Saturday, July 11, 2020

Political Notes: A guerrilla calls (1982)

The Political Notes Column from the July 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

A guerrilla calls

What with the Falklands, the Pope’s visit and all, it was hardly noticed, but recently Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Robert Mugabe was in London.

At another time—say three years ago—, the visit of this ex-guerrilla leader would certainly have been noticed. Such was his reputation as a bloodthirsty terrorist that his presence on these shores would have roused the most somnolent armchairs of Clubland.

And Mugabe, who still calls himself a “socialist”, would probably have occupied himself in discussions with other left wing leaders. At the end there might well have been a statement on the international fraternity of freedom fighters. And so on.

What actually happened was that Mugabe spent his time with bankers and industrialists, at one time at a banquet arranged by the overweight, overthrown Tory Lord Soames who did so much to help Mugabe to power.

Mugabe’s problem is not to do with international brotherhood: it is a lack of investment in Zimbabwe. His Cabinet planned for 45 per cent to come from private funds and the rest to include pledges of credit from other states, given in 1981. But British capitalists are wary; they are pressing for a “code” which will safeguard invested capital and guarantee that profits will be allowed out of Zimbabwe. If this crisis sounds familiar, that is because it is typical of many a state attempting its first footholds on the greasy slopes of international capitalism. Mugabe, like many other nationalist leaders, vowed to build socialism in one country. His is the latest experience to prove this is impossible and that nationalist struggles merely overthrow one ruling class to substitute another.

Arms spending

Leading politicians from 157 governments recently convened in New York for the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Disarmament (UNGASSD). There, many solemn words were spoken on the urgent, nay imperative, need to disarm the world.

While cant was echoing around the conference chamber many politicians like Reagan, Brehznev and Thatcher were authorising bloodshed and destruction by armies, navies and air forces from their respective nations. The Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Jan Martenson, announced that the annual global arms bill for all types of weapons and military equipment totals £353 BILLION—the highest it has ever been. Resolutions were carried with zeal at the UNGASSD, calling for all sorts of utopian disarmament measures, while the resolutions of the first Special Session on Disarmament, four years ago, are grotesquely mocked by the terrifying escalation in war apparatus since they were passed.

Ronald Reagan, fresh from arranging military finance for El Salvador and Guatemala, shaking hands with generals from military juntas like the one in Turkey and angling for the strategic positioning of American nuclear weapons half-way across the earth, strolled across Europe talking glibly about his “global campaign for peace and democracy”.

The totalitarian regimes of the Russian Empire prefer to remain more secretive about the magnitude of their military expenses, while in Britain on June 10 the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published a report which indicated that between 1980 and 1981 the Ministry of Defence exceeded its defence expenditure limit by £64,000,000 and had Spent a total of £10,556,000,000 on military forces. That works out at about one and a half million pounds a minute.

At the enormous CND march in London on June 6 Major Koss van de Wetering of the Dutch army announced that 50 per cent of Dutch soldiers are opposed to nuclear weapons. Perhaps because they would have no one to kill if such weapons were used in a war. The indefatigably moderate Young Liberals called for “Action against US Missiles”, although you wouldn’t get good odds on the chances of the Young Liberals in the event of such a conflict.

Ken Livingstone declared London a Nuclear Free Zone and car stickers to this effect were distributed. If London is attacked with nuclear weapons, let’s hope that the bombs (i) are able to read and understand the stickers (ii) are prepared to abide by the decision of Ken Livingstone and his supporters in County Hall. Shocked astonishment greeted the discovery that the Argentine army was preparing to use the horrific non-nuclear weapon, napalm (a burning agent) and then it is reported that the reason for so many “light casualties” (gruesome maimings) after one British ship is attacked in the South Atlantic is that it may have been carrying . . . napalm ((Guardian, 12 June).

On the first day of the Disarmament Conference Cardinal Terence Cooke cast his eyes up to the conference chamber neon lights and prayed to God for “peace in the islands of the South Atlantic, in the land of Lebanon and other nations of the Middle East, in Northern Ireland, in Poland and in Afghanistan”. While he was hoping, there were probably padres attached to soldiers in all of these places telling the soldiers that their violence had been divinely condoned as god was on their side. It is idealistic to believe that capitalism could be operated without armies to protect the interests of the ruling class organised in nations.

Bench rule

The Common Sergeant is not necessarily an NCO who spits and wipes his nose on his sleeve. A Recorder is not always a musical instrument. Both are titles given to senior judges, who may find pleasure in such obscure anachronisms. One such who is about to retire is Lord Denning, who has been Master of the Rolls (not a man in charge of the bakery) for some twenty years and who, at 83, is in danger of becoming himself an obscure anachronism.

According to some legal journalists we shall be sorry to lose Denning because he is a judge who believes in justice rather than in what he calls “certainty”. This belief has persuaded him at times to interpret the law as he thought it ought to be rather than it is, to the embarrassment of his fellow judges and to the ire of the politicians.

Nobody has yet explained why this should make Denning a friend of the working class. Indeed, in his time he has been associated with some notably repressive judgements. He once launched a campaign to curb trade union power and was recently forced to withdraw a book in which he clearly indicated that he mistrusted black jurors to convict defendants of the same skin colour.

But Denning is not the first eccentric judge, nor will he be the last. The judiciary exists to administer “justice”, which means the private property morality of capitalist society. They deal out harsh punishments to anyone who offends against that morality by helping themselves to wealth outside the law: they order the eviction of homeless people from empty houses which they can’t afford to live in. Such power is positively an encouragement to eccentricity. Denning’s successor may show some superficial differences, but he will be doing the same dirty job and his hands will not be clean.

The War in the South Atlantic (1982)

From the July 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Workers’ blood has been spilt in a squalid war over which group of exploiters shall own and control the resources on and around the Falkland Islands. The perverse propaganda in favour of legalised murder oozes from rags like The Sun, while the genteel voices of BBC “defence experts” discuss details of human sacrifice with all the cynicism of ancient rulers plotting a battle between expendable slaves. In a society where the loss of a fighter plane is infinitely more costly than the waste of a replaceable uniformed wage slave, profit is the god and human needs must be tossed aside to satisfy its voracious appetite. “Our lads”, who hitherto could not afford a weekend trip round the harbour on the luxurious QE2, are now being treated to a mystery tour on their bosses’ floating mansion—the mystery being not where they are going, but whether they will return alive. At the bottom of the bitterly cold South Atlantic, corpses from both sides mingle with each other—death highlights the fact that a British worker is indistinguishable from an Argentine worker: they are not natural enemies, but paid dogs of war set on to each other to do their masters’ dirty work.

Workers have no country. Britain is not “ours”: the richest ten per cent of the British population own more of the accumulated wealth than the other ninety per cent added together. Britain, like Argentina, belongs to a minority class which owes its affluence and privilege to a system of institutionalised parasitism. The Falklands do not belong to the workers of Britain or Argentina or the Islanders themselves. If British capitalists maintain their ownership and control of the Falklands, or if they lose control to their rival exploiters in Argentina, it will not make a scrap of difference to workers anywhere. It is a war fought by workers for the interests of capitalists.

