Sunday, May 29, 2022

50 Years Ago: Doing the Splits (2021)

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

One notable, but not unusual, feature of the splits over the Common Market is that both the big parties are suffering at the same time. This makes it difficult for either of them to adopt the attitude of pious shock which they affect when only the other side is split. Then they can say that such disputes are evidence of their opponents’ irresponsibility. When they themselves are divided on some issue they claim that this goes to show what a lively lot they are, vibrant with debate yet tolerant and united enough to contain the argument and apply it for the benefit of all those voters outside. This is all part of the jolly game of politics.

In this country, it is the Labour Party who have become famous for their splits, very often splashing them into the public eye. This has tended to promote the idea that the Tories are more stable and united but there is some evidence that this is not true. Since the 1929 Labour government, the Labour Party have had only four leaders — Lansbury, Attlee, Gaitskell and now Wilson — and of these Lansbury was never more than a caretaker after the defection of MacDonald. During the same period the Tories have had seven leaders — Baldwin, Chamberlain, Churchill, Eden, Macmillan, Home and Heath — and in almost every case they have changed to the accompaniment of a public dispute.

At the same time, behind those gentlemanly Tory facades, there have been fierce splits over matters of policy. For example, Macmillan was much occupied with persuading his party to move out of the Edwardian (which he was said to personify) and to accept the decline of the British Commonwealth. This seemed to be no more than accepting the obvious and the inevitable, but Macmillan was bitterly fought by a strong section of the Tories headed by Lord Salisbury, who always looked and spoke and thought like an archetypal Tory backwoodsman. For Salisbury, the final blow was the surrender of independence to Cyprus and he resigned to snipe at the Tories for their policies on the old Empire and to mumble about the shocking treatment being handed out to our kith and kin in Rhodesia.

(Socialist Standard, December 1971)

Editorial: The trade talks in Glasgow (2021)

Editorial from the December 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘A COP26 deal was always going to be a messy business, if world trade talks are anything to go by’ commented Larry Elliot, the Guardian’s economics editor (15 November). It was a shrewd observation as trade was the elephant in the conference room. No one referred to it directly but it was at the back of the delegates’ minds.

Global warming has been overwhelmingly caused by the burning of fossil fuels, for transport, heating and generating electricity. The price of electricity is a key cost in manufacturing industry; its price affects all industries in a country, whether producing for the internal market or for export, and so affects its competitiveness. Being uncompetitive is not a situation any state wants to be in as this makes exports more difficult and imports cheaper.

Different countries are in a different position, due to their geography and geology, regarding the cheapest way of generating electricity. None can rely solely on renewable sources. Some have built nuclear power stations. The most used way, however, is still burning a fossil fuel, either coal or natural gas.

Countries which have an internal supply of coal that can be extracted relatively cheaply use that. Such as China and India. Their objection to ‘phasing out’ burning coal was motivated by economic considerations; they didn’t want the competitiveness of their industries to be undermined by having to switch to some more expensive method of generating electricity.

Europe and the US burn natural gas as they have easy access to it, and so have no problem with ‘phasing out’ coal, especially as this puts China and India at a competitive disadvantage. Throw in the economic interest of countries exporting coal, oil and natural gas and COP meetings are indeed indirect trade talks.

Discussions on the liberalisation of world trade have been going on under the auspices of the WTO for over twenty years now, but have not got anywhere. One reason is that it is not a question of agreeing a text, but of making a commitment under international law with sanctions if you break it. COP deals are unenforceable and India and China could have signed up to ‘phasing out’ coal and then not done it. Nobody could have compelled them to comply. The fact that COP meetings are just discussing non-binding commitments is the only reason why a unanimously agreed text called a ‘deal’ can be reached.

Since there is now a general recognition even amongst those running capitalist states that global overwarming is a problem and is due to burning fossil fuels, something will be done to try to mitigate it, otherwise it will cost states more in the longer term. However, because capitalism is divided into states, each defending the economic interest of their enterprises whether private or state, there will never be an agreement on the world plan that is required to effectively deal with the problem. That will only be possible after the end of capitalism, the aim to which the energies of climate activists would be more usefully directed than putting pressure on ‘world leaders’ to do something that capitalism doesn’t let them do.

