Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Miner’s Strike – Why (1984)

From the September 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why did 120,000 miners join what has become the longest, bitterest and most controversial strike in the British coal industry since 1926? Clearly, it is no answer to say that they are motivated by subversive political aims or that they have all been hoodwinked by nasty Arthur Scargill and the NUM leaders. We can read this kind of facile substitute for an explanation in the propaganda press.

Economics under capitalism are concerned first and foremost with price and profit. Production is regarded as “uneconomic” when investment of capital shows little or no prospect of leading to profit for the investor. Being “uneconomic” is not at all the same as being “useless”. For example, dairy farming is currently “uneconomic” within the EEC countries because more milk is produced than can be sold profitably. However, milk is desperately needed by the 40,000 children who, according to UNICEF, die of starvation or malnutrition-caused diseases every single day. So, when the economic experts say that miners are producing too much coal, this excess relates to profit rather than need. Similarly, when they say that investment in certain miners is “uneconomic” this does not mean there is not plenty of coal in them, but that capital investment in mining such coal would be unprofitable.

Politicians like Thatcher have never forgiven the NUM for the success of their last strike. Responding to the feelings of many capitalists, her government wants to weaken the power of the miners. A leaked Cabinet Minute of 1979 explained that 
A nuclear programme would have the advantage of removing a substantial proportion of electricity from disruption by miners and transport workers.
Economists are not paid to think about the devastation of the old mining communities which pit closures cause: destroying long-established ways of life does not appear on their balance sheets. Economists are not paid to register the harsh facts that more than half of the men attempting suicide are unemployed and that the rate of successful suicides in Britain has shot up during the present recession. Nor are they paid to bother themselves about the old workers who will die this winter because they are too poor to switch on a heater. Electricity output has been reduced because there is much less market demand for it by domestic consumers, while the non-recognition of real human demand leads to the totally unnecessary social disease of hypothermia. But none of these factors is of economic significance under capitalism: let communities be converted into industrial wastelands, let thousands of useful and energetic miners be forced into idleness, let thousands be cold for lack of coal-based heating.

Myths about the State
There was once a time when miners, in the company of many other workers, were easily persuaded that the solution to the problems of the profit system was nationalisation of industry. If only the mines were owned and controlled by the government rather than by private capitalists, it was asserted, the miners would have little to worry about. Forty years ago Will Lawther, the President of the Mineworkers’ Federation of Great Britain (the predecessor to the NUM), asked readers to imagine what could be achieved through nationalisation:
It would win the complete confidence of the miners and their families. Generations of suspicion and hatred would be wiped out, and an entirely new attitude developed towards the coal industry . . . Only through public ownership can you really plan the effective use of Britain’s coal resources, plan production on the basis of modernisation or mechanisation, and bring about complete unity between your export and domestic coalfields . . .” (Foreword to Britain’s Coal by Margot Heinemann, 1944).
Lawther goes on to predict that nationalisation would “enormously improve output and make use even of old coalfields that are looked upon as being worked out” and that “only the nationalisation of the mines can win the confidence of the miners”. One can forgive miners for having been taken in by these hopes for capitalism at the time, even if—it must be added—the Socialist Party of Great Britain was then pointing out to those who would listen that nationalisation offered no solution to the workers. But now, after decades of experience of state capitalism in action, it is politically inane for workers to imagine that nationalised industries are in any way immune from the economic laws of capitalism. The NCB, as the state employer, is just as exploitative and antagonistic to the workers’ interests as were the old mine owners.

The second myth which needs to be dispelled is that the state—the government, the law, the judges, the police commanders—is neutral. The state must be the political defender of the ruling class. When thousands of miners are stopped from picketing, when hundreds of miners are beaten by the police and when the funds of the South Wales NUM are stolen by the courts, it is clear that the state exists to reinforce the needs of capital. It would make no difference if the Labour Party was running the state instead of the Tories. That is why, when the Labour Party was in office between 1964 and 1970, they closed down 48 pits and made over 50,000 miners unemployed in the South Wales region alone.

In the first three months of the strike one miner was arrested every twenty minutes—3,282 arrests in all. Over 80 per cent of these arrests were for “breach of the peace” or “obstruction”. Obviously the government has instructed the police to use tough tactics in dealing with the strikers. The well-known television picture of a police officer beating a defenceless striker with a truncheon is but one of numerous examples of police brutality in a battle initiated by the state. But as ordinary workers, paid to do an unpleasant job, it is not the police workers on the picket lines who are to be blamed: the real culprits are the legally respectable and physically secure boot-boys who pull the strings of the state.