What are they fighting about?
Much fallacious drivel has come forth from politicians and media hacks alike about “the interests of the Islanders” and “principles of international law”. It is suggested that Thatcher and her Tory, Labour, SDP and Liberal allies have sent the Task Force to the South Atlantic at a huge cost to the British capitalist class because they are eager to defend the Islanders’ rights to be British and to save the world from fascism. Such nonsense would be laughable were it not so commonly believed. If the government was so eager to “keep the Islanders British”, why did it exclude them from British citizenship in its recent Nationality Act? If the government was so disgusted by the Argentine Junta’s record of repressively anti-working class dictatorship, why was it a major arms supplier to the Junta up until the invasion of the Falklands? The hard fact is that wars are not fought for moral reasons — the only justice of significance to the capitalists as a class is that which ensures their own economic power. If British capital could succeed by selling out the nationalistic wishes of the Islanders and by working in alliance with the Argentine fascists they will certainly do so. Unlike in the Great War, however, the ruling class is no longer able to urge gullible wage slaves to die for the sake of Imperial Glory. These days the imperialist interests of the ruling class need to be dressed up as battles over principle — modern wars are disguised as “fights for democracy” or for “international law” or “for the right to be British”. Just as Churchill and his political allies would readily have made a deal with Hitler in the 1930s (in fact, Chamberlain tried to and Stalin did), so Thatcher would willingly conspire with the Junta today.

Workers should not be deceived: wars are simply a continuation of the rivalries over markets, raw materials and trade routes which are inherent in the profit system. The economic interests at stake in and around the Falkland Islands can be summed up as follows:

  1. Agriculture and fisheries.
  2. Oil.
  3. The mineral resources of the Antarctic.
  4. Strategic routes.

Agriculture and fisheries
The main industries of the Falkland Islands are sheep farming and fisheries. On 6 June 1982 The Mail on Sunday posed the question: “Who owns the Falklands Islands”. The answer was revealing:
  For the most part, not the islanders. More than seventy per cent of the land is owned by companies registered in the UK. The best-known landlord is the Falkland Islands Company . . . now owned by the Coalite Group, the Derby-based manufacturers of smokeless fuel. The Company employs half of the island’s population and owns half the sheep. It also owns some forty per cent of the land. Another thirty per cent is in the hands of seven small private companies in Britain and Germany.
The article refers to some of the holdings on the Islands which are usually referred to as being “ours”:
  Port Howard on West Falkland is a spread of 170,000 acres – bigger than Hampshire — stocked with 38,000 sheep. The farm is run by a manager for a company called James Lovegrove Waldron Ltd., whose thirty-seven shareholders live in England . . . The first territory to be recaptured by the Task Force was Port San Carlos where the Cameron Family have 97,000 acres and 31,000 sheep. Mr. William Cameron settled in the Falklands and bought the farm in the 1870s. He left it to his four children who later moved to Britain. Mrs. Anne Cameron, managing director of Port San Carlos Ltd., now lives in Ireland.
Reading this one might ask, how many workers own farms covering thousands of acres of land? The repossession of the Islands is entirely a capitalist concern, of no interest at all to the majority of people who are lucky if they own or rent a back garden. Landowning parasites like Charrington Coalite and the Camerons must be laughing all the way to the bank as they observe propertyless wage slaves worrying about the possession of territories which will never belong to workers. We can be sure that the capitalists will not die fighting for our interests; why should workers sacrifice their lives for the sake of capital?

For some time there has been speculation about the potential oil reserves which lie beneath the South Atlantic in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands. Oil is currently a very valuable commodity and capitalists are particularly interested in new areas of exploration. According to the Observer (23 May 1982), two major oil consortia have made bids within the last year to explore the Magallanes Este, a stretch of water which is equidistant between the Falkland Islands and the Argentine coast. The Argentine government sold the bidding rights to explore for oil and gas in the Magallanes Este to the American oil company, Atlantic Richfield (ARCO). The British government threatened to take legal action against ARCO, as it claimed that the exploration was going to take place in its waters and that Argentina had no right to sell the exploration rights. In objecting to foreign exploration of the Magallanes field the British government was undoubtedly thinking of the objectives of the section of the capitalist class which it represents. The Argentine military conquest of the area will have been seen as a denial of the British capitalists’ ambitions in relation to oil.

The oil factor has been played down by the British media. British capitalists are straining to give the impression that the potential oil is quite incidental to their high moral motives in sending the Task Force. The truth is rather different: in 1974 a team from Birmingham University investigated the oil potentiality in the Malvinas basin and compiled an economically optimistic report. According to the Observer,
 Industry forecasts of the potential oil in the Malvinas basin have been mixed, ranging from 20 million barrels from the Falklands side of the basin to between 40 and 200 billion barrels from the Argentine side.
North Sea oil reserves produce about 50 billion barrels. In 1981 the Royal Dutch Shell Group, acting as a contractor for the Argentine State Oil Company (YPS) drilled a well in Argentine waters which yielded 5,000 barrels a day.

Quite possibly the oil prospects around the Falkland Islands will come to little or nothing; but they have yet to be seriously tested and the British capitalist class is determined to be around if and when the oil profits start pouring in.

The mineral resources of the Antarctic
Not long after the main discoveries of the Antarctic by Cook, Bouvez de Lozier and Kergeulen-Tremarec in the eighteenth century, commercial exploitation of the area began. It has always been assumed that the mineral potential would be vast; but only in recent years have techniques been developed for obtaining the resources of the Antarctic. (Similarly, the Russian ruling class has recently discovered the vast riches in Siberia and it is becoming one of the key industrial areas of the USSR.)

Competition between sections of the capitalist class for the right to own and control the Antarctic was so intense that research in the area has often been stifled and “poisoned by endless arguments over sovereignty” (The Antarctic, H. G. R. King, p. 250). In the mid-1950s the US government proposed that the Antarctic should be internationalised and placed under the control of the United Nations, but this idea came to nothing. In October 1959 a conference of sixteen nations met in Washington and devised the Antarctic treaty, which was ratified in 1961. The treaty determined a thirty-year period of multilateral control of the Antarctic by Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Russia, Britain and the USA. During this time geological research was to be carried out in the area in order to determine its potential riches. The treaty will expire in 1991 and there is every prospect that conflict over future ownership and control of the vast area will be very fierce. While British capital has a foothold on the Falklands it is close to the scene and cannot easily be excluded from a share-out of the Antarctic territory.

Cartoon by George Meddemmen
Strategic routes
Capitalism not only needs to produce commodities, but to distribute them to the markets of the world. To do so it needs access to the convenient trade routes. In an interview on NBC (a US television network) on 9 June. Margaret Thatcher was candid about the fact that economic considerations were on her mind:
  Mrs. Thatcher argued strongly that there was more to the Falklands crisis than ideological issues like democracy. Quite a number of big oil tankers now had to go round Cape Horn to get to Alaska, she said, and they (i.e. the Falklands) had very enormous strategic value” (Guardian, 10 June 1982).
In addition to the principal economic causes of the Falklands war there are political factors which come into play. In Argentina, the Junta was probably prompted to take military action when it did by the then growing political opposition. Faced with a crisis of world capitalism, the Junta has been unable to prevent intensifying economic contradictions from fuelling the discontent of large sections of the working class. Shortly before the ”reconquest of the Malvinas” the Junta was confronted by mass demonstrations on the street; its show of nationalist militarism has converted dissidence into jingoism, thus temporarily stabilising the position of the Argentine ruling class. The use of national chauvinism as a political diversion has aided Thatcher no less than Galtieri. In the long run, however, it is a mistake to assume that the leaders of capitalism are directing its affairs; they are the victims of the system and no amount of peaceful intentions on their part will avoid the occasional need of capitalism to destroy lives and wealth for the sake of profit.

