Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Lessons Poland’s workers must learn (1981)

From the April 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

A phone-in programme on a London commercial radio station; Mike Dickin — the interviewer—invites a caller from the Home Counties to have her say. “If you ask me”, she says, “these militant trade unionists in Poland are being whipped up by the Communists”.

The interviewer is confused: “But it’s the Communists they’re striking against”, he informs her. “Yes, it’s definitely the Communists”, she says, without listening ,to a word (as is the tradition on phone-ins). “These Communists have no respect for other people’s property”. Mr. Dickin verbally scratches his head: “But the Communists own the property. And it belongs to everyone. And . . .".

And there we must leave the poor man, suffocating in his own ideological vapour. Had he been a regular reader of the New Communist Party’s weekly paper, The New Worker, the headline on the front of the 22 August 1980 edition would have added to his confusion: “COMMUNISTS SLAM DGANSK WRECKERS” it said, and then went on to explain that “Irresponsible individuals, anarchic and anti-socialist groups are attempting to exploit work stoppages in the Gdansk coastal region of Poland for their own ends”. And just to make clear quite how much. “Communists” are opposed to strikes, the article goes on to quote the Prime Minister of People’s Poland (sic), Edward Gierek:
  Strikes will not change anything for the better here. On the contrary, they multiply the difficulties in the supplies and production, they disturb the normal life of our society.
To some this may seem odd: here is Mr. Gierek, a so-called Communist, opposing strikes much the same as Margaret Thatcher, who says that she is an out and out supporter of capitalism. But then, Thatcher is not always opposed to striking workers, for it was she who was telling the gin and tonic brigade at the Tory Conference last October how much she admired and supported the Polish strikers. The TUC would be delighted if such enthusiasm could be mustered by the government when British workers go on strike. But then, the TUC is not exactly unambiguous when it comes to striking workers in Poland.

Long before the workers of Gdansk had the audacity to go on strike against their dictators, the Polish government-run CRZZ (Polish Central Council of Trade Unions) had invited a delegation of TUC chiefs to visit the Stalinist Paradise and see state capitalism in action. But when the Gdansk workers started getting bolshie, questions were asked about whether the TUC team should go.

While hacks like David Basnett spoke at the TUC Conference in Brighton about the “recent distressing events in Poland", others diplomatically wrote out a resolution saying that the TUC delegation should go to Poland, but must call in and pay regards to the lads in Gdansk while they were there. The CRZZ go: to hear of this and the trip was cancelled. So, to put it all into perspective, Thatcher cheered the struggling Polish toilers, Gierek told them to go back work for the sake of the nation, the CRZZ supported the employers against the strikers and the TUC attacked Thatcher for not supporting workers —while some of them praised Gierek for being a great friend of the working class.

It is not confusion which led to so many people saying things at one moment which they condemned at another, it is the hypocrisy of a system which gives power to the few on the condition that they are able to deceive the majority. Poland is part of the capitalist system, the difference between it and Britain being that in the former the means of wealth production and distribution are owned and controlled by the state, whereas in the latter they are owned partly by private shareholders and partly by the state.

The hallmark of capitalism is that those who produce all the wealth—the working class—are exploited during the course of production by an owning class who pay them less than the value of what they produce. The profit which the employer obtains is the main objective of production. So, when workers ask for higher wages the employer must resist such claims in order to defend that profit. The inevitable antagonism between the worker—who needs wages in order to live—and the capitalist—who receives rent, interest and profit—manifests itself in a continuous class struggle.

As long as there is class ownership of the means of living this class struggle cannot be eradicated, in spite of the pretence that workers and capitalists have a common interest. In the state capitalist countries of Eastern Europe this pretended unity between classes is given the label "socialism”. Just as Hitler called bus fascist regime “National Socialist”, so the Party bureaucrats who live off the profits in state capitalism have created the ideological illusion that they have socialism. There is a class division in the so-called Communist countries, but some workers in the West have misguidedly been taken in by the claims of the rulers.

Since the war
To understand recent events in Poland it is necessary to consider the country’s history. The workers of Poland faced some of the worst atrocities of Nazi rule during the Second World War. In the Warsaw Rising of 1944 the section of the Polish Resistance which not only opposed Nazism, but also rejected the Moscow-instigated National Home Council, headed by Bolestaw Bierut, was massacred. In July 1944 the National Home Council became the Committee of National Liberation; in June 1945 this became the Provisional Government of National Unity, which declared Poland a “People’s Democracy”.

