commuting, the life of hurrying from work to watch TV and sleep in the same way that a boxer returns briefly to his corner between the rounds, might be chosen by the specially dedicated but would no longer be enforced on millions. Housing comes into it as well. When giant office blocks are built on the most expensive land in the centre of cities and housing developments on the cheapest at the outskirts, movement becomes the least economic and the most troublesome.

Likewise, road transport. One can subtract a great deal which for obvious reasons will cease to exist under Socialism, and the craziness out of which money is made — “carrying coals to Newcastle” is a cliché for the height of uselessness, but they actually do it for capitalism (no doubt in forty-ton lorries). Whenever an alternative to lorry transport — the rehabilitation of canals or railways for example — is perceivable, it has to be discounted on the grounds of cost.

The question of the roads in general is one of social organization and motivation. With those changed fundamentally, new functions and attitudes appear; the motor-car will have a different evaluation. But where problems do arise, the resources and intelligence of society can be applied to solving them. Mankind can choose, and that is the essence of a responsible, free society. Marx and Engels saw Socialism as ending the division between town and country. That does not mean the town consuming the green fields; but it may mean pastures where a ring-road box has been.
Robert Barltrop

Greater London Council Elections: The Socialist Programme (1973)

Party News from the April 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Click on the image to enlarge.


This Election Is About Capitalism

Don’t get bowled over by the possibility of ‘free’ transport. By the threat or promise of Labour taking over all the rented property in London. By the promise that the Ring Road will actually improve the environment. This election, as with others in the past, is to decide which Party is now going to run capitalism. We reject this. Our candidates will seek your support only on the clear-cut issue of Socialism.

Labour, Tory, Liberal, Communist and the others are in favour of a system where you will remain members of the working class. They support capitalism, which basically is a system where the means of wealth production are owned and controlled by a small minority of people, the capitalist class, and where the vast majority — you, the working class — have to work for a wage or salary in order to exist. It is a pernicious system. It is based upon buying and selling, with profit as the motive for production. Where money is the determining factor and ‘Will it pay?’ the first question. How often have you read of a ‘good’ scheme which cannot get off the ground because of the cost? It is a system that generates waste, greed, corruption, suspicion; it throws up social problems like an erupting volcano.

Housing, slums, transport, roads, medical centres, open spaces; these will all appear yet again in the manifestoes of the other parties as problems which must be urgently solved, and for which they all have the solution — if only you will vote for them. But all these parties have had the ‘solution’ in the past; the only trouble is that it has never worked; capitalism has seen to that.

The Greater London Council is part of the political machinery for running capitalism and as long as you are prepared to continue voting for the parties which support capitalism then so long will the system last and so long will you bear the brunt of social problems. If you are prepared to live with a system that deprives you of a creative and happy life, then go on voting as you’ve done in the past.

But we think you have the potential, not only to envisage a different type of world, but to take the necessary political action to get it. Let there be no misunderstanding. We are not putting forward candidates who will make you any promises. We are not saying that we have better leaders than those of other parties. In fact, we have no leaders, but do have a set of ideas, which although at first glance might be new to you, we feel sure you will on reflection agree have something which is worthy of your consideration.

We have already mentioned that our issue is that of Socialism, and when we use this word we mean something specific. Socialism is a world-wide community with common interests. Where the land, and all the means of production will be owned by mankind as a whole, with democratic control. Where the sole motive for production will be the satisfaction of your needs. Simply put — bread will be baked because people want to eat it — just that. Money will play not part at all in this society because there will be no need for money. Decisions by the community will be taken on their merits. The wages system will be abolished along with all the other stupid trappings of the present system. Socialism will be a system of co-operation; where each will give according to ability and take according to need. Mankind with its knowledge, harnessed to the riches of the earth, is capable of producing abundance. Why be satisfied with a world of shortages?

Socialism cannot be introduced by waving a magic political wand. It will be the outcome of understanding and hard work; your understanding, your hard work.

We are not asking you to vote for the Socialist candidates because you are fed up with the others or because you think we should be given a chance. We only want your vote if you agree with our case, our object and declaration of principles.