The war, Marxists and the left wing
The role of revolutionary socialists is not simply to declare abstract principles. There are plenty of piously motivated people who are deeply committed to abstract aims, such as “world peace”. Such aims are utopian unless they are related to the historical possibility of establishing a classless, stateless society. Understanding that capitalism causes wars, socialists urge the need for conscious political action to end capitalism and thus eradicate war. Socialists do not simply oppose violence or war or destruction; we oppose the class interests which give rise to these anti-social forms of behaviour.

Socialist principles are put to the test when they are applied to the real experiences of the class struggle. In 1914, when every political party in Britain was either swallowed up by the jingoistic war hysteria or else left muttering inane pacifist sentiments, the Socialist Party stood alone in condemning the war from a class angle:
  Whereas the capitalists of Europe have quarrelled over the questions of the control of trade routes and the world markets, and are endeavouring to exploit the political divisions and blind passions of the working class of their respective countries in order to induce the said workers to take up arms in what is solely their masters’ quarrel. THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN, having no quarrel with the working class of any country, extends to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our good will and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism.
In 1939 the Socialist Party refused to be tricked into support for legalised killing, firmly rejecting the fallacy that the British ruling class — in its alliance with the dictator, Stalin — was fighting for democracy. Alone among all parties in Britain, the Socialist Party has never supported one capitalist interest against another in a war. Consistently we have argued that workers have a material interest in opposing all wars. In maintaining this principle the Socialist Party adheres to the classic declaration of Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto:
  The Communists are distinguished from the other working class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the fore the common interests of the entire proletariat independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.
In the light of these revolutionary guidelines of Marx and Engels we may examine the attitude taken to the war by the parties, groups and sects of the British Left. In the moment of truth, have they sided with the workers’ interest — have they pointed out “the common interests of the entire proletariat” — or have they supported the military ambitions of one section of capital against another? Predictably enough, the latter is the case.

Instead of pointing out that workers have no interest in the territorial squabbles of their rulers, virtually all the Leftists opted to make legalistic judgements about which band of exploiters ought to possess the Falklands. The New Communist Party’s leaflet on the war begins by stating: “Let no one be deceived, Britain has no right to the Falklands.”

It seems that the Central Committee of the New Communist Party has set itself up as an international arbiter of capitalist rights. Perhaps they will be good enough to tell us which capitalists do have the “right” to own. control and plunder the earth? The Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) states that Galtieri’s fascist junta is “manipulating the just sentiments of the people for the decolonisation of the Islands . . .”

Socialist Newsletter seems to be divided between supporting the claims of both groups of capitalists; its leaflet begins by stating that: “The 1,800 or so British people who live there are British. They have a right to stay there as British people.”

Having granted the Islanders the right to stay allied to the British ruling class, Socialist Newsletter is anxious not to seem unfair to the Argentine capitalists and so states that “The Malvinas are part of Argentina”.

The Socialist Workers’ Party is never far behind when there are class issues to be confused. “Stop this mad war now!” its leaflet instructs; but instead of going on to say that only socialism can put an end to war, the SWP declares that what is needed is an Argentine victory. “Every socialist and trade unionist . . . has a direct interest in the defeat of the British forces.” Now, if socialists have a direct interest in an Argentine victory (because that is what “defeat of the British forces” means) — if success for the junta equals success for socialists, as the SWP says, should workers not be encouraged to sign up and help the Argentine army defeat the British forces? Presumably the SWP is in favour of what they call the direct interest of socialists and trade unionists, and so are therefore logically committed to taking any action which will enhance such interests. Perhaps we will soon be seeing SWP paper sellers collecting coins to provide arms for the Argentine army — instead of their old slogan, “Fight the fascists on the streets” they will be able to shout out, “Fight with the fascists in the Malvinas" — for by doing so these political half-wits think that they are defending the interests of socialists and trade unionists everywhere.

The SWP leaflet states that:
 . . . the Argentine trade unions and Left rightly believe that the Falklands should belong to Argentina as they were stolen by British gunboats 150 years ago.
So, according to the petty nationalists of the SWP, workers in Argentina are quite right to believe that the national aspirations of their ruling class have anything to do with them—they are right to engage in the very anti-working class nationalism which Marxists totally oppose.

The other trad Trots, such as the IMG and the WRP, have taken attitudes to the war which are indistinguishable from the SWP. They have taken to referring to “the Malvinas” and to regarding Galtieri as a fighter against imperialism. While the Trotskyists dream of a future People’s Malvinas, the Communist Party engages in sterile, meaningless talk about the need for a peaceful United Nations settlement. Such is the revolutionary status of the party which was once going to smash capitalism!

If the trad Trots are strong on pro-nationalist implications, the Revolutionary Communist Party is in the running to become the British wing of the Argentine junta. The RCP is quite clear about which capitalists have its support: “In this war it is the duty of British socialists to back Argentina.” On the assumption that the enemy of an enemy must be a friend, the RCP states that “No socialist can remain neutral when the British ruling class goes to war”.

In 1939 the RCP would no doubt have been sending fraternal telegrams to the Nazis. The front cover of the RCP’s disgustingly anti-working class paper, The Next Step, has banner headlines declaring:
If the RCP intends to defend the entire population of Argentina we must assume that they are just as concerned about looking after the interest of the capitalists’ as the workers. The Next Step for any clear-headed member of the RCP would be resignation.

None of the leftist groups has attempted to analyse the real economic causes of the war. The SWP advance the facile explanation that “the war is really about, saving face – Thatcher and her government’s face”.

Not only is this a classical example of. the conspiracy theory — the absurd belief that the capitalists are in any kind of conscious control over capitalism — but misses any serious Marxist analysis why wars occur. To blame wars on Thatcher is to ignore the class forces which personalities like Thatcher, Reagan, Brezhnev and Galtieri are simply the symbols.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has traditionally ignored the vital question of the cause of war, preferring to campaign against certain weapons of war. The Falklands war has put CND in a difficult position: here we have a decent, old-fashioned conventional war of the kind that CND finds rather more humane than the unpleasant nuclear variety. The horrific conventional weapons which have been used in the South Atlantic may have forced some those CNDers who do not object to war as long as they are non-nuclear to have a re-think. Just as in the late 1960s thousands of CNDers lapsed from the faith in order to take sides in the Vietnam slaughter, so today there are many CNDers fully support the Task Force in its mission. CND boasts that its defence policy has been proved correct and had there been a run-down in conventional armaments the British ruling class would have been militarily unsuccessful in the South Atlantic. In short, just like all reformist bodies, the role of the CND is to advise the capitalists on how to run their competitive and murderous system.

