Sunday, July 18, 2021

Voice From The Back: Greens and Green Backs (2009)

The Voice From The Back Column from the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Greens and Green Backs

It is fashionable for every capitalist politician to say that they are “green” – it is a good vote-catcher, but the realities of capitalism are the production of more and more profits. So when it comes to the crunch, profit-making is going to be a bigger priority than the environment. “US Energy Secretary Steven Chu says the US will not be able to cut greenhouse emissions as much as it should due to domestic political opposition. Prof Chu told BBC News he feared the world might be heading towards a tipping point on climate change. This meant the US had to cut emissions urgently – even if compromises were needed to get new laws approved. … President Barack Obama says he wants cuts in greenhouse gases but has left it to Congress to make the political running. The House of Representatives is debating a climate and energy bill but even if it passes it may be rejected by senators, many of whom are funded by the energy industry.” (BBC News, 21 May) Politicians are deeply concerned about “green” issues – the issue of green-back dollars.

Improving Capitalism?

Socialism is a good idea, but rather than dream of a future society without social problems we should get on with the practical business of improving capitalism gradually with a series of reforms of the system. That is the claim of many opponents of world socialism, but what has 40 years of reform and 40 years of charity done to aid the problem of world hunger? “A UN report says hunger in South Asia has reached its highest level in 40 years because of food and fuel price rises and the global economic downturn. The report by the UN children’s fund, Unicef, says that 100 million more people in the region are going hungry compared with two years ago. It names the worst affected areas as Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The report says South Asia’s governments need to urgently increase social spending to meet the challenge. It says that climate change and urbanisation also need tackling. According to the World Bank, three quarters of the population in South Asia – almost 1.2 billion people – live on less than $2 (£1.2) a day. And more than 400m people in the region are now chronically hungry. ” (BBC News, 2 June) Who are the dreamers? Socialists who wish to abolish the system that produces world hunger or “practical” people with their reform programmes and charity drives that have succeeded in only making the problem worse over the last 40 years.

A Shameful Waste

This glaring problem of world hunger is happening in a society where capitalist governments throughout the world are spending immense amounts of human labour and natural resources in producing means to destroy human lives. “China spent $84.9 billion (£53 billion) on its military last year, second only to the United States, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Its report said that France moved into third place in spending with Britain fourth. Military spending worldwide rose by 4 per cent to $1.46 trillion, the report said.” (Times, 9 June) Only the new society of world socialism will abolish this madness. Think what that $1.46 trillion represents in human labour and natural resources and think what it could achieve in abolishing world hunger.

Education's Real Role

There is a widespread illusion that the purpose of education, especially higher education, is to produce well-rounded human beings who are equipped with a basic thirst for knowledge and curiosity about the world around them. It is a wonderful concept but like most of capitalism’s ideas it is a complete fraud. “England’s department for higher and further education has been scrapped, just two years after its creation. The prime minister has created a new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills under Lord Mandelson. Universities do not figure in the name of the new department, whose remit is ‘to build Britain’s capabilities to compete in the global economy’. Number 10 said it would invest in a higher education system committed to widening participation. The role would include ‘maintaining world class universities, expanding access to higher education, investing in the UK’s science base and shaping skills policy and innovation’”. (BBC News, 5 June) Far from being concerned about an individual’s intellectual development, inside capitalism the purpose of education is dictated by the industrial and commercial needs of the owning class. The UK must compete for world markets therefore it needs an educated working class.

The Ire Of The Irate Itinerant (2009)

 From the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Pathfinders: Chimps, Chumps and Cheetahs (2009)

The Pathfinders Column from the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

As evolved and unintelligently-designed bald chimps everywhere must surely know, this year is the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth. However they may be less aware that it is also claimed to be the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s sonnets, the 300th anniversary of the start of the industrial revolution and, perhaps less debatably, the 50th birthday for the Mini automobile (Link).

Crowning all these trivial achievements this month is of course the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. What can one say of this historic event? At the time it was hard to overhype. One small step for a man, one giant poke in the eye for the Russians, it supposedly gave us velcro, teflon and digital watches, but more to the point, it promised to launch the bone-throwing chimp species, Kubrick-like, into the galaxy.

And, er, that was it. Apollo the space overture was not followed by the opera. Since then the veterans who knew how to get to the moon have all died or retired, and now the tyro NASA chimps are back where they started, arguing about rockets and facing Obama funding cuts instead of Kennedy largesse.

What did it all mean? Not much, except to show that in science, as in share prices, optimism can overrun the cliff-edge of experience, a fact which often escapes young chimps who imagine that scientific progress is secure, inevitable and limitless. Perhaps this is because, in the non-scientific world, we don’t tend to hear about the null results, the blind alleys or the dead-ends, we only hear the success-stories. This may mean, argues NASA climatologist Peter Dizikes, that we foster unrealistic expectations of science in practice: “The way we teach science is that Newton said “X” and it’s correct, so learn this formula. This promotes the idea that science knows all the answers. Whereas when you look at any actual working scientist, whether it’s in climate change or medicine or building a nuclear power plant, the stock in trade of science is uncertainty; it’s not certainty” (, 19 June).

It doesn’t help that capitalism is all about hard sells not hard truths, a blizzard of con rackets, snake oil cures, kwik-fixes and pseudo-solutions that all too easily make us into chumps who forget to ask the right questions. Too often the media will breathlessly report anything scientists offer them, without any provisos or qualifications, just to grab a slice of reader attention. Grey areas require grey matter, but who’s got the time? To take a random sample of the latest news items, we learn, ‘according to new studies’, that boys who have a ‘warrior gene’ are more likely to end up in violent gangs (Yahoo News, 5 June), that squeamish people are more likely to be conservative (Yahoo News, 5 June) and that engineers are more likely to become terrorists (New Scientist, 13 June). There is not space here to detail all the ways in which these studies may be misleading, misguided or plain wrong, but sample size, experimenter expectation and the possible existence of conflicting studies would be three avenues to explore for starters.

A possible fourth is fraud. When politicians or bankers turn out to be corrupt nobody raises an eyebrow. When catholic priests turn out to be kiddy-fiddlers the world reacts with weary resignation. But when scientists fiddle data everyone throws up their hands in shocked amazement, because scientists are for some reason expected to be above that sort of thing.

Yet there are some legendary cases of scientific fraud, and it turns out that the latest and as yet unnamed addition to the periodic table, element 112, was held back from recognition by years because one member of the team was sabotaging the results by falsifying data (New Scientist, 20 June). Worse, scientific fraud may not be rare but commonplace. A recent survey involving over 11,000 academics found a third of scientists admitting to ‘massaging’ research data and one in fifty indulging in outright fakery: “When scientists were asked about colleagues’ behaviour, 14 percent said they had witnessed research fraud and almost three-quarters said they had seen questionable behaviour”. Socialists won’t be surprised to learn that “misconduct was most common in clinical, medical and pharmacological research, where large grants are often at stake” (TimesOnline, 7 June). Naughty chimps! Me Tarzan, you Cheetah.

Or should that be naughty orang-utans? A new paper that flies boldly in the face of the genetic evidence suggests that humans are biologically closer to the red apes than to chimps or bonobos, an idea which is causing widespread splutterings of derision in the scientific community. Nevertheless New Scientist (20 June) sees fit to lead with a lofty editorial on why we should welcome scientific heresy, even if it’s wrong: “Alternative hypotheses should be given an airing … science that pulls up the drawbridge on new ideas risks becoming sterile.” How true, even if it does sound a little defensive from a journal which is drawing fire for being too sensational and populist.

