Friday, April 2, 2021

The Miners’ Problem (1942)

From the April 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

On all sides are heard the suggestions that to win the war it is necessary to emulate the system of German “total” organisation. The New Statesman carries a leading article (March 21st) dealing with the coal question, and among other things it says—
  “The mood of the men has been, and still is, desperate and embittered; they agreed when war came to suspend the class struggle—but the root of the trouble is psychological. The owners who spoke in the debate drove home their case against the men on the score of absenteeism. The men on their side have a devastating answer.
   It is a frequent, and may be, in some coalfields, a general practice, to work the worst seams during the war in order to conserve the richer seams for the unchecked and unlimited exploitation to which owners look forward—when peace returns.
   Here rather than in any lack of military talent lies our inferiority to the totalitarian regimes. Two things are necessary, the first is to banish the profit motive from the pit; the second is to associate the men in its management. The only way to achieve these ends is to bring the industry under national ownership.”
Some of the difficulties of management that the writer speaks about with regard to individual ownership could be solved by State control, but management by Government experts, with an eye for efficiency—the owners being bought off with Government bonds—does not imply the end of the profit motive.

The miners would still be paid an “economic wage,” with the probability of their bargaining power for higher wages being curtailed. The wages question would have very little chance of being discussed in any “association in the management” that was set up. Assuming that no major change takes place in society—a fair assumption—the industry will have to face the problem of competition of foreign producers after the war, when the Government, acting as owner, would be forced to use all the usual owner methods—cutting costs by lowering wages to pay the bondholders. Credit must be given to the New Statesman for not calling this arrangement that it proposes by the title of Socialism, but not so “Cameronian” in Reynolds’ News (March 22nd), who, dealing with the same subject, puts it like this: —
  "Sir William Beveridge, in the august columns of “The Times,” has sounded a clarion call for Socialism to beat the Nazis. We must nationalise the national income, he says. We must recognise the fact—so frequently expressed in this column—”that bribery by price or wage is often an ineffective spur to output.” Now that the case for Socialism has found such a spokesman on such a platform, is it too much to expect that it will be given voice by Labour Ministers in the Cabinet Room of 10 Downing Street?”
Sir William’s voice, we might inform “Cameronian,” would be a mere addition to all that collection called the “left” which sees nothing wrong with a “Socialism” that has for its ingredients State control of industry coupled with the wages system, with the erstwhile owners sitting pretty waiting for the period to come round for the pleasure of collecting the State dividend.

For ourselves, it appears that we are still the only Party of the working class that holds that Socialism means a complete change of society economically—yes, and in outlook too; for common ownership of wealth and its democratic control will produce a different man, who will need no bribe to induce him to work, who will adhere to the ethic that he gives his all in a society that has neither owners, nor wages, to buy him, where the spur to output is his and society’s welfare.

Socialism and Anarchism - Part 2 (1942)