One member of CND who must not be forgotten is Michael Foot — the man who likes to be known as an “inveterate peacemonger”. His speech in the House of Commons at the beginning of the Falklands crisis should be remembered by workers for years to come. It was Foot who urged the government to use force — it was he who threatened to expose the government for weakness if it did not respond to aggression with the might of the British military machine. Foot has workers’ blood on his hands no less than Thatcher. But Foot was elected to administer capitalism and who could expect his party or the Leftist sects which hang on to his party to do anything but bow to the needs of British capitalism? Peace for them is something to be talked about when there is not a capitalist war to be fought. The Left wing of capital is as much an enemy of the working class as are the overt defenders of capitalism on the Right.

The tragedy is that the dangerous policies outlined above lead inevitably to the waste of war and the continuation of class privilege. For Marxists there is but one way ahead and that will not be in the company of capitalists of any nation.

“The workers have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!” (The Communist Manifesto)
Steve Coleman

Desperate exit (1982)

From the July 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard
“People who do kill themselves, often they’re very responsible people” (Director of a Samaritans Branch).
Suicide is a peculiarly human way of dying and its frequency varies under some specifically human influences.

At present it is most common in Hungary and East Germany. In the latter country the rate is about twelve times as high as in Greece; in peaceable, antiseptic Switzerland it is about six times that for stricken Northern Ireland. In England and Wales a high point for male suicide was 1932—when 4045 killed themselves—which was also the peak year for unemployment during the Slump. From 1963 to 1970 the rate kept falling but since 1975 it has been going up by roughly 3 per cent a year. (Attempts at suicide, which have been rising since 1961, now stand at about 200,000 a year.) Is this a despairing response to the current recession and the increase in unemployment? The Samaritans say that many of their calls now are from people in economic distress. In his book Suicide In London Peter Sainsbury is convinced that there is a link:
  . . . the unemployed experience in an exaggerated form the disturbance found in all classes at times of economic upheaval. The latter is the common factor causing both suicide and unemployment and so, in some measure, accounting for the association between them.
According to the most recent figures, in England and Wales about 4,000 people a year are taking their own lives—something like one fifth of all those who die from causes other than natural. This is some way below the rate for a lot of other countries, although there are differences in the official definitions of suicide. In this country a coroner’s court decides the matter and must be satisfied there was an intention to die. In Sweden and Denmark suicide may be presumed unless there is evidence to disprove it. The whole process is subjective and open to influence from conflicting concepts.

For a long time suicide was condemned as one of the lowest crimes. In Ancient Rome there were laws against it as an act which too often deprived a slave owner of a piece of his property, as the slaves took the only way they knew out of a life of intense misery. It was clearly set down as a crime in England from 1485 and from Elizabethan times suicides were often buried at cross roads with a stake through their body or a stone on their face, which was supposed to confine an evil spirit. This happened as recently as 1823, in London. Until the turn of the century the property of a suicide might be confiscated and it was not until 1961 that the law was repealed under which an unsuccessful suicide attempt led to a prosecution, often after a police officer had sat doggedly at the bedside until the patient was well enough to sign the charge sheet.

The first reasoned case for reassessing suicide as a result of social pressures rather than as random, personal criminal offences, was compiled by Emile Durkheim at the end of the 19th century. Durkheim’s conclusions were that people were more or less likely to kill themselves according to their background; divorced people were more likely than married, Protestants were more likely than Catholics, those in cities more likely than those in the country and so on. Research since then has more or less confirmed the drift of Durkheim’s findings; certainly it has not put them in any doubt. The statistical model of a likely suicide now would be an elderly man, widowed or divorced, without children, living in a densely populated area with a “high” standard of living and who has experienced a crisis such as unemployment or a serious physical illness. The least likely would be a married female with several children, living in a rural area with a low (but not too low) density of population and holding to a philosophy like religion which consoles and reassures rather than questions and explains.

The theory implicit in these models is supported by the fact that the suicide rate actually falls during a war (which may account for the present low rate in Northern Ireland). Between 1936 and 1939 there were about 5100 suicides a year in this country. During the war the figure fell to an average of about 3500 and after 1945 it rose again, exceeding 4700 by 1949. The apparent contradiction here—that people may be more optimistic about life when they are under the greatest pressure is explained by the fact that in wartime, whatever the suffering, there is an encouragement towards social cohesion. People are more easily integrated with each other because they are convinced they are pulling together for the common good, with a perceptible object. They offer mutual support, sharing disasters and set-backs.

It is in the absence of this type of social cohesion—however spuriously based it may be—that the suicide rate tends to rise. Any additional stress, such as unemployment, is not easily coped with. The lonely old man in the city has less protection—is less integrated—than the woman with her family in the country village where everyone knows her. Peter Sainsbury wrote that in 1955 the suicide rate in London was at its highest in the areas where there were a lot of hotels and boarding houses; 27 per cent of the cases that year were living alone. One of the persistently high rates is in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which is thick with solitary bed-sitters as remote and as desolate as a far island.

But that is only the surface of it. To understand why some people are not socially integrated, why there is a lack of social cohesion in the very places where millions are living cheek by jowl, we must go further than the researchers and have some reference to the basis of society. The social system we now live under is a commodity society. Its wealth is produced not to satisfy human needs but to be profitably sold. The distribution of wealth is not then primarily a process of human consumption but a struggle for dominance over a market. Commodity society is a society of competition, of division rather than cohesion.

In the drive for profit and the accumulation of capital, commodity society concentrated its people into festering cities; the emphasis is on their exploitation before their welfare. Here there is a special, ominous meaning to the word “success” and for the failures there is often the penalty of being a misfit, of rejection and isolation. This can start a chain reaction of withdrawal and further rejection until the failure is almost in a trance, sometimes protected by persecutory delusions. There may be a progression of self-damaging episodes—addiction, neurosis, anxieties. At the nadir the sufferer feels beyond all help and death seems the only possible relief. The end comes in a dingy room, in a silent house standing amid the tumultuous city. It is part of the price for “success”.

There will be an inquest which will say that it was death “while the balance of the mind was disturbed”. The jury will sit and the coroner will preside and they will all have “balanced” minds. This means that they will be functioning under the pressures of capitalism; they will subscribe to its standards of success. Nowhere in their verdict will they question whether the dead person broke down as a rational response, a defence against the intolerable demands of a society dominated by the commodity.

Far from giving succour, capitalist society makes a priority of forcing its people into conflict with one another. It relies on millions doing jobs which are entirely designed to place one group against another—police, servicemen, lawyers, judges, prison officers, security guards . . . In their jobs, struggling to improve—or even to survive—means that workers must often treat each other as enemies. In this society of such sophisticated savagery, the fact that so many survive so well is a measure of human resilience. The more fragile minority end up as a statistic in the deaths of the Registrar General’s annual report.

To be a deviant in capitalism—to question and reject its economic basis, its moral and philosophical superstructure is a protection. Such deviants look forward to a social order of integration, when the world’s people will co-operate in a life so abundant and satisfying that no one will want to die.

Running Commentary: Relief work (1982)

The Running Commentary column from the July 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Relief work

There are many well-intentioned charitable organisations, some quite small, some very large, which seek to alleviate the socially produced hardships of the profit-system. Prominent among these are three major international agencies which specialise in operating food aid for the underdeveloped world: the United Nations’ World Food Programme; and the United States’ two voluntary organisations CARE (Co-operative for American Relief Everywhere) and CRS (Catholic Relief Services).

Capitalism is a social system, however, which works on the basis of producing things to be sold at a profit. Producing things simply to be consumed and enjoyed because people need them is not what the system of profit is all about, and all the striving of the charity organisations is relentlessly negated by the way production is socially arranged. Although the three major agencies distributed food to more than sixty million people in 1979, there were still thirty million deaths the following year caused by starvation.

The latest policy for allocating food supplied introduced Food For Work projects which connect food distribution to socially useful development (Guardian, 11 June ’82). Here the motives are sometimes less philanthropic than prompted by a concern to cultivate workforces and industrial territories into which existing ruling-class interests can expand. The Brandt Commission endorsed the linking of food aid to promotion to agriculture and employment in the South.

The Failure of meagre “handouts” and even training for skills to improve the general condition of the world's destitute is conceded by Tony Jackson in his book Against the Grain (published by Oxfam). He observes the case, for example, of one island off Haiti which now boasts about 200 miles of roads built under a Food for Work project. There is no commercial traffic of any kind on this island. The few vehicles that do use the roads belong to missionaries and food agency staff. The islanders continue to travel on foot or by mule.

The condition of the person reliant on Food for Work projects for his or her subsistence is in many ways worse than that of a classical slave, for at least the latter was maintained while there was no work to be done. In Bangladesh there are over 7,000,000 recipients of food aid from the United States each year, but Food for Work projects have generally benefited the local landowners through provision of roads and irrigation systems. The landless labourers involved are in exactly the same position at the end of a project as they were when it began — destitute.

Royal rubbish

On a BBC1 programme last month we were given the opportunity to listen to HRH, Prince Philip putting forward political arguments in defence of class-divided society. The Duke, in a modestly appointed room in Buckingham Palace, was being interviewed by a painfully deferential Gerald Priestland about the latest royal contribution to modern political philosophy a book of essays called A Question of Balance. This was also the name of the programme and in reply to the first question — what did he really mean by “A Question of Balance”? — the Duke began his apology for privilege as cogently as his entire argument was to run. “1 wish I knew!” was his reply. Looking around at the chronic social problems of poverty, unemployment and destruction, the Duke attributes the causes of these problems to the personal shortcomings of particular people:
  Until each of us accepts that our problems are not created by such abstract concepts as Industry, Religion, Capitalism, The Third Word, the Bourgeosie or the world economy but by our own individual standards of morality, behaviour and competence, we shall never begin to cope with the causes of our discontents.
According to this theory the millions of humans who die each year from malnutrition and the thousands who are thrown out of employment each month after years of hard work have only their own defective moral codes to blame, whereas it is a superior set of moral ideas, and nothing more, which secured for Philip his unearned income of over £100,000 a year and his other gigantic wealth. In an employers’ journal, The Engineer, Philip was once quoted as saying “The Welfare State is a protection against failure and exploitation” (November 1976), and from his position in society and the size of his dole cheque you can see what he meant.

At one point in the interview the Duke explained his views about areas of life where he thought that opinions of members of the working class should not intrude in decision making. Then, getting carried away with himself, he casually hypothesised.
  If I was going to go out to get a job, I don’t want to get a job with a chap that I have to tell how to run his business . . . and provided my conditions are reasonable, I’m prepared to put up with what he says has to be done because I reckon that’s part of his business to know.
Clearly then, Phil must have appplied for the job of being Duke of F.dinburgh on account of the “reasonable conditions” of service.

The Duke went on to ‘refute’ the arguments of Marx with all the wisdom and expertise of a Daily Express editorial writer, and quoted approvingly the ideas of the eighteenth-century conservative, Edmund Burke, the man who first referred to the working class as “the swinish multitude”. The Duke defended a society based on a privileged minority and an impoverished majority by reference to “human nature”: but for some one who seemed to have acquired a profound understanding of people, Philip used some curious analogies. Explaining how we should best deal with the “avalanche of lawlessness threatening to engulf our civilisation” he outlined his criminological theory of the measures required to keep the rabble in order. “Having had to deal with dogs and horses and things of
that sort, and tried to train them to do certain things, the process of teaching them to do what you want them to do is a process of rewards and punishments.” With expertise of this calibre the defenders of the wages-system would do more good for their cause by keeping quiet and concealing their prejudices from public examination.

A1 for Lloyds

It was just as well the Pope turned up because, apart from the sustenance he provided for the delusions of millions of Catholics (and other religions) in Britain, the visit was supposed to make a bit of money. It failed in this, but not for want of trying.

The Catholic Church had put two years of planning and over £6 million into the event. No wonder they mapped out so concentrated, relentless a schedule for this elderly man only recently recovered from serious gunshot wounds.

The Church hoped to receive about £5 million, mainly from a ten per cent royalty on the sale of “approved” souvenirs like teaspoons, ballpoints, mugs and sweets. A lot of other trash was unapproved, churned out by manufacturers equally eager to make something from the papal endurances.

Overseeing the official marketing operation was IMG (not those well-known gadflies of the political left, but the International Management Group) who cashed in for 20 per cent of the royalties, as well as a share of savings from any improved efficiency they could organise.

This was no foreign field for IMG, whose clients include many famous sports starts and showbiz personalities other than the Pope. With the cold eye of commercial reality, they firmly discouraged any delusion that the Catholic Church is unconcerned about the financial balance sheet.

Prudently the whole show was insured: one report said the London insurance market stood to lose £7½ million if the visit had been called off. There was much easier breathing in Leadenhall Street as the Pope first stepped from his aeroplane and kissed the earth.

It is not outrageous that a church should be so concerned with a profitable operation. Religion has always existed comfortably in capitalism, a willing purveyor of the morality of class exploitation.

Patriotism at a price

Lord Matthews is famous for being a very patriotic man. With his readiness to sacrifice all for his country—and to tell us about this at every opportunity he is an object lesson to all the cynics and Doubting Thomases. No wonder they made him a Lord.

Of course he owns a lot of ships and hotels and the odd newspaper or two. He has made a lot of money from the exploitation of British workers so it is natural he should think this is a wonderful country full of generous people.

One of his proudest possessions is the great ocean liner the QE2. A little while ago Lord Matthews angered a lot of his fellow patriots by wanting to register his ships under flags of convenience. The idea was to enable his companies to employ foreign crews, who could be paid less than British workers. Somehow, he managed to reconcile this scheme with his professed patriotism.

He was a proud man too when the government took over some of his ships—including the QE2—for the war in the Falklands. No question about his patriotism here—and in any case there was the compensation which was a useful windfall when the shipping industry is so depressed.

Unluckily—or rather through the recklessness of some Argentine airmen—one of Lord Matthews’ ships got sunk, which must have upset some other patriots at Lloyds who had insured it. Now that the QE2 is back, preparing to resume its career as an expensive cruise liner, the question arises of replacing the lost ship, the Atlantic Conveyor.