The NCB has increased its importation of cheap Polish coal which is one of the factors weakening the effects of the British miners’ strike. The NUM now has an official picket outside the Polish Embassy, calling on the Polish bosses to suspend imports in order to strengthen the effects of the British strike. But when Polish miners attempted to set up an independent union of their own the President of the NUM (writing in his personal capacity) argued that such action constituted “sabotage” and that the Polish miners should be loyal to their state bosses. The capitalists, who not for the first time are benefiting from the tactic of Divide and Rule, must be laughing all the way to the bank as they import cheap coal from their “Communist” enemies. Reproduced below is the full text of a resolution published by the underground Solidarity union in the Warsaw region, first published in their illegal journal, CDN. It shows that the writers and supporters of this Polish resolution are thinking along internationalist lines:
“For four months the British miners have been on strike against a programme of mass closures of mines for economic reasons. The miners are threatened with unemployment. The government has rejected compromise solutions and has resorted to severe police methods against the strikers. Thousands of miners have been arrested; hundreds have been hospitalised and one has been killed.

The government of the Polish People’s Republic, despite hypocritical condemnations of the activities of the British police in the columns of the regime press and by the regime’s pseudo-trade unionists, is profiting from the export of coal to Britain. It sells dirt cheap coal which has been mined in scandalously neglected working conditions and with reckless condemnation of the labour force and the coalfield. The slave labour of the Polish miner serves to break the resistance of the British miner.

British miners! The true sentiments of Polish trade unionists towards the authorities of the Polish People’s Republic and their practices was shown in the recent electoral farce which was boycotted by the workers. In the prevailing conditions of terror, the Polish workers’ movement is at present not in a position to undertake protest actions. But you may be certain that as you have supported and are supporting our struggle, so we are in solidarity with you. We strongly oppose every case where force is used against workers struggling for their rights and interests.” (Published in CDN, Mazowsze region, 26 June, 1984).
How painful it would be for the workers who produced the above resolution to know that the President, and several other key leaders, of the NUM believe that Solidarity should not exist.

What the miners struggle has shown
As the miners’ strike has not been organised by socialists, it is not surprising that tactics have been employed with which we disagree. It is possible that the division within the NUM could have been avoided; full, democratic decision-making within the workers’ movement is always the surest guarantee of strength.

But the miners’ struggle has shown the importance of solidarity between workers of one county and another one country and another. The sense of common purpose and dedication which thousands of miners have shown during the strike contrasts sharply with many previous struggles in trade union history, where workers have been conned into co-operating in their rulers’ interests. Let any miserable little cynic who says that workers are incapable of self-organised co-operation take a look at the tremendous achievements in communal self-help which strikers have set up.

Secondly, the strike has shown the Labour Party and its Leftist followers to be quite unable to point the miners in the direction of socialism. According to the theory, Leftists are supposed to wait for major struggles like this one in order to move in and tell the workers about the alternative to capitalism. In fact, the SWP, CP, WRP, RCP and numerous other inflatable vanguards have not produced a single leaflet between them urging the miners to transform their demands into the political aim of abolishing the wages system. As for the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock and his fellow mis-leaders have had little to offer but empty rhetoric. After all, every time the Labourites stand up in the House of Commons to tell the Tories how wicked they are, the Tories have been able to quote chapter and verse showing that previous Labour governments have run the mines in just the same way—to meet the demands of the profit system.

In any strike between robbers and robbed (with the exception of political strikes, such as when the dockers opposed immigration or the Labourites ran their phoney day of action) the Socialist Party is unequivocally on the side of the robbed. In the class war no worker and no political party can be neutral. But in expressing solidarity with workers in struggle, we point out that our sympathy and their temporary gains will be meaningless unless victory involves winning the war and not just one battle. To win the class war workers must organise as a class for the conquest of the earth and all its resources. No lesser victory is worth settling for.
Steve Coleman

Briefing: Sir Keith's education (1984)

The Briefing Column from the September 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Joseph clashes on ‘Marxist slant' in Open University" was the arresting headline which the Sunday Times (1 July) gave to an article by their Education Correspondent, Peter Wilby. What is happening at the OU? The net contribution of my school and “higher" education towards my socialist knowledge was nil, and that goes for most socialists, I guess. The article just had to be compulsive reading.

Apparently Sir Keith has been taking a close personal interest in the University’s foundation course in social science, coded D102. Earlier this year he asked for copies of the 20 course booklets and commissioned a secret 17-page report, written, we are told, by "a number of professional economists", alleging serious bias.