Take a momentous step for your future by making further enquiries about the Socialist Party of Great Britain; by reading our literature and making up your own mind, whether at last in this election, you will have nothing more to do with capitalism, but will throw in your weight and resources with the Socialist movement.
Westminster


Why Are We Contesting

Fellow Workers,

Capitalism is the system of society which dominates the world today. It is a system where, either privately or through the State, the capitalist class own and control the means of production. It is a system of riches and poverty, of slums and palaces, of wages and profits, strikes, unemployment and war.

Under capitalism the vast majority of people are members of the working class who live by selling their abilities to work — for wages. It is through the exploitation of the working class that all the wealth of the world is produced.

Capitalism denies workers access to the wealth they create beyond the extent of their wages. Truly it is a system where wealth concentrates in the hands of a few, where the market and the profit motive are supreme. Capitalism is administered by politicians given power mainly by working-class votes. Everything the Greater London Council does is overshadowed by capitalism. The GLC is part of the administration of capitalism. Every sphere in the vast scope of its activity is restricted by cost consideration and ultimately decided by the overall effect on the profits of the system as a whole. Whether it be houses, hospitals, health, or education, where the money is coming from is always the first question.

Human need must come second in a society that lives on profits. Capitalism has never been any different. The only possible solution is to change society.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is the only Party contesting these elections on this fundamental basis. Whether they are called left-wing or right-wing, Labour, Conservative, Liberal or Communist, every other party is a reformist party. That is to say, all of their schemes, plans and promises are aimed at adjusting capitalism— not getting rid of it. If you think “they are all the same once they get in” this is because you vote on the basis of promises — promises to keep capitalism going.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is contesting these elections because we understand capitalism — and we want Socialism. The vote is the means whereby the working class will gain control of political power; it is therefore a barometer of working-class understanding. When a majority have ceased to be deluded by personalities and promises, they will vote for Socialism.

Socialism as an idea has been twisted and misrepresented by the Labour Party, the so-called Communist Party and the various Trotskyist groups. Socialism does not mean Labour governments, nationalisation, or the type of system in Russia or China. These are examples of state capitalism. Socialism means a way of life where the whole world and its resources will be held in common by all mankind. A classless world community with production solely for use and free access according to need. No longer will wages, markets and profits blight and restrict our lives. People will co-operate to produce an abundance — and then enjoy it.

Socialism will be run democratically; that is why we have always stressed the need for understanding.

Your vote can help decide whether the misery of capitalism will continue.
South West London


Let's Have Free Access 

The real issue at the forthcoming election is not whether to elect a Conservative or Labour councillor. The real issue is quite simply that of which kind of society are all of us to live in. We in the Socialist Party of Great Britain believe that only a fundamental change in the basis of society will solve the problems that affect almost everyone. It is therefore not because we wish to take over the administration of the Greater London Council that we are campaigning in this election: we are rather taking the opportunity of spreading knowledge of our ideas and aims. We do not ask you to vote for us in return for the promise of some petty — and perhaps actually harmful — reform; we ask you to study our ideas, and, if you agree with them, to make contact with our local branch so that you can find out more about them.

And what is this fundamental change that we stand for? Briefly, we wish to establish a system of society where every single person will be able to take freely from the store of social wealth whatever he or she needs. Such a system — which we call “free access” — means quite simply what it says: there will be no restrictions (such as are imposed today by the size of your wage-packet or salary cheque) on the amount of goods or services which any individual consumes, enjoys or uses. We maintain that an abundance of wealth, which such a system implies, could quite easily be produced if production were motived by the desire to satisfy people’s needs, not by profit as at present. Profit acts as a barrier to production, since if a thing cannot be sold at a profit, it will quite simply not be produced, no matter how many people would like it. And we have all read in the newspapers of fruit and so on, which has already been produced, actually being destroyed in order to keep prices up and to serve the interests of profit. Again, think of all the people (bank clerks, ticket collectors, in short all those whose work is concerned with money) who do not produce socially useful wealth; under a system of free access their abilities, and those of countless others too, including those unemployed at present, could be put to producing goods which people really need. What we stand for, then, in this election as at all times, is a world-wide system of society where there is no money, no government, no war, and where the production of wealth for use alone, is democratically controlled by everybody.