And here again Lord Matthews is showing himself to be hard headed as well as patriotic. The Atlantic Conveyor, he has announced, will be replaced by a ship built in Japan. Now this is very curious because, as any admirer of the British forces in the Falklands knows, the Japanese have not been among the most fervent supporters of the British effort there.

So why is Matthews the patriot giving the Japanese his custom? The answer is that, like those crews under the flags of convenience, he can get a cheaper job done there—a more profitable job, better for his company’s balance sheet.

Lord Matthews is a member of the capitalist class so his patriotism will naturally be limited to what is profitable to him. It is the other class, the people who go to war in the capitalists’ interests, who are persuaded that patriotism has no boundaries. After all, they are disciplined to make the ultimate, boundless sacrifice of death, so that people like Matthews can remain in their position of privileged superiority.

That is the true cynicism, the boundless deceit of patriotism.

Letters: Christianity (1982)

Letters to the Editors from the July 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard


Dear Editors,

Having purchased my first ever copy of the Socialist Standard, I was dismayed to find “Socialists Against Religion” on the first inside page. What a philosophical and social disaster! As socialists we do not want to alienate the Christians; for a start, 1 aspire to be both a socialist and a Christian. I agree with socialist principles on all levels and I am not politically illiterate or 1 would not have purchased a copy of your journal.

You have probably heard the suggestion before, but I will repeat it anyway as it has a bearing upon my argument: Marx who was after all, along with the Levellers and such like, a father of socialism, gained much of his fraternal and communal theories from the influence of early Christian life. We know early Christians lived a communal life, sharing goods and work in common. My opinion remains that Christ was a socialist — the faults and greeds of men have corrupted this fraternity ever since. You confuse the ultimate equality and egalitarian message of many of the world’s religions with the rotten and corrupt uses made of less powerful peoples by the owners within society. After all, as a female, I have more to gripe about in a subservient role still imposed on me by the corrupted values of a so-called Christian society.

Furthermore, you must be aware that the Methodist movement was founded by a strong Tory and that several socialists specialising in the sociology of religion and that of work, have attempted to prove the Wesleys were involved in stopping a labourers’ revolution in the eighteenth century. Therefore, to cite Methodism (which I do know something about) as reformist is not really true. Also remember that the Quakers, during the time of the Hundred Years War refused to make gun metal, material for making military uniforms, or to sell timber. Instead they turned to food manufacture and suffered very much for it.

It is also irresponsible to deal only with a man’s physical needs. Even if you take a functionalist view of religion it has important spiritual uses. The loss of a son or daughter in an accident, a home due to an earthquake, or the gaining of a much desired child, all need spiritual or mental help and understanding. I will admit to having a vested interest as I begin university in October to sit Psychology (seen, incidentally, by HM Government as a subversive subject, as I was reliably informed), but R D Laing, “left wing” as he is, says the unconscious is very important to the whole self.

Let us have a social revolution, political revolution, by all means, but let us also have a religious revolution—use it to free us from spiritual oppression as well as physical oppression. Do not be like the capitalists and discourage free thought. Bear in mind that John Paul II, much as the writer of the article might dislike him, is the first Pope ever to have laboured by the work of his hands and to have spoken on the true dignity of the worker and his right to work as he wishes.
Your fellow in Socialism
Y. E. Garwood 

While it is not the function of socialist propaganda to “alienate" any worker, it is essential that we expose all anti-socialist ideas, and one of the most powerful of these is religion. As we pointed out in the article “Socialists Against Religion” in the Socialist Standard (May 1982), religion attempts to divert the working class from the task of establishing socialism by the delusion that the problems of capitalism can be solved by making some moral adjustments. Socialists must oppose such an idea; only a revolution will rid us of capitalist society’s inadequacies and social ills.

Marx’s historic role was to place socialism, as far as it is possible, onto a scientific footing. He drew on the work of a mass of historians, philosophers, economists and the like, many of them religious. But this did not make him religious; indeed, it led him to formulate the Materialist Conception of History, which explains historical development in terms directly opposed to religious idealism. This conception sees capitalism as the logical development from former social systems, arising from revolutionary changes in the mode of wealth production. Ms. Garwood’s idea, that capitalism is a corruption of a long-ago purity in human affairs, is a typical religious misconception: it simply does not fit in with the facts. The article described many (not all) Methodists and Quakers as reformist, because they readily became involved in movements like CND and Anti Apartheid, which try to eliminate some problems of capitalism while leaving the system in being. Quakers are commonly pacifists; they have a moral objection to war—which is an inevitable product of capitalism—but, illogically, no objection to capitalism. Socialists argue that the nature of capitalism cannot be changed; those who object to its effects should work for its abolition.

Whatever the distinction between “conscious” and "unconscious” thought, neither can operate without material support and nutrition. Neither can they exist outside the material world; all human thought is fashioned by that world and works in material terms to change it. In human social development it is the mode of production which is the motivating force and which, by stimulating changes in ideas, drives society towards socialism.

Although Catholics may like to put emphasis on it, the Pope’s personal background is irrelevant. Whether he once laboured physically or not, he is the purveyor of a false idea which has no reasoned basis, and as such he powerfully helps to keep the world working class in their wage slavery.

It is important to the spread of socialist ideas that the working class are able freely to discuss all theories, including religious ones. We should, of course, remember how many dictatorships have been and are being aided in their repression by the Church in their country.

Legal freedoms

Dear Editors,

The dogmatic stance of the SPGB is to some extent counter-productive in the struggle to achieve socialism. I refer essentially to the Party’s position on social reforms.

Reforms need not always be categorised as anti-revolutionary, because they do not solve problems, since some reforms are nevertheless necessary stages in the workers’ struggle. It is true that the Labour Party’s efforts throughout their history have been futile (welfare state, state owned housing schemes, nationalisation, etc.) and have merely served to create a more hard-line Tory Party and to distract the working class from activity in its real interests. However, how is the “intellectual revolution" to be achieved through the parliamentary process when most of the world does not have a parliamentary process? Surely a prerequisite to the revolution is the establishment of some significant degree of democracy and freedom of expression throughout the world.

When the majority of Poles, Turks, Chileans, Iranians, South Africans, Eastern Bloc citizens, to name but the obvious few, have little or no real education or legal rights to control their political destinies, is it not pompous for the SPGB to pledge support for "liberation movements” only when they unite for socialism? Such reforms will be beneficial to the people as being not just useful, but necessary steps towards the establishment of a world of free access.

Or does the SPGB envisage a miraculous short cut?
Andy Spencer
Berlin 39 
West Germany

That a socialist party should not advocate reforms has always been our policy, although we do not hold that reforms of capitalism can never benefit the working class—some can and do, while many are futile and harmful. Similarly, while we do not support non-socialist organisations which claim to be fighting for or defending democracy, we certainly do not minimise the importance of certain legalised freedoms for the working class and socialist movement. This position may appear ambivalent or dogmatic; in fact, it is a consequence of the recognition that workers’ political struggles must be waged along class lines.

