Thursday, July 1, 2021

Prisoners on the roof (1983)

From the July 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Even as prisons go, Albany is especially difficult to get out of — or into, for that matter. The high outer wall is topped by a cylindrical cowling, black and smooth, which would throw off a grappling hook or a rope, or anyone determined enough to get up there. Behind that is a sensitive ground zone, where an intruder would set the alarms going. Then another high wall, made from concrete sprayed onto a strong steel mesh. Dogs are on patrol along the walls and all movements are watched by cameras strung high above on slim steel posts. Other posts hold lights which spread a deathly orange, shadowless glow over the prison; when dark falls Albany can be seen for miles around.

Keys do not rattle in Albany as pervasively as in other prisons. Most of its doors are remotely controlled from a central security block. This has some advantages for the prisoners; after lock-up they can ask to be let out of their cells and, provided the central control approves, a man can be allowed to go to the lavatory, take a shower, or whatever. Albany does not, then, endure the noxious routine of slop-out, the emptying of chamber pots brimming with urine and faeces with which the older prisons begin their day.

Albany was built in the sixties, originally to hold men of low security category. It was converted, after the Mountbatten Report and then the Radzinowicz Report, into a dispersal prison, which was an official compromise with Mountbatten’s recommendation to build a fortress prison on the Isle of Wight to hold the hardest, most determined criminals in the country in relatively humane conditions behind an impregnable perimeter. The concept of dispersal meant that men serving very, very long sentences — life several times, perhaps, or with a judge's recommendation that they stay inside for twenty or thirty years — share a prison with others doing only a few years.

Albany began its life with the declared intention of being a place where prisoners existed in what was called "constructive tension”, the meaning of which was obscure but fuelled many a seminar on enlightened penal measures. In any case the policy could not survive the prison's change of role and in place of “constructive tension" Albany offered other things. It was a clean, modern prison with good sports facilities — a “proper" prison where “you know where you stand — you get nothing so you don't ask for anything". Outside the cell blocks it has an open aspect, with views of distant green hills, unlike other prisons where grey walls loom over everything. But at the same time it was regarded as the end of the road of the prison system; men went there with little hope of even the gestures towards “rehabilitation” which the Home Office feels obliged to make.

There is another way in which Albany differs from the older British prisons. In those stark, crumbling, often verminous, relics of Victorian moral correction it is common for three men to have to live in a cell barely big enough to accommodate one for nearly twenty-three hours out of every day. The tension caused by such overcrowding is often assumed to be the cause of much of the trouble in prisons. Certainly, it provides a handy excuse for the Home Office, who can represent it as a problem not of their making; there are so many people in prison because they commit offences and because the courts send them to prison rather than applying other sentences.

But these older, overcrowded prisons do not have serious trouble, on the scale of the recent riot and rooftop protest at Albany. Indeed, every major disturbance at British prisons in recent years has been at establishments where there is no overcrowding. This was so at Parkhurst in 1969, at Hull and Gartree and again at Parkhurst and at Albany in more recent times. Even the trouble at Wormwood Scrubs, where there is overcrowding, in 1979 (which is more accurately described as a riot by the prison officers rather than by the prisoners) was in the long term wing, where all the men are held in single cells.

What then caused the riot at Albany? It is a place of instantly palpable tension. Many of the prisoners there are what the Home Office categorises as hardened criminals, who have committed their offences with some deliberation, accepting the risks involved. This applies not just to the likes of professional bank robbers but also to the politically motivated offenders such as the IRA bombers. Between these on the one hand and the prison authorities on the other there exists a state of persistent antagonism. There is communication of a sort between each side but only as shells communicate across No Man's Land. Some of these prisoners will tell you — as they have themselves perhaps been told by a judge — that they are at war with society (we shall return to this in a moment) and that for them society is represented by the prison.

For the most part this war is a matter of sniping or trench raids; only occasionally does it burst out into a full scale battle. Frustration and repression is breathed daily by the prisoner, like gas in shell holes, and prisons are not places designed to relieve tension. When the frustration reaches an explosive level — and when there are enough determined, or desperate, men with little to lose and ready to give vent to it — then there is the material for a battle. The predictable response to a riot is a more stringent application of the frustrations which aggravated it in the first place. When the protesters eventually came off the roof at Albany they were immediately whisked away, in scaled vans with a heavy escort, to other prisons to be punished.

It is expected that all the political parties of capitalism will have a readily available policy on what they call Law and Order. This may entail harsher laws and punishments or some administrative reforms which do little more than shift the official responsibility for dealing with offenders from one agency to another — like the Children and Young Persons Act of 1969, which was never fully implemented and parts of which have now been overtaken by the latest measure, the Criminal Justice Act 1982. It is the same with troublesome prisons — some experts are sure there should be more restrictive regimes such as the infamous Control Units at Wormwood Scrubs and Wakefield, while other experts favour more “rehabilitative” measures by which they usually mean at most short courses in painting or bricklaying. All such theories share a common motivation — the acceptance of capitalism’s class structure and the condition that one class must labour to the benefit of the other as a morality providing all that is needed for a happy, fulfilled human life.