Just what was the "serious bias” about which Sir Keith is complaining? Wilby’s article quotes some detailed complaints:

1) "The (course) authors are preoccupied ‘with depicting production as essentially a struggle between capital and labour’.” Now in our present-day society—capitalism—the working class, the overwhelming majority, have no other way to scratch a living than to sell their physical and mental energies (labour power). Capital and labour thus face each other as buyers and sellers, those interests a priori must be antagonistic. Another angle on this conflict is to see it as a struggle over the division of the product of labour. The higher the share taken by the non-producing capitalists, the less is the portion left for the producers of the whole wealth of society, the working class.

2) “Profit is seen purely in terms of the expropriation of a surplus created by labour; no mention is made of its possible role as a reward for risk-taking or for the stress and burdens of entrepreneurship.” This concedes that surplus wealth (above the worker’s pay) accounts for capitalist profits. We can concede that a capitalist investor is sometimes taking a calculated risk, with heavy losses on occasions taking the place of spectacular profits. But what have the capitalists as a class contributed to the actual productive process? In both cases, nothing. As for the stresses and strains of entrepreneurship, where they represent a real contribution they are now almost exclusively performed by salaried employees, members of the working class.

3) “The booklets are ‘at great pains to conclude that Britain is basically a capitalist economy’. The report says that ‘most professional economists' would not agree." Very unprofessional judgement, professional economists! It should be obvious from the definition of capitalism which we gave in 1). that the only area of the world to which it does not apply are those still at earlier stages of development (for example. New Guinea). What confuses these "professionals" and others is the position of nationalised industries, where a state-run body acts as employer. However workers in these enterprises are selling their labour power in exactly the same way as workers in "private" industry are to their bosses.

4) “Capitalists are viewed as having a desire to keep wages as low as possible.” We saw under 1) that all things being equal, the smaller the share of the total wealth accruing to the workers the greater the profits of the capitalist class. In some cases, by paying somewhat higher wages an employer may attract better workmen or women and so increase profits. Also, although it is difficult to express this in figures, a happier workforce on pay somewhat above the going rate may perform better and again produce more profits. Perhaps a better way of putting it would be “a desire to maximise profits”, but this is pretty well the same as minimising wages relative to profits.

5) “The ‘overthrow of capitalism’ is mentioned three times in half a page." We know that Sir Keith and his friends don’t want to overthrow capitalism, but here we are given no clue on the context of these remarks and what the OU authors understand by the term.

6) “Monetarist theory is described as ‘silly’ and attributed to ‘class interest’.” Definitely a sensitive point with Sir Keith. Monetarist theory is a totally inadequate model to describe the workings of the capitalist system, which is a long-winded way of saying that it is silly. As such its advocacy can only benefit the class in whose interest the capitalist system operates.

At this point the professional economists might as well give up. From their complaints you would think that course D102 had been prepared by the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Alas, this is very far from being the case. In answer to the criticism from Sir Keith’s department. Peter Wilby quotes a spokesman for the University as saying “The booklets also describe Britain as a ‘mixed economy’ and add that they refer to it as capitalist ‘not in order to dismiss the importance of the state sector but to continue reminding ourselves of its dependence on the rest of the economy’.” This quote is enough to show what line the authors of D102 have really adopted. State ownership is socialism. Russia is socialist. The conflict between capital and labour can be regulated within the framework of the present social system, or at least this has to be the implication as the authors have no concept of how it can be transcended.

Having said that, we can afford a chuckle at the extreme sensitivity shown by Joseph and his allies to what is taken to be criticism of their capitalist system of society. Their intervention to try to alter the contents of this course is being undertaken because they believe they are suppressing socialist propaganda. But the contents of course D102 appear similar to the misconceptions propagated for many years now by the so-called left wing parties. These have led many workers, who realised that something is seriously wrong with capitalist society, to expend their energies along futile paths which have divided the working class. In contrast the anaemic, 100 per cent pro-capitalist course which Sir Keith would no doubt like to see substituted for D102 could well be seen by some students as so far removed from real life that the result may be to enhance their efforts to work out things for themselves. That road took me and many others into the Socialist Party.
E. C. Edge

Letter From Europe: Exit the "Communist" Ministers (1984)

The Letter From Europe Column from the September 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

After three years of sharing responsibility for governing French capitalism (for two of which, beginning with the four-month wage freeze imposed in June 1982, the government pursued an openly anti-working class policy), the PCF has decided it has had enough. When Mitterrand changed his Prime Minister in July the PCF found an excuse not to participate in the new government of Laurent Fabius, a whizz-kid of bourgeois origin (his father is a rich art dealer) the successor of Pierre Mauroy.