We make no apology for introducing ideas such as these into a local council election, since we believe that it is the existence of a wages system and production for profit which causes the problems about which other parties will be campaigning to gain your support. Housing, for instance, cannot be planned in the interests of all as long as most people find the type of accommodation they can afford limited by what they earn. We maintain that, whoever sits on the council, decisions such as those concerning house- and road-building are bound to be made above the heads of and against the interest of the vast majority of the people concerned, simply because the very basis of society means, firstly, that only a small minority of people take vital decisions, and, secondly, that these people have to act in the interest of profit rather than in the interests of the people whose lives are involved. That is why we are not just another party trying to run the present system in a slightly different way — we wish to change the system fundamentally, since this is the only way to solve the problems which both you and ourselves suffer from.

If you agree with the views expressed above, we ask you to do two things: firstly show it by voting for the Socialist candidate; second, and far more important, take steps to acquaint yourself further with the case we have put forward in this address — the case of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
Haringey

Letters: The Harsh Realities of School (1973)

Letters to the Editors from the April 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Harsh Realities of School
The following has been received from a correspondent who is a teacher, and is published without comment by us since it largely speaks for itself.
If the schools I have taught in are fairly typical of English schools (and I have no reason to think that they are not) then they certainly operate under the same social stratification as capitalism itself whose essence is that of privileged and subject orders.

“Keep them (i.e. the students) properly in their stations” (the words of one learned headmaster). “Don’t reason with ’um just thump urn.” (A teacher’s approach in the event of any difficulty). Recently one child complained to the head of a department about one of the teachers. The result was not any questioning by the teacher about himself or the head of the department about the teacher, but rather a disgust and indignation on the part of these two and other members of the ruling élite about the fact that this child should have dared to complain (where is his respect? etc.) and a caning for the child. These actual examples, by no means unusual as far as I can see, seem to sum up the approach of most of the hierarchy (i.e. staff) of today’s schools. Now by no means all teachers would follow these principles if confronted with them directly by some questioning person, but when it comes to practice, my experience says that they are not untypical.

The strict and cruel discipline practised in most schools today is explained away on the grounds that it is good for the students. I find this hard to believe. Most teachers lead in this cruelty, but a sub-strata of bullies exists in the form of prefects. The attitude of “we got pushed about when young and it did not harm us” seems to be the only justification for making life a torment in schools by the ruling bullies. Why is it good for a child to stay out of doors when the staff run inside complaining of the cold? Why should a child not eat in class? What harm does that do? (alright, crisp packets do rattle, but that’s an extreme). Why should students be made to walk down the corridor in regimented fashion? Why is chatting when work has been set not allowed? Surely young people have got a lot to learn purely from discussion with each other. There are a multiplicity of whys in mind and in the minds of those unfortunate ones subject to the fetters of school.

There are of course many answers that can be given to these questions. At school children are being regimented and trained to accept the system of society as it exists at present. This involves disciplining oneself to hard work. Hence homework every night is given. Examination success is claimed as an indicator of one’s intelligence and therefore aptness for certain jobs. What good the passing of a history exam does for one working in a tax office I have yet to ascertain, apart from disciplining one to sit there and work for a goal. People at school do not learn or enjoy themselves to any large extent because the teachers are forced to keep a syllabus (most of them agree with this). Young people in school may train in their minds to recite that piece of work in an exam at the expense often of ruining any enjoyment in that subject. School seems to have the knack of being able to ruin any genuine or potential enjoyment a person may have if allowed to follow his/her own interests.