But heresy is risky, and scientists can be as conservative and risk-averse as anyone else. Privately many scientists could put together the same ‘heresy’ socialists propose, which is that capitalism, once the friend and sponsor of good science, now is more its enemy than its ally. It controls the funds and the fundamentals, it calls the tunes, it forms the corrupting context in which science does its work. In a capitalist world where politicians are vile, bankers are venal and priests are paedophiles, it can hardly be a revelation to find that science is as bent as everything else. But will they speak out against the system which holds them in check? Not while they have a vested interest in not doing so. That’s why we have to do it for them.
Paddy Shannon

Letter: Hypocrisy over immigration (2009)

Letter to the Editors from the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

The perpetual media discussion about immigration, conveniently forgets the countless numbers of people who have migrated from the British Isles (including Ireland when it was part of the British Isles) over the  past 400 years. When one considers for example that the current population of the Republic of Ireland is some seven million approximately, while the current Irish descendant population in the USA alone is estimated to be around seventy million (to say nothing of the Irish descendants in the other former  “black” countries of Canada/New Zealand/Australia/South Africa, etc, etc), the hypocrisy of the anti-immigrant debate becomes evident. The same applies to the so called “white British” historical emigration to “black” countries around the world. The white British descendant population in East and South Africa, Oceania, North and South America etc runs into countless dozens of millions.

Further this debate ignores the fact that Britain was built exclusively on the profits generated by slavery and the pillaging of its colonies. Prior to the 16th century England was an impoverished backwater – even Christopher Columbus when he was trawling the Royal Courts of Europe to fund his New World adventure, never considered asking the English Court for assistance, as England was the Haiti of Europe at the time.
Anti-immigrant types need to acquaint themselves with their own history. Many of them fail to even appreciate that they themselves are recent arrivals in the British Isles – their Anglo-Saxon invader ancestors were not here when the Romans with their British based African regiments, were building Hadrian’s Wall.

The immigration debate needs to have these facts discussed.
Lalu Hanuman, 

We get your point, even if there is some exaggeration. For instance, the population of the Republic of Ireland is about 4 million not 7 million. And the wealth of British capitalism was not built “exclusively” on the profits of slavery and the pillaging of its colonies. This was certainly a key factor in the original accumulation of capital to start capitalism going, but after that the main source of profits was – and still is – the unpaid labour of the working class in Britain.

Land grabs – the new colonialism? (2009)

From the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
Capitalist states have started to acquire land outside their borders again.
At the start of capitalism land was grabbed on a large scale by Europeans in the Americas, Africa and Asia – wherever there were useful, desirable, valuable resources. Never mind the indigenous populations, they could be bought off cheaply or cowed into submission militarily. Accumulation was the name of the game, on behalf of powerful states and royal families.

Colonies sprang up worldwide explaining, among other things, the curious spread of different languages from relatively tiny nations to huge continents across oceans – English, Spanish, Portuguese and French – and ultimately to the use of English/American as the global business language.

It is now widely recognised that colonialism was responsible for subjugating local populations, imposing governmental and legal systems and generally exploiting and expropriating whatever natural abundance or rare animal, vegetable or mineral matter happened to be discovered. As time went on the exploitation was taken over by corporations and continues not only unabated but increasingly rapacious, bringing commodities to customers worldwide, degrading environments worldwide and impoverishing populations worldwide whilst enriching a tiny minority.

Now local populations are starting to fight back, to protest against their treatment as second-class or non-citizens, demanding land and water rights. Populations from China to South America and many places in between are in struggles against domestic or transnational mining corporations, against governments over population dispersal for big dams and Special Economic Zones, against food corporations and agribusiness trying to enforce small farmers’ removal from their land in order to grow mono-crops for food and bio-fuels specifically for export.

Against this back-drop of “peasant/worker awakening” is the very latest emergence of a new form of colonialism – of land-grab – by “food insecure” governments fearing for the future of their own populations’ food needs and also by food corporations and private investors looking for new ways to make profits in this current economic crisis. Since March 2008 “high-level officials” from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, India, South Korea, Libya and Egypt have been visiting countries with fertile farmland including Uganda, Brazil, Cambodia, Sudan and Pakistan to strike deals which guarantee them sole use of farmland to grow crops for export back to their own lands. The reciprocity is foreign investment or oil or technology deals.

Another angle to this new colonialism – financial returns – is seeing all manner of players getting involved, seeking a new avenue for profit; investment houses, hedge funds, grain traders and others from the finance and food industries, all looking to take control of fertile soil with access to water supply in foreign lands. Whilst governments are largely the ones making the deals for food security it has been made plain that it is the private sector that will control the enterprises. Likewise, the hunt for financial returns is the business of private investors. In both cases foreign private corporations will be taking control of farmland to produce food not for the local communities but for export back to the investor countries. Another form of accumulation by driving more local farmers from their land and stealing their livelihoods.

Here are three examples of deals struck so far (a full report is available from plus an annex in table form of over 100 cases of land-grab for offshore food production; online there is also a notebook of full-text news clippings being added to continuously to which people can contribute by emailing

First, China has sealed 30 agricultural cooperation deals which gives them access to “friendly country” farmland in exchange for Chinese technology, training and infrastructure development funds, in Kazakhstan, Queensland, Mozambique and the Philippines (to mention a few) and to which China flies in its own farmers, scientists and extension workers to grow rice, soya beans and maize as well as sugar cane, cassava and sorghum as bio-fuel crops.

Second, the Gulf States, short of water and productive soil but rich in oil and money, have been hard hit by the simultaneous rise in world food prices and fall in the US dollar to which (most) of their currencies are pegged. Their collective strategy has been to make deals particularly with other Islamic countries to which they will supply oil and capital in exchange for guarantees to farmland from which they can export the crops back home. Deals have been and continue to be made with Sudan, Pakistan and others in SE Asia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Uganda, Ukraine, Brazil and others. From the millions of hectares of farmland already leased under contract harvests are expected to begin this year, particularly of rice and wheat.

Third, India’s corporate agribusinesses and the government-owned State Trading Corporation are looking to produce oilseed crops, pulses and cotton abroad. One deal with Burma to enable India to have total control of the agricultural process entails providing Burma with funds to upgrade its port infrastructure. They are also doing deals with Indonesia for palm oil plantations, talking to Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil about land for growing pulses and soya beans for export back home.

How will the indigenous populations react to this latest threat? This aggressive new policy of colonisation of land specifically for export crops and speculation is bound to increase pressure on local populations, more of whom will be struggling to feed their families working for wages, if so lucky, at a pittance level. Populations who don’t need to be bought off cheaply this time because their own governments will willingly sell them out and who can easily be subdued militarily should the need arise, this time by the self-same government’s police and armed forces.
Janet Surman

Then and Now – how we live and how we used to live (2009)

From the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
Part 1 – Then: A look back at the present day from a future time when socialism has been established.
It is strange to visualise now that the world up to and including the early years of this century was caught in a stranglehold of economic competition, national political boundaries and the overriding requirement to make a monetary profit out of the production and sale of property. Hardly anyone took seriously, or even much considered, the possibility of living as complete equals with collective ownership of the world’s resources.

Visions of a future society portrayed in the science fiction novels and films of the time were almost invariably dystopian: civilisation might move out to the stars, but the prognostications were of ever increasing extremes of rich and poor, harsher governments and soaring crime rates. Fictional colonisations of new planets – giving humanity a fresh start free from the shackles of Earth – were almost invariably based on money, employment and profits.

The vast majority of people were limited in terms of what they could do by the amount of money they possessed, since the only way to obtain food, goods and services that they could not produce themselves was to exchange money for them. Those who had little or no money lived very poorly in a way we can scarcely imagine now, indeed many of them died through lack of life’s necessities. A minority, on the other hand, those in control of the world’s major resources, had more personal wealth than even the most imaginative of them knew what to do with.

Many people were reasonably well off by the standards of the time. They would “work for a living” for around 40 hours each week, and as long as they were seen to be contributing to their employer’s wealth, they were paid a monthly salary with which to pay for the necessities of life – food, heating and shelter – for themselves and their immediate families. Many months they might have a small surplus to save for future use or spend during holidays from employment or on ‘luxury’ items.

Employers, the owners of capital, were ever seeking new ways of increasing their profits and attempting to draw their workers into their world, to get them to see things from their side, to be inventive in creating ways of packaging new products, or re-packaging old products, to make them appear ever more attractive. Workers were divided into a hierarchy, with the better paid ones, generally more imbued with the “company ethos” instilled into them by the owners, assuming authority over those lower down in the pecking order.

The vast majority of workers complied with their employer’s wishes through a need to carry on earning money. Employees at all levels were constantly encouraged to “think outside the box” in their efforts to please their employers; in reality worker and employer alike were unable to see the walls of the huge box that contained them all.