Not Worth the Paper (1998)

From the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Various treaties exist concerning different types of weapons of mass destruction but all of them contain escape clauses and ambiguous formulations that facilitate routine violations

According to newspaper reports, a number of geologists have suggested that the recent nuclear explosions in India and Pakistan may have triggered an earthquake in northern Afghanistan. Whether or not this is the case, many people are likely to have suffered residual damage from the global wave of hypocritical vibrations which rapidly followed. Unquestionably the decision by the rulers of two such economically troubled countries to engage in a futile and costly nuclear rivalry should be regarded as insanely foolish. Nevertheless, such folly is hardly likely to be constrained by moralising lectures from the very governments who were content to make huge profits supplying the nuclear materials and technologies in the first place. Especially when those same governments continue to pursue their own strategic programmes with single-minded zeal, the US military alone admitting to no less than 1030 tests. Classified documents yet to be released are expected to reveal that there were more.

The posture currently adopted by the senior members of the nuclear club as concerned guardians of the environment, although unconvincing, is perfectly consistent given the demented system of logic they embrace. Not one of them signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty until their own experiments were satisfactorily concluded and greater technical expertise, together with improved computer simulation, rendered further testing unnecessary. At the same time they have all promised under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to strive in “good faith” to halt the nuclear arms race and work towards nuclear and general disarmament. It is a promise that is being cynically betrayed.

One of the few remaining jobs for life in capitalist society is that of disarmament negotiator—an occupation demanding the analytical brain of chess grandmaster combined with the duplicity of a card-sharp. Since the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959 (making the world safer for penguins) a further nineteen have been drafted dealing specifically with nuclear weapons, as well as others concerning chemical, biological, conventional, environmental and—er—“inhumane” weapons. Some are still to be signed or ratified but all of them incorporate escape clauses and sentences sufficiently ambiguous to admit interpretations facilitating routine violations. In any event, should even the most binding agreement become inconvenient, it would simply be ignored. As Richard Perle US Defense Secretary at the time of the Star Wars (SDI) hysteria wrote on 8 October 1982 with reference to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty ” . . . we would not hesitate to renegotiate and failing Soviet acquiescence . . . I hope we would abrogate the treaty”. The examples that follow typify the sort of trickery employed.

Outer space treaty 1967

Article IV decrees: “States Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in Orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner.”

At first sight this seems quite unequivocal but if it were it would never have been sanctioned. During the lengthy discussions prior to signing, a memo to the American Secretary of Defense from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (23 November 1965) stipulated: ” . . . the provisions of this treaty should not preclude the conduct of intelligence activities deemed essential to security.” Nor does it! Significantly the agreement fails to prohibit the launching of nuclear reactor powered satellites and, consequently, there are dozens of nuclear reactors orbiting the globe. Should their deep space disposal boosters malfunction then highly radioactive debris would fall to earth, adding to that already deposited from earlier mishaps in space.

To a disarmament negotiator words seldom mean what they appear to say and Article IV of the OST is no exception. One contention is that it only excludes nuclear weapons if they are intended for mass destruction and would not apply to any positioned in space to intercept missile attacks. This kind of sophistry merely fuels the suspicion that the reality was accurately encapsulated in the famous declaration by Senator Barry Goldwater: “Space is just another place where wars will be fought.” A view that is widely echoed (though not publicly endorsed) by policy makers in the Pentagon. In 1976 a convention was established that required any object being fired into space to be registered by the United Nations. Curiously, it does not demand an independent examination to verify the nature and objective of satellites-an omission that could be construed as ominous.

Non-proliferation treaty 1968

Since coming into force in 1970 (extended indefinitely in 1995) this treaty has been signed by all but five states-India, Pakistan, Israel, Brazil and Cuba-and is widely regarded as the most successful of modern times. But the promise of the nuclear signatories to work for disarmament and not to supply, or assist others to obtain, nuclear weapons has manifestly been broken. The arms race continues and the capacity for other powers to make nuclear weapons has markedly increased. Indeed, after the Gulf War ended in 1991 it was discovered that they were about to be built in Iraq despite the pledge of that government not to do so under the terms of the NPT.

Because of the comparative ease in evading the existing monitoring mechanisms of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a provision was added to the NPT in 1997 granting wider powers of inspection and control. Unfortunately it is only obligatory for the members who voluntarily accept it which, so far, is only a small minority. Yet 60 countries now have nuclear reactors and if the rulers of any one of them decided they needed a nuclear bomb, the NPT could not stop them getting it. Most conveniently, under Article X each party has the right to withdraw at three months notice “. . . if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this treaty have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country”. In certain circumstances, of course, the notice given might be a little less!

Sea bed treaty 1971

This treaty bans nuclear weapons from being fixed to the seabed beyond a twelve mile coastal limit. Its inadequacy becomes immediately obvious if you imagine a similar restriction being applied to aircraft on runways. Unhindered by the treaty an unceasing high-tech war is being waged at sea. In the attempt to counteract the threat of nuclear submarines the oceans has been transformed into a gigantic listening station, with underwater sensors fixed to the seabed, others suspended at different levels up to the surface and still more towed by ships. Smart mines with in-built computers are able to distinguish between the different sounds made by various vessels, while hunter-killer submarines-with their own delicate sensors-patrol in silence, armed with nuclear rockets (SUBROCS) and torpedoes. But whatever expensive or extravagant countermeasures are devised (including the deployment of specially trained dolphins) they can do little to diminish the awesome threat posed by submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). The Trident carrying boats, for instance, are almost 200 metres long and can remain submerged deep below the surface for several months. Each one can deliver nearly 200 warheads with a range of thousands of kilometres and costs in excess of a 100 billion dollars. Trident missiles, already capable of devastation on an unprecedented scale, are currently being updated to make them more efficient. At any given time there are almost two thousand warheads at sea, the majority of them under US command.

Not surprisingly there is a chilling legacy from all this activity. Over three thousand naval accidents have occurred during the nuclear age, leaving eleven nuclear reactors and at least fifty nuclear warheads on the ocean floor. Since they are not “fixed” however, they do not contravene the SBT.

Chemical weapons convention 1993

This Convention which came into force in 1997, requires the destruction of all chemical weapons stockpiles within 10 to 15 years. Although the failure to dispose of old stocks is highly dangerous, the programme is already well behind schedule and despite the considerable powers granted to inspectors under the CWC cheating about production is still possible. One obvious reason is that so many of the chemicals produced for quite different purposes can be used in combination to make weapons. The stockpiles of chemical weapons held in America and Russia are at least 30 thousand tonnes each and both of these governments have authorised the use of chemicals in war and in experiments on civilians.

When a stockpile of nerve-bombs was destroyed by the US in the 1970s they kept the “remnants” in case the “Russians had some” (they did). These “remnants” were theoretically capable of killing 140 billion people. Johnston Island in the South Pacific, previously the target for nuclear test explosions, houses a vast incinerator complex for the disposal of enough chemical waste to kill most of the inhabitants of Earth.

Biological and toxins weapons convention 1972

Signatories agree not to develop, stockpile or acquire “microbial or other biological agents or toxins . . that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes” or “weapons . . . designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict”.

Once again the wordsmiths have displayed their special skill. Here the key phrases are “other peaceful purposes” and “hostile purposes”, leading to repeated claims by Western and Russian governments that they are only producing “antidotes” in their laboratories which is permitted by the Convention. The legitimate use of toxic microbes in the production of vaccines only compounds the difficulties of the highly complex mechanisms for verification, making deception even easier than it is with chemicals. Many governments, including those of Britain, America and Russia are known to have authorised the use of biological agents in war and in experiments upon civilians.

The important thing to remember about treaties is that no government is forced to sign them and, if they do, they cannot be made to keep them. One thing is for sure: for as long as we live in a system in which the protection of minority economic interests is paramount the arms race will continue. Even if the nuclear powers had a genuine desire for disarmament, which they don’t, the cost of disposing of the massive, highly toxic arsenal (100s of billions of dollars) remains. The very size of these arsenals creates another problem-the decommissioning of nuclear reactors will take hundreds of years. The automatic response has been to attempt to solve the problem as cheaply as possible, with scant regard for the environment or the safety of those who inhabit it. Even the penguins are not really safe since the Antarctic treaty does not forbid the presence of “peaceful” nuclear reactors.

While defence expenditure by the major military powers is declining-dramatically in Russia and by over 5 percent annually in the US-weapons research, refinement and development continues to expand. For some projects in the US funds have actually been increased and the current defence budget of the US is still a staggering $242.6 billion. The projection of the present administration is that it will begin to rise again after 2001.

One of the justifications for this is GPALS (Gee, Pals, we can still make a buck or two)-Global Protection Against Limited Strikes. Even if the Start II reduction program is completed on schedule (2003) which is highly improbable, each side would still be entitled to keep 3500 deployed nuclear warheads and the only ones likely to be discarded are those it is no longer considered necessary to keep.

Meanwhile, secret military budgets continue to finance research into a new generation of weapons. Already a huge and fast expanding military-cybernetic complex has been established and experiments of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) as a weapon continue unabated. EMR signals which cause neurological alteration and can induce sickness or death are known to have been beamed upon civilians in both Russia and America. Some scientists believe that transmitting these highly powerful waves may not only cause earthquakes but “airquakes” as well . . .
Richard Headicar

World View: Seychelles: the strategic stakes (1998)

From the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Seychelles comprise 115 islands and atolls scattered over the western Indian Ocean, with Malé the largest island, 1,000 miles east of the Kenyan port of Mombassa. More than 90 percent of the population of 75,000 live on Malé.

The Seychelles were seized as a French colony in 1768, but were captured by Britain in 1794 and were incorporated as a dependency of Mauritius in 1814. They became a separate colony in 1903, achieved internal self-government in 1975, and gained independence as a republic within the British Commonwealth the following year.

Unlike many other British colonies, the Seychelles never had a strong nationalist movement before independence. The first political party, the Seychelles Democratic Party (SDP), was formed by a flamboyant lawyer, James Mancham, in 1963; two years later, another lawyer, Albert René, formed the People’s United Party (PUP). Mancham campaigned for integration with Britain, whilst Rene argued for independence.The SDP was considered to be left-wing, the PUP right-wing. Both were thoroughly reformist.

By the early 1970s, Mancham was persuaded, on advice from Britain, that integration with Britain was not acceptable, as it would not be tolerated by the former British colonies in East Africa, and would cause friction within the Seychelles. Mancham therefore opted for independence, but demanded that Britain help with the formation of the Seychelles’ security forces.The United States was allowed to construct a nuclear detonation monitoring satellite station on Malé island.

In 1976 James Mancham (who was to be knighted) became President and Albert René became Prime Minister of the newly independent Republic of the Seychelles. Meanwhile Mancham had forged strong links with South Africa and René with Tanzania. Within months of Marcham’s election as president, René began plotting his overthrow.

When, at the beginning of June 1977, Mancham departed for the British Commonwealth Leaders’ Conference in London, René’s supporters, armed with AK-47 rifles and accompanied by 500 Tanzanian soldiers who had secretly entered the country, seized control of the principal government buildings, including the barracks and the police station in the capital,Victoria, on Malé. It was a walkover. By the following morning Albert René had complete control of the Seychelles.

René became president in place of Mancham. News was strictly controlled by the Ministry of Information; all residents were obliged to register their personal details with the government. President René took extreme precautions to ensure that he was not ousted from power. He initially recruited a small force of Tanzanian troops to protect the principal buildings and then later, acting on advice from his new Defence Minister, he replaced the Tanzanians with an elite detachment of North Korean guards. The Russian embassy increased its staff, of whom some were KGB and GRU officers, to about 50 “diplomats”. In 1979 René introduced a new constitution under which a People’s Progressive Front declared itself to the 23-member People’s Assembly of the Seychelles to be the sole legal party.

There have been numerous attempts to overthrow René and his government. Two plots involving French mercenaries were uncovered, in 1978 and 1979. In 1981 the infamous Mike Hoare, with a group of South African mercenaries posing as a rugby team, planned an attack on the Seychelles, but were pre-empted by the Seychelles security forces. Hoare and some of his men arrived at the airport of Malé but, after a fierce gun-battle, managed to escape back to South Africa.

In 1992, after the collapse of state capitalism in Russia, René recycled himself as a “democrat” and Sir James Mancham was allowed to return, protected by military bodyguards and, it has been alleged, members of the British SAS.

The strategic position of the Seychelles is the main reason why so many governments interfere and try to control the islands. Their value lies in their proximity to numerous trade routes in the Indian Ocean. Moreover, there are more than 80 islands with coves, harbours and mountains that have great military and naval uses. The islanders are mainly concerned with small-scale agriculture and fishing. Many of them, over the last 30 years or so, have been employed in hotels and the ever-increasing tourist industry but, at the moment, due to the recent economic problems across the Indian Ocean to the east, there has been something of a downturn in tourism in the Seychelles as elsewhere.The future is uncertain.
Peter E. Newell

World view: Courting trouble (1998)

From the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

On numerous occasions in recent years, this journal has highlighted the shortcomings of world summits and conferences, revealing just what impotent set-ups they are when it comes to addressing issues of global importance. The Rome Conference, which concluded after five weeks of negotiations, giving preliminary approval to set up an international criminal court pursuing “the worst crimes in the world”, proved to be no exception.

After more than a month of intense debate, representatives of 160 states and 200 NGOs agreed, on 18 July, to a permanent global court charged with investigating and prosecuting crimes of genocide and aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity. On the face of it, however, the newly-formed International Criminal Court (ICC) looks to have a precarious and somewhat dubious future.

While 120 votes for the implementation of the treaty carried the day, there were seven votes against the ICC. Although the vote went unrecorded, those that admitted to an objection were China, the USA and Israel (the latter two, interestingly, have sided alone on countless occasions against majority decisions at the UN). Those strongly suspected of opposition, while keeping schtum about the fact, include Libya, Algeria, and Yemen—the type of company you’d hardly expect the US and Israel to keep!

Many have argued that the ICC is flawed from the start. US Senator Jesse Helms announced it would come into effect over his dead body and US Ambassador, and delegate to the Rome Conference, David Scheffler announced that the US would “actively oppose” the court from its inception (Guardian, 15 July). The US had hoped its military forces would get immunity for their actions overseas, but the conference was having none of it. The US was of course all too aware that past instances of US aggression—the invasion of Panama and Grenada, the bombings of Libya, the mass bombing of Laos and Cambodia etc.—could mean officials all the way up the chain of command being called to account. And it doesn’t take much reasoning to work out why so much hope was pinned on US acceptance of the court—they after all have a bigger say in global affairs than any other country.

Further restraints and loopholes make one wonder why the court was set up at all. The use of nuclear weapons, for instance, is not to be judged a “war crime”—something India’s delegates vehemently argued against—and Gulf states reserve the “right” to use chemical and biological weapons. Suddenly, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s words that “the victims of past crimes and potential victims are watching us; they will not forgive us if we fail” sound hollow.

Whether or not the ICC will ever become operational is anyone’s guess. For one thing, it can only come into existence once the treaty has been ratified by 60 countries and some delegates have suggested this may take up to five years. Undoubtedly, those countries known for their human rights abuses will be reluctant to sign up. Moreover, a further ICC clause means that the court is powerless to act if a crime is committed in the same country as the perpetrator.

One is left wondering why thunderous applause greeted conference chairman Canadian Phillippe’s remarks that “we cannot let ourselves destroy the essentials of an international criminal court that gives hope to the entire world” (Observer, 19 July).

For a century now, the world has tried to codify war—to attempt to bring in etiquette in the art of murder—The Hague (1899 and 1907), Nuremberg and Tokyo (1945-6), Geneva (1949) and up to the tribunals that followed conflicts in Bosnia and Rwanda. Yet for all these attempts at curbing bellicosity, the 20th Century will end with 220 millions having lost their lives through war in the previous 100 years and we will enter the 21st Century with more weapons of mass destruction stockpiled than at any other time in our history.

And would an ICC trial bring the dead back? No. No more than Nuremberg did; no more than Tokyo prevented further atrocities.

Surely those five hot weeks spent in Rome could have been better used finding out what causes war, indeed the cause of other crimes against humanity, looking for the real villain of the peace?