From the April 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Syndicalist writings are obscure regarding the economic implications of Syndicalism. It is not always clear whether it is understood to involve the abolition of the wages system, or what such abolition means even when it is advocated by the Syndicalists. Other aspects of Syndicalist teaching are just as obscure. The following quotation from War Commentary (mid-March), an Anarchist journal, illustrated the point. The writer asks, “Can we do without capital?” and answers: —
  It depends largely on what is meant by capital. What should be clear to all is that to make or produce anything at all, only human energy plus nature is required. Therefore it is true to say that the worker produces everything. That being true, there is no need for a master at all. Who will do the “thinking out” and the organisation? That question is easy. It will be done by the workers, the very people who do it now.
It is true, of course, that things can only be produced by the application of human energy to nature given material; that, economically, the workers produce everything; and that there is no need “for a master at all.” But recognition of these simple fundamentals does not make the Socialist, if there is an absence of scientific deduction from them. To put it mildly, it is not clear from the subsequent development of his argument what the writer’s deductions are. However, for the moment should be noted his own answer to the question, “Can we do without capital?” Notice the answer: “It depends largely what is meant by capital.” Risking the charge of carping criticism it might be suggested that those who oppose the capitalist system of production ought to know what capital is. We will restate what has been defined many thousands of times. Capital is wealth used to produce further wealth for profit. When, in Socialist society, things are produced for use alone the means and instruments of production will have ceased to function as capital. This is no mere word jugglery. Uncertainty or unsoundneses concerning the nature of the capitalist world we live in leads to false conclusions and reformism and makes revolutionary phrases mere jargon. The writer concludes his article with the following four points which he suggests should be should be kept present in workers’ minds: —
  1. That before the workers can be free, the boss must go.
  2. That the boss will go when the workers organise to take from him the fields, mines, factories, transport, etc.
  3. That these things can be taken by organisation at the point of production and “locking out the boss” from all industry.
  4. That in order to keep a workers’ delegate within the ranks of the workers, see to it that the wages he is paid do not exceed the wage he would draw while at work in industry and that every delegate be subject to 24 hours’ notice, must have worked in industry for 12 months preceding his appointment, to come up for re-election every 12 months, and in no circumstances hold office for more than three years in succession. Such ruling will encourage workers to become fit for the work of delegate because so many will be required and none will decay ‘into permanent officialdom. ”
It is perhaps not surprising that the fourth point indicates the continuance of the wages system. If this is not what is meant then it means nothing. The four points contain two proposals dear to the heart of the Syndicalist: “locking out the boss,” and workers’ control. It does not strike the Syndicalist as curious that the workers, who are quick to learn from experience, to sense the weaknesses of capitalism and exploit them to their advantage, have not learned how simple is it to “lock out the boss” and take over the control of industry for themselves. They have not learned because experience has taught the workers what the Syndicalists choose (or pretend) to ignore, the enormous power of the State machine. If State power had never existed (a fantastic assumption !) the workers would have discovered the consequent weakness of the position of the capitalist class long before the Syndicalists appeared to tell them about it. The idea that workers can “take and hold” industry by ignoring State power, or in defiance of it, is basically a hoary Anarchist doctrine. It is fantastic, dangerous, and nonsense. An example of the “take and hold” principle by the Anarchists and Syndicalists occurred, it is claimed, during the Spanish Civil War. The real point to remember in this connection is that whatever success the Syndicalists had was whilst the State machine was controlled by the Republican Government, who had need of the support of the Anarchists. When the control of the State machine passed to Franco the take and holders passed out despite their claim to have millions of followers. The factories were not held against the State. The party holding State power decided the fate of the Anarchists and Syndicalists. This was true in Spain. It would be even more true in countries like Great Britain and the U.S.A., where the State power and the administrative machinery is much more highly centralised and where there is a clearer recognition of that power among the workers. It is not accidental that Anarchism has arisen where there exist semi-mediaeval conditions. Indeed, in a country like Spain where conditions parallel an historical phase through which most developed capitalist countries have passed, Anarchism could (and did) have a particular appeal. Where “kicking out the boss” and “take and hold” means eliminating the large secular and clerical landowner and the sharing of the land among the peasants, the abolition of feudal obligations to the landowning class and other burdens suffered by the peasantry, it appears to promise an immediate solution for the social problems of the peasant: a promise which is entirely lost on the industrial worker in the more advanced capitalist countries because of the different social and economic conditions in which he lives.

Anarchism is a philosophy bred in the days of working class immaturity. Its horizon has never shown any real understanding of the nature of man’s relationship to society or of capitalism to history. The extent of its economic proposals whenever it spared the time from its fervent propaganda for “freedom,” “justice,” etc., never went beyond property for all and “fair prices” and fair exchange (Proudhon—still the “father of Anarchists” even to the modern Anarchists). The modern Anarchist movement seems to have learned nothing in the past half-century, and the Syndicalist movement but little. Rudolf Rocker (a well-informed living Anarchist), in his book, “Anarcho-Syndicalism,” does not attempt to refute any of the older doctrines of Anarchism, nor does he indicate that he does anything but accept them. In it he informs his reader that Proudhon was “no Communist,” and that he condemned property as merely the privilege of exploitation, but he recognised the ownership of the instruments of labour by all . . .” (p. 15). Rocker also claims (p. 23): “Anarchism has in common with Liberalism the idea that the happiness and prosperity of the individual must be the standard in all social matters. And, in common with the great representatives of Liberal thought, it has also the idea of limiting the functions of government to a minimum” (!). It is true that “Liberal thought” had a traditional antipathy to the State. But the “freedom” which assumed so large an aspect in its philosophy would deceive no informed worker. It meant no more than a resentment against State interference (when children of tender years worked in the factories and mines) and the freedom to exploit workers without interference. Such are the superficialities of Anarchist philosophy. According to The Word (March, 1942) Rudolph Rocker is now writing in defence of the British Empire. He follows Kropotkin, who supported Czarist Russia in its war against Germany, 1914/18. Knowing the basic unsoundness of Anarchism these inconsistencies do not shock the Socialist. Many less experienced workers, however, are likely to be misled by the “revolutionary” jargon and the high-moral language of Anarchist writings. A little careful thought will save subsequent and painful disillusionment.

The fervour and fury of Anarchist propaganda signifies nothing. Little different could be said of the Anarchists to-day than Plechanoff said of Stirner’s “League of Egoists” yesterday—”the Utopia of a petty bourgeois in revolt.”