That not all of the Polish people wanted their new Stalinist-imposed government was demonstrated by the armed resistance to it which lasted until 1947. In January 1947 a “Democratic Alliance”, comprising the Communist Party of Poland and the Socialist Party of Poland, won 9 million out of 12.7 million votes in the last election that Poland has had in which more than one party was allowed to stand. After the election the leader of the opposition Polish Peasants’ Party was exiled and the Socialist Party consumed by the Stalinist Communist Party.

For ten years the Poles, having got rid of the Nazis, then suffered all the dictatorial repression of a Stalinist regime. In 1956 there began a brief period of “de-stalinisation” following the deaths of Stalin and Bierut. This liberalising of the regime was partly in response to demonstrations by workers in Poznan in June 1956. The new Prime Minister, Wladyslaw Gomulka —who had been imprisoned by Bierut in the 1940s for being too “liberal” — was no friend of the Polish workers when they voiced any objections to the dictatorship which he headed.

In 1968 a wave of student demonstrations, which demanded freedom of speech and publication, was suppressed and several of the prominent participants were imprisoned. In December 1970 workers in the Baltic ports went on strike in protest at increasing food prices. They demanded the right to organise in their own unions so as to negotiate with the government over wages—a right they were denied by the government, which said that if the workers wanted to negotiate they should do so through the government controlled unions!

When the Baltic workers refused to accept the government’s answer and organised demonstrations through the streets of Gdansk, the government responded by sending in their uniformed thugs— the “People’s Army" —with instructions to shoot down anyone who disturbed their law and order. Fifty-five Polish workers paid with their lives. Again, in July 1976 workers demonstrated against increased food prices and were violently suppressed. There is nothing new about such a reaction by the ruling class at times of working class dissent. In 1819 workers in Manchester were murdered on the streets when they posed a threat to the dictatorship of their masters. The same in 1834 in Tolpuddle when workers were deported for joining a union. The uniforms of the state bully-boys may be different, but it is all the same class struggle.

On 1 July 1980 the Polish government increased the price of meat. With queues in the shops, chronic shortages of basic requirements facing most working class families and rumours everywhere that Communist Party officials were stockpiling commodities and gaining privileged access to them, the patience of the Polish workers expired. In a spontaneous demonstration of concern for their material interests, reminiscent of the strikes which spread throughout Tsarist Russia in February 1917, the workers began to fight back. This time they were careful not to fall victim to the guns of the state dictatorship; they realised that the first step to liberation must be the organisation of their own, democratic trade unions. Bernard Guetta, who was in Gdansk throughout the summer of 1980, reported in Le Monde what he saw:
  Talking to six strikers sitting in the sun, we soon gather a crowd. When one of them answers, they all voice their approval. “Why are you on strike?” “When things are going that badly, you have to. Meat queues, unions that never do a thing for us, the government always lying and deceiving us—that’s enough! We’re not allowed discussion, we have no information, if we’re politically active we always have to suffer for it.” “What do you hope to achieve?” “Concrete improvements.” “What would be the most important?” “First the free trade unions, then the question of food and wages. We must have unions that are prepared to defend us.” (19/8/80).
The union which these workers established, Solidarnosc (Solidarity), was a well-organised and democratic union of workers, who deserve the support and admiration of the workers of the world. Guetta reports a typical instance of their democratic practice which could serve as an example to trade unionists in Britain: 
At 5 p.m. the talks with management are resumed at the Lenin yard. In the big coference room, under the central gaze of Vladimir Illyich on his pedestal, the Director and his assistant directors face 110 delegates representing 17,000 of their comrades. Twenty of them are members of the strike committee and known militants of long standing. The others were elected in their own shops and are novices. Outside, with the benefit of loudspeakers, the rank and file do not miss a word, and since the amplification works both ways, their comments are heard in the negotiation room. Disagreement is soon established: the management refuse to grant any more than 1,200 zlotys and the workers want the 2,000 they asked for. A few moments later, an appeal for reason by the Prime Minister is not even listened to. “I’ve better things to do than listen to all this twaddle again,” mutters one worker. (Le Monde, 19/8/80)
The question is, will the limited victory of the Polish workers lead to “better things”? That there has been a victory — albeit possibly temporary — is beyond doubt. The workers have won the right to form independent trade unions. By November 1980 “Solidarity had at least 10 million members in a country of 35 million.” (Sunday Times, 18/1/81) Dissident groups like the Polish Committee for Self-Defence (KOR) are now able to operate openly, which means that any genuine socialists in Poland would now be in a position to organise in the open. There are presently between twenty and forty anti-government publications in Poland and “some books and periodicals are being reprinted abroad and smuggled back to Poland, together with books written and signed by writers and essayists living in Poland, but openly published in emigre presses.” (Tadeusz Szafar, in Survey, Winter 1980). Copies of a statement from the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of Great Britain have been translated into Polish and sent to the strike committees. Political questions are once again being discussed in the factories, farms and streets of every Polish town and village. For all of that to have happened in an East European state capitalist country is a victory which should not be ignored.