Money permeated the whole of life and almost nothing was exempt from the need to generate it, earn it or spend it. And because the owners of the world’s resources as a group controlled the channels of communication, the message expressed or implied to the population at large was that this state of affairs was necessary and unchangeable and that their leaders knew what was best for them.

Largely because of such propaganda, not all workers saw themselves as exploited or even hard done by. People were, for the most part, simply grateful to be among those whose skills and abilities were seen as necessary and hence saleable. And many, such as doctors, teachers and care workers, performed useful roles despite the often longer than average, stressful hours they had to work and, in some cases, the paltry amounts of money they received in return.

But others were not so fortunate. Millions worldwide were unable to secure or maintain the employment necessary to provide them with the money to buy life’s necessities. Many people were left entirely to their own meagre resources. Some were forced to work almost the whole day long to secure the price of a meal and a bed, while still others had no recourse but to beg. Many people understandably resorted to the peddlers of alcohol, drugs and religion, to the relative comfort of an anaesthetised life on Earth or the vacuous promise of a second life free of care after death.

As is no doubt evident, money was a form of rationing – the less you had, the less access you had to the best quality food and goods. This resulted in manufacturers producing a whole range of goods at varying qualities and hence varying prices, to ensure they catered for, and therefore profited from, the needy as well as the better off. And because personal possessions were hard-gained, people tended to be inordinately proud of them and jealous of others who had more.

People generally lived in a family unit typically comprising a married couple and up to three or four children. This restricted economic unit generally served its purpose in ensuring that children were adequately looked after until they in turn were ready to do service to an employer; if it broke down, however, say by the married couple splitting up or one of them dying, this could place an intolerable burden on the one parent left supporting the children, usually with very little outside help. There was very little left of the extended supportive family or community such as had existed even in earlier capitalist times. And if both parents died or were incapacitated, alternative care provisions for the children were rudimentary at best.

Dependence on money, and the stress caused through lack of it, meant that arguments and outbreaks of violence were frequent – “we can’t afford it” or “where is the money going to come from?” were often heard among the members of the cocooned family units, even among the more comfortably off. Buyer and seller, employer and employee, even husband and wife, inevitably regarded one another as sources of financial or material gain, and hence, in part, as one another’s possessions.

Sections of the working population were constantly played off and made to compete against one another, either deliberately or passively, on the basis of such irrelevant considerations as skin colour, nationality or even gender, in an attempt to keep them weak and divided. And the need for capitalist enterprises to compete against one another in their quest for profits inevitably led to wider conflicts, resulting time and again in failed businesses with the resultant loss of livelihoods and, in extreme cases, in bloody and ruthless wars.

Factories and commercial centres tended to be concentrated in large urban areas, to and from which workers would have to travel on a daily basis in crowded trains or on congested roads. Despite the limited adoption of variable working hours, peak travel times were unpleasant if not nightmarish.

It was also evident that capitalist society was incapable of addressing the problems besetting the environment which came to the fore in this period. As global warming increased, caused at least in part by man-made pollutants from wasteful, inefficient technology, with increasingly erratic climate systems resulting in the disappearance of much wildlife and an increase in the number of floods and fires, however well-intentioned the proponents of corrective action, remedies were always subject to the constraints of what could be done profitably and were therefore never adequately effected, to the extent that some of the damage to the environment nearly became irreversible.

To think of the world as it was only so few decades ago has been at best sobering and at worst traumatic; the conclusion I reach is that this period of man’s history is best left where it is…consigned to the history books or, better still, to the memory.

Next month Part 2: a look back from a future at the changeover to socialism.
Rod Shaw

Who are the outsiders? (2009)

From the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
Xenophobia flourishes in Africa too, encouraged by state-building.
It is not only in the West that black people are subjected to racism and abusive languages by the host nation’s population as “bloody foreigners”, “parasites”, “aliens”,”refugees”, etc, but also Africans living in other African countries are grimly accustomed to the same abusive language. Matters have sometimes been getting out of hand in recent years. There is an irony that this is happening when many countries in Africa are busy trying to organise a Union of African states to replace the useless, that the OAU has been.

A few years ago, tens of thousands of Eritreans and Ethiopians have been expelled against their will when the two countries started war (May 1998 till June 2000). The Eritreans and Ethiopians who happened to be respectively living in each other’s country had lived there for most of their lives, in some cases many of them didn’t know their country of origin. The rulers of both sides accused each other, accurately, of human rights violation.

The reasons for these mass expulsions and violence are almost always the same in each country. “Patriotic” citizens are quick to assert, nationalistically, that the “outsiders” have come to take over their resources, their jobs and what have you. However, though the grievances of the masses may be related to economic factors, it is unreasonable to blame it on their fellow poor workers.

In order to ward off unrest various tactics are employed by governments. One of them is creating divisions among the poor workers by, for instance blaming foreigners and whipping up nationalistic feelings. In response to the official propaganda, the masses who are hungry and illiterate are taken in by the government policy.

Since anger is emotional and overpowers reason, the least provocations can result in misdirected violence, usually manifested in riots. The violence is usually turned loose on the “aliens”. This is the real cause of xenophobia: the rich pitting the poor against the poor.

In the past when Africa didn’t have artificial boundaries such as there are today, wars and hatred were not as rife. Making up nations have taken a great deal of building. There is almost no nation-state that has not had its boundaries drawn in blood. America was built on the bodies of the native population. It is a process that continues today in Africa. The effort, though, has to be ongoing. States have required the use of an education system, to standardise learning, spread a national history and a sense of shared culture.

Language became a factor in establishing state power, and thus it became a factor in determining a “nation”. It is no coincidence that nationalism is accompanied by a mania for classifying, delineating and defining people into categories. These practical considerations were made explicit by the Polish Nationalist Pilsudski, who observed that “it is the state that makes the nation, not the nation the state”.

In order to enforce the new system of property over the whole range of its influence, the ruling class needed the state, and its legitimising ideas of nationalism and the nation. Culture resides in sets of ideas, values and practices that set out a sense of precedent, self and future possibility. Nationalism imposes the idea of the nation, complete with its inherent notions of territorial ownership and property, upon a culture, on the very self-image of the people within that culture.

The idea of “the nation” functions as supreme good, beyond the physical and mechanical functionings of the state, to which any cause may appeal. It is a fantasy which can be used to cover up for problems and contradictions in the practice of the state’s daily life. Its function is to legitimise both the state and class rule, and sustain a large quantity of support, through workers who identify with the ideas of nationhood and believe themselves to be the same as, and have the same interests as, their masters.

Workers of course, do not share a common interest with their masters. It does not follow that if the “national wealth” increases, or if trade increases, or even if profit increases, that higher wages will be gained by workers. It might appear that workers and employers share a common interest. In fact the interest of workers is conditioned by the interest of the employer, in exactly the same manner as hostages held by a kidnapper: unless the kidnapper/employer, demands are met, they will not allow the hostage/workers to have what they need to live.

In the powerful nations, history becomes a means of winning popular emotions to the cause of stability. An influential and well funded nostalgia industry has long been used in these nations to persuade workers that there is something great about being the nation’s subject.

The valid definition of a modern nation is a geographical and political area in which goods and services are produced for the sale on the market with a view to profit and with the general class division of ruling and ruled. And the fact that the majority of population owns little but its ability to work is evidence the working class has no common interest with the minority ruling class.
Michael Ghebre

Who are the real litter louts? (2009)

From the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Official statistics from the Home Office’s Office of National Statistics show that there is a high level of concern about the problem of litter. Indeed, of all crime and anti-social behaviour litter has the second highest source of concern (33 percent of those surveyed felt “a high level of worry”). Vandalism comes top of the list (34 percent), both much higher than racial harassment (8 percent) and fear of burglary (14 percent). Hardly a week goes by without a letter sent to local papers on the subject. Now common or garden street litter is hardly one of the world’s major problems, but most people are primarily concerned with things that affect them – it is simply a human response to something right before the eyes. People clearly want and indeed should expect a decent local environment. What can be done about this problem? We examine a few solutions . . .