This comfortable delusion is continually undermined by reality. There is no satisfaction in the drudgery of wage slavery. Class society offers no fulfilment — only alienation. It provokes conflict which is often expressed in forcible attempts at breaching the laws of property. Very, very few criminals have any conscious notion of what their offences actually represent. Far from being at war with society — with capitalist society — they are among the most ardent defenders of property rights, with the ambition to quickly gain enough of it to make it worth their while to defend. However complex criminal motivation, it is essentially a reaction to deprivation, to a socially repressed life, to an inability to attain to some norm of capitalism such as a stable family. So the reaction emerges as anti-social. by offending against this social system's most representative, cherished and defended feature — the rights and privileges of property.

Prisons are not, then, simply places where people are confined. They are monuments to the inhumanity of a social system which exists on the repression of the majority by the minority. They bear witness that the majority are deceived into the belief that this repression is so much in their interests that they should themselves work, as police officers, prison officers, servicemen, to impose it. So the sentence which the working class serve under capitalism — to be exploited, degraded, murdered — is self-administered. And there is no time off for good conduct.

Blogger's Note:
This article was unsigned but I'm 95% sure it was written by Ivan who, because of his employment, was unable to attach his name to it  . . . even his 'pen-name'.

Material World: Hamas High Dramas (2021)

The Material World Column from the July 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

As a result of the recent conflict, many supporters of the Palestinian cause portray Hamas as gallant freedom-fighters up against Israel’s military might. While, in turn, the pro-Israel Zionist lobby depict Hamas as the super-villains. Many readers will be surprised that Hamas exists through the acquiescence and collusion of the Israeli state which appears to adhere to policies of better the foe you know, keep your friends close but your enemies closer and divide to conquer.

The origins of Hamas have their roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, led in Gaza by Sheikh Yassin. Not only was he allowed to openly spread his Islamist message while Israel was conducting assassinations of members of the PLO, but Yassin was also permitted to form Mujama al-Islamiya as an official charity that would eventually evolve into Hamas (on.wsj.com/3wDFzfV).

Yitzhak Segev, the then governor of Gaza, has said he was in regular contact with Yassin, ‘We had no problems with him.’ Segev actually arranged for the Muslim cleric to have hospital treatment in Israel. Segev told a New York Times reporter that he had helped finance the Palestinian Islamist movement as a counterbalance to a shared enemy, the secular leftists, hoping Hamas would become an alternative to the PLO, a need that grew greater when the PLO started negotiating the two-state solution. The Islamic militants accused it of treachery and this suited Israel at the time who wished to keep building Jewish-Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

Like Baron Frankenstein, Israel spawned a monster over which it lost control. Sheikh Yassin was assassinated in 2004 by missiles from a helicopter.

Old history? Not so. Israel still indirectly facilitates the funding of Hamas to this day.
‘In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 News, former Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman revealed details about a secret visit to Qatar by Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen and the Israeli military’s chief of Southern Command Herzl Halevi to allegedly ‘beg the Qataris to keep pouring money into Hamas’ (bit.ly/2TfCww2).
A process confirmed by the Reuters report:
 ‘Qatar, with Israeli acquiescence, has provided substantial funding to Hamas in recent years, by some tallies, millions of dollars a month, chiefly to pay administrative salaries, some of which can then be siphoned off… A guy from Qatar comes every month with his suitcases of money accompanied by Israeli soldiers to pay Hamas administrative staff…’ said the senior European official (reut.rs/3wFhZiU).
Moshé Machover, a close observer of events in the region, wrote in the Weekly Worker how Netanyahu explained why Israel permits the financial support of Hamas:
  “…whoever wishes to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state must support the strengthening of Hamas and the transfer of money to Hamas. This is part of our strategy – to separate the Palestinians in Gaza from the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria…” (bit.ly/3i2KsLw).
A common refrain is that it is for the Palestinians themselves to determine the methods of resistance, not ourselves, and they have chosen Hamas as their representatives.

Has Hamas ended the 14-year long siege? Has it provoked Israel to invade with ground forces for Hamas fighters to inflict heavy casualties upon the IDF? Has it overcome Israel’s defences when several hundred rockets fizzle out before even reaching Israeli territory and of those that do, 90 per cent are shot being down by Iron Dome? Has Israel’s ‘self-defence’ been a financial cost to it considering that the USA pays Israel’s bills?

What Hamas rockets did do was to distract from East Jerusalem and the Palestinian-Israeli protests across Israel. Some critics suggest it was a power-play by Hamas, not an act of solidarity. They want to present themselves as the leadership of the Israeli-Palestinians and protectors of the holy places.

Hamas could have revived the March of Return to the fences as a non-violent alternative to the very clear suicidal strategy of armed struggle, although even that tactic was not without a likely cost in lives from past experience of Israel army snipers. Regardless, Hamas wanted a media event of Israeli bombings and mass misery and Israel, for its domestic politics, obliged them.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has said, referring to the Israeli bombing, ‘Air strikes in such densely populated areas resulted in a high level of civilian fatalities and injuries, as well as the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure’. If deemed to be indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians ‘Such attacks may constitute war crimes’.