Although Mitterrand did not insist that the PCF should be excluded he was probably satisfied that they decided to go of their own accord. He had after all changed his Prime Minister precisely to give the impression. in the run-up to the 1986 General Election, that he had broken with his failed past policies. He wanted to alter his government's image by having as Prime Minister a man who better incarnated the change of policy towards the crisis forced on the government by the operation of capitalism: the “modernisation” of industry.

His government had in fact been pursuing this policy for some time but the presence of Mauroy as Prime Minister — and of the PCF ministers — represented a visible link with the previous, failed policy (on which both Mitterrand and his parliamentary majority had been elected) of trying to make capitalism work in the interest of the working class. This policy had been abandoned as long ago as June 1982 when the wage freeze was imposed and a deliberate policy of helping enterprises to restore their profit margins was adopted. It was abandoned, we hasten to add, not because Mitterrand and his government had decided to betray the working class but because it was unrealistic, in fact impossible, since capitalism just cannot be made to work in the interest of the working class. That the previous policy was unrealistic in capitalist terms was explicitly recognised by Mitterrand who repeatedly declared, for the benefit of the PCF and certain members of his own party who wanted to continue the old policy, that the policy adopted in June 1982 was "the only one possible”.

During the presidential campaign in 1981 Mitterrand and his supporters had promised to end the crisis and reduce unemployment by increasing “popular consumption”, by giving people more money to spend as a way of stimulating production. This wouldn’t work as crises under capitalism are not caused by a lack of purchasing power but by a lack of prospects for profit-making.

But it is true that Mitterrand and Mauroy did begin by honouring their promise. The minimum wage was increased, social benefits were improved, more civil servants were taken on. This increase in “popular consumption" financed by the printing press led to prices rising in France faster than among its commercial rivals, bringing about an increase in imports and a drop in exports, a balance of payments crisis and as early as October 1981 a devaluation of the franc. From then on it was downhill all the way: June 1982: Second devaluation. First austerity package. March 1983: Third devaluation and second austerity package.

Meanwhile unemployment grew from the 1,630,700 it was when Mitterrand came into office to 2,147.700 in June 1984.

Parallel with this economic failure went a growing disaffection of those who had voted for Mitterrand and the Left in 1981. Local elections and by-elections all showed a steady swing to the rightwing opposition parties, including the National Front (basically the same as its British counterpart) which, in the recent European elections, polled nearly as many votes as the PCF and won itself 10 members in the 81-member French delegation to the European Parliament.

Here too Mitterrand and his party decided to operate a tactical turn. Instead of appealing to the working class — to whom they had now learned they had nothing to offer given the way the capitalist system operates — they decided to try to show that the Left was just as capable as the Right of managing capitalism—and of imposing the anti-working class decisions that this necessarily involves. If we are going to lose the 1986 General Election, the reasoning went, let us at least show that we are capable administrators of capitalism so that the charge of economic incompetence cannot be levelled against us in the 1991 elections.

Mitterrand began to adopt the language of his conservative predecessor. Giscard. The same terms — modernisation, enterprise, innovation, competitivity, risk, initiative. profit — rolled off his lips. Taxed about this in a newspaper interview on the third anniversary of his election as President. he replied:
What! The words modernisation, enterprise. innovation and the rest are rightwing? That’s an absurd assumption. (Liberation, 10 May 1984).
"Modernisation” is a nice-sounding word, suggesting the building of new factories with robots, automation and the rest. In fact it is a euphemism to describe what always happens when capitalism is in one of its periodic depressions. The least productive enterprises go to the wall and are eliminated from the competitive struggle for profits. This results in a rise in the average productivity in particular industries and so in a fall in their average costs, this putting them in a better competitive position against the same industries in other countries. In other words, the rise in average productivity and so in competitivity comes about not so much through the introduction of modern machines as through the elimination of old-fashioned ones — and of the jobs of those who operate them.