Socialism and Anarchism have nothing in common.
Harry Waite

Post War Trade. Another Scheme to Save Capitalism (1942)

From the April 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

In an article, “World Trade after the War,” a special correspondent of the Times (March 24th and 25th) discusses ways and means of finding work and markets for the highly industrialised countries and thus avoiding a post-war slump when the armament industries come to a standstill. He sees the problem as one of undeveloped countries which will need the help of industrialised countries but are unable to pay for that help. In accordance with the theory of pre-war capitalism such countries could raise loans and use the money to buy machinery, railway plant, etc., and thus build up their own industries, but this failed to work. The countries which had borrowed the money could only repay the interest and capital by exporting goods to the lender countries, but the lender countries used tariffs to keep out imports which competed with home industries. How, asks the writer of the article, is this to be avoided in future? He propounds a scheme under which, through international agreement between the great Powers, surplus products of the industrialised countries would “not be dumped on the market or destroyed to keep up prices” but “would be taken over by a world development committee which would use them to satisfy the needs and promote the development of countries unable to buy them at commercial prices. This committee would be financed by a small percentage levy on the commercial sales, a kind of premium paid by the producers in return for the stability of markets and prices they would enjoy. By developing backward countries, equipping them with roads, railways, and agricultural and other machinery it would open up both new sources of supplies and new markets, and would raise the standard of living all over the world.”

The writer evidently believes that he has discovered some new and revolutionary principle which will solve the problem, when all he has suggested is in fact a slight change in the method by which the capitalist world has worked in the past. Apart from the international committee and the “small levy,” how does his scheme differ from the past practice under which loans have been made to undeveloped countries? The only real difference is the notion of evening things out and achieving some stability. And what will happen to this international scheme and its stability when the undeveloped countries get going and pour out the products of their new agriculture, new mines and new factories on to the world market? The result will be precisely what it was before, and in the ensuing scramble the Powers which dominate the scheme will find themselves in a life and death struggle with challenging Powers, among them the newly developed countries.

The underlying fallacy of the writer’s approach to the problem can be seen from his way of presenting the problem. He writes, for example, about the possibility of undertaking great electrical and irrigation works in undeveloped areas: —
  There is certainly room in China, in the Balkans, and indeed all over the world for innumerable Tennessee Valleys, which would give ample employment to the engineering capacity now employed in war work, and thus solve one of the great problems of the transition from war to peace.
Now why does a writer sitting in Printing House Square, E.C.4, have to cast his eyes on China and the Balkans and all over the world? Why doesn’t he look around him at the abject poverty, slums, and under-nourishment hardly a stone’s throw away from him, just across the river at the Borough and Bermondsey, or northwards to Clerkenwell? Why doesn’t the organ of Banks and City Financiers think of lending a few hundred million pounds to British workers on its doorstep, who, like the Chinese and the peoples of the Balkans, “are unable to buy … at commercial prices”? Why, indeed? for the capitalist is not and will not be concerned with the problem of producing goods solely for the use of those who need them but only with the problem of making a profit. It is possible to think of loans to a Government in China coming back with a nice addition of profit (even if the history of foreign lending is often a story of default and loss), but the Times writer, even without considering the question, feels instinctively that there is a catch in the idea of lending millions to the workers of Bermondsey. He knows at once that money thus transferred from the British capitalist to the British worker is dead loss to the former and the end of the wages system, the end of profit, in short, the end of everything that makes capitalism worth while to the capitalist.

The Times writer, like every other defender of capitalist privilege, will do everything that can be done to solve the poverty problem except abolish its cause, the capitalist system.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Socialist Parties of New Zealand and Australia (1942)

Party News from the April 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard 

War-time restrictions in New Zealand make it impossible for our companion party in that dominion to conduct its normal propaganda activity for Socialism.

The operation of the “Public Safety Emergency Regulations” imposes so many conditions under which a public meeting may be held, as to virtually ban this medium of propaganda to small working class organisations such as the Socialist Party of New Zealand. It is likewise with regard to the publication of literature.

In view of the above circumstances, it is surprising gratifying to the S.P.G.B. to learn that the S.P. of N.Z. is not only maintaining its organisation firmly in being, but is making every endeavour by means of classes and study groups to develop speakers and writers who will play their part in the inevitable expansion of the Party in the post-war years.

The most recent letters from the Wellington and Auckland branches reveal that the Party is in good shape; literature sales, particularly those of the Socialist Standard and The Western Socialist continue to increase, and the demand for S.P.G.B. pamphlets exceeds the supplies which we are able to send to them.

S.P. of Australia

Restrictions on the holding of public meetings, etc., in Australia, do not appear to be as severe as those obtaining in New Zealand. Nevertheless; the Socialist Party of Australia is finding the task of propagating Socialism far from easy. This is due to a variety of reasons, the main ones being that most members of the working class there are apathetic to the Socialist message, and retain a blind faith in Labourism, and the Labour Government. Long working hours resulting from the intensification of the “war effort” leave others with but little time for the study of Socialism.

