Wednesday, June 3, 2020

£1000 Fund. (1922)

Party News from the March 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard


Our Courageous Masters. (1922)

From the March 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Press is an organ of capitalist propaganda and attempts to mould working-class ideas to suit the interests of the capitalist class. Yet this Press often contains the antidote to this propaganda. If members of the working class were to read the reports of company meetings, for instance, the work of the Socialist would be rendered easier ; for in these reports we often get the real point of view of the capitalist.

"Labour leaders," stump orators of the "Economic Study Club," and other anti-Socialist organisations, all are assuring the worker of the identity of his interests with those of his employer; they exhort the worker to pull together with his employer in a spirit of brotherly co-operation for the solution of the difficulties which adversely affect them both, depriving the employer of the "fair" return on his capital and the worker of his wages.

The reading by workers of such reports as that of the London County Westminster and Parr's Bank, published in "Sunday Times" (5/2/22), would do much to counteract this sort of twaddle.

The Chairman (Mr. Leaf), in his opening remarks, said: "And we have won some peace, for the moment at least, in those labour disputes which, to the mind of the social philosopher twelve months ago, presented the gloomiest point of a gloomy horizon." This "peace" upon which Mr. Leaf is congratulating himself and his colleagues, has been brought about, as many workers know from personal experience, by the wholesale defeats of the working class in industry after industry. Moulders, miners, and ship-joiners have been forced, after months of struggle, to submit to sweeping wage reductions. Others, foreseeing defeat, have submitted to reductions in wages and extension of hours without a struggle.

Then Mr. Leaf goes on to remark upon the miners' lock-out. "The outstanding event of the year in our internal economy has been the great coal stoppage. That happily (italic mine) ended, not in a complete victory for either side, but in an agreement to set on foot a system of profit-sharing which constitutes, I suppose, the greatest experiment in partnership between capital and labour that the world has yet seen." Representatives of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain and representatives of the Mining Association recently met and after discussion issued an official statement, ("Daily Herald," 9/2/22), in which we read: "It was found that the wages of the workmen are unprecedentedly low in many districts, more particularly in the exporting areas. In seven out of the thirteen areas scheduled in the agreement, wages have been brought down to the minimum. . . ." The "Daily Herald" quotes the Executive of the Miners' Federation to the effect that "the men have suffered drastic reductions in wages, that have brought them far below the pre-war standard of living. . . ." When Mr. Leaf speaks of the happy ending of the conflict he is evidently not looking at it from the point of view of the miner.

We have seen how the workers have fared. How have the masters weathered the storm of the past year ? Mr. Leaf remarked at the opening of his speech, and repeated later on, that "the past year had been one of courage in facing losses." . . .  "Finally agriculture, our most important industry, though it has had a very bad year, seems also to have touched bottom. The farmers have borne their losses very well out of accumulated profits in the past; and, with large reductions of wages, are probably able to make both ends meet.''

Brave fellows! The losses that they have so courageously borne have only been relative losses after all. The losses of last year are offset against the profits of previous years, part of which had been reserved against the contingency of loss, the balance being very much on the profit side, for the losses have "been borne very well." The bank, whose shareholders Mr. Leaf is addressing, has put aside half a million pounds against future contingencies. Certainly not a bad foundation for future courage. The miners do not seem to have done quite so well out of their share of the profits under the system mentioned by Mr. Leaf. Thriftless chaps, no doubt !

In this speech of Mr. Leaf's we have the real point of view of the capitalist. The end of a conflict which plunged the miners into deeper poverty is described as happy. "Large reductions in wages" enable the capitalist to "make ends meet" and are therefore a subject for congratulation. The workers' loss is the capitalists' gain.

In the last quotation Mr. Leaf also shows how little the capitalist believes in the economic fallacies propagated by his agents and apologists. The workers have been told that if they accept reductions in wages the capitalist will be able to lower the price of his commodities, thus enabling him to compete more successfully with his foreign rivals and so lead to increased employment. This view is widely accepted among the working class, and has been, I believe, to some extent responsible for the tame manner in which wage reductions have been accepted. Mr. Leaf certainly only speaks of farmers, but what he says of them is true of practically the whole capitalist class, for hardly a section of the working class have not suffered reductions of wages during the past year.

The truth of the matter is that the market conditions had already compelled the capitalists to either reduce prices or curtail production. They then take advantage of the excessive supply of labour-power to beat down wages and thus recoup their losses.

The workers, by applying their energy to nature-given material, produce the wealth of the world. But as the means of production are the private property of capitalists, the products are also theirs. The workers receive in return for their labour-power, on the average, but sufficient to maintain themselves in the state of efficiency required and to reproduce the next generation of wage-labourers. The surplus, and with the continued application of science to industry this is constantly growing, is divided among the master class in the shape of rent, interest, and profit. Increases in wages, other things remaining the same, mean decreases in the surplus appropriated by the capitalist, and, vice versa, decreases in wages mean increases in the surplus appropriated by the capitalists.

The remarks quoted from Mr. Leaf's speech bear out this contention. Therefore, when Mr. Leaf praises a co-partnership or "profit-sharing" scheme, we can form an idea whom the scheme will benefit. And, as a matter of fact, all profit-sharing and copartnership schemes, are but devices for extracting more surplus value from the workers. The invitations of the capitalists and their agents to the workers to recognise an identity of interests and to co-operate with their employers are invitations to the workers to permit themselves quietly, and therefore more effectively, to be fleeced.

Not by a false friendship and co-operation with the capitalists will the workers emancipate themselves from the necessity of toiling for long hours in order to secure a miserable existence, but by recognising the fundamental antagonism between their masters' interests and their own and organising politically to overthrow the master class by capturing the weapon by means of which the master class enslave the workers, viz., political power. Then will the way be clear to inaugurate, not a cooperation wherein one of the participants can live in luxury on the proceeds, while the other is forced to eke out his share of the "profits" with doles from the Guardians, but a co-operative commonwealth in which the principle of production and distribution shall be "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs."

The Myth of Moral Re-armament (1961)

From the June 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Moral Re-armament—that high pressure political religious movement—has been making quite a lot of noise lately. The premier of its latest film, The Crowning Experience, was shown a few weeks ago in the West End of London. Full page advertisements have caught the reader’s eye in such respectable newspapers as The Guardian and The Times. According to Ivan Yates in The Observer, this publicity offensive represents their most sustained effort yet for support in Britain. A costly campaign it is, too, and quite clearly the wherewithal is not lacking.

Just what then is Moral Re-armament? When and where did it begin? Just what are its aims? The outstanding name of the movement is, of course, Doctor Frank Buchman; it was he who officially launched the movement in 1938 at East Ham Town Hall.

Buchman was born on June 4th, 1878 in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania. Alan Thornhill, in a brief chapter at the beginning of the book of Dr. Buchman's speeches (Remaking the World), talks glowingly, almost gushingly, of his chief's Swiss ancestry, of his folk brought up “with democracy in their blood"— whatever that may mean. Very religious people, too, with a love of life.