This is what modernisation means in practice. So the workers of France have nothing to gain from the new government’s declared intention, expressed in the new Prime Minister’s first declaration on the very evening of the day he was appointed, to "modernise the country”. This inevitably means more closures, more sackings, more job losses, more unemployment. Fabius openly admitted this in the new government's policy declaration before the National Assembly on 24 July:
Modernisation — one must have the honesty to say so — may cost more jobs before creating them (Liberation, 25 July).
This argument that the way to full employment lies through letting unemployment grow in a depression through the elimination of inefficient firms is true to the extent that slump conditions, if allowed to work themselves through, do eventually prepare the ground for the subsequent period of boom (and vice versa of course, though capitalist politicians are not so keen on mentioning this, anxious as they are to maintain the illusion that a boom can be made to be permanent). But this represents a complete U-turn compared to the pre-1981 election promises of Mitterrand and his parliamentary majority. Not that there was really any choice in the matter: any government has to adopt this approach sooner or later, whether willingly (like Reagan and Thatcher) or reluctantly (like Mitterrand, perhaps), since it is dictated by the economic logic of the capitalist system within which they work.

Mitterrand himself, in his interview with Liberation on 10 May, had also been explicit enough about what modernisation would involve:
If you consider that being on the Left rules out modernising the country because of the suffering that all change causes, then I can't follow you. And yet I ask myself everyday about what I have the right to ask of the working class which has been the victim of so many injustices and so much oppression since the coming of the industrial era.
And two months later, on a visit to the Auvergne region of France, he told complaining trade unionists:
The state is not an industry, and the nationalised enterprises are not there to serve the state. Certainly, they have particular duties, but they must manage, invest, organise according to the idea which they form. If they were to be transformed into a government department, you would see the substitution of a bureaucracy for all the living forces. The idea that a nationalised enterprise can escape from the crisis and artificially create jobs? No, that would be to undermine a sector that I have extended (Le Monde, 8/9 July 1984).
Adding, as off-the-cuff remarks that might have come from Thatcher or Reagan (or Kinnock after he has had three years experience of administering capitalism — if he ever gets the chance, that is), “the state does not have the task of creating industries. of rushing to the aid of enterprises in danger" and “one cannot ask the state to be satisfied with covering losses. It must also make profits" (Liberation. 7/8 July).

In a sense, in belatedly withdrawing from the government the PCF has been more loyal to the promises on which Mitterrand and the PS/PCF parliamentary majority were elected than have Mitterrand and the PS. But what the PCF fails to realise is that these promises were quite unrealistic and could not have been honoured because of the very nature of the capitalist system within which they were to be implemented. Capitalism just cannot be made to work in the interest of the majority class of wage and salary earners. It is a profit-making system that can only work in the interest of those who live off profits derived from exploiting wage-labour. Mitterrand and the PS learned this within a year of coming to power and then settled down to administering capitalism in the only way it can be: against the working class.

The PCF, even though it accepted for at least two years to go along with the anti-working class policy any government of capitalism is sooner or later obliged to adopt, still entertains the old illusions. But there's no particular merit in remaining loyal to promises that have been proved to be illusory.

The PCF will no doubt now go before the workers telling them that Mitterrand and his government have failed because they have deliberately chosen to pursue a pro-capitalist rather than a pro-working class policy, whereas this failure was not a question of intention or sincerity or determination but due to the nature of capitalism. Mitterrand, the PS and indeed the PCF failed because in the context of capitalism this was pre-programmed. No government can make capitalism serve the interest of the wage and salary earning majority.
Adam Buick

Billion-dollar Games (1984)

From the September 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the biggest media and commercial binges in the last four years got under way at the end of July. We refer of course to the Los Angeles Olympics, rumoured by some simple souls to be a sporting festival but in fact an excuse for making money and reinforcing nationalist prejudices.

These were clearly the most commercialised Games ever held. The stages of carrying the Olympic torch across the United States were auctioned for three thousand dollars a kilometre and prominent alongside each runner was someone in a T-shirt advertising the telephone company, AT & T. Each sporting facility had its own sponsor; McDonalds, for instance, built the swimming pool, and Southlands Corporation the cycling velodrome. Fearing a repetition of the Montreal fiasco of 1976 (where the Games will not be paid for until the next century), Los Angeles only agreed to accept the Games if it could be guaranteed that the city would not lose money on them. This was assured when a consortium of businessmen accepted responsibility and set out to make as much money from the Games as they could.

The modern top-class sportsperson can hardly be other than a full-time athlete. Long gone are the days when it was possible to stay at the top by means of a couple of light training sessions a week. Training nowadays is highly scientific, with different emphases for different events, and a daily commitment is required. This is partly why Olympic eligibility is determined not by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) but by the international governing body of each sport. So runners are allowed to make a living from the sport, while swimmers are not. In 1988, when tennis is part of the Games, professionals will be openly allowed to compete — provided they are under twenty!