For is the capitalist system not guilty? Does its profit-driven market-oriented logic not cause war? Does it not allow millions to die of starvation while food is destroyed? Does 13 million children dying from curable diseases each year not amount to a genocide? Is global poverty in the face of the means for abundance not a crime against humanity? Yes! A thousand times yes.

And it is we, the world’s working class, all of us victims in some way, who are the jury that must try the present order. For humanity’s sake, we must find capitalism guilty, with no recommendation of mercy.
John Bissett

Goodbye Goldwater s.o.b. (1998)

From the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

I wish to acknowledge my debt to former senator Barry Goldwater, who died recently aged 89. When socialists write about other socialists it is hardly surprising to discover a general tenor of agreement. The rather more difficult trick is to find something in common with someone who appears completely antithetical. For me, Goldwater was just such a person.

Unlike the more usual mealy-mouthed politicians whose opinions are for sale to any multi-millionaire prepared to part with his loose change, the senator staunchly advocated an ideology to which he remained faithful, even though it denied him his ultimate goal, the presidency.

Of course, the libertarian conservatism Goldwater espoused is anathema to socialists. Yet, I maintain that even here there is a recognition of human worth and potential, even if this is seen as being achieved within the restraints of capitalism that deny it. These are basic human aspirations, however perversely expressed, that accord with the socialist case. Those aspirations are important for they are a step to human understanding. How many come to socialism because they perceive humanitarian need and then go on to develop the rational understanding that allows them to analyse the present and advocate the future?

As an enlightened (for the 1930s) employer he introduced a 5-day week, established medical and life insurance for his employees and a profit-sharing scheme. Of course, these are all devices paid for by the labour of those workers and I do not wish to suggest otherwise. However, it does indicate a trend of thought he confirmed on becoming a politician. He vigorously opposed welfare spending, detesting the concept of people becoming dependent upon the state. This is a line of thought socialists can appreciate. Consider the ideological damage done by the false identification of socialism with state charity. What he didn’t do, and this was true of all his politics and business practice, was think things through to their conclusion.

The vendors of various publications from the many stalls in the Leninist stable have very similar aspirations. It’s why so many, particularly young, idealists (and I use the word advisedly) join these misguided groups. They have accepted a basic Marxist analysis of capitalism, but failed to pursue what needs to be done to bring about change. Instead they opt for an advocacy of state capitalism.

Barry Goldwater simply wanted to drop the state from the formulation. It is true he did not profess any Marxist underpinning, but he was avowedly Libertarian. An ambition for freedom is a testimony to human potential. In truth, his ambition was as bound to be frustrated in this respect as was his tilt at the White House. Capitalist economics will have its own way and the radical Conservatism of Reagan (or Thatcher) had little or nothing to do with freedom, not even with free enterprise, no matter how much this was hailed as the official ideology. Trans-national corporations devour individual entrepreneurs as readily as whales swallow plankton.

So even in Barry Goldwater there were latent tendencies towards the betterment of humanity. At a Republican Convention he declared, “Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” A socialist would have to say that there can be no liberty to defend until humanity is liberated from capitalism, but for that to be achieved there can indeed be no “moderation in the pursuit of justice”. To really be libertarian you have to want freedom from exploitation for all and that is not achievable under an economic system that actually depends for its very existence on exploitation. Free capitalism is an oxymoron.

Bombing Russia
My personal debt to senator Goldwater dates back to the early 60s when I was but a wee nipper. He is the first politician who scared the blue blazes out of me. I don’t recall his words, but I do remember that during the 1964 presidential campaign he seemed intent on A-bombing Russia if he won. In the context of the then recent Cuban missile crisis and the pervading feeling that utter destruction was just four minutes away, that sort of thing can bother a little head in the darkest hours of the night. And there, perhaps, the first ill-formed thoughts began develop what would lead to a socialist conclusion. I was relieved when Johnson won: but there again, I did not live in Hanoi. It takes a while to learn it matters not a jot who wins elections, until, of course, everyone wins.

An editorial in the Daily Telegraph (30 May) marking Goldwater’s passing also offered inadvertent succour to those who advocate the socialist cause at a time when so few seem to be listening: “above all, Goldwater proved that electoral defeat need not entail ideological oblivion”. It went on: “what Goldwater did was tell an alternative narrative to the orthodoxies of mid-century America”. What the Telegraph was referring to was the senator’s pursuit of his anti-liberal establishment line throughout the 60s and early 70s.