Solution no. 1: More bins. It might be suggested that more rubbish bins would solve the problem. Certainly this could have some effect. However my local area has plenty of bins (empty ones) and plenty of litter. Putting the rubbish in the bins is clearly something different from putting the bins up in the first place.

Solution no. 2: The strong arm of the law. A crackdown on ‘litter louts’– fines or imprisonment – can be a short term solution particularly in areas with a traditional respect of authority. Such a policy has been carried out very successfully, for example in Singapore. However, whether large and disparate societies have the resources to deal with what is basically a minor infraction of the law in such a heavy-handed manner is doubtful.

Solution no. 3: Education. A rather cheaper method than a policeman on every corner would be a concerted campaign in the schools: “Naughty children: don’t throw things on the street.” However education (or what passes for it in these sad times) seems to be part of the problem. It is almost certainly the case that the majority of street litter is thrown by children or adolescents.

Solution no. 4: ‘Alternative’ education. If it really is the case that littering is a product of alienation in the schools it might be advisable to change the system of schooling to one more child-friendly. At the risk of us being deluged with letters from irate ‘alt-ed’ enthusiasts, the idea of ‘nice’ schooling is ridiculous in a world that is most definitely not nice. The modern system of education generally fits the bill required – that of producing (and reproducing) the ideal modern worker. Also again we hit the problem of resources – who will pay for this intensive, alternative approach?

Solution no. 5: A ‘green’ idea. Very popular in Germany, the Green ‘Law of Return’ means that councils are entitled to ship product wrappings back to the factory of origin. A ton of crisp packets dumped on the doorstep is a powerful argument for making biodegradable or recyclable packaging. This comes close to the problem and all credit here for identifying the real litter louts. But recycling uses resources – surely better, as far as is possible, not to produce potential litter in the first place; however, this cannot be expected from those whose business is to produce.

Solution no. 6: Socialism. Litter, like most other problems of the world, is a product of the current phase of capitalism. Consumption to the nth power (including snack foods, the main cause of street litter), within a background of built-in obsolescence determined chiefly by the great corporations, is the order of the day, all driven by the relentless quest for profit.  Compounding the issue within capitalism is the sense of alienation, especially among young people, the result of the class ownership of society and the commodifying of everyday life – all of which helps produce the carelessness of littering. Powerless and voiceless – why should the ‘litter lout’ care? The streets really are not our own, nor can they be under capitalism.

Tiny Tips (2009)

The Tiny Tips column from the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

A collection of more than 3,000 inverted stamps has sold at auction in New York for more than $5 million:
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One billion people throughout the world suffer from hunger, a figure which has increased by 100 million because of the global financial crisis, says the UN:

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Cancer is a silent disease in Africa and in the developing world. World Health Organization (WHO) statistics shows that cancer kills more people in Africa than HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria combined. This is not a well-known fact, and a very disturbing one, especially since cancer diagnostics and treatment are of very poor standard in most African countries. Take for example Ghana – a country with more than 23 million people. They only have four oncologists to diagnose and treat cancer patients. WHO estimates that if we don’t take act now, more than 11 million Africans may die of cancer in 2020:
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One in four men in South Africa have admitted to rape and many confess to attacking more than one victim, according to a study that exposes the country’s endemic culture of sexual violence

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The Dalai Lama has encouraged Tibetans in exile to embrace the democratic system of electing a leader, saying it was essential to keep step with the larger world and to ensure the continuity of their government:
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Uganda has lost nearly a third of its forest cover since 1990 due to expanding farmlands, a rapidly growing human population and increased urbanisation, a government report said
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The Senate unanimously passed a resolution yesterday apologizing for slavery, making way for a joint congressional resolution and the latest attempt by the federal government to take responsibility for 2½ centuries of slavery

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Nearly twice as many US army soldiers today are either alcoholic or engage in damaging behaviour such as binge drinking than six years ago, and experts blame the rise on repeated tours in war zones:
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President Hugo Chavez is standing by his man in the Middle East, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even as hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iranians took to the streets Wednesday for the fifth straight day to protest his claim to a landslide reelection
[Dead Link.]

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Zimbabwe is suffering “persistent and serious” human rights violations despite the formation of a unity government four months ago, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khansaid
[Dead Link.]

Friday, July 16, 2021

Cooking the Books: Clutching at green shoots (2009)

The Cooking the Books column from the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

The textbooks may say that the banking system can create loans worth ten times more than an initial deposit in any bank in the system, and currency cranks may misrepresent this to mean that an individual bank can create money to lend out of thin air, but practising bankers and financial journalists know better.

A recent article in the Investors Chronicle (22-28 May), discussing the difference between banks in Asia and banks in Britain and America, gave the views of an investment manager, Mike Kerley:
  “‘Consider the banks in the US and the UK,’ says Mr Kerley. ‘They lend out far more than their deposit base and rely on credit markets to fund this, which has been shown to be ill-advised, costly and ultimately catastrophic.’ Although the Australian market is closely aligned with the UK banking model, elsewhere in Asia the deposit base more than covers lending, so there are no serious liquidity issues. ‘Banks are the opportunity in Asia. Asian loans to deposit ratios are 80 per cent,’ he says. ‘Asian banks do what banks should do and make money on margins’.”
This is a typical confirmation that banks make their core profit out of  borrowing money at one rate of interest and re-lending it at another, higher rate. No bank can lend money it doesn’t have so they have to get this from somewhere. In the past all banks used to get the money to re-lend, as banks in Asia still do, from what had been deposited with them. In recent years, however, banks in Britain and America, started to borrow money to re-lend from the money market.

Banks in Britain and America still make their profits (or suffer losses) out of the margin between the rate of interest at which they borrow and the rate at which they lend. The difference is their reliance more on borrowing money from the money market than from depositors (a deposit is essentially a loan to a bank). The money market is a much more volatile source of funds than deposits, as American and British banks eventually found to their cost.

When the crisis began interest rates on the money market went up, so squeezing the margin between the two rates of interest, in some cases wiping it out or even making it negative. Hence the banking crisis. Things seem to have settled down a bit at the moment.

Not that the banking crisis was going to last for ever. Nor will the economic crisis. However, before a recovery can begin stocks must first be cleared, though this won’t be enough in itself. There are signs that this may have started, but is being optimistically seen by some economic commentators as a sign that the depression is over. “Recession is over, says think-tank as it reports growth in April and May”, headlined the Times (11 June) reporting the opinion of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

The Times’s own Business Editor, David Wighton, was more cautious:
“If the upturn we are seeing now is in large part because of restocking, there will be a spike in orders which will inevitably fall back again”.
There is still some way to go before economic conditions will be ripe for a recovery to really begin. Unprofitable firms must be eliminated, their capital destroyed or devalued, and real wages must fall, so as to restore the rate of profit. That means more company failures and more unemployment. In short, more misery in a world that could provide plenty for all if it weren‘t for capitalism.

50 Years Ago: Race and Violence (2009)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Race & Violence

With the recent murder of a coloured man in Notting Hill, race-prejudice has once more become a subject of public interest.   It is not possible to say at this stage whether or not Kelso Cochrane died as a result of racial hatred.

What can be said is that passions, hatred and sympathies have been aroused. A large crowd of mourners, both white and black, followed Cochrane’s coffin through the streets. Many organisations have had their say about Notting Hill; some of them, such as the Union Movement, propagating racial discrimination. There is no doubt that the Union Movement is anti-coloured, and rabidly so. It considers that this country should be reserved for Englishmen. This is a “one way only” policy however. Not so many years ago a main plank in Mosley’s platform was the intensive economic development of British Africa; for the benefit of the British, of course. “Keep out the coloureds” does not mean keeping the Pinks out of South Africa, Kenya or Nyasaland. The left-wing too, have been having their little stir. They, poor souls, are in a bit of a quandary, for the Labour Government’s record does not look particularly attractive. The imprisonment of Nkrumah and the banishment of Seretse Khama must make the collection of coloured people’s votes a rather difficult matter. There are, too, plenty of advocates in the Labour Party for the policy of restricting or excluding immigrants. The supporters of such views, to be logical, should exclude or restrict the movement of anybody going anywhere to look for jobs.