The political activities of non-socialists necessarily express capitalist interests, for the simple reason that they are helping—however unwittingly—to maintain the existing order of society. Andy Spencer believes that our stand is counter-productive, that by failing to support those who demand limited political freedoms in authoritarian states we are weakening our case. But how can we, on the one hand, urge British workers to pursue their class interests and, on the other, tell those abroad to ally themselves with any political Tomas, Ricardo or Henri? We call upon workers everywhere to organise to defend their interests on the industrial field, but we don’t urge British workers to support the TUC’s political and industrial policies. Likewise, while the struggle of, for example, Polish workers to achieve a degree of freedom of political expression (a "necessary stage”, if you like) is warmly to be welcomed, we cannot support Solidarity because of its manifestly pro-capitalist, nationalist outlook. Doubtless, many of its members would endorse Ronald Reagan’s view (expressed to British MPs last month) that in Eastern Europe we should “foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allow a people to decide their own way”.

Democracy is a weapon, politically valuable, it is true; but like every other weapon it can be used for self-preservation or self-destruction (in 1933, for example, a majority of the German electorate voted for its abolition). Unemployment, poverty, insecurity, militarism and the other evils of capitalism will remain, no matter whether the form of its political administration be democratic or dictatorial. This is why we stress that the limited freedoms of expression obtainable under capitalism can only be consolidated and expanded to the extent that workers also adopt a socialist standpoint.

Algeria: filling the vacuum (1982)

From the July 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Twenty years ago this month Algeria became an independent state after a colonial war which had lasted nearly eight years. From a purely military point of view this war had been won by the French army which, by a ruthless policy of repression (tortures, kidnappings, murders, the concentration of the rural population into strategic villages, the mining of the frontiers with Morocco and Tunisia), had succeeded in “pacifying” Algeria. When peace talks started in 1961 there were only a few thousand poorly-armed FLN guerrillas actually inside Algeria, mainly in the more remote mountainous parts of the country.

Politically it was a different story. The support of the Algerian Muslim population had not been won over. International opinion was against France as an increasing number of states recognised the provisional government in exile (GPRA) which the FLN had set up. The Algerian war was draining French resources and destablising its political institutions. Indeed, it was the Algerian question which finally brought about the downfall of the Fourth Republic when a settlers’ and generals’ revolt in Algeria brought De Gaulle back to power in 1958.

De Gaulle had a shrewd sense of political realities and soon came to realise that the only solution was an independent Algeria, if possible closely tied to France ' like the other French colonies which had been given independence in 1960. Negotiations between the French government and the FLN opened in 1961 and eventually led to an agreement which was signed in Evian in March 1962.

The Evian agreement provided for the establishment of an independent Algerian state, if that was what the population showed they wanted in a referendum. The position of the non-Muslim minority in Algeria — some 10 per cent of the population made up of the descendants of European immigrants since Algeria became a French colony in 1832 and of those of the original Arab-speaking Jewish communities which had existed in pre-colonial Algeria — was to be protected by a number of safeguard clauses similar to those negotiated more recently for the whites in Zimbabwe. The referendum gave an overwhelming vote for independence, the safeguard clauses turned out to be quite academic. The non-Muslim population, joined by many pro-French Muslims, simply voted with their feet. By the time of independence in July 1962 some million people, including nine-tenths of the non-Muslim population, had left Algeria never to return.

This exodus decisively affected the future course of events in Algeria as it represented the flight not only of the bulk of the qualified workforce (white collar and supervisory workers, civil servants, even skilled manual workers) but also of the capitalist class large and small, and of the landowners (on the eve of independence 22,000 Europeans owned about 25 per cent of all cultivable land, 40 per cent of land actually cultivated). It also meant the depopulation of the towns, especially those along the coastal strip which had all had substantial European minorities; Algiers and Oran in fact had even had European majorities.

The places, the jobs, the positions, the homes of the exiles were taken by Muslim Algerians; 1962 was a year of rapid upward mobility for those Algerians who had some money and some education. They were able to acquire very cheaply good houses, even whole apartment blocks and small businesses, and rapid promotion to top and middle ranking jobs in the civil service. For this new petty bourgeoisie independence and the flight of the Europeans had been a bit of very good luck.

At the political level too there was a vacuum to be filled and the same struggle for power, place and privilege also occurred here. On independence the members of the GERA rushed back to Algiers to stake their claim to being the new government, but they had acted too hastily forgetting that in the end political power depends on controlling some armed force. When a dispute broke out between them and Ben Bella and the other political leaders of the FLN itself, the armed force — in this case the army of the frontiers, in Morocco and Tunisia, under the command of Colonel Boumédiène whom the GPRA had upset by trying to replace — backed Ben Bella. Boumédiène marched his troops across Algeria from Morocco and installed Ben Bella in power in Algiers. The National Liberation Army (ALN, later the National People’s Army or ANP) was in fact the only organised force in Algeria in the chaotic conditions of 1962 and it was thus logical that whoever won its support should end up in control of political power, another factor which decisively shaped the future course of events in Algeria.

A further feature of this period was the occupation of the farms, and to a lesser extent of the factories, left vacant by the flight of their European owners. The Algerian farm workers organised to take over and run the abandoned farms themselves. This was a normal, even natural reaction in the circumstances — they could hardly have been expected to sit back and do nothing, leaving uncultivated the land which also produced their own food — but it caught the imagination of Leftists outside Algeria. This was the Revolution as they had always imagined it: workers spontaneously taking over the means of production and running them themselves through workers’ councils! The most prominent of those who came to Algeria to help the new regime was the Trotskyist leader Michel Raptis (Pablo) who became an official adviser to Ben Bella.

The government later rubber-stamped the workers’ actions here by officially nationalising all properties left vacant. In time however “workers self-management” became more and more of a delusion as real decision-making power passed to the full-time managers who were in effect appointed by, and in any event responsible to, the central state.

Under Ben Bella Algeria became officially a one-party State, the single party being the “Party of the FLN” The first peace-time congress of this party was held in Algiers in April 1964 and adopted a programme known as the Charte d’Alger. This committed the FLN unequivocally to building “socialism” in Algeria —to developing the country on the basis of state ownership of the main means of production and of central state planning. This was not quite the Soviet model since a large space was to be given at least on paper, to workers’ self-management (autogestion). The FLN Party, however, was still not really a political force in its own right. The only organised force remained the Army under Boumédiène. In the end the Army grew tired of the posturings and eclecticism of Ben Bella who was projecting himself on the international scene as a sort of African Castro. On 19 June 1965, the even of an international conference in Algiers which was to consecrate Ben Bella as a leader of the Third World, the Army seized power and Boumédiène became President, a post he was to occupy for 13 years till his death at the end of 1978. Ben Bella remained a prisoner in Algeria till 1980. He emerged from prison a Muslim fundamentalist.

The first nationalisation measures, as we saw, concerned those properties and businesses left vacant by the flight of the European minority. This was followed in 1966 by the nationalisation of foreign mining interests, the first step in a sustained policy to eliminate foreign-owned businesses from Algeria which had led by 1974 to the creation of a substantial state capitalist sector embracing banks, insurance, foreign trade, heavy industry, mining, oil, gas, pipelines, railways and shipping as well as some sections of light industry and commerce. By 1977, 80 per cent of industrial employment was provided by the state sector. Since this figure does not include civil servants, it is clear that the state is by far the biggest employer in Algeria.