Despite these unfavourable conditions, the S.P. of A. is maintaining its organisation in much the same way as the S.P, of N.Z. Information reaching us from Melbourne and Sydney reveals that branches are meeting regularly, and that they avail themselves of every opportunity to strengthen and extend the Party’s influence.

The Socialist Standard has many readers in Australasia. Those who desire to assist the growth of the Socialist movement in the Southern Hemisphere are urged to contact our companion parties. The addresses of the headquarters of each party may be found elsewhere in this journal.
H. G. Holt,
Overseas Secretary, S.P.G.B. 
March, 1942.

The S.L.P. again (1942)

From the April 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Under the heading, “A Study in Shuffling,” the Socialist, organ of the S.L.P., in its March issue returns to the question of the part played by S.L.P. members in the formation of the Communist Party in 1920. (See the Socialist Standard for October, 1941, and January, 1942.)

They first objected, quite rightly, to a statement made in our columns that the S.L.P. was fused in the Communist Party in 1920. They asked for our apology and got it. We had asked whether they accepted the statement of a Communist writer that “the main part of the S.L.P.” went into the Communist Party? We also set against their claim that they had never “fused, united, federated, nor anything of the sort, with any party whatsoever” the fact that not long before the time when the B.S.P. was mainly instrumental in forming the Communist Party the S.L.P. had been willing to issue a joint manifesto with the B.S.P. and I.L.P.

This has drawn another wild and angry rejoinder which ignores the first question entirely, scornfully rejects the apology which had previously been clamoured for, and asks whether we wished to insinuate that their willingness to sign that joint manifesto constituted a betrayal of any of the S.L.P.’s principles or a violation of loyalty to revolutionary Socialism. To the latter question our reply is that the I.L.P. and B.S.P. would have been strange associates for any body claiming to represent revolutionary Socialism, but that it is for the S.L.P. not anybody else to decide whether association with such parties was or was not a violation of any principle of the S.L.P. Apparently not feeling too happy about its own action in 1918 the Socialist retorts by referring to something which happened in the S.P.G.B. twelve or thirteen years earlier. This was that the S.P.G.B., just after its formation in June, 1904, sent delegates to the Amsterdam International Congress, but under the rules of that body they found that they would only be admitted as part of the British delegation along with the S.D.F., I.L.P., etc., and not as a separate body. The Socialist does not add that when this position was considered by the Conference of the S.P.G.B. it was decided first to try to alter the constitution of the International so that only genuinely Socialist parties would be accepted, and as this effort failed the S.P.G.B. Conference in 1907 decided that no S.P.G.B. delegates be sent.

It will be noticed that this was a problem faced by the S.P.G.B. at its formation, and dealt with when it was found that the International was not prepared to alter its constitution to include only Socialist parties. The Socialist quotes this in order to excuse an S.L.P. policy of associating with the B.S.P. and I.L.P. which was still their policy after they had been in existence sixteen years. Perhaps this is why the Socialist, when mentioning the S.P.G.B.’s relationship with the Amsterdam Congress, omits to give the date, 1904.

Mention has already been made of the fact that the Socialist prefers to ignore the question whether the main part of its members went into the Communist Party. Instead, they find room in their statement, which runs to about 1,200 words, for more references to our sincerity. They say: —
  Finally, we reject the apologies of “The Socialist Standard” for the publication of their misrepresentation because their entire conduct and attitude in the matter has convinced us of their complete insincerity. Their shuffling and their obvious desire to rake up anything they think likely to cast mud upon the S.L.P. forces us to the conclusion that they knew from the first that the S.L.P. had nothing to do with the formation of the Communist Party, and that their claim to be ignorant in the matter is not sincere.
Unfortunately for the heated writer of the statement in the Socialist, he forgets what he wrote earlier. His first claim was that we knew the facts and had lied deliberately with intent to deceive. Then to suit another argument he altered his ground and accused as of making the statement “without knowing the facts.” Now he is back to the original accusation for which, in the nature of the case, he could have no justification in any event.
Ed. Comm.

Correspondence: The S.P.G.B. and electors (1942)

From the April 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard 

A correspondent (A. E. Page, Finsbury Park) asks why the S.P.G.B. does not contest elections.
  “I have supported the Labour Party in the past, because I felt that they were the most powerful party that could bring about reform in our time, and in the right direction, that direction being towards Socialism, and because your party does not appear to stand at elections. How can your movement grow if you do not actively attempt to obtain power in this way?”
Our correspondent is wrong in thinking that the S.P.G.B. does not want to contest elections. It is not lack of will but lack of Socialists that decides the question. Until the number of Socialists is large enough it is not practicable to run candidates at Parliamentary elections owing to the fact that a deposit of £150 has to be paid in before the election and is forfeited if the candidate fails to poll one-eighth of the votes cast. It is true that we might hope to surmount this barrier if we were prepared to solicit donations and votes by the promise to support a programme of reforms of capitalism, but that way does not lead to Socialism.