The main lesson that Polish workers must learn is that they are operating under capitalism To win the final battle they must understand how the system works. Some of the Polish rebels have naively assumed that they are living in a socialist society and that their troubles would be over if only they could transform Poland into a western-style capitalist state. They are often strengthened in this belief by the so-called intellectuals.

Poland is also a staunchly Catholic country: 80 per cent of Poles follow the ignorant superstitions of the Polish Pope. It is vital for the Polish workers that at all time they substitute a concern for their own material advantage for their religious beliefs. In the early days of the British labour movement vaguely socialist ideas were mixed with religious ideals, but in time the latter declined. Similarly, it is encouraging to note that when the strikes were in full swing in Poland “even an appeal by the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Wyszinski, could not get the strikers back to work.” (Guardian 1/9/80)

The Polish working class must learn that strikes can only be a limited defence weapon within capitalism. Working class problems cannot be solved by trade unionism. The Polish nation may be likened to a large trading company, with the state bureaucracy the board of directors. As with any capitalist board, it can only concede to the workforce as much as is profitable for the smooth running of the company. As a trading company, Poland has major economic difficulties. It owes over 20 billion dollars to the West as a result of importing equipment and technology:
   Poland . . . now occupies tenth place in world, and sixth place in European, industrial production . . . If this growth is to be sustained, a prerequisite will be efficient and uninterrupted production. The last few months, however, have seen widespread industrial unrest in Poland, and at one point workers were on strike in over fifty plants and factories throughout the country. And the upshot of this has been a 15% pay rise granted to workers — which will cost the government an estimated £60 million. (Industrial Purchasing News, September 1980)
Increased productivity and increased profitability matters more to the defenders of Polish capital than the needs of the working class. The Polish coal industry is a good illustration of this. In 1979 Poland exported 41.4 million tons of coal, amounting to 20 per cent of all the country’s production; 26 million tons was exported to the West. British imports of Polish coal increased by 50 per cent, and 70 per cent of the coal used by the British Steel Corporation was imported from Poland “on straightforward grounds of price and quality.” (Industrial Purchasing News, September 1980). In August 1980 thousands of coal miners in the Silesian region followed the example of the Gdansk shipbuilders and went on strike. One of their main demands was for improved mine safety:
  The number of mines on strike has nearly doubled after an underground accident at the Halemba Colliery, near Katowice, in which eight miners were killed and eighteen injured. The accident is the latest in a series of mine disasters in southern Poland which have caused the deaths of sixty miners over the last year . . . Many miners blame declining safety standards on a new shift system introduced last year with the aim of ensuring a continuous 24-hour operation at the coalface. Critics of the new system claim that proper maintenance and repair of the mines have been sacrificed to increased production. (Guardian, 3/9/80)
The Polish ruling class, like their counterparts in the West, will go to any lengths to increase production, export more and pay their creditors. If this interferes with the well-being of the miners who dig the coal out of the ground it is too bad. Meanwhile, the workers want more pay and better conditions. This is class struggle. In the short-term it is useful to the workers to form trade unions and negotiate with their bosses, but such negotiations will never resolve the fundamental antagonism between wage labour and capital.

Nearly three quarters of all land in Poland is owned by peasants, who produce about 80 per cent of all Polish foodstuffs. For 35 years they have successfully resisted the State’s attempts to collectivise the land. As long as production for the market continues, the land-owning peasants will resist the workers’ desire for cheap food. The Polish government has three problems: how will it increase production, feed the workers and pay its creditors? Like any capitalist government, it will fail. Some Western economists have suggested that the EEC countries should give financial aid to the Polish ruling class. The USA has already invested 3 billion dollars in Polish industry. All that this shows is that capitalists of the world, despite national and ideological divisions, have a common interest.

The Polish rulers fear the class consciousness of their subjects no less than Thatcher, Reagan and Brezhnev do. Nothing hurts a capitalist so much as a worker who is beginning to think. Predictably, they offer reforms in order to pacify their wage slaves:
   The Party . . . will fight against transgressions of social justice and it will tackle the reforms of the economic system. (Polityka, the Polish CP weekly paper)
We’ve all heard that promise before. And we’ve all heard this one too:
  The Party, however, rejects the possibility of any compromise with the forces which are against the foundations of our system. (Polityka)
Our system? The capitalist system. The forces which are against it? Socialists or communists — the words have the same meaning. Why are we against it? Because we are workers and capitalism cannot be made to run in our interests. In Poland our fellow workers have won the right to strike. The next step? It is for the workers of all lands to join together in real solidarity, not merely to ask for a bigger slice of the cake, but to take over the bakery. 
Steve Coleman 

Foolish antics of Tass (1981)

From the April 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Necessary though the continuation and extension of trades union activity is under capitalism, the true interests of the workers lie instead in the political struggle to establish socialism. On the other hand, the vast majority of trade union members are not socialists. Consequently their political motivation does not go further than reformist activity, which they believe will improve their lot under capitalism. Some, particularly the more active, would claim that they are socialists and that their political activity will help to hasten the establishment of socialism. However the acid test is to examine their definition, or rather lack of definition, of socialism.

In Britain it was the unions which brought the Labour Party into being, in the first place motivated by the need to reverse the Taff Vale judgement of 1901. While this specific object was achieved, it involved a deal with the Liberal Party. Since that date British unions have often taken a leading role in agitating for all kinds of reform measures, both through the Labour Party, to which most large unions are affiliated, and outside it. This is the dual role of unions today. On the one hand the day-to-day class struggle in industry, on the other reformist political activity.

An excellent illustration of the contradictory nature of the unions is the case of TASS, the Technical, Administrative and Supervisory section of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers (AEUWi. Before amalgamation with the AEUW, TASS was known as the Draughtsmen’s and Allied Technicians Association (DATA). About 15 years ago union membership among the white collar staff whom TASS represented was low, with plenty of the criticism of unions in general which is common among those workers who consider themselves a cut above the “common herd”.

That situation has now changed considerably. A concerted drive by TASS has led to the recruitment of a large part of the technical staff. This has reflected also the growing frustration among these workers at the erosion of their standards when compared with those of the more militant. While there has not yet been a full-scale strike, there have been a number of walk-outs, works-to-rule and other “non-co-operation". It is noticeable that while the management are now adjusted to dealing with unions on the shop floor, they seem unable to accept the evidence of their own eyes when dealing with those described as “staff”. Evidently the idea that white-collar workers don't do such things is dying hard. .Although it is now eight years since the drawing office walk-out, employers still appear to believe that the unions will go away if they wait a little longer.

TASS also deserves some credit for the partial erosion of the elitist attitudes which have long prevailed among engineers: such views have been encouraged by professional bodies such as the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. These bodies have recommended that engineers should join small unions or staff associations, which encourage the idea that they are essentially an a different position to other workers. In one typical factory, while draughtsmen and stress engineers have joined TASS, aero-dynamocists still cling to the elitist attitude which is basically a hangover from the craft unions of old. These elements were largely behind an attempt to form, a company “union”, which some members of the board of directors at first appeared to encourage. When the board were compelled to give TASS negotiating rights, they could no longer go along with the idea of a company union, although the actual organisation still operates without the blessing of the company. This withering of elitism is reflected in a more sympathetic attitude towards union activity in general. The change in attitude can now be seen at quite a senior level, and this is an area of the country which has always been very conservative politically.

However, the political side of TASS is another, altogether sadder, story. The more active union members, the fairly small proportion who regularly attend branch meetings, are mainly “left wing” supporters of the Labour Party. Instead of giving their attention to the recruiting of new members and the best methods of waging the industrial struggle, a fair proportion of the available time at meetings is devoted to discussing reformist measures very similar to those which will be pushed within the Labour Party. If anything, this could put off potential members w'ho might join if propaganda were confined to the need to organise and the benefits of so doing. The reformist views of TASS are well illustrated in their monthly publication AUEW/TASS Newss and Journal. To read this can often give you the same breathless feeling as the Socialist Worker does: fight this, demonstrate against that, smash the other. Apart from the total misuse of the word “socialism"—in the January 1981 issue Russia is described as a “highly developed socialist country . . . (which) wants peace and security above all else"—there are some three underlying themes to their political propaganda.

When the necessary translations of have been carried out (for "socialism” read “TASS is for it”, for "capitalism” read “TASS is agin it”) one theme recurs—TASS is keen to fight the battles of British capitalism when the others have given up. The attempts of super patriotic TASS are, so we are told, being sabotaged by the very people who would benefit from them, assuming that they work out as planned. For instance, the January TASS News carried the headline “S.O.S.—Save our Steel. Press industry to buy from Britain”. Ken Gill, General Secretary of TASS, writes “TASS believes that British companies should put their money where their mouths are and act in the country’s interest.” A statement of the concern of TASS for British capitalism, which is in a more restrained vein, is contained in their submission entitled “Qualified Engineers — The Way forward”, to the Committee of Enquiry into the engineering profession.

Recently TASS, in conjunction with the TGWU, put forward a “Plan to save British Leyland”. The argument is that BL is too small to compete with the giants, and suggests that it should join forces with a multinational. Even if such a scheme were to be successful, unless there were a corresponding increase in sales, it could do no more than create some employment for a few British workers at the expense of workers overseas. Many TASS backed schemes and branch resolutions at best transfer problems elsewhere, and often involve deals with interests with doubtful records in their relations with unions. Members engaged in the manufacture of war weapons, for instance, will call for increased expenditure in this direction. The effort spent concocting this sort of scheme would be far better expended in trying to organise multinational union activity to combat the use of low pay and lack of organisation in, for example, Eastern European [countries] as a weapon against unions elsewhere. Such action would help foster international working class consciousness, and could well assist the spread of socialist ideas.

Again, in the current January TASS News, Joe Ashton, a TASS sponsored Labour MP says that “while it took Moses 40 years to find the promised land, the public these days won’t wait that long". This is part of a comic “prayer to god” for a better 1981, but it illustrates another theme which continually recurs in TASS as well as other left-wing propaganda. The “militant masses” are apparently waiting impotently for the leaders to lead them to socialism. Indeed, a very old idea, but it is a myth.

The political antics of TASS are yet another illustration of the need to pay attention to basics. The class structure of capitalism has not been correctly studied, so that they have not understood the causes of the evils which afflict the working class under the present system. Given this lack of understanding of the cause, it is not surprising that some fantastic and utterly useless remedies are prescribed. The basic assumption, despite confusing terminology, is that everything can be solved within capitalism, suitably patched up.
E. C. Edge

Running Commentary: Not cricket (1981)

The Running Commentary column from the April 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Not Cricket

Life as a working-class “non-white” in South Africa is an especially abject experience. We say working-class because many wealthy members of the capitalist class who would otherwise be regarded as “non-white”, notably Japanese industrialists. have enjoyed all of the privileges of accommodation, travel and services usually reserved for “whites”. Here the white African capitalist’s thirst for profits from Japanese trade overrides his racialist prejudices.

The lot of the propertyless black in South Africa is to be treated as subhuman, herded in ghettoes and camps, segregated in squalor from whites in every walk of life and relentlessly harried by the forces of the state. A “white” wanting to return a book to a public library, for instance, will probably have to comply with a rule requiring the book to be enclosed in a polythene bag if it is taken back by a black servant.

Against this backdrop it was understandable that the English Test cricketer Robin Jackman was recently ordered out of Guyana because of his links with South Africa. But as this issue developed and the Test match against the West Indies was disrupted, various contradictions were exposed.

In the Summer of 1980 assorted spokesmen and parrots of the “right-wing” (although some Liberals and Labourites were also vocal on this matter) insisted that British athletes should boycott the Olympic Games as a protest against the oppressive regime in the USSR. The policy of the politicians then was to try and use sport as a political medium. Yet a few months later many of these same politicians and their dutiful echoes are sounding the “keep politics out of sport” slogan. The fact is that the politicians have not suddenly changed the principle on which they seek to act from “Use politics in Sport” to “Keep politics out of Sport” as neither of these mottos was ever really their concern. It is economic considerations (and that doesn’t mean yours or mine) which are the reality behind government policymaking in the profit-system. Whereas the Russian Empire and its expansion pose a serious threat to the interests of the British owning class, no such fear is generated by trouble in the West Indies. On the contrary, they have the prospect of continued substantial trading. Looked at like this, it becomes clear why many of the spokesmen for British capitalism could welcome political hostility in sport at the Games and oppose any political disruption to the Second Test match against the West Indies.

Needless to say, governments of several of the West Indian countries, notably Jamaica and Antigua, allowed the Tests to go ahead on their territories to generate some cash for their flagging tourist trades, rather than exclude supporters of apartheid and jeopardise the series. It is not only the white South African leaders who demote principles below the pressure for profits.

Not Cronkite

Walter Cronkite of CBS television was much beloved by many Americans as — in the words of one newspaper — “something between the national flag and God”. Applauded by many at the time of Vietnam for his view that America should withdraw from the war, his recent retirement as a newscaster brought high praises from all and sundry.

Every evening he would enter the homes of millions of American workers to avuncularly present them with a careful selection of reports written unwaveringly from the viewpoint of the owning class. While the working class in America was wrestling with all of the problems of capitalism — inflation, inadequate housing, poverty and insecurity — old Walt would insist on spinning out the old yarns. Every broadcast was impregnated with false assumptions: all American people have a common interest; the protection of property benefits all equally; anyone can become a capitalist if he or she has the talent and initiative; the working class will always have to follow leaders; communism exists in Russia; and if the political ideas of economic equality were given any chance then all mayhem would break loose and Americans would be eating each other alive on the sidewalks.

Did Walt ever open up a bulletin with the news that Americans in employment were being paid less in the form of a wage or a salary than the value of what they had produced? Did he ever report that the wars are the logical outcome of the continuous struggles over trade routes, markets and territories by financiers, industrialists and land owners? Did trusty Walter ever point out that with advanced technology and abundant natural resources there is no need for a third of the world to go hungry? Sadly Walt never uttered a syllable on these points; he dealt only with items neatly processed for general consumption, images and distorted facts designed to maintain the status quo, the string of silent assumptions which riddle every thoughtfully chosen news item.
Gary Jay

Economics of hospitals (1981)

From the April 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "The durability of public mental hospitals (in America) was based on solid economic and social factors. A hospital is a great source of employment, often in an isolated area, and is also a reliable market for local goods and services."
Saul Feldman (USA)

Private pain cannot be separated from public policy (1981)

From the April 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "Mental Health professionals should not help to reinforce the myth that “pain can be magickcd away” by prescription pads, especially when that pain goes hand in hand with unfavourable social circumstances like unemployment. Tranquillisers will not only dampen down the pain but also the anger “which . . . is the most appropriate and healthy response to being deprived of the right to work through no fault of your own". This “dampened down anger” can “go sour” and lead to increases in depression, suicide and anxiety states.

  If the medical profession . . . allow themselves to continue to be used as controllers of pain which should appropriately and healthily be expressed in anger, if they dampen down the energy which a healthy person puts into changing an unsatisfactory environment, they are betraying their professional integrity, they are whoring for a collapsing late capitalist society.

  We do not need any more research into the effect on mental health of poverty, injustice and lack of social opportunity; we now need the will to do something about those effects and conditions, we need “the courage to stand up and be counted, not to fit humans to the shape of the world, but to shape the world for humans.

GLC Election (1981)

Party News from the April 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Elsewhere in this issue there are details of public meetings and activities for the Party’s GLC election campaign in Islington South and Finsbury. Since last month’s column, which announced that Barry McNeeney will be the Socialist candidate for the election, there has been a significant change in the state of affairs in our constituency: Douglas Eden, the “leader” of the Social Democratic Alliance, has announced that he will be standing in Islington South and Finsbury "to appeal to Labour voters who remember the Labour Party in the mould of Lord George Brown’’. (We presume that he will be trying to find them in the local pubs.) Lord George "will be campaigning for him in Islington’’ (Islington Gazette, 13/3/81). Combined with a proposed electoral pact with the Liberals, we suspect that this might be the kiss of death for the so-called social democrats. Eden is to be challenged to come and defend his views on April 16th when a public meeting at the Prince Albert pub, Wharfdale Road will be asking “Who Are The Social Democrats?" The Islington Gazette has published a letter from a Party member which made clear the SPGB's principled opposition to all other parties. We are hoping that the correspondence will continue (there has already been one letter in response from a "social democrat"). The campaign is going to cost us more money than is readily available and so we once again appeal to you to dip into your pockets and send us whatever you can afford towards the greatest cause facing humanity today.

Letter from India: Conflict with Pakistan (1981)

From the April 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

If recent official statements are to be believed, and if one is to accept at face value the sensationalist Indian press headlines, Pakistan and India could soon be involved in another bloody war.

Mrs. Indira “Vasectomies All Round” Gandhi, in a recent speech, warned against the military build-up by certain neighbouring countries and called for preparations to meet any external or domestic challenge. The main (unnamed) neighbour she referred to was clearly Pakistan, a fact made plain when she said: “It is also in the air that they are preparing an atom bomb” (Times of India, 9/1/81). In “peaceful” contrast, Mrs. Gandhi hypocritically explained, while addressing a large crowd at Sanswara, India’s use of atomic energy was for “peaceful” ends. It is, in fact, common knowledge that India has atomic weaponry.

In December of last year Mrs. Gandhi spoke of the possibility of General Zia-ul-Haq, the Pakistani President attempting “to divert the attention of the people” of Pakistan with military conflict with India (Times of India 20/12/80). This accusation contains more than an element of truth, as General Zia is overlord of a ravaged economy producing much discontent and is also under pressure to liberalise his harsh regime. These domestic uncertainties, coupled with the Soviet armed occupation in neighbouring Afghanistan, have made Zia look for external scapegoats, and no other countries fit this role better than India, Pakistan’s old rival, and the imperialistic Soviet Union.

Unable to muster the same popular support of his predecessor Bhutto, General Zia has tried to safeguard and strengthen his position by increasing Pakistan’s military potential in terms of both manpower and armaments. Additionally, Zia has recently been able to turn parts of his army into a profit-making concern by hiring out divisions to the Saudi Arabian ruling class at a high price.

Both China and America have greatly aided Zia with armaments and money in his military build-up programme. And it is no accident that when the Indian government went arms shopping recently in America, the latter tied such strings to the deal as to oblige the Indians to withdraw from the negotiations. The American government had no serious intention of selling arms to India; the reason for this is their foreign policy of wooing the Chinese and Pakistanis onto their siIte against the Soviet Union. It thus looks likely that military sales to India from Russia will increase, thereby drawing Ghandi more and more into the Russian sphere of influence.

Ghandi’s inference that Zia is trying to export his domestic problems can equally be applied to herself. For it is no coincidence that she has made these references to Pakistan’s threat at a time when she herself, like Zia, is trying unsuccessfully to manage an unstable economy which has produced waves of worker and peasant protest against her ruling Janata Party. In old-style Gandhi fashion, she is meeting these hostile responses with greater government powers of detention while increasing India’s military weaponry. Both Gandhi and Zia are preparing to deal harshly with potential domestic or foreign threats to the respective ruling classes they represent.

The main conflict point between Pakistan and India is, as with many inter-state conflicts, a border issue. In this case, the fertile and mineral-enriched northwest Indian state of Kashmir is the disputed region. In 1965, the political representatives from the ruling classes of India and Pakistan eagerly sent in their armed forces to butcher one another over the ownership of this region. The Indian ruling class won; the workers of India and Pakistan lost. To depict the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965-6 as a religious one, as was done at the time, is totally incorrect. It was not a case of Hindu India versus Moslem Pakistan, but purely one of the Indian versus the Pakistan ruling class, with the exploited classes of these two countries doing their masters’ filthy work for them.

Indo-Pakistan relations have tended towards frequent breakdowns during the last 30 years and on each occasion the Kashmir question has been a central issue. It is indicative of Zia’s desires to see this region incorporated into Pakistan that even the name “Pakistan” —“P” Punjab, “A” Afghan, “K”Kashmir, “I” Indus, “Stan” Baluchistan—serves as a continual reminder of the Kashmir question. In fact, there is not even a clearly-defined Kashmir border between India and Pakistan, as it appears differently on Indian and Pakistani maps.

Kashmir, and its capital city Srinigar, was once a summer escape from the heat of the plains for the Moghul Emperors who overran much of India, bringing with them their Islamic religion and introducing the caste system. While much of India resisted Islam, the Kashmiris more readily adopted the Moslem faith and even now Kashmir, like Pakistan, is predominantly Moslem. Now many Kashmiris do not consider themselves Indians and indeed there is a growing Islamic-based independence movement, which must please General Zia although it is not clear if this small, but developing political movement identifies with him. In fact, it seems more a case of regionally-minded Kashmiris wanting to set up their “own” state, apart from India and Pakistan—an aim similar to the confused thinking of the Basque separatists of Spain.

China has recently intervened in the. Kashmir dispute and called on India and Pakistan to settle their differences and face what is called “The Soviet Threat” in South Asia (New China News Agency, 15/1/81). The announcement attempted to quell Gandhi’s fears by stating that the Pakistani military build-up, much aided by China, is not directed against India. In other words, it is directed against the Red Army in Afghanistan.

However, despite all the Sino-Pakistani reassurances to the Indian government, the Kashmir problem will not go away. And as long as Kashmir remains a source of dispute (which will be just as long as capitalism remains to engender such antagonisms) Indo-Pakistani relations will remain tense, with possible eruptions into war, as in 1965. But assuming that General Zia and his governmental associates can collectively muster together three or four brain cells, they might then realise that in terms of population, land mass, GNP, industrial and military production and even size of armed forces, India dwarfs Pakistan.

Of more importance than the choice of war or peace by Zia or Gandhi is the decision by the exploited classes of these two nations, that is, those who fill the armies’ ranks, as to whether they wish to be used as cannon fodder in their masters’ dispute.

50 Years Ago: A Red Herring (1981)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent election in St. George’s raises a few interesting questions.

In the first place, there seems little doubt that Tory, Labour and Liberals were allied in supporting the Conservative candidate against the Rothermere-Beaverbrook nominee. But the first question that strikes one is, Why all the bother and mud- slinging? What is behind the Rothermere-Beaverbrook attempt to run the Conservative Party? And, further, why the comparative unanimity between Conservatives, Liberals and Labour on the Indian Question? Is it all a game of bluff?

That Rothermere and Beaverbrook desire to wield the balance of power in the Conservative Party, and that. Winston Churchill (who up to the present seems always to have changed his political colours too late) desires the position of Prime Minister, may all be true, but yet not the main object behind the trouble.

Ireland was for decades a useful blind to keep the English workers from taking too close an interest in their own political circumstances. After Ireland had passed out of the picture, Russia stepped in, and now India is in the limelight. But in the meantime Liberal, Tory and Labour have been drawing closer together and the Labour Party have given ample evidence of their ability to steer accurately in the interests of capital. There is a danger of the workers getting restive and dissatisfied with the Labour Party’s meek acceptance of capitalist conditions. What better method then of heading off dangerous restiveness than by putting up a sham fight with a new brand of capitalist political parties. The hazier and more indefinite the object and programme, the larger the number of people likely to be attracted.

The way Gandhi has been manoeuvred into such a position that many of his followers are now repudiating him, suggests the nature of the bluff.

The Daily Mail and the Evening News have been publishing furious articles about the surrender to Gandhi, but Gandhi has now discovered that there are certain reservations relating to safeguards in the British Government’s agreement that were (purposely ?) not made clear to him at the time of signing.

In the meantime, mass protest meetings are being held in India by Hindus who threaten to withdraw their support from Gandhi if he agrees to certain demands of the Moslems. It looks very like the old game of “divide and conquer.”

To the worker the issues raised at St. George’s were of no concern, as the interests engaged were capitalist interests. Self-government for India, like self-government for Ireland, is only a question of which group of capitalists will rule. The dinners to Gandhi given by the rich Bombay mill-owners are suggestive of the meaning of Indian self-government to the mass of the population of India.

For over a century the population of India has been exploited for the benefit of European capitalists who broke up the old communal village system of production that had flourished there for ages. In the meantime, native capitalists have amassed wealth and own much of the recently developed instruments of modern production. The latter now want political domination in order to secure a greater share of the fruits of the labour of the Indian workers—hence the movement for self-government.

Indian working men and women are exploited in mills, mines and on the land, like their English brethren, and, like them also, their only salvation lies in the international movement for Socialism. In this movement no help is to be expected from Indian mill- owners nor from the parties in this country that are united in demanding the continuance of present conditions, whether they fly the colours of Tory, Liberal, Labour or United Empire Parties.

(Editorial from the April 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard.)