Adults often say that their school days were the best days of their life if only they had been old enough to appreciate them. This is, however, only a comparative analysis. School days seem good only in the light of what work is like after leaving school, and then probably only because of the compensation of long holidays. School as it exists is to the child much like work is to the adult. The school attender however has probably more pressures upon him/her. Students at school are pressurised by parents, teachers and the law to go to school each day. They have no choice. Neither, until they attain the age of 14/15 in most schools, do they have a choice in the subjects they study. This constitutes the best years of one’s life? Society, one feels, to throw up such value must be in a mess.

As one child said in a debate in school “just put bars on the windows and then people will believe it’s a prison.” Hopefully, however with the coming of Socialism the shackles now upon both students (young workers) and workers will be released and freedom for the individual (after all, teachers, let us not forget that under-16-year-olds are individual human beings) will replace it.
Cath.


Wanted — A Prescription For Socialism


Dear Sir,

This letter is meant as a complaint — a pretty strong complaint.

I subscribe to the Socialist Standard. I read in the inside front cover the declaration of principles — all very tidy and compact. There is one thing missing, a vital statement of practical policy.

By this, I mean the change that will have to take place from our present day capitalist to the socialist society of the future.

If real socialist power was won in Parliament eventually, what events would we see follow? How would the means of production be converted into the common property of society and how would democratic control by the whole people be enacted? These, I think are vital questions — if Socialism is a viable proposition, then we need to have concrete answers to these fundamental questions. Perhaps one day you will have a little space in the Socialist Standard for them.
R. Ackerman, 
London, E.1.


Reply:
The precise events that would follow the winning of political power by a Socialist working class would be up to them to work out in the light of then existing circumstances. A small number cannot prescribe the future will of the majority; the arrogance of doing so can lead to the all-too-common dictum “This is how it will be — whether you like it or not”. The matter is entirely in the hands of the future Socialist majority. Our practical policy at the moment is to do all we can to hasten the growth of the necessary Socialist majority without whom there can be no Socialism. We can say, however, that the use of political power to convert the means of production into common property and to bring them under the democratic control of the whole people will be done quickly and democratically.
Editorial Committee

"Huffing and Puffing" (1973)

From the April 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Futile Talk by a Trade Union leader
The president of the Mineworkers’ Union, Joe Gormley, is making stroppy noises about the Government. He says: “The time for huffing and puffing is over” . . . "The Unions must put their feet where their mouth is” . . . “If you can’t abide the Government’s policies, then you must change the Government” — and that, he says, “Must mean the Trade Union Congress calling a General Strike”.

All this in the News of the World (18 February), which is appalled and calls on responsible trade-union leaders to “drag Mr. Gormley back from the brink”. He doesn’t think the Tories will win the next election, although he carefully avoids mentioning which party might win in the event of a Tory defeat.

The election (to be forced by a General Strike) will be about “rising prices”, “land speculation” and “property racketeers”. Obviously, Mr. Gormley had an election programme along these lines in mind. One wonders why the vociferous Gormley, who prides himself on his outspokenness and says it sometimes makes him unpopular, is so coy about this.

It is patently obvious that the only possible outcome of a Tory election defeat is a Labour Party victory and a Labour government. If Gormley is under the mistaken impression that this will in any way improve the lot of the workers, or increase the freedom of the trade unions, we must remind him that it was the postwar Labour government which prosecuted gas workers (who are on strike today under Tory rule without being prosecuted). The gasworkers were sentenced to a month’s imprisonment, later changed to a fine of £50 each.

Another of the ineffable Joe’s pipe-dreams is the notion that a Tory election defeat (and therefore Labour victory) can satisfactorily deal with rising prices, land speculation, and property racketeers. It was a Labour government which in addition to printing too many bank-notes, like the Tories, deliberately devalued the pound, or inflated the currency, increasing prices.

That a responsible official of a very large Union can so try to deflect attention from the Union’s real business (getting an increase in wages) shows how much they still have to learn of the economics of capitalism. Wages are also a price, and every trade-unionist wants this price to rise. The stupid folly of the TUC in allowing the Government to kid them that higher prices are the result of wage increases is doing much harm to the trade union movement.

As an organized political party seeking political power through the ballot, the Socialist Party of Great Britain have this to say to Gormley. Your talk about General Strikes to bring down governments is a counsel of folly and despair. If the organized trade-unionists made up a majority of the electorate (which they do not) then they could do this constitutionally anyway, but if they did it as an organized group they would be acting as a political party, not a trade union. But trade unions are not organized on political principles, but on trade or job qualifications.

Having defeated the Tories and returned a Labour (or TUC) government, they would then be faced with the job of all governments — running the country; and we have forty years of experience and six previous Labour governments to tell us exactly what they would do. Even if Joe Gormley himself were appointed Prime Minister, he would do what every PM does: protect capitalism, because he would not have been elected and have had no mandate to do anything else. He would have been elected to patch up capitalism (rising prices, etc., etc.).

As Mr. Wilson told the TUC once: "The job of a Government is to govern.” How much more money and time is the Mineworkers’ Union going to pour into the futile and useless Labour Party? For more than forty years they backed nationalization of the coal mines. This was eventually implemented, and notices were stuck up outside coal-pits saying: “These mines now belong to the People.” And organizations like “Age-Concern” now say that more elderly people are dying of cold than ever, because they cannot obtain enough of “their own” coal. Miners are still striking for increases in wages, as they did when the pits were privately owned.

Finally, about the General Strike. A General Strike, like all strikes, is a merely negative action. It is workers refusing to work, sitting down, or going home. It may remove or bring down a government. If the general-strikers (as in Italy now) are not Socialists, they will re-elect a non-Socialist — that is, a capitalist — government and the whole daft business starts all over again. For this reason, we have always consistently opposed the idea that capitalism can be damaged by political strikes. No mere strike action can help the establishment of Socialism, which is a positive measure where everybody does something to help. Of course, trade unions will have a hand in this.

The General Council of the TUC has given the answer to Gormley: “A total and continuous stoppage was ruled out because it would not be possible.” (Guardian, 28 Feb. 1973). Perhaps Joe Gormley will now stop “huffing and puffing” about political general strikes.
Horatio.

Human Nature: Man's Hope (1973)

From the April 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

When putting the case for Socialism, one often hears the objection: Yes, a marvellous idea if it wasn’t for human nature. You see (they often continue), we agree man isn’t naturally evil, but he has been so indoctrinated with the competitive idea of the need to survive now, that Socialism is all very nice in theory, but in practice is just not on. You are hoping for Utopia, you are living in a dream world. It will never happen if you live for ten million years.

With these daunting comments ringing in my ears, I set out to examine the facts as dispassionately as I could. First of all, if men are clawing to get one up on the other bloke: how come some will sacrifice everything to relieve others’ suffering? How come if we are taken ill in the street someone will call an ambulance or administer first aid? Some will even discard opportunities for success in order to devote themselves to some service with little or no material reward.

Oh, the objectors will continue, we agree there are some saintly individuals, but the majority couldn’t care less. If this were true then clearly the future would look black; if we all have to be saints before we can have Socialism, then clearly it will never happen. At this point I recall the experience of an English schoolteacher who took an appointment to teach in one of the new African states, where the bush people were still living in a near-primitive state. On the first days the teacher tried to interest the children in simple lessons but the children could not understand the discipline of the classroom. All her attempts to assemble them in classroom were met with charming indifference as they ran out into the sun. After some experimenting, she found it was possible to interest them in painting, and so they sat under the trees and painted what they saw around them (I believe an exhibition of their work was later put on in one of the London galleries).

But to return to the point at issue. After the lesson, the teacher handed the children the paints and told them to keep them. They smiled vaguely and handed them back. “Mine and thine” was unknown to them; there was nothing in their nature to make them want to hoard or steal. “It was not in their nature.” They were not saints and they were not sinners. Like Europeans, they simply reflected the way they were brought up.

Man is by nature a social animal. He needs to be sociable; much of the disturbed behaviour one witnesses today is born of the fact that man has to compete to survive but it is in fact against his nature. Human nature is man’s hope, not his harbinger of doom.
P.J.M.