Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The London bombings: recruiting killers (2005)

From the August 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

It’s not hard to see military recruitment going on. American comic books have full page adverts exhorting readers to become an ‘Army of one’.  Documentary-makers have followed US recruiters visiting poorer neighbourhoods offering education, prospects, a future.  In the UK on high streets, recruiters put up boards showing abseiling, skiing, diving – anything other than riddling another human being with bullets or shrapnel. 

The army has historically been a way out for the poor and powerless.  A source of empowerment (or at least of feeling that someone somewhere is in control), of belonging, of being part of a corporate body and a story of positive action and values.

It’s a tragic irony of humanity that the statues and memorials for military murderers are almost invariably bigger, better and more splendid than others.  Battles – like Trafalgar – are commemorated, whereas anniversaries on the first use of anaesthetic would pass us by unmarked except by ultra-enthusiasts. 

The glorification of those who die in battle is a near constant of any military society.  London is disfigured with a war memorial dedicated ‘To the glorious dead’ – as if there was ever anything glorious about a nineteen-year old boy hanging on the barbed wire.  To die nobly is often rewarded with a Victoria Cross.  Dying in action is always referred to as sacrifice, a gift from the soldier to the community.  For the First World War, Felicia Hemans’ The boy stood on the burning deck, a poem about a young sailor dying at his post, was used in recruitment drives in this country.

The actions, then, of the four young men, three of them from Leeds, in callously slaughtering over fifty fellow humans, are not so alien as some would think at first.  Shehad Tanweer,  Hasib Hussain, Mohammed Sadiq Khan, from Leeds, were all described by their stunned friends and relatives, as perfectly ordinary, nice and polite young men.  Not bug-eyed ranting fanatics.

The psychological hunt has begun to understand their motives – experts in terrorism discuss how suicide murderers require a wide support network to cajole and reassure them, assist them and point them in the right direction.  People look to fanatical Islamic preachers, or the visits to Pakistan made by some of these boys when their families thought they were going off rails – trained in one of the Madrassa theological schools there.

The West Yorkshire metropolis – like many post-industrial northern towns – has deep cultural divisions.  These were exposed some years back in 2001 with the Bradford riots, after which there were claims that the local Asians who turned out to fight against fascists were given disproportionate sentences.  The communities live in the same towns, but do not mix, and so distrust is sown between white-skinned and brown-skinned workers’ families.  Otherwise sensible people will tell tales of the shocking conduct of the other community.

These areas are scenes of depoliticisation – Leeds and Bradford have some of the lowest turnouts in elections.   The area of Leeds that Tanweer was from has almost double the unemployment of other parts of the city.  He himself left school with virtually no qualifications. 

Relatives and friends talk of how young men who come back from Pakistan are shocked by the poverty they witness there.  Others have talked of how it is not difficult to feel solidarity with the people they identify with – with Muslims who are oppressed in other parts of the world.  They can draw a line between that poverty and oppression and their own experiences.  It is not beyond wit or reason to see how these young men might become inclined to join up.

All it requires then is someone wealthy enough, organised enough to provide them with training and hard-to-come-by chemical explosives and equipment.  Someone ruthless enough to be willing to send suicide murderers into crowds of people totally unconnected to their grievances simply to send a message to the powerful.  Although it is unlikely the London attack was directly the responsibility of Saudi Arabian capitalist Osama Bin Laden, the profile of the leadership of the Islamic movement is very much one of aspirant, educated, relatively wealthy men from frustrated elites across the Arab world.

Just as rulers and wannabe rulers throughout the ages have used religion as a motivator, to provide the appearance of a common cause between them and their potential recruits, so too do the modern day variety, attempting to build a coalition of people from many different backgrounds based on the historical experience of islamic culture.  Incorporating their local grievances into a single paranoiac cloth whereby America, Zionists and ‘crusaders’ were the cause of all ills was an integral part of that project.