Private capitalist enterprise, however, has not been suppressed, though it only plays a subordinate, supporting role to the state sector. The nationalisation measures of the period 1966-1974 only concerned foreign-owned businesses, “national capitalists” were allowed to survive and were for a period actively encouraged. Private enterprise plays a significant role in the building trade, in the consumer goods sector and in the retail trade (where it predominates), but everywhere has to face the competition of state firms.

Unemployment has remained a chronic problem in Algeria. It has been estimated that in 1975 nearly 40 per cent of the adult male population of working age were unemployed, some 1,500.000 people, a figure greater than those in industrial and civil service employment. With the continuation of the world crisis this won’t have changed much today, especially as since 1974 emigration to France the traditional safety valve for unemployment in Algeria has been stopped.

In addition to this chronic unemployment, workers in Algeria suffer from poor housing (shortage of accommodation, overcrowding, shanty towns), shortage of consumer goods, poor transport, health and other services. Frustration over this, and over low wages and bad working conditions, expresses itself from time to time in strikes and riots as in 1977 and again more recently. The language policy of the government — trying to impose the use of Classical Arabic as the official language (as opposed to the other languages spoken in Algeria, namely, popular Arabic, Berber and French) — has also aggravated the existing social discontent among the minority of Berber-speakers. It sparked off the serious riots in Tizi-Ouzo in April 1980, which had a marked social content over and above their linguistic aspect.

From 1965 to 1976 Algeria existed virtually without a Constitution, with effective power in the hands of a Council of the Revolution composed mainly of army officers and headed by Boumédiène. By 1976 this ruling group had come to the conclusion that the political situation was stable enough to be institutionalised. A Constitution was drawn up and adopted. Constitutions rarely tell where real power lies and the Algerian Constitution of 1976 is no exception despite its frank proclamation of the leading role of a single Party. In actual fact however real power is not in the hands of the Party leadership as such but only to the extent that the leadership of the Party and that of the Army overlap. In other words, real power lies in the hands of the leaders of the Army for whom the Party is a means of political control rather than vice versa as the Constitution might suggest.

When Boumédiène died in December 1978, the Political Bureau of the FLN Party (the old Council of the Revolution) chose as his successor another military man, Chadli Bendjedid, who is the current President of Algeria. The Prime Minister, Mohamed Abdelgani, also comes from the Army, thus clearly indicating where real power still lies in Algeria.

Algeria is one of a number of countries outside the Russian and Chinese blocs which claim to be “socialist”. In Algeria’s case the claim is not yet to be a “socialist country”, but only to be “building socialism”, defined as a system based on the state ownership of the means of production in which the principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their labour” will apply. In other words, Lenin’s mistaken definition later enshrined by Stalin in the Russian Constitution of 1936.

This claim has not gone unchallenged. In fact most critics of the Algerian regime both outside and inside Algeria, regard the country as being, economically, state capitalism and, politically, a “bourgeois state”. One of the earliest and most persistent of these critics has been Mohamed Boudiaf. Boudiaf was one of the founding members of the FLN in Cairo in 1954, but ended up on the losing side in the struggle for power which broke out after Algeria became independent in 1962. For him, the Algerian regime represents the rule of a new class, a new bourgeoisie which has emerged out of the “bureaucratic petty-bourgeoisie” (officials of all kinds, governmental. Party, military, economic) which came to the front as a result of the flight of the Europeans.

A similar criticism was expressed in the period 1963-4 but this time from within the FLN by a group associated with the weekly Revolution Africaine. This was (and still is) an official organ of the FLN Party but during this period adopted an independent line as the voice of left-wing elements within the Party. Among its journalists were a number of French Leftists who had come to help the “Algerian Revolution”, such as Gerard Chaliand, later author of a number of books on Third Word struggles. As early as 1964, in his L’Algerie, est-elle socialiste? (“Is Algeria socialist?”) Chaliand wrote:
  Today there exists a bureaucratic bourgeoisie, essentially turned towards strengthening itself within the framework of a State capitalism which it is working to set up.
This concept of a “bureaucratic” or “administrative” or “state” bourgeoisie ruling on the basis of state capitalism is also put forward in a number of other books such as Le Capitalisme d’Etat en Algerie by Marc Raffinot and Pierre Jacquemot (1977) and the excellent collective work, by “Dersa”, L’Algerie en debat, published last year. Even the Trotskyists regard Algeria as state capitalist, somewhat inconsistently in view of their attitude on the very similar regimes in Russia, East Europe, China, Vietnam and Cuba. It is true however that they regard state capitalism in Algeria only as a transitional stage to the sort of fully-fledged private capitalism we know in the West which, in their view, must sooner or later emerge in Algeria.

Even though this affirmation is based on the Trotskyist dogma that a state capitalism without a proper private capitalist class cannot by definition be a stable, lasting system, it is not to be excluded. At some time in the future Algeria could go the way of Egypt under Sadat. On the other hand, the system in Algeria has now lasted some twenty years (which in Russia takes us to 1937, by which time a definite ruling class had evolved there) and shows no immediate signs of changing. Thus the question must be seriously faced of whether or not a more or less permanent bureaucratic class system, or state capitalism, has emerged in Algeria as it did in Russia.

This conclusion presents no problem to those who, unlike the Trotskyists (and, indeed, the ideology of the Algerian regime) do not identify capitalism with the existence of a private capitalist class. It is a conclusion that is well-developed in the collective work L’Algeri en debat:
  The first point that must be noted in this respect can be resumed in this truism: “State capitalism is a species of the capitalist system”. The most obvious particularity of this species is clearly the legal form of property. The private appropriation of the means of production and exchange does not entirely disappear, but the most important means of production are owned by the State itself and it is the economic institutions of the State which effectively control and manage production. This particular form of ownership of the means of production does not in itself involve any fundamental change in the social relations of production. Labour remains paid for by a wage and generates a surplus value (the capitalist expression of surplus labour) over which the producers have no command and whose use they do not control. The criteria for the choice of investments and for deciding the aim of production are determined by the objectives of maximising profits whatever the term used to designate this — and domination of the exploited strata.
So a picture has now emerged of the origin, rise and nature of the Algerian ruling class. On independence in 1962 the group of self-styled “revolutionary patriots.” recruited from various social backgrounds who had led the war against French colonialism found themselves not only in control of political power but also obliged, due to the flight of the European capitalists and to the weakness of the Algerian ones, to assume economic control too. Eventually, on the basis of a predominating state sector, some of them evolved into a replacement capitalist class.

This privileged group is made up of the leaders of the Army and of the Party (often the same), top government and civil service officials, and the senior management of the state industries. Their domination of the most important means of production is not private and individual, nor is there any reason to believe that it will necessarily have to become so, but is collective and as a class. They monopolise — own, in a sociological, non-legal sense — the means of production collectively, as a sort or corporation, through their control of the state in a situation where the main means of production are state-owned.

In other words, for the ordinary workers and peasants of Algeria “independence” has only represented a change of masters.
Adam Buick