(From front page article by F.R. Ivimey, Socialist Standard, July 1959)

Greasy Pole: Hogg’s ditch (2009)

The Greasy Pole column from the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

What with all the talk about reforming Parliament, antagonising MPs by restricting their ravenous appetite for expenses, it may not be long for the famous green benches to be swept clean of those venerable persons wallowing in titles like the Right Honourable Douglas Hogg, Old Etonian, Third Viscount Hailsham, Privy Councillor, Barrister at Law, Queen’s Counsel, Member of Parliament (for the present) for Sleaford and North Hykeham, brother of a High Court Judge, husband of a baroness and owner of Kettlethorpe Hall, a stately home in Lincolnshire. With a moat – about the only exterior relic of the original 13th  Century  house. It is some time now since Hogg was at his most active politically; he was Minister of Agriculture Fisheries and Food from July 1995 until Labour’s victory in 1997 since when he has stayed contentedly inconspicuous.

Whistle Blower
But that was before the Daily Telegraph, digging into the secrets of the MP’s claims as revealed by that whistle blower’s expensive aids to research, turned the spotlight away from the drab fiddlers on the Labour benches and onto the gloating Conservative manipulators opposite. This made sickeningly fascinating reading, for among the claims for money for a chandelier and a swimming pool was one for clearing the moat at Hogg’s home. The new Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy marked the occasion at a Manchester school: “What did he do with the trust of your vote?/Hired a flunky to flush out the moat”. A nation-wide rush to consult architectural reference books revealed that a moat is water surrounding somewhere – a castle, a fortified house – important enough to need such a defence against an invading  enemy or perhaps, in some cases, irate deprived Lincolnshire peasantry. A moat is expected to be, in scale with the place it defends, impressively large – wide and deep (Alan Clark, the late alcoholic and disreputable MP who owned the magnificent Saltwood Castle in Kent, was in the habit of taking a swim in the moat there) with a drawbridge to filter out unwanted visitors. The photographs of Hogg’s moat, however, showed it to be not much more than an above average sized ditch – although one which obviously needs regular, expensive cleaning paid for through parliamentary allowances. David Cameron was infuriated at the revival of the stereotypical image of the greedy Tory toff which he has worked so hard to eradicate.

Lord Chancellor 
As a lawyer Hogg is accustomed to defending the indefensible and his response to the Daily Telegraph’s exposure was desperately evasive: “That is not correct. It was in a letter which explained what expenses we had incurred, it wasn’t an expenses schedule…All the claims I made were agreed in advance”. Reinforcing this attempt to pass the blame for his behaviour elsewhere he conceded, when asked about his constituents’ anger at his claim for the moat, “It is true that the system is clearly flawed”. Hogg’s ancestors would have been proud of his lawyerly skills here; although he has remained a humble QC both his father and grandfather rose to the heights of Lord Chancellor, head of the country’s judges and in the House of Lords sitting, by ancient custom, on a large cushion called the Woolsack from where the noble lords were kept under control, speaking to the point and avoiding all challenge to the presumptions of property society. However humble, Hogg is a rich man, with shareholdings and property investments which protect him from the kind of penury familiar to some of his infuriated constituents.

Unlike his eminent forefathers Hogg did not make a name for himself in government. At his peak, in charge of Agriculture Fisheries and Food he was marked down as The Minister Without A Friend. Rivals on the lower reaches of the Greasy Pole happily fed the media with snide gossip about him, typically that he had been given the job when the first choice had turned it down because it was politically suicidal. When the BSE crisis broke in 1996 and the first cases of the human variant CJD were reported Hogg was cruelly exposed as lacking the sleight of word so essential to survival. Alan Clark, who could always be relied on to kick someone when they are down, recorded meeting “little Douglas Hogg” in 1983,when he was a Junior Whip: “I can’t decide whether he is likeable or not. (But I should say that many do not have this difficulty.) I don’t mind people being rude, provided that they are not uncouth with it. But he is colossally self-satisfied. Or is it a chip?…’Well,’ I said ‘how are you keeping all the new boys in  order?’…’By offering them your job’.

Well very soon someone will be offered Hogg’s job. “I have decided” he said on 18 May “that now is the time to tell the Sleaford and North Hykeham Association that I will not be standing at the next election”. It was a polite way of saying that he had been sacked for failing to fit in with Cameron’s efforts to recast the Tory image into a youthful, classless, open party who can, by a process so far unattainable to all others, transform capitalism into a humane society. But euphemisms are essential to a  politician’s vocabulary; over the expenses scandal they have been extensively used to muddy the reality that while the amounts of money involved in the Lord’s and the MP’s wretched scams are mind-boggling to so many workers struggling to survive they are trivial compared to the cost, in every sense, of the damage capitalism does to the world and its people.  

The Strutting Turkey and the Dancing Bear (1939)

From the November 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

The international situation is changing with the rapidity of a cinema film, and those who aspire to the role of prophet are likely to make many mistakes; one fact we can state, however, and that is events have taken full control; even a Hitler or a Churchill no longer does what he would, but what he must.

In the hectic days of the First International it was considered a duty on the part of Socialists to lay bare the mysteries of international politics so that the real motives that animated statesmen could be perceived and, if necessary, thwarted by the class-conscious proletariat. Alas for the progress made in this connection; the present generation has little more knowledge of the forces at work than its predecessors : the son falls for the same slogans and catch-phrases that fooled his father.

Some of our masters talk peace, but those in charge resolutely pursue the war, the war to end Hitlerism.

After the war of 1914 there was a dispute as to who was to blame for it. Germany, under Hitler, made a vigorous protest against that country being saddled with the war guilt. This time Chamberlain has moved his chessmen in such a way that there is apparently no doubt about the matter. Hitler is caught. Britain is, as usual, fighting a righteous battle. The whole world is called upon to witness the fact. If it is discovered in the days to come that Britain’s moral feelings are, as of old, in strict accord with her material interests, well, what would you have? We live in a material world; all nations and peoples are in the clutch of circumstance. Britain and Germany confront each other because the development of capitalism has placed groups of capitalists in rival camps; the only way out is war. It is impossible for the exploiters to reconcile their differences; the antagonism between them must become ever more intense.

Those who talk so eloquently about Peace with a capital P do not seem to grasp the fact that the obstacles to peace are greater than those obstructing war. Capitalism is based on competition. The means of production are owned exclusively by a section of the community; those that are dispossessed must sell themselves to the owning section in order to live.

The owning class give those who sell their life-force to them sufficient to keep going as producers of commodities which become the property of the owning class as they are brought into being.

Commodities are articles produced for sale, for profit. The latter cannot be realised until the commodities are sold.

To sell you must find a buyer. The only portion the worker can buy is that equivalent to the wages he receives; all over and above this amount must be disposed of elsewhere.

Markets are found abroad which temporarily relieve the situation, but as the productivity of labour increases, and more and more countries are brought within the orbit of capitalism, the difficulty to sell is intensified.

The world is scoured for raw materials by rival gangs; the wage slaves are driven faster and ever faster, so that relative cheapness can enable one exploiter to undersell another, but all in vain.

The markets are decreasing comparatively and the powers of production are increasing. The capitalist class must sell in order to realise profits and yet they are compelled to set in motion factors that make the necessary sale ever more difficult.

The unemployed grow in number in all lands and eventually the situation becomes so bad that the harder pressed gangs of exploiters become desperate, arm their slaves, and demand at the point of the sword certain concessions in the way of a right to raw materials, markets, etc., from their rivals—the war is on.

The battle-cries of Democracy and Dictatorship should not blind us to the real issue, nor should the plausible piffle of the “only Socialist country in the world” fool us in such a way that we fail to perceive the enemy in ambush. Russia stands for capitalism, Russian capitalism, distinguished from other brands by the fact that it is, if anything, more treacherous, more hypocritical, and more ruthless than that of any other country.