The left – monomaniacal as ever – see this as ‘the violence of the oppressed’, as objectively anti-imperialist.  After the London bombings, the Socialist Workers Party studiously avoided condemning them. A chorus has gone up that Britain should change its foreign policy, pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, to stop us being targets.  This of course is no real solution – the war would go on if not here in other parts of the world – and young Yorkshiremen would travel to other parts of the world to join this fight.  Terrorist insurgency is not an instinctive reaction to injustice, but a policy choice both for footsoldiers and generals alike.

Religion is the heart’s cry of the oppressed, soul of a soulless world, it inspires utopian and thus reactionary politics.  It cannot be stopped by suppression, harassment, the silencing of radical preachers – that would only aid and abet the feeling of persecution. It must be defeated by reason, by practical action to demonstrate that there are prospects for taking control of their own lives. 

This means an open movement desperately needs to be built to create a real prospect of change, not just in the UK but in the world.  We cannot rely on military force, or the state, the great and the good bullying moderate Muslims to speak out, it needs to come from the massed ranks of workers, set on using their creative industry to take real control of the world around us.  An end to oppression, and an end to ambitious elites using human corpses as stepping stones to wealth and power.
Pik Smeet

Is Brown’s luck running out? (2005)

The Cooking the Books column from the August 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Gordon Brown boasted at last year’s Labour Party conference that “no longer the country of mass unemployment, Britain is now advancing further and faster to full employment than at any times in our lives” he must have realised that he was giving a hostage to fortune.

Or perhaps, since he also claimed that “no longer the stop-go economy, Britain is now enjoying the longest period of sustained economic growth for 200 years”, he had deluded himself that, as the thus self-proclaimed best Chancellor of the Exchequer since 1805, he really was able to control the levels of production, prices and unemployment in Britain.

Whatever the reason, last month’s business headlines must have begun to shake his confidence in his infallibility. “Inflation at its highest point for 7 years”, reported the Times (13 July) and, the next day, “Question mark over UK growth as jobless claims rise”. Reporting on this Gabriel Rozenberg, the Times’ Economics Reporter, wrote: “Fears that the slowing economy is triggering a sustained rise in unemployment have intensified after the number of people claiming jobless benefits rose for a fifth month in a row . . . The last time the count rose for five consecutive months was in 1992 . . . The Government’s preferred survey-based measure of unemployment fell by 4,000 in the three months to May, the Office for National Statistics said. But analysts said that at 1,426,000, the measure was still 43,000 higher than in August last year. Employment fell by 72,000 in the same period, the biggest drop since 1993″.

What amounts to “mass” unemployment can be a matter of opinion, but 1,426,000 unemployed (plus many more on incapacity benefit or paid to do nothing on various “job creation” schemes) would have been regarded as such in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Another indication that Gordon Brown’s luck at having been Chancellor during an unusually long period of recovery may be beginning to run out was the headline a couple of days previously “Manufacturers bear the cost of surging oil prices”:

“Surging oil prices have forced up manufacturers’ costs by the fastest rate for 20 years, tightening margins, official figures showed yesterday”. This led, reported Gabriel Rozenberg (Times, 12 July), to input prices going up by 2.3 percent between May and June. “The rise meant that manufacturers’ costs for goods have risen 12.1 percent in the year to June, the largest annual rise since March 1985, but weak consumer demand has made it difficult to raise prices”. Output prices actually fell 0.2 percent in June. As one analyst put it, this was “good news for high street goods inflation, but not for profits”.

Since capitalism runs on profits and responds to changes in the rate of profit (rather than to consumer demand, as the popular defence of capitalism claims), this could be a serious development. Anything more than a merely passing fall in profit margins is bound to translate itself sooner or later in falling production, rising unemployment and falling consumer demand. When this happens, Brown will discover that governments don’t, and can’t, control the way capitalism works and that he hadn’t discovered a magic formula for preventing the boom-slump cycle and engineering sustained growth.

Eleanor Marx, Belfort Bax and “the Woman Question” (2005)

Eleanor Marx
From the August 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard
Through the pages Justice, the paper of the Social Democratic Federation, Karl Marx’s daughter Eleanor and SDF member Belfort Bax hotly debated ‘the woman question’
The barrister and writer Ernest Belfort Bax (1854-1925), even though he was a prominent member of the Social Democratic Federation and had even been for a while in the Socialist League with William Morris, was notoriously prejudiced against women, even to the extent of arguing against giving them the vote and of regarding them as being in a privileged position compared with men.

This was a very strange position to be taken up by the co-author with William Morris of Socialism From the Root Up or Socialism Its Growth and Outcome and of a number of other articles expressing socialist ideas. So strange in fact that his socialist credentials have to be challenged.

One person who did challenge him on the issue was Marx’s daughter, Eleanor, then calling herself Eleanor Marx Aveling, adding to her name that of the man she was living with without being married.

Bax had written an article on “The Woman Question” that was published in the SDF’s paper Justice in its 27 July 1895 issue. This expressed the position he summed up in a later article (30 November) as:
  “( . . .) In conclusion I will give, once for all, in a few words my position on this question, cleared of the prejudice imported into it by railing accusations of woman-hating and other objectionable qualities.
1. I utterly dispute the validity of the attempted analogy between women as a sex and the proletariat as a class, on which analogy the plausibility of the “woman movement” for Socialists so largely rests.
2. While fully recognising the oppression of the capitalist system on women as on men, I deny that, on the whole, it presses more on women than on men, as such.
3. Coming to the question of direct sex-tyranny, if we are to talk of this I am prepared to prove that, at least in all countries where the Anglo-Saxon is dominant, viz., in Britain and its colonies, in the United States, &c., it is invariably men who, both by law and public opinion, are oppressed in the supposed interests of women and not vice versa.
4. That the few (mainly formal) disabilities of women in politics or elsewhere which are perpetually being trotted out, are more than compensated for, by special privileges in other directions.
5. That the woman’s rights agitation as hitherto conducted, in which the “brute man” plays the role of villain, was born of hysterics and “sour grapes,” and is kept alive by a bare-faced system of “bluff,” and both the suppression and perversion of fact, intended to work on the sentimental male with a view of placing women in a safe citadel of privilege and sex-domination – the talk of equality being a mere blind. I am prepared to maintain any or all of these propositions in writing with anyone.”
This sparked off a discussion in the paper’s correspondence column and led to Eleanor Marx issuing the following challenge to Bax to debate the matter at a public meeting:
  “Dear Comrade, – As Justice, “the Organ of the Social Democracy,” appears to adopt comrade Bax as the exponent on the sex (not woman) question, and as the subject is certainly one worthy consideration and debate, I desire, through your columns, to challenge my friend Bax to a public debate with me on the subject. The debate to take place in some hall in London before the end of the year, so that the proceeds of it (whether from payments for admission or collection on the evening) may be handed over to H. Quelch, hon. Treasurer of the Zurich Committee for the International Trades Union and Socialist Workers’ Congress, 1896. The debate to follow the usual lines, 30 minutes on each side, and then two quarters of an hour for each speaker consecutively. Bax, as propounder of the general proposition , to open. Chairman to be mutually agreed upon. 
Fraternally yours,
Eleanor Marx Aveling.” 
(Justice, 16 November 1895)
Bax turned down the proposal of a public debate and instead proposed a written exchange, as the following item from the 23 November issue of Justice reported:
“Mrs. Aveling sends us the following for publication: – 
National Liberal Club,
Whitehall Place, S. W.
Dear Mrs Aveling, – I am perfectly ready to undertake a debate on the woman question in writing with you or any other accredited representative of “Woman’s Rights”, but I am too little au fait with oratorical tricks and platform claptrap to be able to successfully defend the most simple and obvious propositions under the conditions proposed even if there were no shrieking crowd against which my voice would find it impossible to contend. 
I will enter upon a literary debate on similar lines to that I had with Bradlaugh on Socialism, and shall be pleased to arrange for such a discussion. My weapons in this controversy are fact and argument and not ill-manners and name-calling either direct or indirect. This being so I naturally prefer the written method, when fact and argument are “ausschlaggeben.” –
Yours sincerely,
E. Belfort Bax.
To the above the following reply has been sent: –
Green Street Green,
Nov, 19, 1895. 
Dear Bax, – I am in receipt of your letter (undated). I offered to debate with you on the Sex Question. I am, of course a Socialist, not a representative of “Woman’s Rights”. It is the Sex Question and its economic basis that I proposed to discuss with you. The so-called “Woman’s Rights” question (which appears to be the only one you understand) is a bourgeois idea. I proposed to deal with the Sex Question from the point of view of the working class and the class struggle. 
I may remind you that “tricks” and “claptrap” are not confined to the platform. There are, as you know, literary tricks and journalistic claptrap. With a fair and able chairman there would be no shrieking crowd; and you have no more right to assume that those holding the views I should attempt to put forward would “shriek” than I have to assume that your supporters would howl. I remind you that you recently gave an address, followed by an open debate, upon this very subject, at Essex Hall, Strand. I fail to see, therefore, why you do not take up my challenge now. I here repeat it, and will, if you wish it, debate at Essex Hall. And if you still refuse I shall give a lecture, probably at the Athenaeum Hall, Tottenham Court Road, some Saturday in December, on “Mr Bax and the Sex Question”. The proceeds of this lecture will be given to the Zurich Committee Fund for the International Socialist and Trade Union Congress to be held in London in 1896, – 
Yours faithfully,
Eleanor Marx Aveling.”
Eleanor Marx went ahead with her lecture, with the following notice appearing in Justice of 7 December:
The Sex Question 
Eleanor Marx Aveling
will lecture on
“Mr. Bax and the Sex Question”
at the
73, Tottenham Court Road.
At 8 P.M., on
Admission 1s, 6d, and 3d. 
All proceeds to go to the funds of the Zurich Committee, International Socialist Workers and Trade Union Congress, London, 1896.
Unfortunately, no report of what she said appeared in Justice, so we can only surmise, from the hints in the above letters, that she would have analysed the “Woman’s Rights” movement as one of woman property-owners to secure equal rights with men property-owners and argued that women workers were exploited alongside men workers and that both should join together  in waging the class struggle that would eventually end in the establishment of socialism which would be “a society in which all the means of production are the property of the community, a society which recognises the full equality of all without distinction of sex” as she and Aveling quoted from Bebel’s Woman—Past, Present and Future which they jointly reviewed for the Westminster Review in 1886  

Bax insisted on having the last word, accusing Eleanor Marx of having refused to debate in writing, while in fact it was he who had refused her challenge to a public oral debate (despite being a barrister), and re-iterating his prejudiced views on women:
“Dear Comrade, – Now that the “Woman” controversy in Justice is over, and that Mrs. Aveling has prudently shirked my offer to meet her in debate on mutually fair terms, I should be obliged if you will allow me to state that I am still prepared to debate in writing on the basis of the five points laid down by me in my last Justice letter on the subject, with any representative advocate of (so-called) “Woman’s Rights” (i.e., the further increase of the sex-privileges of women), or with any representative Socialist who is opposed to me in this question . . .(Justice, 4 January, 1896).
Bax, incidentally, wrote his letters from the National Liberal Club, an all-male establishment (of course) which included leading members of the Liberal Party, to which the SDF was supposed to be implacably opposed.  Henry Hyndman, the SDF’s leader, was also a member, an indication of how reformist the top leaders of the SDF had become.

It only remains to add that things ended tragically for Eleanor Marx, who committed suicide in 1898, at the age of 43, after she learned that Aveling had gone off with another woman.
Adam Buick

Greasy Pole: The Outsider (2005)

The Greasy Pole column from the August 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

The bookies would not have been overjoyed at the result of the election, seeing as the favourite came in with a clear lead over the rest of the field. The likes of William Hill had hardly had time to tot up their losses after Labour’s “historic” (as they keep reminding us) third successive victory than they had to get on with calculating the odds for the leadership contests of both the big parties. In the case of the Tories the outlook for the bookies is not so gloomy because there is likely to be quite a large field of runners, even if Territorial Army ex-SAS hero David Davis will probably be a narrow favourite. But the race for the Labour leadership promises to be more menacing, with Gordon Brown another odds-on favourite who will cost the bookies some money if he finally, after all those years of manoeuvring, in-fighting and hostile briefing, gets to stand smiling on the doorstep at Number Ten.

Except that, as Brown himself – and the bookies – know all too well, it is not that simple. In organisations like the Labour Party there are very, very few MPs who do not regard themselves as likely candidates for the leadership. To illustrate this point: when Tony Blair announced he would eventually hand over the reins the Guardian columnist Simon Hoggart played a cruel joke to expose the vanity lurking in the unlikeliest of breasts. He asked a low-ranking Labour minister, who does not have a shred of realistic hope of becoming his party’s leader, whether he should consider making himself available for nomination. At first the minister demurred but a little more flattery from Hoggart awakened his atrophied ambitions. He murmured that now he came to think of it he had recently been approached by quite a few MPs. Hoggart did not tell us what has happened to that hapless man in the reshuffle.

He may have found some consolation in history. When Anthony Eden resigned the Tory leadership in 1957 the front runner to take over was R A Butler and little attention was given to the chances of Harold Macmillan. But in the event all the energy Macmillan had expended over the years in seeing off his rivals brought him success. When Macmillan in his turn resigned in 1964 Butler was again a favourite for the succession, with Hailsham not so well fancied. But Alec Douglas-Home came from the back of the field to take the job. The Labour Party in the 1930s was led by George Lansbury , who at the party conference in 1935 won a standing ovation for his speech in a debate on the sanctions against Italy for the attack on Ethiopia. Lansbury’s speech was flavoured by phrases like “I am ready to stand as early christians did and say ‘This is our faith’” but he was emphatically defeated in the vote, which left him little choice but to resign. The main contenders for the job – the favourites – were Herbert Morrison and Arthur Greenwood but they were beaten by Clement Attlee who, as the outsider, was rated as mousy and colourless but who turned out to be nothing like that when it came to doing the job of Prime Minister.

So who are the outside chances now, in the contest to replace Blair? Prominent among them is Dr. John Reid, MP for Airdrie and Shotts where, as the saying goes, they weigh the Labour votes rather than count them. What is Reid’s form as a leadership contender? By the standards of the Labour Party, it is pretty strong. In 1973 he joined the Communist Party and later CND but then went over to the Labour Party and a job as one of their research officers, followed by a stint as political adviser to Neil Kinnock – which, in view of Kinnock’s well-earned reputation for political blunders and electoral disasters, Reid would do well to gloss over. He got into Parliament in 1987, for Motherwell North which, through various changes of name, has been held by him ever since with never less than 61 per cent of the vote. His resignation from CND provoked approval from Julian Lewis, the famously combative right-wing Tory MP for New Forest East, who wrote to the Sunday Express in August 1999:
  “It is true that Dr. Reid was previously a nuclear disarmer, but it is also true that he was one of the first to recognise his mistake, and genuinely campaign for a sensible nuclear deterrent policy.
  “As a former professional anti-CND campaigner, I am ready enough to criticise  unsuitable Labour appointees, but Dr. Reid does not fall into that category: he would be as good a Defence Secretary as any Labour government could provide.”
There is no record of whether Reid was embarrassed by back-slapping from such a quarter but he has developed a skin tough enough to survive in the notoriously ruthless relationships among the warring comrades of the Scottish Labour Party, where a popular slogan is “a long memory is much better than a good memory”. This was the setting for Reid’s burning antipathy towards Gordon Brown, dating from the early 1990s when Brown was chairman of Scottish Labour. It is that passion which is likely to drive him to oppose Brown in a leadership contest, winning votes as the “stop Brown” candidate.

When Labour won the 1997 election Reid’s talents (if that is the right word) were recognised in his appointment to a succession of high profile ministerial jobs until, in the reshuffle in May, he was placed as Defence Secretary. It was rumoured that he coveted Jack Straw’s job as Foreign Secretary but perhaps his notorious difficulty with the silkily diplomatic touch counted against him; or perhaps Straw sulked and simply refused to go. Another rumour had it that Defence is the job he always prized since it fitted his bellicose personality and anyway, in spite of his much-trumpeted humble origins, he loves taking the salute at military march pasts. A probable reason for his multiplicity of government jobs is that he is what is known as “a safe pair of hands”, which is a diplomat’s way of saying that he can be relied on unblinkingly to justify – in Parliament, the press, on TV – whatever the Blair government does, no matter how indefensible it is. His voting record is tediously obedient, including on cuts in funding benefits for lone parents and students, on means-tested Incapacity Benefit, on air strikes against Afghanistan and on the war against Iraq. That is how he earned a reputation as “Reid the Rottweiler” and “Teflon John”. Attentive fans of Jeremy Paxman will know that the TV interrogator weighed in by describing Reid as Blair’s “attack dog”, to which Reid responded, as would be expected from one of Her Majesty’s Secretaries of State, Privy Counsellor and trusted lieutenant of the Prime Minister, by calling Paxman “a West London wanker”.

Reid has consistently shown a readiness to reshape what he still, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, calls his principles in order to solidify his standing in the Labour Party. Of course he may change; there have been countless examples of leaders who have won power on one set of promises and have then outraged their supporters by performing a dramatic u-turn.  We know that with Reid anything is possible; there are practically no bounds to what he will say or do, within the confines of support for the capitalist system and its government. Without that ability he would not survive in the hurly-burly of politics. Anyone looking for a promising outsider for the Labour leadership race could do worse than lay a shrewd bet on the Rottweiler — soon, while the odds on him are so attractive.     

50 Years Ago: Labour Party Programme for the Year 2000 (2005)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

The idea of encouraging the donkey forward dangling a carrot a short distance in front of his nose an ancient one but even the oldest tricks can changed and Mr. Albu, Labour M.P. for Edmonton, has discovered a startling variation.

Like other Labour M.P.s he has had to realise that the Labour electoral carrot offered to the voters in the recent General Election was not successful in enticing them to the polling booth for 1,500,000 of former Labour voters this time refused to go in and put their cross. So Mr. Albu, who is a member of the Executive Committee of the Fabian Society, has been thinking up a new programme for Labour. He spoke about it meeting of the Central London Fabian Society June 29. He said:-
  “There should be adequate incentives, but property ownership should be reduced by estate duties and a capital gains tax so that by the year 2000 the distribution of inherited wealth would be similar that of taxed income today.” (Manchester Guardian, 30 June, ’55)
Mr. Albu is not proposing that inequality accumulated wealth be eliminated but only that it should be lessened, so that it would not exceed the smaller, but still very great, difference between the annual income of the rich man and the wages of the poor.
So we progress!

Many years ago the Fabian Society, and later the Labour Party, planned to something “immediately” about this inequality. Now Mr. Albu suggests postponing the completion of half plan until a date 45 years ahead, by which time most the present generation will be dead.

From The Socialist Standard, August 1955