Press cuttings (1942)

From the April 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Men and Horses

“Peterborough,” writing in the Daily Telegraph on Captain Margesson, who until recently was Secretary of State for War: —
  “Handling men seemed to come naturally to the old cavalry officer trained to handle horses.”—(Daily Telegraph, March 28th, 1942.)

* * *

Don’t Travel by Rail

“Trainers will welcome the decision to lift the ban on the transport of horses to meetings by rail from the opening of the flat-racing season on April 14th.”—(Daily Telegraph, March 18th, 1942.)

* * *

Piety and Beggary in Moscow

“As evidence that nobody hindered worshippers, I can say that the newspaper queue was nearly 100 yards long that day, and not one person in the queue even turned the head as I and others broke through it to enter the Bogoyavlensky Cathedral. It was only the beggars, the lame, the halt, and the blind, mewling their woes and thanks, who paid any attention.”— (From an article, “Moscow Crowds fill the Churches,” by Negley Farson, Daily Mail Moscow correspondent, February 28th, 1942.)

Party News (2008)

Party News from the April 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party will be contesting one seat in the elections to the Greater London Assembly on Thursday 1 May, the same day as the election for the mayor of London. The seat is Lambeth & Southwark and our candidate will be Danny Lambert. This is the constituency in which our Head Office is situated. Members and sympathisers who wish to help distribute our election leaflets, please contact the Election Dept at 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 7UN or phone 0207 622 3811 or email

Kosovo: Open for business (2008)

From the April 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard
Kosovo became an independent state in February and was immediately recognised by the US and most European countries. We look at one of the reasons why.
Kosovo emerged as an independent State after decades of uneasy existence as part of Serbia. There was an inevitable new anthem and new flag.  But there are real political concerns best not forgotten in the ballyhoo and hopes for a brighter future. 

One man interviewed by the BBC’s Mark Mardell described how during the war he fled his village with many relatives under attack by Serbian troops. He had to leave his aunt behind and she was burnt to death. He said: “Kosovo is rich in minerals and rich in farming land, is rich in all other aspects. Here, we provided wealth for so many years for the whole of Yugoslavia, there is no reason why we cannot provide now for just Kosovo. That’s why I’m saying Kosovo has a bright future.” (Mark Mardell’s Euroblog: ‘Mining Kosovo’s Future’  29 January)

Alongside the declared humanitarian reasons for the UN intervention in the Balkans in the 1990s there were other, economic and political, considerations also in play. It is these interests that will shape future developments in the states of the former Yugoslavia and dominate the lives of workers there.

The New York Times (8 July 1999) carried an article by Chris Hedges about the Stari Trg mining complex in Trepca, Kosovo. Possibly inadvertently, it gave an insight into some of the  considerations that surrounded the decision to intervene. According to Hedges, “The sprawling state-owned Trepca mining complex, the most valuable piece of real estate in the Balkans, is worth at least $5 billion.”

It was the reported view of the mine’s director, Novak Bjelic, that “The war in Kosovo is about the mines, nothing else. This is Serbia’s Kuwait – the heart of Kosovo. In addition to all this, Kosovo has 17 billion tons of coal reserves.” The Yugoslav web site (now defunct) described Trepca as having the “richest lead and zinc mines in Europe.” The capacity of the lead and zinc refineries ranked third in the world and the area as a whole represented some 80% of Yugoslavia’s mineral deposits. The problem was they were old and inefficient and seriously polluting.

According to Michael Palairet of the University of Edinburgh, a leading authority on the economic and social history of the Balkans,
  “The Trepca system ‘as a rule’ lost money under Yugoslav socialism … Because of Trepca’s incapacity to generate funding of its own for investment, all investment funding had to be financed externally, by fund providers who did not anticipate that they would see any return on (or of) their capital.” In his opinion the $5bn figure quoted by Hedges above was exaggerated. However while Trepca consistently performed poorly, this was not because it could not have been managed more effectively: “Unlike most heavy industry… Trepca had good mining assets and low cost access to energy, so on the face of things there were no structural reasons for its inability to trade profitably.” (European Stability Initiative)
Further insight may be gained into the economic underpinnings of the UN intervention from a report by the International Crisis Group. The report is interesting in that it provides further evidence that the breakup of the former Yugoslavia was in large part motivated by conflicting economic interests. The various regions of the Federal Republic had fallen out over how their assets and liabilities were to be divided and allocated. The differences were long standing and could not be resolved peacefully. In other words it was a fight among competing capitalists interests. One of these interests lay in Kosovo – the supposed “heartland of Serb identity.”
 “Trepca is a sprawling conglomerate of some 40 mines and factories, located mostly in Kosovo … Its great mineral wealth is the basis of the economy of Kosovo, but the complex is badly run-down as a result of under-investment and over-exploitation by governments in Belgrade.” (Trepca: Making Sense of the Labyrinth (ICG Europe Report N°82, 26 November 1999) )
In 1974 Tito’s new constitution accorded the province near-republic status, with its own parliament and courts, Kosovo elites enjoyed a period of greatly increased control over their own resources. They used their enhanced authority to build factories in Kosovo that capitalised on their mineral production, created thousands of jobs, and brought some income into the province.

After Tito’s death, pressure grew for more rights and greater political and economic autonomy, but with little success. Belgrade reasserted control of the mines.  Kosovo Albanian workers were accused of having stolen vast quantities of gold and silver and many engineers and technicians were fired.
  “From 1981-89, Belgrade monopolised the export of Trepca’s minerals to Russia and elsewhere, reaping the profits in hard currency and oil, while compensating the Kosovars only with electricity and other non-fungible forms of payment.…
  Trepca’s Kosovar management attempted to sell its products on the European market and to modernise the facilities’ modes of production, only to be foiled time and again by the Serbian government, which was in the process of “integrating” Serbia’s economy – that is, of tethering all economic sectors even more closely to Belgrade.
  By the late 1980s, with the final integration into the Serbian system of the power generating system, Kosovars had lost virtually all control over their economy, as they would over their politics and civic freedoms.” (Trepca: Making Sense of the Labyrinth (ICG))
In 1996 Trepca had exported $100 million of products, making it the largest exporting company in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and an invaluable foreign exchange earner at a time when the country was experiencing grave economic difficulties.

Throughout the 1990s the ownership of Trepca conglomerate was never entirely clear. In November 1997 Trepca was under consideration for privatisation by the federal government in Belgrade. This process stalled when the ‘red businessman’ Zoran Todorovic, was murdered by a gunman in Belgrade. Todorovic had been a close confidant of Slobodan Milosevic and was one of the richest men in Yugoslavia.  He was one of a group of state capitalists who had been able to use their political connections to purchase state assets at bargain prices. (He was also director of Beopetrol, another state firm in the process of being privatized.) This was in effect a conversion of state owned assets into de facto privately owned ones by the ruling capitalist class.

Officials of the UN Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), who took over governing Kosovo in 1999 after the withdrawal of Serbian troops, concluded  that the complex was overall public property and therefore came under their authority in accordance with its mandate. The then head of UNMIK, Bernard Kouchner (now French Foreign Minister), confirmed that an international consortium had been appointed to run the plant. A $16m (£10.7m) investment package was also announced, funded by Britain, France, Spain, Germany, and the EU. The money was to be spent on a full-scale refurbishment of the plant prior to it being sold off.  “We have no intention of closing any part of the Trepca mining complex. On the contrary, we’re going to make it safe and profitable.” he said. (The Guardian, 15 August 2000)

But it was not only the mines that capitalist interests had their eyes on. In July 2000 it was announced that a fund run by the billionaire George Soros was to invest $150 million (most backed by U.S. guarantees) in companies in the Balkans. Soros Fund Management would invest $50 million of it own equity in new businesses, expansions or privatization in the region and would have full autonomy to choose the investments in a whole swathe of South East Europe. Soros had invested millions of dollars in philanthropic endeavors in the region, but said this fund would practice “tough love,” and be driven purely by profit.

The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation had agreed to provide a loan guarantee for another $100 million of investments. OPIC describes itself as a self-sustaining federal agency that sells investment services to American businesses expanding into emerging markets around the world. It provides a level playing field for U.S. businesses in emerging economies.

“Since 1971, OPIC has supported nearly $130 billion worth of investments that will generate over $61 billion in U.S. exports.” (Dead Link.)

The Soros investment was conceived at a “donor” conference in Sarajevo in 1999. It was one of a series of efforts to take advantage of emerging investment opportunities in the Balkans. “A year ago, after NATO won the war in Kosovo, more than 40 leaders came together in Sarajevo determined to win the peace with economic investments”, according to National Security Advisor Samuel M. Berger.

George Munoz President and CEO of OPIC said he was pleased that they were making the region safe for international capital. It was a demonstration that “Southeast Europe is an important region on which we should focus our efforts, to enable it to rebuild and enter the global marketplace as a full partner. The Southeast Europe Equity Fund is an ideal vehicle to connect American institutional capital with European entrepreneurs eager to help Americans tap their growing markets.”

The Soros Private Funds Management, he said, was sending “ a strong, positive signal that Southeast Europe is open for business.”
Gwynn Thomas

Obituary: Jean Higdon (2008)

Obituary from the April 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Jean Higdon 1934-2007

Jean’s secular send-off was attended by fifty of her family, friends and party members.