The American athlete Carl Lewis has openly stated that "the Olympics are about money and not much else”. And he should know: he calculated that every gold medal he won in the Games (and he won four) would be worth one and a half million pounds to him. There would be endorsements for sports products, of course, but also for clothes, deodorants, and the like. Coca-Cola are discussing an extra contract with Lewis worth over four million pounds. Even this will just keep him in the style to which he is accustomed. He maintains his “amateur” status by having his income paid into a trust from which he can draw generous “expenses”. Not surprisingly, he sees little point in formally turning professional.

It may be worth recalling that the original Olympics of Ancient Greece were not based on amateur ideals either. In addition to victory garlands, sizeable prize money was paid, and athletes eventually organised their own professional associations to negotiate with the promoters of games. It is probably not too far-fetched to discern a professional circuit of games which provided an income for highly-trained full-time athletes. There was no pretence that taking part was more important than winning: victory in competition was what mattered, and there were no records or personal bests.

According to the accepted mythology, the Olympics were revived in 1896 because of the heroic vision and single-minded energy of Baron de Coubertin. In fact, there had been plenty of earlier attempts to do so. In 1612, Robert Dover founded the Cotswold Olympics, which won royal approval from James I (they endured in some form till 1852, when they were discontinued because of “debauchery”). In 1862, some “Olympics” were held in Liverpool, but nothing further came of them. Basically, these were sports gatherings for ordinary people — it took an aristocratic movement to get the Olympics truly going again.

De Coubertin was much influenced by the ethos of the English public schools and sport’s role in them. Thus his list of proposed sports for the first Games included rowing and cricket. The early Games were very much for the rich — ordinary workers could not afford the cost of attending, and sporting organisations were too primitive to arrange and finance large teams. In fact it was not until 1908 that entries were made nationally rather than individually, a change which presaged the later jingoism and national rivalries. Many of the early competitors — especially those from the United States and Great Britain — were university athletes, as these institutions provided some of the best facilities for training and competition.

Ironically it was in 1936, the year of the Berlin Olympics, that de Coubertin died. The Olympics had been assigned to Berlin in 1931, before the Nazi takeover, and no had forseen what would happen. No expense was spared in providing superb stadia and other facilities, or in ensuring that the German squad was trained as well as was possible. In 1933 the American Amateur Athletic Union had voted to boycott the Games if German Jewish athletes were discriminated against: but in December 1935 the American Olympic Committee decided narrowly against a boycott. It is often said that the 1936 Games were the first overtly political ones, but a better candidate for this title is the 1920 Games, which were awarded to Antwerp (as an emotional consolation to Belgium after the war) and from which those countries defeated in the war were excluded.

The organisation of events so as to fit in with convenient television timings is a fairly recent innovation but their manipulation for non-sporting reasons is not. For instance, the marathon distance of 26 miles 385 yards has no connection with Ancient Greek battles. The distance was fixed at the London Games of 1908. The race was run from Windsor to the White City, which turned out to be precisely 26 miles. But an extra 385 yards was added so that the finish could take place in front of the Royal Box.

Talking of royalty, the Games are fated to occur in the same years as American Presidential elections. But for this, there would hardly have been an American boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games. This year President Reagan has noted the potential for exploiting the Games as part of his re-election campaign. Having been thwarted by Olympic officials in his attempt to secure a more than purely formal role in the opening ceremony, he made the most of every American success. As far as the tame American media were concerned, there was certainly only one country competing.

Which brings us to the boycott on the part of Russia and other East European countries. This was ostensibly because of lack of guaranteed security in Los Angeles but is more likely to be at bottom another move in the lofty and lowly world of power politics. In view of the strength of some of the withdrawing countries, it inevitably means that the achievement of the winners will be devalued, thus reducing the capital that Reagan can make out of American medals. One side-effect of the boycott was the decision of the IOC to pay all the expenses of the Rumanian team, as a way of ensuring some East European presence.

With these the third Games in succession to suffer from a boycott, the IOC executive committee has proposed that attendance at future Games be made compulsory. Of course, the only way to punish infringements of such a rule would be suspension from the Olympic movement. Like truancy from school being punished by expulsion. It clearly takes an Olympic committee to dream up something like this.

The Olympics, then, were not a sporting festival designed to promote international peace and harmony, but a further example of the way capitalist rivalries and priorities pollute and distort every aspect of life under the present social system.
Paul Bennett

SPGB Meetings (1984)

Party News from the September 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard