Friday, January 28, 2022

The Future of the Sudan (1959)

From the January 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Commentary on the recent coup d'état in the Sudan has been curiously limited. It is true that the seizure of power in mid-November by a military council was accomplished in unspectacular bloodless fashion; nevertheless, the overthrow of a government in so close proximity to the centre of recent world troubles ought, one thinks, to have made bigger news. Even the serious informational papers had not much to say. The Observer provided only 26 column-inches about it in two issues and the Manchester Guardian, though it gave most of all, did so largely in reference to the northern cotton market.

The reason is not hard to see. Events are quickly told, but the commentary on them must depend chiefly on their consequences—and the consequences of the Sudan happening are not yet apparent. The new government is politically unrevealed so far, and what fresh relationship may arise between the Sudan and the western world is still unknown. General Abboud may take the stage as a second Nasser to be hissed for a foxy schemer from the galleries of the west, or contrariwise as the golden-haired lad bearing freedom’s banner. For that, we must wait and see.

What is much more to the point is to ask what has happened and why. Briefly to go over recent events, the coup was announced on November 17th. The coalition government of Abdullah Khalil was known to be on its way out. Its two factors, the People’s Democratic Party and the Umma party, were in disagreement over the Sudan’s relations with Egypt: mainly, it is said, over fresh Egyptian plans for the Aswan High Dam made in the light of the proferred Russian loan. The new régime, in which General Abboud holds supreme power, announced itself as working “in the interest of no party or group” but aiming at “the elimination of incompetence and corruption among politicians in general,” with a hint about knowing the way to good terms with Egypt (Manchester Guardian, 18th November, 1958).

This has come in the face not only of Egyptian pressure, however, but also of economic troubles. The Sudan is a cotton-producing country. Eighty per cent of its exports are of cotton (largely to Lancashire), and the present condition of the world’s cotton markets has meant a huge unsaleable surplus, stated by the Observer correspondent in Khartoum to include 48.000 tons left over from 1957. Under the Anglo-Egyptian regime big sums were invested in irrigation projects and plans for government-assisted peasant production to develop the cotton yield, so that the Sudan is dependent always on world prices for its staple crop. Before the war the Sudanese people were considered better-off than the natives of most other colonized parts of Africa; now the country’s economy is in a critical phase without much prospect of improvement.

The growth and the varied outlooks of the Sudanese political parties have come partly through economic development and partly from the patterns set by the fifty-eight years of joint British and Egyptian rule which ended in 1956. The history of this companionate rule is in fact a series of quarrels over who should really rule a country which bordered the Suez canal and enclosed the upper Nile. The existence of pro-British and pro-Egyptian parties comes from this period, when each of the dual rulers tried to create its own body of support in the Sudan. The Umma is descended from the Mahdi’s followers who drove out Turco-Egyptian rule and is thus traditionally anti-Egyptian; the P.D.P., on the other hand, is an offshoot of the National Unity Party which has always seen advantage in alliance with Egypt.

As in all other colonial countries, a powerful vein of nationalism appeared with the vista of economic independence that the development schemes afforded. (It is an irony of imperialism that the leaders of nationalist movements are produced by the imperialists’ own needs for officials, technical assistants and the rest of the new “middle classes” which this stage of economic progress must turn out.) All the Sudanese parties, including the “Socialist” National Unity Party and the Anti-Imperialist Front (the Communists) are shot through with this strong desire for “national independence,” and the new military government lost no time in stating that it did not differ from them. The day after assuming power. General Abboud said his regime would “accept anything it considered in the interests of the country, but would reject anything which might harm its independence and sovereignty.”

The truth is, however, that the Sudan cannot be independent except in the nominal sense of not being any other nation’s colony. The change which has just taken place was forced by external conditions and happenings, and the policies of the Abboud government—even the vague ones which were immediately announced—are bound to be determined almost wholly from outside. The resuscitation of the limping Sudanese economy depends on, more than anything else at the present time, the government’s negotiations with Egypt and (a not-unconnected matter) its success in playing-off America and Russia to attract loans from either or both. On November 30th the Foreign Minister announced that “foreign capital without strings would be welcomed.” and that his government had already taken 15 million dollars' worth of foreign exchange from America (Manchester Guardian, 1st December. 1958).

The outstanding questions between Egypt and the Sudan are the Aswan Dam project and the frontiers. To the Egyptian government the Dam, with its promise of irrigation and electric power, is vital for maintaining the economy (with its already desperate population problem) and making the economy maintain the army. Now, with the promise of Russian aid. it appears within reach, but there must first be agreement with the government of Sudan. From Egypt’s point of view a compliant Sudan would be the answer; Mr. Khalil, indeed, alleged in London last September that there were forces working to this end within the Sudanese government. For the Sudan, on the other hand, agreement can only mean a share in the benefits of the Dam.

What of the Sudanese people? Here, when one asks this question, stands forth a remarkable example of the stupidity and cruelty of commercialism and nationalism. For the Sudanese people are desperately, pitifully poor. In nearly three years of “independence” they have been governed by the National Unity “Socialists,” a coalition, and now the military—and none has made a scrap of difference to their poverty. It is worth pointing out that the Egyptian people have had the same experience: they were poverty-stricken under fat Farouk, and are equally so under Nasser. What have the political pretensions of their government done for them?

Assuming, however, that the building of the new High Dam would lighten these peoples’ burdens, the approaches to it have been made entirely in terms of not those but the rulers’ interests. First, there has to be money—obvious enough, but in itself a condemnation of the entire modern world where the need is pressing, the materials and labour plentiful, yet the fulfilment must wait on the djinn of this idiotic Aladdin’s lamp. When it was offered to Egypt by the West, the offer was based and then foundered on considerations of political advantage in the cold war. Now it appears again from Russia, with similar considerations in view (while a team of “American aid experts ” descends on the Sudan).

Who, then, cares about the Sudanese people? It is not that this or the preceding governments, or the government of Egypt, is deliberately negligent; on the contrary, it would be to the rulers’ benefit to have the support of prosperous and satisfied populations. The Sudan, however, has been pulled into the whirlpool of Capitalist world politics. From a colony in the once-majestic scheme of British imperialism, developed to make its cotton contribution to British trade, it has become another nation forced to struggle for advantage in the pitiless dogfights of world markets and big politics.

The future of the Sudan is bound up in the future of the world. Economic development and political contact have opened the windows for this country on the amenities of modern civilization, hence the nationalism, the reformist politics, and the anxiety to benefit by “getting in” on the bigger powers’ calculated generosity. Ideally, the Sudanese people stand to gain in every way from contact and interchange—in a word, “progress.” But modern civilization is far from ideal. Whatever progress is made will be directed at furthering only the interests of the property-owners of the Sudan: the important thing to recognize about the Abboud regime is that, whatever is said about ending corruption and the rest, this is its prime aim. However good a proportion of the High Dam potentialities is obtained for the Sudan, the sad fact is that the Dam is really wanted as a source of power and profits for the commercial class.

There is no sanity in this. It is not only in the Sudan, but everywhere; this small flare-up illumines a little more of what is going on all over the world. Nationalism and the political game are impediments to genuine productive development, standing in the way of what could be done by man for man—but they are parts of the superstructure of Capitalist society, which limits human activity to what will yield the best profits. The real trouble for the people of the Sudan is the profit system, and the only future which can hold anything worth while for them—and for everyone else—is Socialism all over the world.
Robert Barltrop

Flags of Convenience and the Boycott (1959)

From the January 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

The International Transport Workers’ Federation four-day boycott of “Panlibhonco” shipping began on 1st December. The West German Unions, although they originally voted for the ban, did not in fact support it, following upon a Court award of £30,000,000 damages in a strike case just settled. The Italian Unions refused to take part, and the boycott was ineffective in France where the great majority of the dockers belong to a Communist-dominated union not affiliated to the I.T.F. In Holland, where two-thirds of the dockers are non-union members, the situation was confused. An Amsterdam Court granted port employers an injunction to restrain the unions from joining the boycott. In Rotterdam, however, the Court refused to grant an injunction and the boycott was observed. Japanese supported the boycott in principle, but did not take active measures.

But union members in Britain, the East and Gulf Coasts of U.S., Australia, Belgium and Scandinavia, and in several other countries throughout the world, and the International Petroleum Workers’ Federation, supported the boycott, and by the last day 192 ships were idle. 

What is it all about ?
Many people have become bemused and bewildered and consequently not particularly bothered, because, in spite of the volume of discussion on flags of convenience in the newspapers until the recent boycott, the concern has been regaining the advantages or otherwise from the ship owners' point of view. The recent action by the unions has come as a surprise element of the situation.

Panamanian registration of ships was first invoked in the days of American prohibition to enable liquor to be sold to passengers aboard liners. It was not long before other advantages became known in other countries. Registration was a simple and inexpensive procedure for foreigners; there was no taxation of profits, and owners were not subject to a variety of rules and regulations such as those which had accumulated in maritime countries over the centuries. Some of these were advances won at the cost of great sacrifices by the seamen in the class-struggle with the owners for better conditions and pay. Post-war currency restrictions in the non-Panlibhonco countries have been an additional factor. Above all, American shipowners, by registering ships in Panama, were able to avoid the obligation to ship American crews at (by European standards) much higher wages.

The man who bought the Bank at Monte Carlo
Some of the “Flag of Convenience” owners are public characters and are frequently in the news. Mr. Onassis, owner or controller of a fleet worth an estimated US$300 million, is one of them. According to Time (19th January, 1953) Onassis lunched with Prince Rainier several times and bought him a 137 ft. diesel yacht. The directors of the Casino were kept out of the Palace gates by royal carabinierii and they resigned to make room for Onassis’ representatives. The Casino had been losing money and the Prince was looking for new capital amounting to US$1,000,000. Onassis planned to register ships in Monaco after moving his offices into the Casino building.

Pictures from Ships
His brother-in-law, Mr. Niarchos, also a millionaire shipowner, is another character sometimes in the news. A fairly recent Tate Gallery exhibition of Mr. Niarchos’ pictures gave pleasure to a vast public. He has bought originals of Renoir girls. Degas dancers, Gauguin Tahitans and Van Gogh landscapes at prices which run into tens of thousands. Toulouse-Lautrec’s Aristide Bruant cost him £22,000; Renoir’s Mosque at Algiers, £24,000; Van Gogh’s small Thistles £16,000.

But manoeuvring with “Flags of Convenience” is not Mr. Niarchos’ only occupation—buying pictures such as these is another, for those with American incomes can spend 30 per cent. of their income, tax free, on works of art. provided they are destined for a museum. And during his lifetime he can enjoy them in his own home. Obviously it is more attractive to spend £50,000 on a picture like Renoir’s Girl in a Plumed Hat than to hand the money over to the Inland Revenue. The museum get the pictures when he dies, but he could not take them with him, anyway.

Patriotism—for workers only
For the workers, patriotism is held up as one of the greatest of the virtues, and countless war memorials throughout the world pay tribute to the effectiveness of this teaching. Surely it must be for the workers that the poem, “ My country, ’tis of thee . . . Land where my fathers died . . .” is applicable, for millions of workers have been maimed or killed following the dictates of their ruling-classes. This recalls the story of the monkey who used the cat’s paw to pull his chestnuts out of the fire. But in the case of the Panlibhonco shipowners it seems to be a case of rather “Don’t do as I do, but do as 1 tell you”, for these characters seem intent on finding out ways of not paying taxes to not merely their native country, but to any government at all. How misled are such workers who risk life and limb fighting to protect, or extend the property of their employers, when they themselves own nothing worth fighting for.

The I.T.F. and the Boycott
A statement from the International Transport Workers’ Federation says that the boycott has two main objectives: —
“ Firstly, to draw the attention of governments to the problem and to protest against their inactivity on it. 
“ Secondly, to secure properly-regulated wages and working conditions on all ships flying flags of convenience. We would agree that conditions on board many such ships not under trade union agreements are no worse than on most European-operated ships, and in some cases are even better. But this this largely due to the campaign which the l.T.F. has carried on during the past ten years. There is. in any case, no guarantee that these standards will be maintained, because the crews have no trade union protection at present. Nor do they enjoy the security of employment or the benefits of social legislation which are generally to be found in the traditional maritime countries. What we are trying to do is in fact a straightforward trade union job, the kind of job which unions in all civilized countries have accepted as part of their normal function.”
The Statement later on says:—
" A further very vital aspect of this situation is the question of national defence in time of international emergency. How, for example, can any country claim to exercise effective control over ships which fly the flag of another nation? This is, in fact, a complete negation of the concept of national maritime sovereignty. In any case, as past emergencies have shown only too clearly, the real factor in exercising control over vessels is not their ownership or country of registration, but their crew. Here we would stress that Panlibhonco ships have become a haven for politically undesirable seafarers and others; consequently there can be no guarantee as to how such crews would act in an emergency situation. 
“ The l.T.F. has never adopted such a narrow-minded attitude and has no intention of doing so now. Our campaign is not based solely on the interests of the seafarers, but on those of the community at large—which arc equally threatened.”
Apparently these workers are more patriotic than the shipowners themselves.

Greek shipowners have accused British, Scandinavian and Dutch shipping interests of having inspired the boycott and the Greek Shipowners’ Union, acting on behalf of their co-operation committee of London threatened to lay up ships throwing their crews out of work. About 10 million tons of Greek shipping sails under the flags of Liberia, Panama and Honduras. Almost all the crews on them are Greek.

The owners’ declaration said: —
“ ' It would be obvious to all by now that this boycott . . . is simply one more manifestation of the hostility of certain shipping interests towards their competitors.' Greek shipowners, the declaration went on, already had to face the bitter campaign by owners in the so-called traditional maritime nations, who were frustrated over bureaucratic restrictions and heavy operating costs in their own countries. The l.T.W.F. was inspired by British interests trying to blackmail flags of convenience to give advantage to British and Norwegian shipping which was not threatened by eventual repetition of the boycott.” (Times, 2nd December, 1958.)
The Daily Mail (5th December, 1958) published a feature article written by Mr. Niarchos, who on behalf of the Niarchos Group refuted in detail the charges of the I.T.F. After dealing with working conditions aboard his ships he said this:—
” If international federations of unions are to become concerned in matters of international business and relations between nations, they are assuming a new empire-building role far removed from their original mission of furthering the true interests of their dues-paying members . . . and the handling of genuine union problems will be completely obscured.”
Trade Union action
Trade union action to maintain or improve workers’ living standards commends itself to any Socialist, and particularly when it is international action, for this implies a greater degree of working-class solidarity, and it is this factor which is so encouraging about the boycott. The Capitalist press expressed satisfaction that the boycott was only partial, but it must also be remembered that much of the support which the various workers gave was not to advance their own sectional interests, but that of the seamen generally. The Financial Times in its editorial (2nd December, 1958) said of the boycott:— «
“ It is also international and this use of the international strike weapon could be a precedent for much more undesirable exertions of trade union power.”
We couldn’t agree more, but, of course, although a boycott may or may not serve one section of the Capitalist class, working-class solidarity is liable to be undesirable for the Capitalist class generally.
Frank Offord

Party News Briefs (1959)

Party News from the January 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many branches are continuing to hold discussions after Branch business, and this is proving most successful. Bloomsbury, Camberwell, Chelsea, Islington, Lewisham, Paddington, are a few of the Brancnes which regularly hold discussions. The Swansea and Mitcham Groups also have interesting discussions. This activity is attracting sympathisers to branch meetings, and the informal atmosphere is appreciated by visitors and Party members alike. The next discussion at Bloomsbury Branch is on January 1st, the subject being “Are the Capitalists Cynical? ” Comrade Kilner will open. The following discussion will be on February 4th at 8.30 p.m., Conway Hall, North Room.

* * *

The Socialist Party of Ireland is holding at least two meetings in mid-January, and arrangements are in hand for a speaker from London to visit them to address one of these meetings. Our Comrades in Ireland are few in number, but they carry on a great amount of propaganda and with these meetings in January they hope to create greater interest in the Party case. This they should do if hard work is justly rewarded.

* * *

Paddington Branch is making sure that their meeting at Denison House on Sunday, March 15th, is going to be successful. There is a preliminary reminder elsewhere in this issue and the branch members are anxious that Comrades advertise the meeting well. More details will be given in the February and March “Standards,” but meanwhile this note will enable members to book the date. 

* * *

Have you obtained any new subscribers for the Socialist Standard for 1959? There is still time, and a subscription form is in this issue.
Phyllis Howard

War of Nerves in Canada (1959)

From the January 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the latter part of November much concern was expressed in official and other quarters over the strike of railway shop workers that was to have started on December 1st. No concern at all was expressed over the fact that the workers had been led around by the nose for a year prior to their decision to strike.

The railway unions had expressed their willingness to settle on the terms of a government conciliation board award which provided something less than half the amount originally demanded. In announcing the strike decision, F. H. Hall, chairman of the unions’ negotiating committee said: “The pattern of recent years has been a gradual falling behind industrial wages generally, and even the recommended increase will not halt this deterioration.”

In spite of this, a war of nerves was carried on against the workers. Politicians shook their heads at the potentially sad consequences to the nation, press editorials spoke learnedly about the dangers of inflation, preachers expressed the hope that moderation would triumph, business men talked about being priced out of to protect their living standard are not to be treated lightly

Meanwhile, the government organised a gathering of provincial government representatives and held “hearings” on the advisability of allowing the freight rate increase which the railway companies insisted they must have to meet the demands of the workers. These hearings could have gone on for months, but they were hurried along by the strike deadline, much to the undoubted irritation of the participants. A few days before the strike was to have started the railways were awarded their freight increase and came to terms with the workers.

In prolonging the dispute beyond the expressed willingness of the workers to accept the small change awarded by the conciliation board, the Government no doubt, had an eye to the future. That it hoped for a settlement more favourable to the employers is doubtful, for the unions had repeatedly slated they would not accept less. But another day is coming and the Government no doubt hopes that workers whose nerves are frayed by long months of “negotiations” and offensive propaganda will be less ready to put forward a determined position when the present contract expires. May the actual response be quite different!

In the midst of the railway “crisis” the C.C.F.. in the person of Harold Winch C.C.F.. M.P., from Vancouver. demanded that Prime Minister Diefenbaker be brought back to Canada to take personal charge. The prime minister was on a world tour.

This piece of grandstanding might have provided some comic relief, except for the unpleasant fact that antics of this kind tend to further the attitude that ruling class representatives can approach a conflict between workers and masters from an impartial and altruistic position. Mr. Winch is supposed to be one of the better informed members of the C.C.F. and ought to know this.

However, viewed from the standpoint of the uninformed and impressionable worker. Mr. Winch’s contribution might have been impressive, except for the fact that his own leader, Mr. Coldwell. was also galivanting in the far places.
Jim Milne

"A Property-Owning Democracy" (1959)

From the January 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

But when P.E.P. published a report on this problem in 1952, the authors expressed the view that more than two-thirds of the population could not afford to buy their own houses on even the most generous terms. (Sunday Times, November 2nd, 1958.)

Tuppence Coloured (1959)

A Short Story from the January 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

“ I dunno,” said Mr. Smith, “ every tea time we get bloody rock and roll.”

“ You was young once, dad,” said his sixteen-year-old son, Bill, putting on another record.
“ I was never that young,” snapped Mr. Smith, “ and there’s Mary gawping out of the window as usual. If she spent as much time on her homework as she does that, she might have a chance in the scholarship.”

“Oh, alright, dad,” began Mary; then she broke off, "My! there’s Maggie coming up the steps with one of those dark blokes. Gosh! he looks a real smasher.” “ What, another one! ” said Bill with a grin. "Maggie certainly likes her men colourful.

“Shut up,” said his father. “Listen, Daisy”; he addressed his wife almost accusingly, “This has got to stop. It was only last year, she wasn’t seventeen then, and she got in with that darkie who she used to bring to the door. Then there was that Jamaican she met at the firm’s dance, to say nothing about that West Indian she brought home one Saturday night. It’s a bit thick, you know, and it’s about time we put our foot down.” 

“Well, I don’t suppose she’s going to ask this one up,” said Mrs. Smith mildly.

“ She’d better not,” said Mr. Smith, darkly. “ I’ve nothing against coloured people, but black and white don’t mix, it’s not natural. Besides, if they must leave their own country they can at least keep themselves to themselves when they’re in someone else’s country. The way some of ’em make up to our girls makes me sick.” 

“ Worse than the Yanks, dad? ” asked Bill.

“ Besides,”’ said Mr. Smith ignoring the remark, “ 1 don’t want all the neighbours gossiping. What with Fred Price living in the same house and working at my place, it will be all over the firm. I bet Mrs. Price is looking out of the window.”

At that moment there was two sharp knocks on the street door.

“ Bell’s out of order again.” said Bill, “ I bet Maggie’s worn her finger down, pressing it. Shall I go and open the door? ”

“ No, I’ll answer it,” said Mr Smith.

“ Don’t make a scene, dad,” said Mrs. Smith, but Mr. Smith was already out of the room.

Mr. Smith opened the door, and in the porch with Maggie stood a coloured young man about 25 years of age, dressed in a suit that might have cost anything from £50, upwards.

Then, as Mr. Smith looked, into his line of vision, just beyond his 1938 Austin seven, stood a big 1958 Jaguar.

Mr. Smith felt a little warm and embarrassed.

The young man spoke in a well modulated voice. “I have come back with your daughter, perhaps I ought to explain.” he hesitated for a moment.

Mr. Smith rushed in. “ Don’t explain on the doorstep, come in, we’ve just made a cup of tea.

“ Very well,” said the young man. still a little hesitant. “ I will just lock my car.”

“ What! Got rid of him already.” said his son, as Mr. Smith bounded into the room. “That was quick work.”

“ Get a cup and saucer from the best set.” said Mr. Smith to his wife. “Christ, look at this place, always looks like a pigsty.”

“ But I thought ’’—began the astonished Mrs. Smith.

“ This bloke’s different.” interrupted Mr. Smith, “ you wait till you see him. Actually he’s not really dark, but sort of, off white, like a lot of high class Indians are.”

At that moment there came a tap on the door. Mr. Smith ushered the dark young man in. The family stared. Nobody noticed Maggie as she came slowly into the room and sat down.

Mrs. Smith handed the young man a cup of lea. Mr. Smith offered him a slice of his wife’s home-made cake, which he graciously declined.

“ Mr. Ram Singh,” said Maggie a little awkwardly.

“ Not the racehorse owner’s son? ” said Mr. Smith in somewhat awed tones.

“ I am afraid so,” smiled the dark young man.

“One of his horses is running in the big race tomorrow.” said Mr. Smith, rather proud of his racing lore.

“ Yes,” said the young man. “ and if I may offer a tip off the record, my father thinks it will win."

“ My! ” said Mary, from the window, quite unabashed. “ Never knew Maggie had such posh friends.”

“ I haven’t,” said Maggie. “ 1 have never spoken to Mr. Singh in my life before today, although he has a suite of offices in our block of offices. You see, I was crossing the road and 1 slipped and gave my ankle a bit of twist. Good luck, Mr. Singh swerved or I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale. 1 was going to tell dad downstairs, but he rushed off before 1 had a chance. So,” concluded Mary, “Mr. Singh kindly brought me home.”

“ Oh.” said Mr. Smith.

Mr. Singh handed round some Turkish cigarettes and after a few general remarks he finished his cup of tea and courteously made his departure.

“Who’d have thought of having the son of Jam. Ram Singh up for a cup of tea," said Mr. Smith to the office staff, next morning. “ You could have knocked me down with a feather, and don’t forget to back his old man’s horse. You know, I believe he’d taken a bit of fancy to Maggie. Must say, he had no side, quite the gentleman, treated us like equals.”
Ted Wilmott