Of those who were invited to speak on Jean’s life were her son, Jon, who spoke of Jean’s dedication as a mother; Mike Lee, Chairman of the Auckland Regional Local Bodies’ Council, who briefly outlined Jean’s socialist thinking (production of use, not for sale); and Jean’s neighbour whose fractious child was always comforted by Jean’s pleasant manner, and a party member whose galloping rhetoric brought smiles to what might have been a sombre occasion. Said he, “none of those parasitic bastards in Buckingham Palace, the White House or the Kremlin would be tall enough to polish the shoes of Jean Higdon!”

Jean was for many years secretary of the Auckland Branch of the WSPNZ, taking lengthy notes of the discussions we had, and typed out the minutes almost verbatim.

Jean was responsible for the layout of the party journal, The Socialist Review, from 1971 till 1982 when it folded because we couldn’t find any writers. Jean was also a sometime parliamentary candidate for Auckland Central on the socialist ticket, and with her late husband made a vital contribution to spreading the socialist case in new Zealand.

They are both remembered for their humanity and generosity of spirit.

Our condolences go to Jean’s family.
Executive Committee, WSPNZ, 8 February 2008

Manufacturing Britishness (2008)

From the April 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard
Getting school leavers to swear allegiance to the Queen, what’s it all about?
Gordon Brown now appears to believe that, like Candyman, if you say “Britishness, Britishness, Britishness” in a mirror, it will come to get you.  At least, that’s how it seems with the outpourings of his government.  Of course, in his report, Lord Goodman was merely suggesting that all school leavers get to have a citizenship ceremony, in which they might swear true and lasting allegiance to Queen and country – it isn’t policy (yet).  Even if that small part of the report was spun to make the headlines, all that team Brown are doing is floating an idea, to see if it has legs.

Brown would say that he is just trying to promote and shape a sense of collective identity; to improve social cohesion and welfare; to provide a platform for the different identity communities in Britain to overcome their antagonisms.  Brown simply wants us to celebrate those British values of tolerance and fairness (which, of course, no other polity on Earth espouses).

As Goodman explains:
 “… analysis also shows that [patriotic] feelings have fallen over time; they are less prevalent among younger people; and there is disaffection in parts of our communities.

So the challenge is to renew our shared sense of belonging and take steps to engage those who do not share it. Especially in the light of social changes, we need a narrative of what we stand for together; and we may need to set out that narrative in more explicit terms than we have had to use before and using frameworks that are created for this purpose.”
It is not, you understand, a “crisis”, but, like the spouse in a failing marriage, feeling the romance start to ebb away, Goodman recommends we cry out our love of country ever more arduously.  We should, he opines, have a national day, given over to being British.

Since “British” is what we in who happen to live on the outlying archipelago just off the northern coast of Europe are supposed to be anyway, that seems to make as much sense as a day celebrating carbon.

Unless, such national identities are not as natural as we are led to believe, and they only work by continually shoring up the fragments of their highly artificial walls.  If they are a part of manufacturing consensus that would mean that all those traditions and values were invented; and only as “natural” as the needs of the inventors.

Quite how those needs are served was nicely illustrated in March this year.  Brown let it be known that he wanted to raise the profile of the British military by encouraging troops to wear their uniforms on the streets.  We were to be encouraged to feel pride in the presence of their resplendent attire, and be continually reminded of the marvellous service these boys and girls do for us, putting their lives on the line for their country,  being the rough men who let us sleep quietly in our beds.  The political purpose of such a subtle reminder would be to assist the morale of troops fighting in the various foreign adventures (Iraq and Afghanistan in particular) that the Labour government has seen fit to commit itself to.

It also was a way to spike the guns of the Conservative Party and the natural Tories in the military establishment who have suddenly discovered something called “the military covenant” – some process by which the state assumes a duty of care to look after soldiers.  This is of recent invention, and forms the basis of all bleating about soldiers not being properly cared for or protected.   It is a claim for special treatment and a useful establishment manifesto.  Doubtless, were the Tories in charge, we’d never hear of it again.

Beyond that, is the hope that getting the folks back home to empathise with the military will iron out any political fallout that from launching an unpopular war in pursuit of loot and profits.  Getting people to think of themselves as being against the war but for the troops is an excellent means of quelling practical opposition to the wars – turning the troops into the political and symbolic hostages of their masters.

All this was given a fillip by the highly orchestrated (as revealed by Private Eye) outing of Prince Henry Charles Albert David Windsor’s tour in Afghanistan.  He became, in a blaze of publicity, an ordinary hero, so committed to his comrades in arms and his duty, that he put his Royal life on the line and go and fight.

Pictures of the smiling princeling playing sport in the desert sent out a message of the equality of service, how all the boys are equal under the badge – and added that air of glamour to proceedings that comes with a Royal personage and their saturation coverage in the media.  That it simultaneously improved the image of the Royal Family was, surely, just a coincidence.

He even, it was reported, killed over thirty Taliban “militants”.  Or, that is, rather, he co-ordinated the attack so that air strikes could be brought down on those dreadful fanatics.  He bravely got someone else to do his killing.

Alas (it seemed) this wave of propaganda was punctured.  On 6 March it was reported that personnel at RAF Wittering, near Peterborough, had been instructed not to wear their uniforms in public, despite the wishes of the great leader, because there had been incidents of verbal harassment of troops by a “cross section of the community.”  This follows similar complaints of harassment of troops “forced” to share regular NHS hospitals with members of the public.

Once upon a time, such incidents would not likely be reported, and the wall of propaganda would hide the divisions in society.  This time, though, the press latched onto this story, and began bemoaning the abuse of “our boys” who “put their lives on the line.”  Soldiers began to be clapped in the street.  Newspapers broadcast their support for the troops.  Politicians said that we should all get behind these brave lads.  Suddenly, a story about how the unpopularity of the war was turning into abuse of the troops, turned, into yet another exercise to achieve the politicians aim of binding us together in love and respect for the lethal arm of the state.

Herein is the rub. These people are doing a dirty job.  Skills, talent, energy and resources are being directed from creative productive work, and instead being dedicated to death and destruction. 

Even, were we, for one moment, to accept the unfortunate necessity of having to keep a standing force for murder, we could still question why they should be lauded so.  Tax collecting and being a bailiff is an unfortunate necessity of our current society, but no-one asks us to celebrate bailiffs.

What of, though, putting their lives on the line?  Well, from accident reports we know that thousands of builders are putting their lives on the line every day.  Train track engineers are risking life and limb.  At least, those workers could point to some accomplishment, an addition to the wealth and wellth of society from the risks they are putting themselves to.

It was once a commonplace of radical politics, never mind socialist politics, that a standing peacetime army is a sign of tyranny.  The option to resort to lethal force remains in place, and implicitly backs up any decision of the state and its agents.  When Tony Blair said it was in the interests of Britain to go to war, he was saying, perhaps without the actual thought crossing his mind, that some stakes are so high that they are worth more than a human life.  That they are worth killing for.  The logic of the mafia don.

As socialists we consider that this international system of perpetual warfare stems entirely from the division of the world into units of property, and that it can be replaced by the common ownership of the world by the human race, co-operatively and democratically running their own lives.  The “unfortunate necessity” for the dirty work of slaying can be eliminated, and no-one need suffer to wear a military uniform again.

We understand that, much like those supposed Taliban militants, who are usually boys fighting for a pittance and a rifle at the behest of well-heeled leaders, the military is made up of workers in uniform, proletarians on parade, hired killers plying their trade.  Their work is dirty and despicable, but they, as human beings are no more worth spitting on nor abusing than any other person.  What they deserve, and need, is for their political masters who are using them to be removed, so that all that skill and energy can be redirected into useful work, and not used against us. 

This could build the practical unity of living, working and sharing together, so that we need neither patriotic parades nor oaths of allegiance to bind us together, and we can put the spectre of the dismal time where murderers were heroes far behind us.
Pik Smeet

50 Years Ago: Another Economic Blizzard? (2008)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

So the bread lines and the soup kitchens have appeared again—in the United States and Canada.

It looks as if the slump that would never come again is now on its way. At least that is the impression one gets from statements by leading financiers, here and in America, and from articles that have appeared in London papers recently.

The Times for March the 4th, under the heading, “World Unemployment Survey,” gives figures of unemployment in different countries. In the United States in January the figure was 4,494,000. This does not include unemployment among the 30 million who are not covered by unemployment insurance. Since January there has been a considerable increase in unemployment. The Times gives the unemployment figure for Canada in January as 520,000. Here also the figure has increased since January.

The News Chronicle for February 28th contains an article on Detroit by Bruce Rothwell. From this article it is evident that the huge empty factories around Detroit, and the empty shops the present writer saw in Dearborn, when he was there last September, were the expression of something more than the shift of industry out of Detroit and the change-over to automation.

The News Chronicle writer has this to say:-
“Signs of the slump are everywhere and this is frightening America.
“For beyond this city millions more jobs depend on the car industry. One business in six is wholly concerned with it.
“Steel, rubber, glass, leather; they all slump when the assembly lines slow; and soon it spreads to us all.
“So Detroit, the centre of it, is harder hit to-day than in the ‘thirties.”
The writer states that there are 250,000 unemployed in Detroit now, and he tells of the soup kitchen run by the Capuchin monks which can only touch a tiny fragment of the thousands of hungry.

(From front page article by “Gilmac”, Socialist Standard, April 1958)