Equally pertinent, Bachelet went on in her statement to say the Hamas tactic of locating rocket launchers in densely populated civilian areas, and firing rockets which were indiscriminate and failed to distinguish between military and civilian objects, ‘…constitutes a clear violation of international humanitarian law…’

Both sides in this war caused innocent civilians to die and the only difference being that Israel killed far more than Hamas.

People have taken to the streets for the cessation of violence and ‘Boycott, Divest and Sanction’ has become a popular policy for campaigners, but in many situations, there are problems in this capitalist world that have no solution. The Israel-Palestine deadlock may well be one of those where we have to await the creation of a cooperative commonwealth. In the meantime, for the sake of stopping the killings and destruction, there is an opportunity for the Palestinians and Israeli government to agree to the Hamas offer of the hudna, an Islamic form of a long-term and renewable armistice where both parties mutually accept the pre-1967 borders.

But even that is also a very distant hope according to many informed commentators.
ALJO

The Tories and Free Trade (2021)

The Cooking the Books column from the July 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Defending the proposed Free Trade deal (no tariffs, no quotas) with Australia in spite of the harm to British farmers, Boris Johnson told a meeting of Tory MPs ‘We are the party of Peel’ (Times, 21 May). Sir Robert Peel was prime minister in the government that brought about the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. These laws, by imposing tariffs on the import of wheat and other cereals, benefitted the landlord class since the high price of wheat encouraged the use of less fertile land, so increasing the rent on all wheat-producing land.

Peel was a Tory but his move split the Tory party and the Peelites eventually became part of the Liberal party. Most Tories followed Disraeli in opposing repeal on behalf of the landlord class. In the early 1900s the Tories were campaigning for Tariff Reform, i.e., the imposition of tariffs on imported manufactured goods.

Johnson’s historical ignorance is bad enough, but that of Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary, is appalling. She invokes not just Peel but John Bright and Richard Cobden. On 3 June last year she tweeted ‘Today is the birthday of Richard Cobden, champion of free trade, manufacturing and founder of the Anti-Corn Law League’. Last October, she declared that she wanted the Board of Trade ‘to become the Cobden, Peel and Bright of the twenty-first century’. In an article in the Sunday Express (14 February) she quoted Cobden as hailing Free Trade as ‘the greatest revolution that ever happened in the world’s history’.

Bright and Cobden were the political leaders of the industrial capitalists in their struggle against the landlord class for political and economic supremacy. They were implacable opponents of everything the Tories stood for (imperialism, military preparations, aristocratic privilege). The repeal of the Corn Laws was a key event in British economic history but hardly the greatest revolution in world history. In any event most Tories opposed it.

Marx lived through these events and naturally commented on them. In January 1848 he gave a speech in Brussels on free trade in which he said:
  ‘The repeal of the Corn Laws in England is the greatest triumph of Free Trade in the 19th century. (…) Cheap food, high wages, this is the sole aim for which English Free-Traders have spent millions, and their enthusiasm has already spread to their brethren on the Continent. Generally speaking, those who wish for Free Trade desire it in order to alleviate the condition of the working class. But, strange to say, the people for whom cheap food is to be procured at all costs are very ungrateful. (…) The English workers have very well understood the significance of the struggle between the landlords and the industrial capitalists. They know very well that the price of bread was to be reduced in order to reduce wages, and that industrial profit would rise by as much as rent fell.’
He ended by stating that he was in favour of free trade but only because it would bring about a more rapid development of capitalism and the antagonism between the working class and the capitalist class and so hasten the social revolution. ‘It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favour of free trade’.

Johnson and Truss are not justifying the Australia trade deal on the grounds of ‘Cheap Food, High Wages’. The deal is essentially only symbolic and any reduction in food prices that it might bring would be very slight. But we can expect this argument to be used to justify other trade deals, especially that with the US. But it will be as invalid as it was in the 1840s. Cheaper food will mean cheaper wages, leaving workers no better off.

Another Problematic ‘Class System’ (2021)

The Proper Gander Column from the July 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The Paralympics. 

A prestigious opportunity for people to challenge themselves and, through hard work and determination, prove what they are capable of, smash records and win tournaments. But in reality? A cynical opportunity to make money by exploiting the way athletes are ‘classified’, which is ‘flawed, easily manipulated and lacking credibility’. This is the claim made by a recent edition of BBC1’s Panorama: Paralympics: The Unfair Games? Presenter Richie Powell competed as a wheelchair racer in the 1992 Paralympics, only three years after being paralysed from the chest down in a road accident. He speaks with athletes who, like him, have found sport to be a way to empower themselves and not be held back by the conditions they are living with. One of them is para-swimmer Levana Hanson, who explains how her confidence grew after joining a swimming club whose other members ‘didn’t see the disability, they saw me as a person’. Unfortunately, her enthusiasm was later dented by her experience, echoed by the other interviewees, of being a victim of the Paralympics’ system of classifying its competitors.

Taking place soon after the Olympics, the next Paralympic Games are due to start in Tokyo in August, having been postponed from 2020. The event began as the International Wheelchair Games held at Stoke Mandeville hospital in Buckinghamshire, timed to coincide with the 1948 London Olympics. Its founders aimed to use sport as therapy for ex-armed forces personnel with spinal injuries inflicted during the Second World War, and to integrate people with disabilities into wider society. The games as we know them today began in 1960, becoming larger and grander with each event. As more athletes with a wider range of medical issues participated in more tournaments, the process of deciding who should compete against who became more complicated. The current system of ‘functional classification’ was introduced in the 1980s, regulated by the International Paralympic Committee. Robert Shepherd, the former British Head Classifier explains that this system is based on testing and categorising ability, so athletes with similar capabilities compete against each other. Richie Powell was classified as a ‘T53’ for track athletes unable to use their core muscles. The lower the number, the greater the level of impairment. Some athletes and coaches manoeuvre their way round the system to get classified as a lower number than they should qualify for, so that they have the advantage of competing against people with more severe impairments.

One tactic is to get assessed by classifiers with a reputation for basing their decisions on negotiation rather than by medical tests. Another technique, apparently widespread among Australian Paralympic wannabes is to have cold showers or over-exercise before a classification assessment in order to emphasise their disability. The ex-Paralympians interviewed on the programme describe how they noticed that they were increasingly competing against, and losing to, athletes with less serious conditions. Hand cyclist Liz McTernan says that her sport is now ‘for the least disabled people that can get in the lowest category possible and win as many medals as possible’. In a bland response, the International Paralympic Committee said it found no instances which ‘could reasonably allege intentional misrepresentation’.

Of course, the motivation for those who manipulate the classification system to increase their chances of winning is money. Athletes and their associated staff rely on funding from lottery and government grants, and the more medals they win, the more funding they get. Their incomes are boosted by sponsorship and endorsement deals, which again hinge on how successful a sold-out athlete is. Ex-Paralympian Bethany Woodward argues that the drive to make athletes more marketable leads to more able-bodied people participating and winning in the Paralympics, ‘cleansing the sport of those very people that it was built for’. She adds that when she and others complained, the authorities told them not to speak out about classification and repeatedly threatened them with legal action. In a bland response, the International Paralympic Committee said it recognised that some athletes have concerns about classifications but ‘sports classes can feature athletes with different impairments’ where there is a ‘similar impact on … ability to practice’.

The ‘greatest scandal ever to hit the Paralympics’, as Richie Powell tells us, was what the Spanish basketball team did in the 2000 games. Shortly after the team won the tournament for people with intellectual disabilities, one of its members revealed himself as an undercover journalist. And his scoop was that most of the team had not undergone medical tests to ensure they had a disability (which in this category meant having an IQ of 75 or less) and were therefore faking their conditions. Following investigations, the team was stripped of their medals and all Paralympic competitions for people with intellectual disabilities were temporarily suspended.

However many bland responses the International Paralympic Committee dishes out, and however the classification process is regulated, the Paralympics, like any institution, can’t escape being moulded by the money system, and nor can the athletes taking part. The classification system itself involves reducing people to numbers, appropriately. The lure of financial gain is bound to push some people to find underhand ways to win. Methods such as exaggerating or inventing a disability are particularly dismissive of athletes genuinely striving to prove themselves, a reminder of how capitalism’s priorities alienate us from each other.
Mike Foster

50 Years Ago: The Common Market. In or Out. Does it Really Matter? (2021)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

It seems that the government will not have an easy ride into the Common Market, whatever happens at the negotiations. In this country there is a strengthening lobby which is pledged to fight the British entry. One theme which this lobby is playing is the fact that the people have not been consulted on the issue. This is not, of course, entirely true; anyone who voted for either Labour or Tory in the last election thinking that he was opposing Britain joining the EEC must have a serious mental blockage. More to the point, when were the people ever consulted on this kind of issue? When was there a referendum on a declaration of war? When did we have the chance to vote on issues like racist immigration Bills? Anti-trade union laws? So why make an exception over the Common Market? Could it be that the Labour Party are seeing in the issue the chance to grab quite a few votes and know that a middle line policy will grab them all the more and all the quicker? It is not unknown for issues like the Common Market to be obscured by a propaganda smokescreen behind which a capitalist party makes its attack. And the talk about a referendum is no more than a smokescreen put out to hide the essential fact that workers have no interests in the issue; whether Britain goes in or not will have no fundamental effect on our standing as workers.

(….)

How would you suggest we vote in any referendum on the Common Market?

The government don’t want to risk one in Britain for fear that the anti-German and imperialist prejudices stirred up in the past might result in a vote for “NO”. But in Ireland there’s got to be one. We suggest abstention, or rather rejection of the false choice by writing “WORLD SOCIALISM” across the ballot paper.

(Socialist Standard, July 1971)

Neither London nor Dublin but World Socialism (2021)

Editorial from the July 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

This year marks the centenary of the founding of the Northern Ireland statelet, also referred to as the North of Ireland, the ‘occupied six counties’ or Ulster depending on your point of view. In April, this anniversary was greeted with serious rioting in Protestant working-class areas of Belfast. Three causes were given – anger at the new hard border established in the Irish Sea by the Northern Ireland ‘Protocol’ as part of the final Brexit agreement with the EU, resentment at Sinn Fein politicians not being prosecuted for allegedly breaking Covid rules while attending a funeral of an IRA man, and the young rioters allegedly being put up to it by local loyalist gang leaders who wanted cover to protect their criminal activities. There are fears of further rioting during this month’s marching season.

But these explanations fail to consider the wider context in which this social unrest is taking place. The new statelet was born in 1921 in the aftermath of the Irish war of independence. In the North, pogroms were incited against the Catholic population leaving over five hundred dead, mainly Catholics. Thousands of Catholic workers were expelled from their workplaces in the engineering and shipyard industries. The Northern Unionist capitalists, anxious that the Northern industries centred around Belfast and Derry stay within the markets of the then British empire, agreed to a separate state in the North remaining in the UK. Not all unionists envisaged a state that marginalised its Roman Catholic minority. Edward Carson declared ‘from the outset let us see that the Catholic minority have nothing to fear from the Protestant majority’. James Craig, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, had other ideas when he stated ‘All I boast is that we are a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant state’. Under his watch, constituencies were gerrymandered to create Unionist majorities, the state forces, the notorious B-Specials and the RUC, were set up to keep the Catholic working class in their place. The Unionist ruling class reckoned that they needed to secure the support of the Protestant working class, by ensuring that the best paid jobs in the shipbuilding and engineering industries went to Protestant workers.

Although Northern Ireland has since been reformed, the religious sectarianism imprinted on its political DNA has not been fully erased.

It has often been pointed out that the Good Friday Agreement assumes a frictionless border between the North and South. Another less visible assumption was that the capitalist economy which was booming at the time in 1998 would continue to do so generating more jobs and higher incomes for the working class. However, this was never going to be the case. The capitalist economy tanked in 2008 with the resulting austerity and again with the current Covid-19 pandemic. Many workers have been plunged into greater poverty. Given the poisonous mixture of systemic sectarianism and economic insecurity, it is no wonder that violent clashes have occurred where workers turn on each other.

The truth is that Protestant and Catholic workers have more in common with each other than they have with the capitalist class. Protestant workers have no interest in a Northern Ireland linked with the UK and Catholic workers have no interest in a united Ireland. They both have an interest in establishing socialism.

This Fearsome World (1960)

Editorial from the June 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

We live in a fearsome and threatening world.

A world in which the two dominant capitalist Powers, Russia and the United States, compete frenziedly with each other to pile up huge stocks of guided missiles and atomic warheads. A world of four-minute “count-downs” and weapons which can be projected even from under the sea to land on targets thousands of miles away with pin-point accuracy. Rivalling these in frightfulness are other abominations—chemical poisons and bacteria, as well as viruses capable of carrying diseases hitherto unknown. Some of these are so virulent, according to recent reports, that one speck would suffice to wipe out the world’s population.

Vast sums of money are spent on armaments of all kinds, only for these to be superseded in a matter of years by others even deadlier and more costly. Some weapons, such as missiles and aircraft, can be out-of-date by the time they become “operational,” or even before. Millions and millions of pounds are wasted by the smaller Powers such as Britain on fiascoes like the Blue Streak, or by France in setting off insignificant atom-bombs in the middle of the Sahara. In such ways are Mankind’s capacities for scientific achievement perverted and mis-used under capitalism.

Apparently unmoved by all these signs of a society gone mad, the peoples of the world go about their daily business, seeking to forget or ignore the grim dark shadow that hangs over their lives.

But capitalism will not allow them to forget or ignore its terrible realities. As though to drag them willy-nilly to face these realities came the news that the Russians had shot down an American plane caught spying over their territory. Denying the story at first, the Americans admitted the accusation when they realised the Russians had captured the pilot alive. And then gradually the details came out—not from the Americans, be it noted, who still took refuge in saying as little as possible—but from our newspaper pundits who had been so quiet previously.

The Observer proceeded to tell us that it was not a weather plane, as the Americans had first contended, but a specially-built Lockheed jet with abnormally large wings (presumably for gliding long distances with the engine cut off) and capable of cruising at 550 miles an hour. Such planes, it added, had been mapping Russian territory for months and this one was not the first to have been hit.

The Guardian took up the story to recall that there hud been similar incidents in 1958 involving the shooting-down of American planes over Russia. This incident in its opinion was “much like the affair of the British frogman who was presumably sent to have a look at a Russian cruiser at the time of the Bulganin-Khruschev visit to Portsmouth—a reference to the ill-fated Commander Crabb whose disappearance caused so much speculation but which was never cleared up.

It was left to Chapman Pincher of the Daily Express, however, to brush aside all the hypocrisy by quite bluntly saying that ‘'though Intelligence is a dirty game every nation plays it. Why, we even spy on our allies.” According to Pincher, British reconnaissance planes had only recently been briefed to fly over French territory to monitor their atom-bomb tests. And as for Britain’s own tests in the Pacific, he added, they had been monitored by both the Americans and the Russians, the latter from submarines.

Of the few who reflected on the possible serious consequences of all these manoeuvrings. Paul Johnson in the Evening Standard noted the significant fact, that it was Khruschev himself who had given the order to destroy the aircraft. It was for Khruschev personally to decide, according to Johnson, whether the plane was just another intelligence mission or really the harbinger of a full-scale nuclear attack. In the event, “his nerve seems to have held, and he chose merely to destroy the aircraft rather than unleash the retaliatory deluge.”

Over-dramatic—and quite possibly an exaggeration of the situation. But the essential warning is there. Nobody can be certain that one day someone might not press the button, even in error, and “unleash the retaliatory deluge.”

A fearsome, threatening world, indeed—which only Socialism can transform info a secure and peaceful one.

News in Review: Syngman Rhee (1960)

The News in Review column from the June 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Syngman Rhee

In 1950 the U.S.A. intervened in Korea, when that country was torn by internal strife and faced with the threat that Communist China was attempting to take over the country. Fortunately for the U.S.A., Russia had just walked out of the Security Council, and the United States was able to get the United Nations' support against “Communist aggression" and go to the aid of Korea in order to save that country for “democracy.” Most nations of the Western bloc will not forget in a hurry places like Pusan and Seoul, where bitter fighting took place. Many died on both sides for that hackneyed phrase “ Freedom.” 

It has been asserted more than once that the so-called Chinese Communism is a repressive dictatorship where people have no rights and democratic government is not known—in fact it is a police state. The war, as we know, ended in a stalemate in 1953 with North Korea in the orbit of China and the Southern part under the “democracy” of Syngman Rhee. Following the recent shooting of demonstrators in Seoul. Mr. Christian Herter, the U.S. Secretary of State summoned Mr. Yen Chan Yeng, South Korea's Ambassador to the U.S.A. for discussion. Within an hour, the Secretary's Press Officer was “expressing the U.S.A.’s profound and growing concern over (1) the high-handed suppression of political opposition by Korea's 85 year old President Syngman Rhee; (2) brutal Korean police action against student protest marchers and (3) other repressive measures unsuited to a free democracy.” It seems that Syngman Rhee has all the aspirations and undemocratic desires of a minor Stalin. Unfortunately, the workers who died in defence of “Freedom” in Korea cannot protest, but we can. This is another of the many tragic examples of workers being hoodwinked with empty phrases. Wars are fought to perpetuate this vicious capitalist system, not to institute “democratic freedoms.”


Caryl Chessman

The recent legal, ritual putting to death of Caryl Chessman in San Quentin gas chamber, after twelve years' occupation of a death cell, brings into morbid focus the irrational and negative character of the death penalty. Those who defend the death penalty act on the base assumption that human nature is essentially anti-social and that only “the fear of the rope” deters us from asserting our “instincts” to wantonly murder and rape. On the contrary, it was our own society, which institutes at every level of social life struggle and competition, that nurtured the violence in Caryl Chessman's make-up during his earlier years. Twelve years ago, Chessman was a hardened criminal, a product of slum poverty, brutalised by a childhood history of reformatory schools. His own criminality was in itself a negative response to the injustices of his own environment. Yet by Chessman's own efforts through education, the man they executed was a thousand cultural miles removed from the man they originally condemned. But blind retribution had to proceed. For an individual to offend against morals by committing rape, as Chessman was convicted of having done, poses a social problem. But when organised society in all its brutal ignorance exacts primitive vengeance from the life of an individual after twelve years' incarceration, that constitutes a nightmare. The significance of the case of Caryl Chessman will be missed if we fail to condemn the society which first produced him and then so brutally destroyed him.


That Wedding

Princess Margaret's wedding has been a source of joy to the headline writers of the popular press for some months now. Sickening discussions have taken place on the number of bridesmaids, the style of the wedding dress, and so on. More recently, sections of the press have been coming down to earth with some articles on the cost of the whole pantomime. The Government, without batting an eyelid, has spent £25,000 on the wedding, with a further £40,000 on the honeymoon cruise. It is surprising that these papers, and some Labour M.P.'s. should suddenly criticise the expenditure on the cruise, because, as pointed out in the House of Commons, the royal yacht costs £4,000 a week in wages alone, whether or not it is in use. However, those in Parliament who do criticise, are in the minority; the majority think that as advertising agents for British capitalism, the royal family do a good job of work, and they should be paid accordingly, with now and then a bonus like this gigantic wedding.


Economic Rebore

Our economic system is a gigantic machine that needs constant care and attention. A mechanic who understands his car can keep it in good order indefinitely, but the political mechanics, whose job it is to keep capitalism in good running order, have very limited control over the caprices of our mode of production. However, one body of opinion insists that a healthy balance between production and consumption can be maintained, if, from time to time, the brakes are applied to working class spending. Production is geared to meet the demands of the market at their peak, and any fall in demand can cause chaos in the economy. The latest credit squeeze was designed to restrict the too rampant expansion of industry by putting a curb on capital investment. This old machine, even if it gets a de-carb and a rebore, is liable to break down at any time. We all have to travel in it, and it is time we thought seriously about getting ourselves a new one.


Policeman's Lot

The increasing rate of crime and the shortage of manpower in the police force has caused the Government to set up a Royal Commission to investigate the matter. A joint memorandum has been submitted to the Commission by the Police Federations of England and Wales and Scotland. The memorandum said “That the decline in the relative status and pay of the police constable was calamitous—that police pay should be maintained at between 40 and 45 per cent. above the average weekly earnings of manual workers." It was claimed in the memorandum that "the constable at the maximum of his scale is no longer 55 to 60 per cent. ahead of the average worker’s earnings. He has fallen so far that he is getting less pay than the average.” This situation led one Chief Constable into allowing his men to take up civilian work after finishing their duty, a state of affairs that is deplored in the memorandum, it being considered that “a constable should be paid sufficient to be able to hold himself aloof from spare time work which might lead to embarrassment or to a conflict of loyalties.”

This fall in pay is an example of the natural oscillation of price around value, caused by fluctuation of supply and demand on the market. The fact is that the post-war boom having created a terrific demand for productive labour power, the police force has been to some extent neglected in the mad scramble for profit. We use the term ”natural oscillation of price” because this applies to all commodities which are helpless to resist the effect of these oscillations. The unique commodity in this respect is labour power, whose owners can resist market fluctuations to some extent by intelligent use of their trade unions and the strike weapon. The police don’t have access to this weapon and are thus as helpless as a pot of- jam in determining its price.


Red Herrings

The second United Nations law of the sea conference — on the Icelandic fishing dispute — has ended in failure. Mr. John Hare, leader of the British delegation, blamed the "selfish interest" of the other contending capitalist countries. No capitalist class will ever admit that its own interests are selfish: the selfish ones are always the others. Our rulers will expect the working class to support them on this as on many other issues. But the disputes over three, six or twelve mile limit does not consume the working class. The only limits which concerns the workers is the budget between them two classes in society — the rulers on one side and the ruled on the other.


Plane Over Russia

The incident of the American plane which was shot down over Russia when on a spying mission raised a furore. There was much criticism of the American action, especially in left-wing circles. It is hard to see why this was. The present division of the world into mutually contending powers — which is inevitable so long as there is capitalism — means that each country must spy on all the others in order not to be taken at a disadvantage if war breaks out. It all goes back to the basic contradiction in all non-Socialist "progressive” thinking: the system of capitalism is supported. and yet its results are attacked.

Ungrateful Employees (1960)

From the June 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

According to the Insurance Information Institute of Los Angeles, U.S. businessmen, organisations and industry are being swindled out of more than £70 million each day by their employees. It is said that many of the major thefts were traced to "old and trusted employees, almost like members of the family.” The report described the more audacious cases; one man employed by a stove firm carried them away piece by piece and after reassembling, sold them at a reduced price. We learn from Mr. Mee, a senior U.S. insurance official, that the cumulative effect of this most ungracious pilfering activity on the part of dishonest employees has forced many firms to the brink of bankruptcy and beyond. But there is a saying "when in Rome do as the Romans do.” Capitalism sets today's standards as it has done for about two hundred years, and a fact which so often escapes people's minds is that the accumulated wealth which is owned by the capitalist class is a direct result of what can only be described as a swindle at the expense of the working class.

It would appear that when a worker helps himself in what can mostly be a small insignificant scale, society condemns him as a ”petty swindler,” a “cheap crook,” and his repentance is demanded, but when capitalists do the same on a very much larger scale, within the law, they arc acclaimed "public benefactors ” and are given either a knighthood or considered suitable for a presidential candidature. It is, of course, easy to understand Mr. Mee's concern for the bankrupt employers. After all, insurance companies have one of the largest vested interests in the smooth running of capitalism. The fact is that workers are not audacious enough. If they were, then perhaps they would do the logical thing and take over not only all they produce, but more importantly, also the means and instruments of production themselves. The taking of chances by old and trusted employees would then be unnecessary, and for that matter, so would employers and insurance companies.
W. G. C.

The Steam Ship (1960)

From the June 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Transport and the Growth of Industry (5)


Steam did not easily conquer sail. Although potentially the more powerful method of propulsion, it had a hard fight to establish itself. As early as the 15th and 16th centuries, for example, men were investigating steam power. But the idea was defeated by the lack of the necessary metal alloys, steel and so forth. It was the Industrial Revolution, bringing the social need for new techniques, which solved the problem and established the new motive power.

The first application of steam was to the driving of factories and the pumping-out of mines. The early engines were heavy affairs, expensive consumers of fuel and capable of only low horse power. The engineers therefore turned their attention to boats, which with their displacement of water. and ability to carry the heavy engine promised to be a profitable method of applying steam.

In the early 1800's, the Europeans were using a conventional type of vessel which had changed only slowly: the Victory, a first ship of the line, was over 40 years old at Trafalgar. The Americans, on the other hand, were untrammelled by old shipbuilding traditions, had plenty of first class timber and attracted the venturesome and radical mechanics and immigrants. Thus they could improve the style of sailing ships.

After the Napoleonic Wars, immigration to the Americas increased, the bulk of it being carried by the Yankee clipper ships, running the first advertised liner service. The Americans were the leading shipbuilders, with transatlantic cargo boats of 1,200 tons against the British average of about 250 tons. They also built the faster ships, with an increased ratio of length to beam. All this improvement in sail was preparing the ground for the adoption of steam.

The first steam boats, because of their heavy fuel consumption, worked on short river journeys. In the early 19th century, Symington invented a steam boat for use on the new canals, but the canal owners neglected his work. In the United States in 1807, Fulton built a ferry, successfully steam driven. Steam river and harbour boats turned up in odd corners of the earth: in Italy in 1824, Java in 1811, India in 1820, and as packet steamers in the Irish Channel. But it was in expanding America, where the rivers and lakes were the principal method of communication, that the real development took place. Wood was a plentiful—and therefore a cheap—fuel. A fast marine engine was developed to overcome the swift river currents. So successful was this development that by 1833 there were about 300 paddle boats in use in America. In many ways, this concentration on opening the interior led the Yankee shipping interests to lose their supremacy in the development of the Atlantic steam boat.

The Industrial Revolution had made Britain a great iron and machine producing nation; this proved to be a trump card in their bid to regain supremacy in the Atlantic and Pacific. The Americans tried to muscle in, building the Savannha, but this was a half-hearted effort: they later removed Savannha's engines. The 1830s and 1840s saw many types of vessels coming onto the Atlantic, with men like Sam Cunard and Isambard Brunei prominent shipbuilders. British investors were eager to support the steamships—Liverpool and Glasgow, for example, raised some £270,000 in a few days for one of Sam Cunard’s ventures.

Of course, the steamships had their problems, being expensive both to build and to run. The first Cunarder cost some £45 per ton to build, against £15 for every ton of a sailing vessel. The Britannia of 1840 could carry only 225 tons of cargo—and for this needed 640 tons of coal. The steamers could make more runs to a regular timetable, but much of the extra profit which this brought was eaten up by the costs of building and running. This made them concentrate on the busy and more lucrative routes; the British shipowners were always very keen to get the Government mail contract, as the payment was a form of subsidy. The expansion of British commerce sent the steamships on routes other than the Atlantic. Anderson and Wilcox opened the Spanish trade and later, when they got the mail contract to India, formed the famous Peninsular and Orient Line. Regular services were in operation to the principal South American ports—this under the eye of the Admiralty, who were interested in the use of steam for warships.

Indeed, it was the need of the British capitalist class to maintain a large navy to protect their far-flung interests which forced the steady flow of design and skill to be used for both naval and mercantile purposes. In contrast, the European powers lagged behind. North Germany was still a tangle of small states and free cities, with capital in the hands of a few families who were reluctant to take the necessary steps of widening ports and deepening channels. The Dutch were in no better state. It was well into the 1850’s before the French started anything like a regular steamship service.

Sail not Finished
The 1850’s saw the screw replacing the paddle amongst the larger sea-going vessels. Over the previous 40 years there had been great development; engine had become more complex and efficient, using less coal in relation to their increased power. Brunel’s Great Eastern was not typical of the ships of the day, but it was a signpost of things to come. By 1862, Holt had 3,000 ton steamers in operation, whose engines used 2¼ lb. of coal per horse power each hour (to work up a pressure of 60 lb. per square inch). Compare this with the 10 lbs. of coal used in the 1820’s to generate 56 lbs. per square inch.

But sail was by no means finished. Sailing ships were cheaper to run, which made them attractive to the trumping, coasting and whaling trades. It also enabled them to cover the cost of delays in the ports of the newly developed lands, where lack of loading aids and dock construction meant weeks of waiting whilst cargoes were man handled ashore. For this reason, sailing ships were extensively used in the South American fertiliser and chemical trade. They were also used for the Australian immigration trade in the 1860’s, which was denied to the steamships by the lack of coaling stations. It was this run which led the Aberdeen builders to modernise (or Americanise) their design, making the famous ships which often grace calendars and other pictures. Typical of these was the Cutty Sark.

There are few things which catch the imagination of the romantic so much as a clipper at full sail. There are, of course, a number of facts which the romantics overlook. Sailing ships had to be towed out of ports by steam tugs—without this assistance, it was not unusual for them to spend days trying to get out of the English Channel or the mouth of the Elbe. The clippers were difficult to handle and were only kept afloat by the crew's intimate knowledge of sea and sail. Seamen's conditions were poor compared with those on the steamships; it was, for example, quite usual in bad weather for men to be flung overboard from the rigging. The competent crews began to leave the sailing ships and this was one of the factors in their slow decline.

By the 1880's the European powers were able to offer a real challenge to British control of the Atlantic. Germany was united and, expanding, warlike and naval conscious, built large and powerful liners. Belgium was one of the many countries where American shipbuilding money was invested; the Dutch, French and Italians were also in the struggle. The Scandinavians were becoming the Carter Paterson of the sea.

Thus the steamships, like the railway and the motor car, became part of capitalist development, part of the commercial bloodstream in the body of private property. The machine caused the mercantlile powers to overhaul the system of maritime training. This meant the end of the illiterate sea captain and the brutal seamen, their heads full of unwritten sea lore which they passed on by word of mouth. Seamen became like factory workers and, like their landlubber cousins, learned to organise in trade unions to improve their conditions. When they are in demand—as in wartime— they are made much of, but they are often the first to suffer in times of a trade slump.

In sea transport, capitalism has played a typical role. It has developed, organised and divided. The ships, the men who make them and the men who sail in them, have all been changed by it.
Jack Law