The bear that walks like a man is now interfering with the life of other peoples without ceremony or apology. Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Roumania and the Balkan countries have all been made to feel that now that Britain’s hands are tied they are in duty bound to minister to the bear’s requirements. Russia has, at the same time, moved swiftly in Chinese Turkestan, and from the proximity of Kasgar now threatens British interests. Sinkiang, or Chinese Turkestan, will soon come into the picture and may be the scene of conflict. Not far from this area is to be found valuable mineral wealth. When I say not far, I mean the approach to the locality is from this region. Near the source of a tributary of the Yangtse River there is a district containing all the mineral wealth necessary to the establishment of an industrial country—iron, coal, silver, gold, etc., all in close proximity to one another. This will cause trouble in the not far distant future. Russia will grab it if she can, and others will try to prevent her getting it. Britain knows and is fully prepared for what is coming.

The Near East has not yet become the scene of large-scale operations, but recent movements round Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, right to the Afghanistan border, show to the observant mind what is pending.

Turkey occupies a very important position at the present time and although she may be compelled to apparently acquiesce to certain demands made upon her by Germany or Russia, there is one country she will always be faithful to, and that is Poland; she will stand, if possible, with Poland and her friends.

This is one of the mysteries of international politics. During the 150 years that Poland was dismembered Turkey always reserved a chair for the Polish Ambassador, and when Poland emerged again as a nation after the last war the Polish representative went to Turkey and took his place as if nothing had happened. The geographical position of Turkey in the present conflict enables her to wield an influence far greater than is generally supposed. Turkey is making rapid strides as a capitalist nation, and will not fail to make full use of her opportunities. Russia’s action in Poland will not be favourably viewed by Turkey and may have important repercussions.

The forces in the Mediterranean are regrouping. Mussolini is extending the hand of friendship to Hungary and Hitler’s influence is being curtailed. Italy and Britain have never fought: they probably never will.

The readers of the Socialist Standard may say, “Very interesting, but where does Socialism come in?”

We will sum up by drawing the attention of the reader to the fact that the Russians, through their Foreign Office, the Communist Party tried to get Britain, France, Italy and Germany involved in Spain, then in Czecho-Slovakia. They wanted Fascism smashed by any means necessary. “Leave off talking about Socialism; we must get rid of Fascism first. Down with Hitler.”

They formed Popular Fronts, etc., to work things up.

What was behind it all? Can’t you see?

Russia wanted her rivals to be involved in difficulties, so that they could not stop her grabbing what she wanted.

Look at the Communist Party now, and look at Russia. The Nazis are their comrades. Their anti-Fascist propaganda was a make-believe and a sham—to fool you. What a mix-up there will be should they shortly quarrel. “Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.”

We are on the eve of great developments in the United States. Passions there will be at fever heat shortly. The President will have a rough period to go through.

Where do the wage-slaves get off at ?

It is to be noted that the Government here has taken charge of the economic life of every individual in the community. The State has taken over.

We may never go back to the old state of things entirely. This is not Socialism. Far from it. But it makes Socialism easier to obtain; it enables us to get into the heads of our fellow-workers a clearer idea of what we are endeavouring to get him to do.

Amidst the waving of flags and the beating of the war drums let our battle-cry be “the common ownership of the means of life,” reiterated again until it penetrates into the consciousness of the class to which we belong.

When the aftermath of the struggle comes upon the world, when the dead are counted and buried and our wounded brothers surround us on every hand, when amidst grinding anguish, made bitter by poverty, the disillusioned wage slave cries “What shall we do?”

We can give the ringing answer, “Dare to be a man! Shake the chains of wage slavery from your limbs. Make the means of life common property. Stand erect, free!”
Charles Lestor

Notes by the Way: The Communist Yes—No—Yes Policy on Colonial Peoples (1939)

The Notes by the Way Column from the November 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Communist Yes—No—Yes Policy on Colonial Peoples

The following pronouncements by Communists need no comment. Made at different dates, they reflect the Communist double-somersault on war.

Mr. T. A. Jackson, Communist writer and speaker, in 1937 : —
 “I have neither love nor liking for that evil thing—the British Empire. But rather than see a single African, Asiatic, American or Polynesian pass under the control of Fascism (whither Hitlerite, Mussolinite, or of any other brand), I would fight in the same way, and urge others to fight to preserve the British Empire. . . .—(Plebs, February, 1937.)

* * *

Communist Party Central Committee, September 2nd, 1939.

The Manifesto which the Central Committee issued on September 2nd, 1939, giving reasons why they supported the war, contained, as one of the Communist war aims : —
“Extension of full democratic rights to the Colonial peoples.”

* * *

Mr. Harry Pollitt, in “How to Win the War” (September 16th, 1939).
  “When Abyssinia was attacked by Italian Fascism some people in Britain said it was not our business to do anything about it; Abyssinia was an autocratic and feudal state, and it made no difference to the Abyssinian people whether they were ruled by their own monarch or by the Italian imperialists. The Communist Party did not accept this standpoint.”

* * *

The Daily Worker, October 7th, 1939 (after the Communists had stopped supporting the war) : —
  “And now Hitler repeats his demand for colonies. Shall British workers fight to decide whether the colonial people are to be oppressed by the imperialists of London or of Berlin ? The only fight we will wage is for the freedom of the colonies from all imperialistic masters, for democracy in the colonies, and the right of self-determination.”

War-Time Powers of the Government

The following Editorial was published by the Sunday Express (October 22nd, 1939): —
“Under Section 18B of the Order in Council amending the Defence Regulations, a Secretary of State can make an order—

(a) Prohibiting or restricting the possession or use by any person of any specified articles;
(b) Imposing on any individual such restrictions as may be specified in respect of his employment or business, in respect of his association or communication with other persons, and in respect of his activities in relation to the dissemination of news or the propagation of opinions;
(c) Directing that he be detained.

“So long as such an order is active against any individual he may—according to the regulations—be detained in such a place and under such conditions as the Secretary of State may determine and shall while so detained be deemed to be in legal custody.

“Such an order obviously destroys at the will of a Secretary of State the Habeas Corpus Act, which is the basis of the liberty and freedom of the citizen.

“In past wars there have been restrictions on liberty, but nothing so sweeping and so potentially dangerous as this.

“M.P.s ought to demand some limitation of these powers before it is too late. They might also ask whether any persons have already been detained in such circumstances—and why.”
* * *

The Times, October 27th, 1939, published further details :—
 "Another regulation deals with the causing of disaffection, and provides that no person shall “endeavour to cause disaffection among any persons engaged (whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere) in his Majesty’s service.” A regulation on the subject of “propaganda” begins by laying it down that no person shall “endeavour, whether orally or otherwise, to influence public opinion (whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere) in a manner likely to be prejudicial to the defence of the realm or the efficient prosecution of the war.” The expression “public opinion” is denned as “including the opinion of any section of the public.”

This regulation also includes the following sections: —

(2) The Secretary of State may make provision by order for preventing or restricting the publication in the United Kingdom of matters as to which he is satisfied that the publication, or, as the case may be, the unrestricted publication, thereof would or might be prejudicial to the defence of the realm or the efficient prosecution of war . . . .

Yes, But Which Attitude ?

From the Daily Worker (October 16th. 1939):-
“The Communist Party’s attitude towards the war is attracting a flow of new members to the Party.”

The Strange Case of “Professor Mamlock

Professor Mamlock is a powerful anti-Nazi film produced in Russia, and shown to 30 million Russians since it was made in 1937. It was banned by the British Censor before the war, but in the first week of the war the Censor reversed his decision and it is now being shown in London.

In the meantime, Russia had signed her Pact with Nazi Germany, and according to the Daily Herald (October 7th, 1939) the film has now been banned in Russia !

The Man Who Did Not Know There Was a War On

The newspapers have been satirical about the German prisoners taken by the French, who said they did not know they were at war. They were told by the German authorities that they were on manoeuvres, and the explosions they heard were blasting and target practice. A strange but true story.

We know another equally strange. We know of millions of workers who have been suffering from capitalism all their lives, and yet, so powerful are the uses of advertisement, they are convinced that capitalism does not exist, and that poverty is an act of nature.

Suppose There is a Military Revolt Against Hitler, What Then ?

Mr. Duff Cooper, former First Lord of the Admiralty, recently gave an interview in New York in which he predicted that Hitler’s dealings with Russia would finally produce a revolution in Germany (Daily Telegraph, October 23rd, 1939). According to the Telegraph’s correspondent, he said that “it was likely that the revolution, although originating in the army, would produce a new monarchy rather than a military dictatorship.”