Buchman’s conversion came when he was visiting Keswick, Cumberland, during a holiday on doctor’s instructions. He entered a little church and listened to the service and suddenly he was aware of his own faults. ”. . . Something fresh had come into his life, something which was to determine its whole course . . . ” He sent letters of apology to the members of the board of a children’s home against whom he had harboured ill-feeling and was then all set to carry his ideas to practically every part of the globe. This practice of apology is common to all converts to Moral Re-armament—one might call it their initial humbling and an invaluable experience in their subsequent efforts to make others humble too.

Dr. Buchman’s movements are vague during these earlier years, but we do know that his activities were to lead to the formation of the Oxford Group in 1928, when a number of Rhodes scholars and other Oxford students were given this name after a propaganda visit to South Africa. Moral Rearmament was launched ten years later, in face of the threat of the second world war. “The crisis is fundamentally a moral one. The nations must rearm morally.” Such was the new cry, and perhaps here was the beginning of the political side of the movement which was to be more obvious later.

“It is not an organisation; it is an organism,” Dr. Buchman is never tired of telling us. MRA has no formal membership, no such thing as signing the pledge. It holds its meetings and congresses, and publishes lashings of literature, and when a person has received the message loud and clear, he becomes “changed" and supports the movement. And what support this movement has, although The Observer article of March 26th claims that there has been disappointment at a recent falling away of influence in England. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that there is a considerable zeal and enthusiasm among Moral Re-armers, many of whom have given every penny they possessed and have surrendered themselves completely to the task of spreading the message.

So just what is there in Moral Re-armament to fire people with such energetic conviction that they are prepared in many cases (not all), to change their way of life? To say that it is a religious movement is to state the obvious, and as with religion generally, there is a vagueness which the high powered techniques and sweeping statements fail to mask, in fact, serve only to accentuate. Gabriel Marcel, for example, talks airily of a “community life based on faith" and that last word gives the reason for the vagueness. It must be so, because its basic assumption of the existence of the supernatural has not one jot of scientific evidence to support it.

This is not to doubt the sincerity of the bulk of “ Buchmanites,” of course. As Geoffrey Williamson points out in his illuminating book Inside Buchmanism, just to talk to them is to see how fervent and conscientious they can be. Aware of the terrible problems of modern society, and lacking the essential knowledge of their origin, such people are comparatively easy meat for such movements as Moral Re-armament. Or, to put it a little more kindly, they turn to Moral Re-armament for the answer.

And what are they told? That the world’s evils are created by man’s selfishness and greed. That only when the world’s people “listen to God” and become guided by Him, will we have harmony in the human family. Dr. Buchman has made assertions repeatedly for well over twenty years. For example:
  When God has control, a nation finds its true destiny. (Massachusetts, U.S.A.. 4.6.36.)
  The world awaits an inspired answer from statesmen as well as the ordinary man . . . guided ... by that added help which sees and recognises the Supreme Plan. (Interlaken, Switzerland, 2.9.38.)
  As men listen to God and obey His orders, nations find a pattern that makes plain God’s will for Government. (Caux. Switzerland, 4.6.47.)
  Go all the way with God and you will bring the answer to your nation. . . . (Mackinac Island, U.S.A., 4.6.58.)
Their insistence on absolute standards of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love, makes strange reading when it is remembered that they supported the Allied war effort from 1939-1945. Which just goes to show how relative their “absolute” standards can be when the occasion demands. With the outbreak of war, as Geoffrey Williamson puts it. the word ”patriotism” began to appear in the M.R.A. vocabulary, and although the movement came under fire in some quarters on the grounds of army-dodging, the more astute capitalist politicians, particularly in America, were quick to recognise it as a stimulant to the war effort.

”Moral Re-armament is a message of the highest patriotism. It gives every American the chance to play his part," said Dr. Buchman at Philadelphia, June 4th, 1941. And to prove it, written and spoken propaganda were stepped up. They even produced a National Defence Handbook You Can Defend America, and its transatlantic counterpart Battle Together for Britain. In England alone, they claim to have distributed some five million books and pamphlets during the war.

In the post-war years, an openly political note has sounded in M.R.A. propaganda with a heavy “anti-Communist” bias. They have claimed verbal support from such leading statesmen as Dr. Adenauer and Robert Schuman, and some following seems to have been captured in the new Capitalist States like Burma. Sweeping claims have been made for the success of their ideas in the field of international politics, and it is then that charges which have recently been levelled at them seem to have most force. Just listen, for example, to extracts from Fresh Hope for the World, edited by Gabriel Marcel:
  . . . We have seen how men and also a nation (Japan) have found a fresh realisation of their true destiny (p. 208)
   Already the main features of a new society are emerging (p. 209).
   The African Nations are giving . . . tangible evidence of their experience of Moral Re-armament (p. 209).

And perhaps most pathetic of all in view of recent events:
  Even the most entrenched prejudices yield to this new conception. . . . In S. Africa black men who have led the struggle for the defence of their people s rights . . . and white men of the most extremist outlook . . .  in uniting, bring to the world a new conception of racial relations (p. 210).
True, M.RA has supporters in many countries and is not without influence, but it is about as useless as any other reformist movement and shows the same ignorance of the world of Capitalism.

On the industrial field, M.R.A. has served only to worsen confusion in workers' minds and blind them still further to their interests. It has intervened quite openly in strikes and helped to deflect efforts at securing better wages and conditions at perhaps the most favourable time—in the immediate post war years. In June, 1948, the Warwickshire mineworkers’ president is said to have claimed that M.R.A had given “real teamwork and better output” in the British Coal Industry, while in 1952, a French Iron and Steel Boss paid tribute to the part M.R.A. ideas had played in securing an agreement with his workers to forego wage increases for four years. And again, said the late John Rifle, former U.S. labour chief, “Tell America that when Frank Buchman. changed John Rifle he saved American industry 500 million dollars.”

What a tragedy indeed that many workers should have been sufficiently gullible to fall for this gigantic fallacy that is Moral Re-armament. Quite openly they are discouraged from thinking for themselves and are told only to “tune in” to some mythical God, Spirit, Intelligence—call it what you will. To be swayed by such pernicious doctrine is to surrender all right to independent thought and become particularly susceptible to any earthly dictator glib enough to convince his followers of his “God-given authority.” Signs of this danger can be detected in Dr. Buchman's own words. "There is tremendous power too, in a minority guided by God.” (Interlaken, Sept. 6th, 1938). There was even the foolhardy statement before the war, that Hitler, Mussolini, or any other dictator, if God- controlled, “ could control a nation overnight and solve every bewildering problem.”

Within M.RA. itself, the adoration of Dr. Buchman is repugnant and at the same time ominous. His followers seem ready to quote his words parrot fashion and to treat his most commonplace utterances as world-shatteringly important. At least one observer has complained of this. But it is hardly surprising really. The very basis of M.R.A. belief fosters such an attitude.

The growth of Socialist knowledge, the mass understanding and conscious change at which we aim, can only be hindered by such as M.RA. Their hysterical “anti-Communist” outbursts, their denial of the class struggle on the one hand, and their fanatical religion on the other, are a menace to Socialism and even to the limited capitalist democracy that we enjoy today. It may seem comfortable to relinquish responsibility for one's thoughts and actions and shut out the uncomfortable world of reality. But it is not the way to salvation for the working class. That way, in fact, lies damnation—of the earthly kind.
Eddie Critchfield

Socialist Principles (1961)

From the June 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Comrades,

On this Continent, the pressure of capitalism on the working class is not minimized by welfare-state palliatives. Today, all the problems, whether of the homeless families, or of the young, or the old, of increasing criminality, etc., etc., not only remain, but are accentuated. Life is getting harder for the workers, more difficult and more insecure. One need not detail the daily reports of domestic tragedies caused by want and misery—one need only look at the newspapers' headlines, and leading articles, such as ” This Lost Generation,” "Courage to see things in their real light,” “The alarming rise of criminality a feature which, one of the papers says, shows a deep crisis in a sick society.

The working class of all other European countries are in no lesser plight. You have read of huge strikes in Italy and of demonstrations in Belgium against the further lowering of the workers' living standards. In France, unemployment, cuts, short time working and strikes are on the order of the day. A periodical, Les braves gens, published by an organisation of French philanthropists appealing to the rich for a realisation of the suffering of the destitute and the plight of the lonely old people in particular, states in bold type: 4 million French live on 1.88 NF (about 3.s. per day). The paper states that thousands of people have had their gas and electric current cut off for non-payment of bills. And how could they, with 3s. per day to live on? Perhaps this will remind you of the Abbé Pierre campaign in Paris to arouse the well-to-do to a realization of the terrible plight of the French capital's poor and homeless outcasts, though when all is said and done by these philanthropists, the workers remain the wretched and heavy laden in this capitalist world. Saying this to the President of the movement Les braves gens (whom I happened to meet at a swell Vienna hotel), and suggesting that nothing but a fundamental change of the constitution of present-day society can do away with these evils and with what les braves gens called a national disgrace. Count de Danne replied that ideals do not pay, that my proposal was impossible, and that all one can do is to palliate the sufferings.

A glance at the world in general reveals a sadly sick and chaotic society. UNO and FAO-statistics show a shocking picture of hunger and misery, almost unbelievable in a world of staggering wealth and unlimited possibilities. That behind the line facades there exists a tortured humanity and much happiness, seems paradoxical. Yet, such is the dismal truth.

In the face of such a situation and the permanent threat of another war; in the face of the inability of all the statesmen, politicians, leaders, writers, scientists and churchmen to solve any social problem; in the face of the past failures of the “superior brains" to avert catastrophes such as the two world-wars in this progressive "enlightened” generation, one can only marvel at the childlike attitude of the surviving poverty-stricken masses of the people still looking with confidence and respect to the “personalities" and to their leaders. Is it not yet evident enough that these individuals always stood—and stand today-for the continuation of the present system, of which poverty and insecurity of the workers, armaments and all-round conflict, always on the brink, are inseparable parts? What greater human disaster must befall us before it dawns on the workers that fundamental change is imperative! Surely, with the daily references in Press and Radio to such questions as Germany, Berlin, Laos, Indonesia, Algeria, the Sahara, the Congo, Palestine, Pakistan, and Africa and Asia in general, and to the nauseating thieves quarrel over the control of the tremendous resources and exploitable populations, the workers can no longer fail to see the real CAUSE of all the trouble commercial rivalry.

Of course, not one of capitalism's apologists or statesmen would lay his finger on the root cause of the social dilemma. Not one would point out that what is in all logic to be done, is the removal of the private ownership barrier in favour of common ownership by the people as a whole, which alone would enable mankind to rise to higher and loftier forms of human co-existence.

Many of capitalism's henchmen claim to have been in the “resistance" movement and to have suffered for their opposition to war. But the only genuine opposition movement in the world to capitalist war was and is today the revolutionary organisation of the S.P.G.B. and their companion parties. All others are not opponents to war as such; they were only on the wrong side of the warmakers' line-up. They wanted the other side to win, but not to oust capitalism.

Therefore, here is our watchword for the workers for the next Election: Up with principles the revolutionary Socialist Principles—and no Vote for individuals unless they are uncompromisingly committed to subscribe and endorse the Declaration of Principles!

A hearty Salute to all comrades!

Fraternally yours
for Socialism!
R. Franks

Votes in Belfast (1961)

Party News from the June 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

A telegram from the members in Belfast received as we go [to] press, reads:
824 VOTES, DEPOSIT SAVED 
Hearty congratulations to our comrades in Ireland on what must have been a very active campaign.


Blogger's Note:
More details on this election campaign in Belfast appeared in the July 1961 Socialist Standard:
See also the following article from the June 2004 Socialist Standard:

The Passing Show: Russian "Socialism" (1961)

The Passing Show Column from the June 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Russian "Socialism"

A letter in The Times on May 10th read as follows:
  The gap between Marxist theory and practice could not be better illustrated than by the extension of the capital penalty in Soviet Russia. In theory the state and crime in the Communist society are supposed to "wither away.” The fact that 44 years after the Marxist Revolution it should be necessary to reintroduce the death penalty for a number of crimes is surely a very much more important propaganda point for the West than who manages to be first in orbiting the Earth with a satellite.
The harm that has been done to the cause of Socialism by the Russian Communist Party is incalculable. Over and over again the opponents of Socialism are able to make speeches and write articles sneering at Socialism on the strength of what the Russians are doing. If we say that Socialism means the end of war, they retort that the Russians have Socialism, and they also have one of the biggest war-machines that have ever been built. If we say a means the end of wage-slavery, they retort that the Russian workers still have to labour for wages. If we say it means the end of crime, they show the Russians' own reports revealing widespread crime in the Soviet Union. If we say it means the end of money, they point triumphantly to Russia—they have Socialism, and they have found they can't do without money.

From both sides of the Iron Curtain the flood of lying propaganda is endless. The Russians maintain they have Socialism, hoping thereby to secure the allegiance of the world's workers, and make the task of any states which go to war with Russia much more difficult. The Western world also maintains that the Russians have Socialism, because they hope that their own workers, seeing that the Russian workers are no better off than they are themselves, will therefore turn against Socialism.


State & Public Property

Further grist to the mills of capitalism’s supporters comes with the news that capital punishment in Russia has now been expended to further offences. It was abolished with great publicity in 1947,and then restored in 1950 for “traitors to the country, spies and wrecker-diversionists.” In 1954 it was applied to murder in "aggravated circumstances." Now it has been decreed for persons convicted of large-scale theft of “state and public property," for forgers, and for criminals who “terrorize'' fellow-prisoners. The British newspapers have not been slow to make capital out of the news. Here we are, they say: here is the “classless society" that the Socialists want—and it can’t even get along without executions! Even many admittedly capitalist countries have been able to abolish capital punishment: even in the old Russia, under the last Czar the death penalty was reserved for political crimes—that is, treason and attempts to murder members of the Imperial House.

Against this, Socialists can only go on repeating the facts of the case: that in Russia, as the most cursory unbiased examination would show, the presence of private property, wage-labour, state industry, commodity production, crime, and the coercive apparatus of the state all demonstrate quite unmistakably the nature of the economic and social system. It is capitalism, and nothing else.

But this has to he done in face of the capitalist monopoly of the Press, pulpit, radio, cinema, and television, all of which strenuously maintain the opposite. In fact, so useful is Russia (i.e., a capitalist country calling itself Socialist) as a propaganda weapon to 'the supporters of the status quo, that one is tempted to transfer a famous phrase: if it hadn’t existed, it would have had to be invented.


Strike Over Algeria

Monday, April 24th was a notable day in the history of France. At five o’clock precisely all industries, all public services, all organised labour ceased, and there was a nation-wide strike lasting one hour. All the trade unions—communist, social democrat, right-wing—joined to support this tremendous demonstration. Some ten million workers came out, and it was considered “probably the most massive strike in French history.” What had caused this enormous working-class reaction?

The answer, of course, is Algeria. The revolt of April, although led by four generals, was a movement of the French settlers in Algeria and their sympathizers. These settlers form a landed aristocracy. Their position as a propertied class depends on their keeping the Algerian land which they or their forerunners seized. While the Algerians themselves could be subdued without too much expense, the French capitalist class was prepared to support these landed settlers. But now the situation has changed. A whole rebel army is in the field, and large-scale military operations are necessary to keep Algeria from falling into their hands. A new Algerian moneyed class, which is the mainspring of the rebellion, is growing up.

It is in the interests of the French capitalist class to cut its losses, and by giving independence to Algeria to escape the crippling financial burden of the Algerian war. Then, in peace, French firms can resume their profitable activities in Algeria as they have in the other former French colonies in Africa. This is what the French ruling class requires, and this is what its present executive officer, General de Gaulle, will carry out. Even though the General was brought to power by a movement which had its origin among the settlers in Algeria, the necessities of the ruling class dictate his course. Which explains why there have been two more attempted coups in Algeria since de Gaulle took power, led by the very men who at first supported him, and who now, of course, regard him as a traitor. But he is not that. Just as in other countries the elected politicians throw overboard their promises when “the needs of the country” (i.e., the needs of the ruling class) demand it, so in France de Gaulle has been forced to disappoint and discard the men who thought they were raising him to power in order to “ keep Algeria French.”

This, then, is the nature of the struggle in Algeria. Basically it is a contest between the new Algerian capitalist class and the landed settlers, with the self-interest of the French ruling class forcing it at last to come down on the side of the former. And the massive strike carried out by the French trade unions was in support of the French ruling class against the settlers.

When the workers devote half the time and energy which they now give to fighting for the interests of their masters, to fighting for their own interests, they will he irresistible.


Headaches

From the Sunday Express, May 7th:
  Soon returning to London after spending the winter months in Jamaica are Lord and Lady Brownlow. They have been staying at The Great House, Roaring River—the 3,500 acres of cattle land and plantation which Lord Brownlow— formerly Lord-Lieutenant of Lincolnshire —bought 13 years ago.
But "although his estate adjoins the fashionable vacation resorts. Lord Brownlow does not find that his visits to Jamaica provide restful holidays." He is reported to have said: "Being a member of the so-called Plantocracy these days means more headaches than profits." Naturally! Property-owning has always meant "more headaches than profits." Property-owners throughout the ages have been at pains to make this clear to the non-property-owners. So insistent have property-owners always been on this point that we would be tempted to believe them—if only they showed they meant it by giving up their property.
Alwyn Edgar

Jehovah's Servants (1961)

From the June 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Until a couple of centuries ago human knowledge of the physical universe and of man’s historic development was scattered and very limited. The principal guides were religious works and teachings, the most familiar being the Bible. The idea of the World and Universe coming to an end, and being reborn again in some other form, stemmed from man’s primitive struggles with nature, the observance of life and death among plants and animals, the waxing and waning of the heavenly bodies.

The strong religious theories and dogmas influenced ideas about society.

It was when the class struggle became more acute that suppressed groups combined theories about new societies with the contemporary religious ideas on the ending of the world. Politics in 'those days were never far removed from religious hair-splitting and supplication.

In the 16th century Germany was in a state of upheaval. The creed of one Protestant group, the Anabaptists, included a belief in ’the return of a divine power and the establishment of a system of common ownership. The dramatic outcome of this movement was in 1535 when the Anabaptists under John of Leiden, took over the town of Münster and attempted to set up the millenium on earth. The adventure was an experiment in a commonweal society which the feudal landowners, aided by the Church, stamped out in mass bloodshed. In England at the time of Cromwell a similar but smaller group called the Fifth Monarchy men exited. Successfully hampered by the magnates and Cromwell, they awaited the Restoration to gain a place in history. Frustrated then at every turn they took to the murder of legal gentry, and followed this up by a comic opera attack on the Tower of London. This adventure effectively erased them from activity.

With the opening up of the United States the ideas of the Millennium took on a more peaceful form. In North America, where land was plentiful, colonies calling themselves the Lord’s Elect set up their Edens, practising mutual aid, pooling of resources, and strict living. Others more colourful awaited what they hoped was to be the second coming under some self-appointed Messiah or Shiloh. The weakness of these colonies lay in their exclusiveness. The outside world interested them only slightly; they had no desire to interfere with society.

However, in the 1850’s one group formed a different attitude. Known as the Christadelphians, they laid down very definite views on their God's plan far mankind which they based on biblical study. They claimed that the old earth would pass away with Christ's return, and a new world with no evil, oppression, or wars, would be the reward of the believers, with an everlasting life thrown in. They made a name for themselves as conscientious objectors in the American Civil War.

By 1872 Pastor Russell, living in the U.S.A., had formed another group based on Christadelphian theories. These groups called Bible Students were worldwide, linked to their chief, Russell, by a system of publications and pamphlets that embodied the Russellite theories. After the death of Russell in 1916, the mantle of leadership fell on the shoulders of Judge Rutherford, who had American know-how on sales pressure, publication and organisation. The Bible Students were banned in the U.S. during the first World War and Judge Rutherford was jailed.

It was in the unsettled conditions of the world after 1918 that the Bible Students turned their propaganda to eye-catching and shock provoking tabloids. Such statements as, “ Millions now living will never die ” (in a world still numbed by the World War losses) or “ Religion is a racket ” at least arrested attention, even if the subsequent arguments were lacking in proof.

The Rutherford clique tightened up on the old members and widened the base of membership. The original select class were quietly pushed out and the members eventually became known as Jehovah’s Witnesses—a more comprehensive name and helpful in making new members.

The ideas of the sect are disturbing to other creeds. They renounce the conventional ideas of heaven and hell, the immortal soul, and the holy trinity. Backed up by Biblical quotes, the Witnesses argue that Man was created and lived under perfect conditions, but fell under the influence of a fallen angel, namely, the devil. Since then the world and its social systems have fallen more and more under the sway of the devil and his legions. Wars, sovereign states, hunger, poverty, oppression and death itself are all manifestations of mankind's turning away from Jehovah’s revealed truth.

The current troubled society fills them with hope, however, as the Witnesses proclaim that the day of Armageddon cannot be far away. The faithful, they say, will survive the final struggle in which the devil will be made captive, and "this system of things” swept away. Christ will rule the earth, supported by some 144,000 spiritual beings who once lived on earth. The rest of men will not die, and under the theocratic order the earth will flourish as a garden.

When the earth is fruitful again a resurrection of all the dead will take place. All will enjoy the paradise on earth and so remedy past sins by acknowledging Jehovah and Christ. However, after a thousand years the devil will be released to tempt the wavering. This is the final struggle and the devil and his followers will be finally condemned to death.

A cynic might wisecrack and ask how anyone could turn "bolshie” after a thousand years of the millennium; will it be the outcome of boredom? Many may howl with laughter at these theories —at the same 'time as they are swallowing other dogmas, religious and political, that are just as unreal.

The Witnesses can argue their case with ability and verve, which is more than can be said for the average Catholic, Tory or Labourite. Fundamentalists in a world of science, they fearlessly attack theories of evolution by rapier thrusts at the weak links in Darwinism. They are the type of religious opposition to keep materialists on their toes. They have been scourged by the dictatorships which have tried to keep them from their domains as if they were the plague. This is to be expected when great “Leaders” are filling their workers up 'to the brim with home brewed ”People’s Republics” and ‘‘New Orders.” The Witnesses might appear to their masses as some rival supermarket.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses may be painstaking in argument, energetic, skilful in propaganda, obedient in organisation; but after all this they are supporting some theory that has no basis in fact. For their case ultimately pivots on a manlike conception of a god; a deity with human emotions and ideas, a god made in man’s image. The grimness of capitalism has driven these people to feel that man cannot help himself; he must forever wallow in blood and hatred, never growing up, always dangerously infantile.

In fact, only man himself can. work out his own salvation. In spite of the setbacks, heartbreaks, and mistakes, Man learns step by step to deal with his problems.

That is the final answer to the Witnesses of Jehovah, and to all other purveyors of religious theories.
Jack Law

Rocking the Boat (1961)

From the June 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is everything quite well with Mr. Macmillan? Governments, we know, are bound to become rather unpopular at times: the working class has a nasty habit of suddenly turning against the very men whom they have just elected to power, and for no apparent good reason. Perhaps that is why we are hearing so much about trouble in the Tory ranks. Or is there something more?

The April issue of The Director, which is the mouthpiece of the Institute of Directors, carried an article which speculated upon the possible successors to the leadership of the Conservative Party. It is strange, as the article pointed out, that there is at the moment no immediately obvious choice to take over from Mr. Macmillan. When Churchill was Premier, everyone knew that he would one day hand over to Eden. And Eden, it once seemed, would pass on the burden to Butler, But Macmillan has not brought on any bright young man as his heir apparent—there are many who look as if they have a chance of one day stepping into his elegant shoes,

Now the interesting thing is that The Director should bother its head about the matter of the next Prime Minister at all. Mr. Macmillan is still young, as Premiers go. He has been in the job for barely four years and is hardly cool from his last smashing electoral victory. His government seems to have given satisfaction to large sections of the British capitalist class. Why, then, should some of them want to dwell upon the awful day when he must leave the stage to lesser lights? What are the causes of dissension in the Tory benches?

Well, there is Africa, for a start. The government’s policy of giving in so easily to the demands for independence has upset the tea-planting element in the Tory Party. Lord Salisbury spoke for them all when he castigated the Colonial Secretary as being ”too clever by half.” Some political correspondents are saying that not only Mr. Macleod is a sharp boy; Macmillan himself has shown a crafty hand over Africa. The Prime Minister’s problem is to bring his wilder and woollier supporters to accept the realities of modern British capitalism, on issues like Africa. Gaitskell, who has a similar problem over nuclear armaments, has not shown up half as well as Macmillan. The recent history of colonial nationalism must have convinced many influential sections of the British capitalist class that the most economical way of dealing with the nationalists is to give them what they ask and to make the best of it Then, they should be able to continue to invest money in the newly independent territory and so keep their influence with the native government.

This policy is much less ruinous than the sort of warfare which the French have waged over Algeria and the British over Cyprus. The sharper British statesmen must shudder when they recall the famous “never” speech of Lennox-Boyd in a debate on Cyprus. They must realise that it is better for the colonial powers to do a deal with a rising nationalist movement rather than to attempt to suppress it. This is one of the reasons for the sudden changes of front which we have seen recently over colonial affairs, changes which have transformed men like De Valera and and Makarios from terrorists, reviled by every popular news-rag, into respected politicians who are welcomed to the conference table. Soon, perhaps, Jomo Kenyatta will be similarly transformed; and Ferhat Abbas and the other leaders of the F.L.N.

Willingness to come to terms with the independence movements may be, for the capitalists, the saner course, but the Tory Empire men do not appreciate it. These are the men who are roasting Macmillan over Africa.

Then there is the matter of the spies. First the Lonsdale case, then George Blake. Macmillan did his best to soothe everyone, saying that Blake’s espionage had done no irreparable damage. This is impossible to reconcile with the words of Lord Parker, when passing sentence, that Blake had brought a lot of British intelligence work to nothing. This sort of thing must be very disturbing to the people who are charged with keeping the secrets of British capitalism—and the Labour Party, who are as worried about this as the rest, were quick off the mark with some pointed questions to Macmillan and were glad to see that Gaitskell went along to secret discussions with the Prime Minister.

No member jeopardised his majority by pointing out that all nations have their spies. (There are reports that Blake gave away some British spies in East Berlin). Nobody said that spying is one of the results of the involved diplomacy of the various capitalist powers., who are all the time working to extend their influence and power. Not one honourable member suggested that, whilst armed forces exist, they are bound to need powerful weapons, and to keep their latest methods of organised murder a close secret. There was not. in other words, one voice, however small, raised to say that espionage is part of the sordid way of capitalist life, that most capitalist nations have their own spies—whom they regard as heroes, whilst scourging their opposites as dirty snoopers. All sides of the House were united in defence of British capitalism; the only discordant note, in fact, was struck by a few Labourites and Tories who think that perhaps the government is not vigilant enough in this defence. Some government supporters may even have been a little irritated with Macmillan over the matter. There he was, so smooth and assuring, so full of honeyed words and all the time letting all that scandalous espionage go on behind his back.

If the Tories are a little down in the mouth, they can have found little in the Budget to cheer them up. We all know that Budgets can often win a few votes, even for an unpopular government. That can hardly be said for Mr. Selwyn Lloyd’s first effort. One aspect of the Budget which escaped notice was that it contained a lot of measures which are popularly supposed to come exclusively from the Labour Party. This year’s Finance Bill gives the government power to introduce, as it likes, a payroll tax and to vary certain excise rates by ten per cent. either way. These are typical of the powers which the last Labour Government used to take, in the days when it was absorbed in planning the recovery of post-war British capitalism.

At the time, the Tories attacked such non-Parliamentary powers as undemocratic (quite right—they are). They called them examples of Socialist dictatorship (quite wrong—they are nothing of the sort). Now that a Conservative Government is taking similar powers, is there a word of apology or a hint of diffidence about doing so? There is nothing of the sort. This is not surprising: the policies of capitalist political parties are determined by the emergencies which they encounter in trying to organise the affairs of the ruling class. Because they are all basically working to the same end, there is every reason for them occasionally to swap policies. It can be amusing to observe them doing so. But let us always remember that there is no concern for high flown principles of democracy and freedom in this. It is simply a matter of national housekeeping for their capitalist class.

These, then, are some of the worries which beset Mr. Macmillan. A short time ago he had the unusual distinction of stroking his eight to a third consecutive victory, but there are some signs that the tide is not running so well for him now. True, the Tories won a lot of seats at the recent local elections but, as The Economist has pointed out, they did not do as well as they might have hoped and expected. We all know that Dapper Mac is a clever political oarsman, who is well capable of pulling his crew together. In any case, the other possible eight is squabbling on the bank about nuclear disarmament and doesn’t seem able to agree on who they want for their captain. With all this excitement going on, who cares if the river is full of people struggling to keep their head above the water?
Ivan.

Letter: Socialism In One Country (1961)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Were England to achieve Socialism or even be in process of achieving that ideal goal, would we not become economically strangled by all other countries? Our natural wealth being limited to coal and iron, we are entirely * dependent on the means of survival to a prejudiced, vindictive capitalist world.

I would be pleased to know my fears are ungrounded, and would be grateful for a reply.
H. F. 
Leeds.


Reply:
Our correspondent’s assumption is, in fact, false. He himself points out that England, for example, is deficient in many types of natural wealth which are essential to a modern society. This is also true of many other countries. Even those countries which are naturally rich often find it to their advantage to import raw materials or manufactures.

The modern process of producing and distributing wealth is an intensely social and co-operative act, which no country can opt out of. Because of this, any attempt to set up Socialism in one country must come to grief, for that country would be forced to enter into commercial relations with the capitalist part of the world. The very fact of that country trading with others would mean that its "Socialism" was at an end.! 

Socialism, therefore, is nothing if it is not a world-wide system. Some parts of the world may advance towards it slightly before others. But the eventual establishment of it must be a virtually simultaneous act, to transform society from a competitive to a co-operative basis.
Editorial Committee

Branch News (1961)

Party News from the June 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Demonstration For Socialism

They say that the day of the big indoor meeting is over. That working people won't leave the telly for a serious political meeting.

But this was well and truly dispelled by the Party on a day of heavy rain last April, when no fewer than 400 people went to St. Pancras Town Hall for the “ Demonstration for Socialism," the Party's most ambitious meeting for years.

They were attracted by an intensive publicity campaign, embracing (1) a series of leaflet raids on Islington and St. Pancras homes; (2) concentrated displays of striking red and white posters all over London, and (3) advertisements in political journals and local newspapers.

For nearly three hours, the audience heard Comrades Young and May outline the case for Socialism, answer a stream of questions, and reply to a lively discussion in which contributions came mainly from C.N.D. supporters.

Opening, Comrade Young quoted facts and figures exposing the fallacy of the “ You’ve never had it so good ” argument. He showed that workers were relatively worse off to-day than before the war. The gap between the wages of the workers and the wealth they produced had greatly widened.

Following up, Comrade May said the Socialist case was as valid to-day as in 1904—when the Party was founded. Tragically, workers still believed they could solve their problems by voting for reformist parties. They would always remain wage slaves until they voted for an international Socialist society, with no wages, no money, no national slates, and where goods would be produced for human need, not profit..

To Labour and Communist questioners, .Comrade Young said that nationalisation was a form of capitalism. It had nothing in common with Socialism. Neither had the state capitalist system operating in the Soviet Union and other so-called Communist countries.

To C.N.D. and pacifist questioners., Comrade May said the way to abolish war, both nuclear and “conventional" was to abolish the capitalist system that bred it. There could be no guarantee of permanent peace without a world-wide system of common ownership and social equality.

From the chair, Comrade P. Howard said the meeting had been so successful that it would stimulate the Party to organise similar events from time to time. A collection raised more than £25.


May Day

The weather was kind to London's May Day, allowing us to hold an outdoor rally in Hyde Park. Members made the best of some unaccustomed sunshine to notch up some good literature sales.

An interested audience heard the case for Socialism from Comrades Ambridge, D'Arcy. Bryant and Young.

In the evening we followed up with an indoor meeting at Denison House, where Comrades Grant and Baldwin spoke. Comrade Lake was in the chair.


Wembley

Four members of Wembley Branch sold twenty copies of the Socialist Standard in one hour's canvass of the Fratton area of Portsmouth on May 14th. In the afternoon of the same day, they were joined by comrades from Camberwell and Kingston Branches on the front at Southsea, where a meeting was commenced at 3.30 p.m. and continued until almost 8 o'clock, apart from a short tea break. Although it was still fairly early in the season, there was an average audience of about fifty, taking a lively interest and asking many questions.

The previous Monday, Comrade La Touche showed us some colour slides of the West Indies and gave us some useful general information on that area. He is in England for a few weeks' holiday and it was certainly good to see him after a long absence abroad.


Writers' Classes

The last of the writers' classes was held recently and it has been left to members to apply the information given. At least one valuable lesson, which we have all learned. is to look at our own writing with a far more critical eye.


Kelvingrove

Since January the branch has held no less than 16 indoor meetings. The average audience has been 30, with collections of over £1 at each meeting. Nine different speakers took part and there were good questions and lively discussion on nearly every occasion.
Phyllis Howard

What justice? (2011)

Book Review from the June 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

On The Currency Of Egalitarian Justice. By G.A. Cohen, Edited by Michael Otsuka, Princeton University Press, 2011

Contrary to popular myth, Marx and Engels did not frame their arguments for socialism in terms of material equality. In fact they rejected demands for levelling down as ‘crude communism’. As the political philosopher Allen Wood has pointed out, they did not criticise capitalism because poverty is unevenly distributed, but because there is poverty where there need be none, and that there is a privileged class which benefits from a system which subjects the majority to an artificial and unnecessary poverty. In his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875), Marx argued that socialism or communism (they mean the same thing) would be based on from each according to ability, to each according to need. This is not an egalitarian slogan. Rather, it asks for people to be considered individually, each with a different set of needs and abilities. Nor would socialist society have to be underpinned by some conception of ‘distributive justice’. From each according to ability, to each according to need is a practical arrangement for meeting self-defined needs.

This book is a collection of essays by the academic political philosopher G.A. Cohen, who died in 2009. The ‘currency’ in the title is a reference to the principles used by political philosophers in the academic debate about ‘egalitarian justice’, though in one essay Cohen does acknowledge that those who have more currency (meaning more money) are freer than those who have less of it. This may seem blindingly obvious but it is often denied in academia. Cohen has built a reputation on work allegedly inspired by Marx’s writings, but here again he misleads. This is confirmed in the essay ‘Back to Socialist Basics’ in which he demonstrates no understanding of socialist basics. Cohen claims that he is setting out the principles for ‘egalitarian justice’ –  as if they existed in a timeless social and economic vacuum. But the mechanisms for bringing about the desired changes – Cohen argues for a ‘fair’ redistribution of money via taxation – crucially depend upon capitalism’s ability to actually deliver an egalitarian society. Since he does not show that capitalism can do that there is no reason to take his philosophising seriously.

According to political philosophy justice prevails when people get what they deserve, though there are widely differing interpretations of its ethical implications. For socialists, as for Marx, the concepts of justice and fairness are not so much wrong or false as not relevant for our purposes. They misrepresent the exploitative social relations of capitalism and are inappropriate to the struggle for socialism. Socialists operate within a different frame of reference, using different principles which transcend present-day society. Socialism will undoubtedly be a more materially equal society, but that is not the objective. Common ownership of the means of life will be a social relationship of equality between all people. This establishes a classless society. That is the socialist objective and not a ‘fairer’ capitalism which was Cohen’s real aim.
Lew Higgins

Books received: Paperback edition of The Enigma of Capital by David Harvey (reviewed in the June 2010 Socialist Standard).

The circus comes to town (2011)

The Halo Halo! column from the June 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are still in remote communities today medicine men who after daubing strange symbols on their bodies in blood, donning feather headdresses and taking up their magic bones, will go into a trance and chant unintelligible messages to invisible gods. These performances can be carried out to heal the sick, to drive away demons, or to bring a dead body back to life as a zombie. They have been practiced with simple, unquestioning faith for hundreds, probably thousands, of years.

Also today, in modern ‘civilised’ cities, there are men (and women) who dress up in elaborately decorated robes and headwear to perform different, but similar mysterious rituals. They solemnly trace crosses in the air with their fingers, symbolically eat the flesh and drink the blood of a long dead man, and carry little wooden crosses with the image of this same dead man impaled on them. In addition to praying for the welfare of souls in the afterlife they will swing their incense pots and chant messages (in Latin if required) to a different, but equally magical god with every expectation of being taken seriously.

Should you ask one of the witch doctors from a shantytown shack in Haiti, from Lambeth Palace, or the Vatican, what arrangement he had with the god to persuade him to perform a miracle, or to take, or avoid a certain course of action, he would tell you not to question such things but to have faith. He would assure you that the invisible ones move in mysterious ways which only the initiated can understand.

One such event that must have been the biggest religious magic show for years took place on 1 May in Rome. Starting at the Circus Maximus, and being broadcast live on giant video screens across the city, the faithful from all over the world gathered to see a dead pope being ‘beatified’. And what a circus it must have been. According to Italian police, more than a million people turned up.

Hopefully they were easily pleased and didn’t expect a scientific explanation of what exactly was going on. Apparently a bottle of the dead pope’s blood was involved, but what Pope Benedict XVI had to do to his predecessor to ‘beatify’ him, and how the dead pope benefited is unclear.

Being beatified (as opposed to being beautified – he died in 2005 after all) is apparently a kind of promotion after death for anyone who has shown a heroic degree of holiness. According to Pope Benedict he “reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress”.

The Catholic Free Press reported how impressed one onlooker was. “Pope John Paul was a wonderful pope”, said Isabel Marin from Spain. “He was like us. My mom showed me a video where he was watching a clown and really laughing. And I saw another video where he moved his feet when the people were singing, following the beat.”

A pope who could laugh, keep time to the music and fend off those nasty Marxists all at once. Just what is needed in the modern world.
NW

The Killing of Bin Laden: Who’s Terrifying Who and Why? (2011)

From the June 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
What is the War on Terror? Why do governments want us to be afraid?
The execution of Osama Bin Laden, announced on 1 May by President Obama, has been fêted as a great tactical victory by the White House, by Western governments and the world’s media. The longed-for news saw a wave of nationalistic, back-slapping hysteria in the US and the killing has served as a sorely needed propaganda tool to enhance the standing of the US military in the eyes of the domestic public.

Some in the Obama administration quickly seized on the Pakistan achievement to promote their own sinister agenda, with Americans reliably informed that their doubts on the use of torture were misplaced and that Bin Laden was actually found as a direct result of information gleaned by the CIA’s torture of captives

Despite world-wide celebrations and Obama’s rise in popularity at home and the propaganda value of the killing, there is no evidence that the death will have any impact on the flagging military and political situation of the US in South Asia, the Middle East and other theatres of high tension.

The death of Bin Laden has been seen as affording the US an escape strategy from Afghanistan, bringing closure to a decade of embarrassment in the country. To be sure, the US attempts to create a pliant puppet regime in Kabul are failing. The Taliban, or indeed, Al Qaeda, are no nearer defeat than ten years ago and still notching up US casualties. Quite significantly, in the latter regard, at Kabul airport on 29 April, nine high-ranking US military officers were assassinated by a “reliable” Afghan fighter pilot. That this attack happened in an ostensibly high security area, implies that no place in Afghanistan is secure from attack, that anyone is vulnerable, and that not even allied Afghan military personnel can be trusted.

With the US tied down in an unpopular war in Afghanistan, domestic woes rising and his political standing falling, it would seem Obama was desperate for a military success story, more so considering 9/11 is now a decade ago and years of rampant military expenditure are factoring high in the current budget deficit.

Terror, what is it?

Undoubtedly, the ‘War on Terror’ will continue to serve many interests, with politicians promoting the concept at every opportunity to justify overseas military actions and to keep the public in a state of mild panic. It is thus worth looking at the concept of terrorism itself and to judge the definers by their own definition.

The US Army Manual definition of terrorism is “the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence, to attain goals that are political, religious or ideological in nature, through intimidation, coercion or instilling fear.”

This is quite close to the British government’s definition, which is “the use, or threat, of action which is violent, damaging or disrupting, and is intended to influence the government, or intimidate the public, and is for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological case.”

One aim of The War on Terror is to frighten us – to get us all paranoid about a freedom-loathing bogeyman who is just waiting to come and destroy all we hold sacred – and to get us to fall in line behind the wider objectives of US and British foreign policy, which are in reality the objectives of a small corporate elite who really call the shots in both countries.

George Bush was every bit the terroriser when he introduced the “Shock and Awe” strategy of 2003 and indeed when he announced, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists”. Likewise with Tony Blair who announced to a terrified British public that Saddam could reach Britain with his WMDs within 45 minutes – a fact that that later proved to be total fallacy.

It is, perhaps, important to set the war on terror in context. America, for 45 years, terrified us with the threat of the Soviet menace, meanwhile expanding its reach all over the world. When the Kremlin’s empire collapsed, America suddenly found itself deprived of its hegemonic credentials, no longer able to use its anti-communist passport to interfere in global affairs from Cuba to Vladivostok. The end of the cold war meant it was stamped null and void.

It now needed a new propaganda framework through which to assert its authority on the international stage, a new enemy, a new bogeyman to protect us all from – and the first bogeyman who reared his head was Saddam Hussein, who invaded Kuwait within two years of the Berlin Wall falling, sparking the first Gulf War and the start of the US obsession with Iraq that has lasted 20 years. Saddam would later be joined by Bin Laden in 2001 after 9/11, the events of which all of us are now over-familiar with.

Notably, the language and jargon used to discuss the War on Terror, all its definitions, is chosen by the US political elite. Likewise it is the US that gets to delineate the ideology of the enemy, whether it be fascist or communist or militant Islamic. In the case in question it would have been insensitive in the extreme to declare a war on Islam, so North Korea had to be incorporated into Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’, lest the entire Islamic world rise up against the USA.

The US has certainly benefited from the War on Terror, extending its reach like no empire in history. It now has in excess of 700 military bases around the world, and these bases can be found in 177 of the world’s 193 UN recognised countries. More likely, it seems the War on Terror has everything to do with full spectrum dominance and the desire of the US capitalist elite to control the world’s mineral wealth, trade routes, foreign markets, areas of influence and to maintain the strategic sites from which all these sources of profit can be defended. Little wonder there are many who claim that if Osama Bin Laden did not exist, it would be necessary to create him to get into Afghanistan.

Then why Afghanistan? The Caspian Basin, which the country borders, contains an estimated $12 trillion dollars worth of oil. It is not the case that he US wants this oil for itself, but needs a presence in Afghanistan to be able to control just who does have access to it.

Big lies

There are real contenders against US economic supremacy, namely India, Russia and China, all with a growing and insatiable thirst for oil to lubricate the wheels of their own profit machines. By controlling as much oil as they can, the US gets to stack the odds in its own favour.

But before you can mobilise to take over the world’s scarce resources you first need to get your people on your side. You need their consent, their support and their approval of you as the champion of freedom. This is why George Bush could so cleverly tell the American people: “They hate our freedom, our freedom of religion, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with one another,” and that “you are either with us or with the terrorists.”

This was not just Orwellian double-speak. This tactic came straight from Nazi Germany and from Joseph Goebbels:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the state can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie … The truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the state.”
Since 11 September, 2001, the governments of George W. Bush and then Barack Obama and Tony Blair told and repeated a “lie big enough” to confirm Joseph Goebbels’ statement, and the American and British people have come to believe it. It is the “War on Terror.”

Whilst we were informed that the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were in retaliation for 9/11, it is now clear that the Bush administration had them clearly in mind upon taking office, and set in motion as early as 3 February 2001, some seven months before 9/11 and thus they had nothing to do with terrorism.

The War on Terror has not only validated the US passport –  that allows it to play the role of globo-cop to further the interests of its own capitalist elite, pushing aside anyone who gets in its way – it has also strengthened the hand of the state at home also. For out of the war on terror came the Patriot Act (USA) and the Terrorism Act (Britain) which put civil disobedience on a par with a felony.

Orwell’s words come only too readily to mind when contemplating White House pronouncements: “Who controls the present controls the past. Who controls the past controls the future.”
John Bissett

The Killing of Bin Laden: Understanding the American Reaction (2011)

From the June 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

A large majority of Americans – 87 percent, according to one poll – approve of the killing of Bin Laden. Many were visibly overcome by joy when they heard the news, and the subsequent warning by CIA director Leon Panetta that the operation would actually increase the terrorist threat to the US only slightly damped their spirits.

Within a few days of the operation, video games were on the market offering simulated experiences of killing Osama – or, in one case, his ghost! If you get killed by him first, never mind: you can just start over again.

Sam Sommers, a sociology professor at Tufts University, explained the jubilant reaction as follows: “September 11 shook our belief [that] the world [is] a just and fair place where you get what you deserve. Innocent people died senselessly. Seeing this closing scene, for many people, provides a just ending.” Hence the “sense of relief” expressed by the widow of one 9/11 victim.

What can account for this strange belief that the world is a just and fair place? How is it possible not to know that innocent people die senselessly every day? Perhaps it has something to do with religion, which has more influence over people’s minds in the United States than in most of Western Europe. Perhaps it also reflects the complacent platitudes of “positive thinking”.

Good sense

Besides, was 9/11 senseless? It made good sense to Bin Laden. In his journal, captured by the Navy Seals, he wondered how many Americans it would be necessary to kill to make the United States withdraw its forces from the Moslem world. He pursued a carefully devised strategy – to lure America into a long and exhausting war of attrition that would eventually lead to its economic collapse. It was the same strategy he had used – in alliance with the US – against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. This time too, the strategy so far seems to be working very well.

The worst that can be said of Bin Laden is that he was a ruthless warlord willing to sacrifice innocent people on a large scale to achieve his political goals. Let us grant that this makes him an evil man. But let us be consistent and place this judgment in a broader context. World history is full of such evil men (and a few evil women). They are called “great statesmen”.

And look who’s talking!

Many American presidents, whether Republicans or Democrats, have been no less ruthless. Osama killed some 2,800 Americans on 9/11. Compare this with the 3,500 civilians killed by Bush Senior in the December 1989 invasion of Panama – a minor affair as American military interventions go. Or the 3,800 Afghan civilians killed by American bombing within three months of 9/11. Or consider the statement by then US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright (in an interview on 60 Minutes on May 12, 1996) that the deaths of half a million children caused by the US-led embargo on Iraq were “a price worth paying”.

The United States has now avenged 9/11. “Justice has been done,” says Obama. Bin Laden also saw himself as an agent of justice and vengeance (neither of them drawing any distinction between the two). In 2004 he revealed how he first got the idea of destroying the Twin Towers. He was watching the destruction of tower blocks in Beirut on television in 1982, when Israel, backed up by the US Sixth Fleet, was invading Lebanon. Why, he asked himself, should he not “punish the unjust in the same way”?

Clearly, the Towers in New York are not the only twins in this story. It is also a story about twin barbarisms. (Gilbert Achcar elaborates on this thought in his book The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder, Paradigm Publishers 2006.)

The assumption of benevolence

The Americans who celebrated the death of Bin Laden were not bothered by reflections such as these. But let’s not be too harsh on them. Facts that might inspire critical reflection are never mentioned in the mainstream corporate media aimed at ordinary people. Now and then it is admitted that the United States may sometimes make a mistake, but the assumption of benevolence – the idea that America is inherently a force for good in the world – can never be questioned. No alternative perspective is ever presented. And this “patriotic” outlook is drummed into American hearts and minds from the earliest school years.

And yet it is not just a matter of information and ideas not being available. After all, while by no means a democracy in any real sense, the United States is not a totalitarian state either. Thanks in part to the internet, alternative ideas and sources of information are now easily accessible to those determined to seek them out. But not so very many do seek them out.

Why? One reason is that most people are too preoccupied with earning a living, ensuring their own survival. Social pressures are a very important factor. But perhaps the crucial barrier is within the psyche. If your positive self-image is based on the idea of how marvellous “your country” is, then even if you do encounter discordant information it must be rejected or interpreted as somehow irrelevant. Accepting reality would be too painful, too threatening to the self.
Stefan (World Socialist Party of the United States)

50 Years Ago: Man in Space (2011)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Russia’s daring young man did all the right things, at the right time.

Sent looping around the Earth, he sang a patriotic song: (“The motherland hears, the motherland sees, the motherland knows…”). On the rostrum beside Mr. Khruschev, he was the star turn at this year’s Moscow May Day parade.

Gagarin’s exploit, Commander Shepard’s flight, and the arrival of the Russian Venus rocket shot, have put spaceships right back in the news. Such things are interesting, not to say exciting – but have they been worth anything?

We all know that Russia and the United States are feverishly applying the knowledge which their space probes give them to the production of more accurate missiles. Some of these were paraded before Gagarin in the Red Square on May Day.

Without a doubt, the quest for more accurate and more powerful weapons is the main incentive in the space programmes of the great powers.

Incidentally, they may also gain knowledge which has little or no military value. But there is no guarantee that even this will not one day be misused.

There is one thing the space shots have to teach everybody. Capitalist society is bound to distort human knowledge for inhuman ends. Scientific investigation can only come into its own when this world is sanely organised.

(“News in Review”, Socialist Standard, June 1961)