All of which looks very much like re-creating in Germany a military-bureaucratic Government like the Kaiser’s Government, against which the war of 1914 was said to be waged.

Children, We Have Need of You
  “Germany is returning to the employment of child labour on farms, according to an agricultural expert, speaking on the German radio.

  “On my own farm,” he said, “I employ children whose average age is 12.”—(Daily Telegraph, October 30th, 1939.)
* * *
  “The Isle of Ely Education Committee have decided that, owing to the serious scarcity of labour, they will raise no objection to boys and girls of 12 years of age and over being absent from elementary schools in the Isle of Ely at any time from September 27th to November 17th, to assist in agricultural work. “—(Times, September 28th, 1939.)

Truth, The First Casualty in War

From an article on Nurse Cavell, in the Evening Standard (October 10th, 1939): — 
“Her terrible inability to tell a lie.”
Edgar Hardcastle

Interest in Finland (1939)

From the November 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Englishman who is watching the Finnish crisis with close interest is Lord Melchett. As a director of Mond-Nickel, Lord Melchett has valuable interests in Finland. The company own one of the country’s principal industries–the nickel mines in the north, which have only been working for two years, but which, outside Canada, are among the most important in the world.

Together with Finland’s unexploited mineral resources they provide some food for temptation to covetous neighbours.–(Evening Standard, October 27th, 1939.) 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

The Prospect for Socialism – What Will Happen After the War? (1939)

From the November 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

The outbreak of the second Great War prompts the question: What are the prospects for Socialism when the war comes to an end? While the last war was dragging on, Socialists, as may be seen from the columns of the Socialist Standard at the time, took an optimistic view. Seeing the gigantic senseless slaughter and knowing that the capitalist promises of a brave new world would never be fulfilled, Socialists held that the workers of all countries in vastly increased numbers would soon be brought to see the impossibility of any reconstruction, except on the basis of Socialism. It was too optimistic a view, as events proved.

Though disillusioned with pre-war Liberalism and Toryism, Kaiserism and Czarism, the workers found new illusions to keep them from the path to Socialism. Labourism, Bolshevism and Fascism occupied the void left by the collapse of the old parties and institutions. Must we, then, argue from this that optimism now is equally mistaken? Must we take the view that all is as it was and no progress has been made? That would indeed be a shattering blow to the Socialist movement and the principles on which it is based. Without self-deception it can be answered that the working class have made very real advances in understanding since 1914, and a moderate optimism now has a firm foundation.

No Enthusiasm for War
What are the grounds for optimism? One that first compels notice is the small amount of enthusiasm for the glories of war. Except perhaps among the young, there is now none of the intoxicated eagerness for battle and conquest that was in evidence in the warring countries in 1914. For years we have witnessed the Governments – particularly of the Dictator States, and not excluding Russia – using all the devices at their disposal to inculcate in the minds of the population an unthinking readiness for war and sacrifice, and a worship of the martial glories. Children of 10 years, and even younger, were being drilled and regimented and trained in the use of arms and taught that war was the supreme vocation of man. Yet the outbreak of this war has shown that the populations of all countries, without exception, prefer peace to war. The people of Italy, who were supposed to have been turned by the Fascists into a solid block thirsting for war and conquest, heaved a great sigh of relief that they were to remain out of the war at least for a time. All newspaper correspondents, in all countries, have agreed that the great mass of the men and women of Europe do not share the bellicose sentiments of the Hitlers and Mussolinis, and their counterparts in the democracies. In short, the great mass propaganda has been a colossal failure, and that fact is of importance, even though, with the progress of the war, it may later on be submerged as the tide of passion is inflamed by the slaughter of loved ones.

All Socialists Now
The other great change compared with 1914 is that the workers are seeking something better and different from the things they sought then, and are noticeably less easily fobbed off with promises merely to carry on capitalism on the old lines Dr. Goebbels, in one of his closer approximations to the truth, has said of the Germans that they are now a “politically-minded nation.” It is an exaggeration, perhaps, but the workers in all countries are, in the mass, more interested in fundamental political and social questions than they were 25 years ago, less attached to capitalist theories and more ready to give ear to anything which can even appear to be Socialistic. All those whose real purpose is to maintain the fundamentals of capitalism have had to take note of this change of working-class outlook. If hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, “National Socialism” and kindred new disguises under which capitalism masquerades, is the tribute capitalism pays to Socialism. The workers will no longer vote, work or fight contentedly for capitalism, naked and unashamed, so the capitalist apologist must needs clothe his aims in Socialist phraseology. Hence the vague references in the speeches of British politicians to the need for building a new world after the war, and the plausible Labour Party argument that democracy must be safeguarded by winning the war in order that Socialism may in due course be achieved. Hence the Communist and Russian propaganda in defence of the Russian-German Pact, which represents it as a “victory for Peace and Socialism.” Hence the Nazi propaganda broadcast .over the wireless to the French workers which “attempts to convert the French listener with talks about social reforms in Germany and the necessity of ‘true Socialism’.” (Times, October 21st, 1939.) Hence the move by Hitler’s Government to allow Nazi speakers in Germany to promise radical reforms on the Bolshevik model, and the “suppression” of capitalism (Evening Standard, October 20th, 1939).

Only the very simple will conclude from this that Europe’s rulers have suffered a change of heart and become converts to Socialism. They are adapting themselves to the workers’ growing disillusionment with capitalism and hope in Socialism. They did not seek this change, but they could not prevent it. They have delayed it and are now using all their ingenuity and that of the tools and dupes to delay it still and side-track it into ends harmful or useless to the workers. They will fail, and the war they have now engaged in will hasten the eventual complete enlightenment of the working class. Robbed of the progress we expected after the last Great War, the Socialist movement can count on reaping a full harvest when peace comes again, no matter what course the war may take.
Edgar Hardcastle

Moscow Turns a New Somersault and Mr. Pollitt Holds the Baby (1939)

From the November 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is many years since a prominent English Communist fell a victim to the acrobatic changes in Communist Party policy. Some years ago J. T. Murphy walked the plank and fell. He resigned, but his resignation was refused on the grounds that working-class parties do not accept resignations. His deviation was duly and gravely considered by the Executive Committee of the Communist Party and he was expelled.

And now Mr. Pollitt has fallen from grace. True he has not been expelled, nor has he resigned. In this connection the Daily Worker (October 12th, 1936) puts the matter very nicely: “There is no truth in the suggestion that Harry Pollitt has resigned from the Communist Party. In view of the differences of opinion which were expressed during the discussion (on the question of continuing the war), the Central Committee decided that Harry Pollitt should not continue as General Secretary, but should undertake other duties for the Party.” Despite a weak attempt to obscure the facts, Mr. Pollitt is obviously a casualty of the polite English equivalent of the Russian purge. Mr. Pollitt’s name was associated more publicly with the recent peace-front and anti-Nazi line than any other Communist. Without warning Moscow decided on a change of policy. To put some sort of face on the change, Mr. Pollitt has been liquidated. A short while ago the first hint of a change in Russian foreign policy came when Litvinoff was removed from his position of Commissar for Foreign Affairs in the Russian Government. The uninitiated may be puzzled by the procedure. It is, nevertheless, a way they have where the dictatorship ideology prevails. Unlike countries where democratic institutions exist, the machinery of dictatorial government provides few means of escape from situations like this.

For many years Mr. Pollitt has been the most outstanding and popular personality in the Communist Party, loyal to every change in policy. He was the loudspeaker which faithfully relayed Moscow. No matter how much the line changed Mr. Pollitt could always put over those changes with sufficient adroitness to make black appear white, and white appear black. Though, of course, constant changes in policy could not fail to promote skill in this direction. And what changes there were! One week the “line” was, support the Labour Party, the next, oppose it. One day the “line” was to treat the Labour Party like well-meaning, but mistaken, brothers in a common cause, and the next to refer to the erstwhile brethren as “traitors,” “Social-Fascists,” “renegades,” “capitalist hacks,” etc., and etc. Had the Vicar of Bray known our modern professional Communists he surely would have acquired rapid promotion to the Archbishopric of Canterbury! And yet even the Communist Party has met a situation which now taxes its ingenuity in finding plausible explanations to satisfy its followers. And this time it is no ordinary somersault. Previous changes in policy have been relatively harmless. have had no worse effect than to provide entertainment for the sophisticated. But the present is the somersault of somersaults. It is supreme in its cynicism, trickery and double-dealing. Communist Party supporters have been as severely shaken as the self-righteous equanimity of the official elements.

The policy of the Communist Party in this country and elsewhere has always been subject to the dictates of Moscow. Of recent years it has been along lines which the present ruling clique in Russia considered to be in conformity with Russia’s trading interests. The desertion by Russia of the traditional policy of isolation and the joining of the League of Nations placed the Communist Party in the position of having to turn its back on about fifteen years of anti-capitalist and anti-League propaganda. It was embarrassing, but not beyond their resourcefulness. The results have now come home to roost. Russia’s need and desire for position and prestige in the international trading and political world were the mainsprings that pressed her on. The necessities of the game soon found her supporting one Power or group of Powers as against another Power or group. And the Communist Party soon found that it not only had to support the League of Nations, but what it really stood for: the political dominance in Europe of the Powers that dominated the League, Great Britain and France. And so the Communist Party, which never practises half-measures, were soon the loudest in demanding the logical application of League principles. Hence its demand for military sanctions against Italy and the closing of the Suez Canal during the Abyssinian War. When the influence of the League waned they came out openly in support of an alliance between the “peace-loving” Powers against the “aggressors.” In domestic politics this resulted in the demand for the popular front, which became a plank in Communist Party programmes, even as far afield as the United States. The Popular Front was to include “progressives” of all parties, that is, all those who agreed with the Communist Party and their methods of “standing up to the aggressors.” They roundly abused Chamberlain for even negotiating with the untouchable Hitler. The effect on Communist Party propaganda was not without its amusing side. The hammer and sickle and the slogan, “Workers of the World, Unite,” disappeared from the front page of the Daily Worker. The customary violent and flamboyant abuse vanished and the “traitors” became “statesmen.” Tories, duchesses, bishops, and Communists appeared together at public meetings in support of the new policy, and cooed at each other like old maids at a christening party.

And now it has all ended, suddenly and without warning. Even the wily political variety artists at Communist headquarters have been caught napping. The Russian Government changed its mind and deserted the Allied group of capitalist Powers in favour of Germany. The Nazi and Soviet gentlemen have arranged a truce in the war of loathing and abuse which they have hurled at each other for years, and ingenuous Communists have now had the pleasure of gazing in rapture at the Press pictures of Stalin and Ribbentrop smiling sweetly into each other’s eyes. Whereas the old policy expressed itself in demands for self-determination for small nations, e.g., Czecho-Slovakia, Spain, Austria, and so on, the new one has to approve the agreement to carve up Poland and to square the “self-determination” propaganda with Russia’s efforts to acquire dominance over small nations like Latvia, Estonia and Finland, an effort which she pursued with the familiar Nazi technique of placing an army on the borders of those countries. Military force, the last word in capitalist argument, will decide the issue when Russia seeks to “protect” little nations, not conferences which will discuss democratically the “rights” of “self-determination.”

But does the Communist Party eat its words? Does it come before the workers in humble repentance for the criminal hoax which it has perpetrated upon them in the name of Marx and revolutionary traditions? Do they—do they hell! In the words of many a humble stumper of earlier and more honest days, when less of the bourgeois accent was heard from the Communist platform—not bloody likely! The Communist Party has subtler methods. Witness a statement issued by the Central Committee which appeared in the Daily Worker (October 12th). It says: —
The manifesto of October 7th corrects the declaration issued on September 2nd. The present war is not a just war, but an unjust and imperialist war. . . .
A few strokes of the pen and the tearing, raging, democratic (pro-British, pro-French), anti-Nazi (German) propaganda has been wiped out. Only the Catholic Church could equal this easy wiping away of past sins. Note that the “Manifesto of October 7th corrects the declaration of September 2nd.” A three years orgy of high-pressure propaganda in all branches of Communist activity is a little error, made on September 2nd, and corrected on October 7th. Could chicanery go further? Just a little. Read on: “In view of the differences of opinion . . . the Central Committee decided that Harry should not continue as General Secretary.”

Get the implication? It was Harry Pollitt’s error which stood to be corrected. It was Pollitt who wrote the pamphlet, “How to Win the War,” which has proved awkward for Moscow and the Communists. In it Pollitt wrote: —
  “The Communist Party supports the war, believing it to be a just war, which should be supported by the whole working class and all friends of democracy. . . . To stand aside from this conflict, to contribute only revolutionary-sounding phrases while the Fascist beasts ride roughshod over Europe, would be a betrayal of everything our forbears have fought to achieve in the course of long years of struggle with capitalism.

  The British workers are in this war to defeat Hitler, for a German victory would mean that Fascism would be imposed on the defeated countries. If there is one thing that is certain, it is this, that the British working class detests Fascism, as it does those who in Britain have helped to strengthen it, and is determined to do everything in its power to bring about the defeat of Fascism and that of its supporters in Britain. Therefore it will do everything it can to bring the war to a speedy conclusion, but only by the defeat and destruction of Hitler and the Nazi rule from which the German people have been suffering for six years.”
But Pollitt wrote what every Communist journalist has been writing and working up to for years, what every paid and unpaid speaker has been expounding. He wrote what was strictly in accordance with the policy dictated by the Russian Government and in line with their interests. Now he has slipped—in short, he has been left holding the baby. Could anything more expose the whole make-believe of leadership and dictatorship?

But the Communist Party now says that the war is an imperialist war, and cries for peace. Shall we, then, be soft in our judgment and give praise? Pause, friend, and think. The Communist Party has had no change of heart; it has merely obeyed the College of Cardinals at Moscow. In doing so it has been true to its traditions and its paymasters. And when Moscow calls again it will obey. And if later it appears to be in line with Russia’s interests to make a deal with the “democracies,” then the Communist Party will experience another change of heart. The “just war” which became an “unjust war” by the simple process of the Daily Worker issuing a decree on October 7th, will again become a “just war.” The suppression of objective truth, the sycophantic flattery of representatives of the capitalists will re-appear. Watch carefully the peaceful Communist Party. The honest pacifist commands our respect. The purely professional, time-serving politician, our contempt.

But—it is an ill wind that blows no good. The case that we have stuck to for twenty years has again been justified by events. At the time of the Russian upheaval, and since, we have consistently maintained that Russia had to develop along capitalist lines. It has done so, and the history of the last twenty years, culminating in the present position, proves our case right up to the hilt. After futile attempts at isolation, Russia was compelled by her own economic development to enter the international competitive markets and into commercial and political relations with the rest of the capitalist world. Its foreign policy reflected the needs of its position in the international market. Ten years ago W. N. Ewer brought upon his head the opprobrium of some of the Labour and Communist Press because of an article he wrote in the Communist Labour Monthly, in which he made out the case that Russia’s foreign policy was a continuation of the foreign policy of the Czarist Government. Mr. Palme Dutt later had to publish a repudiation of the article in response to the official demand of the Communist Party. Russia’s subsequent development has shown a still further acceleration of the process to which Ewer drew attention. By whatever name the Communists like to call Russian efforts to achieve political and commercial dominance in China, and of similar efforts in S.E. Europe, they are, for those who understand, different only in degree from what has always been condemned by the Communists as imperialism. To-day the Soviet Government and its agents might give another name, but they cannot alter its essentially capitalist character. Russia’s foreign policy expresses needs which are governed by her position in the competitive cockpit of international markets, her need for markets and trade routes, and the acquisition of territories for dominance, or influence. Where the economic urge drives, pretty names will not alter the fact that this is the very thing that the Communists have been pretending to denounce for about twenty years.

The workers must face the fact that the Communist movement throughout the world is tied to the Russian Government; it cannot, dare not, consider the merits of any policy in the light of what ‘is in line with working-class interests. The Communist movement owes its first loyalty to Moscow. What is best in working-class interests is secondary, even if it is ever considered at all.

This is the lesson of events which Communists throughout the world must accept or, in default, mesmerise themselves into mental paralysis.
Harry Waite