A real alternative narrative is indeed required, one telling the true story of the twentieth century. The false dichotomy between East and West as if there had been some profound ideological or economic difference between them. Two large-scale wars and countless small ones and the unnumbered workers who’ve been sacrificed in their execution. The development of technology and productive potential that means no-one should be poor or hungry, for satisfaction of need could be the raison d’etre for industry, not profit. Then there would be true “free enterprise”, with everyone able to offer all they can according to their abilities. That is an alternative narrative worth relating.

Commenting on the campaign run against him by the Democrats, the senator is reported as saying, “In fact, if I hadn’t known Goldwater, I’d have voted against the s.o.b. myself.” Politicians misrepresenting other politicians, surely not? Anyway, you son-of-a-bitch farewell and thanks, thank you for all you inadvertently did in helping to create one more socialist and showing in yourself that the merest flicker of a flame of humanity continued to burn-even if you might have used it to set fire to the world, given the chance.
Dave Alton

Letters: Blaming Technology (1998)

Letters to the Editors from the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blaming Technology

Dear Editors,

I read with interest the article on technology in May’s Socialist Standard. The consequences of the industrial revolution have been a terrible disaster for the human race, in fact had it not been for this revolution the need for socialism perhaps would not have arisen. Technology has only provided more and better exploitation. It has destabilised society, making life unfulfilling and subjecting us to the indignities of wage slavery, psychological suffering and starvation in the “third world” and untold damage to the environment by its need for natural resources. For socialists to champion technology seems to me to be a contradiction. One only has to read William Morris’s News From Nowhere to see the need for people to be near to nature. Socialism is not just the redirection of yet more goods towards the working class by yet another set of bureaucrats, but people working hand in hand with nature and the earth, to produce goods for need not a greed which has been fostered by capitalism.
Albert Knox, 

You seem to have got hold of the wrong end of the stick. We weren’t criticising technology as such but the abuse of technology under capitalism. Today, under capitalism where the means of wealth production are owned and controlled by a minority, technology is developed and applied in their interest with the aim of maximising profit. To blame technology, rather than capitalism, for our problems is a mistake which leads to wrong, indeed absurd, conclusions.

The industrial revolution, carried out as it was within the context of capitalism, certainly worsened conditions of many people at the time but it also created the material basis for a socialist society of common ownership and free access to wealth.

It is neither possible nor desirable to abolish industrial technology. Without it we would have to go back to a much harsher form of living. What is required is to change the basis of society so that technology can be developed and applied in the interests of the majority and not for profit.

We are all in favour of humans living in a balanced, sustainable relationship with the rest of nature but, even in the field of ecology and the environment, industrial technology is useful, indeed essential. Renewable energy sources such as solar power, wind power, tidal power and so on all involve the necessary use of quite sophisticated machinery and equipment which we would not be able to make and operate without the technological knowledge acquired since the industrial revolution.

William Morris, incidentally, wasn’t an advocate of abolishing technology. If it has no place in News From Nowhere this was because he wanted to bring out the changed social relationships that would obtain in a socialist society, and it is as an exploration of these relationships as compared with those that obtained under capitalism that his “utopian romance” is to be read. Even so, technology wasn’t entirely absent: there are the “force barges” and “banded workshops”, both powered by a non-identified source of energy (which was, in Morris’s mind, probably electricity which at the time was just beginning to be applied to production, so making it possible to move beyond the steam-from-burning-coal technology he certainly did hate).-Editors.

Reading Marx

Dear Editors,

In your reply to Prof Sakiranjan (Socialist Standard, July), I don’t think that your particular quotation from the Communist Manifesto supports the view that socialism must be brought about democratically.

“The first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, which is the struggle of democracy”, is simply saying that the achievement of democracy (in the Greek sense that the people rule) is dependent on the working class first establishing control over the state, in the place of the capitalist class. This quotation says nothing about how this control is to be achieved.

Your reply implied that the Manifesto uses the word democracy to describe a particular organisational procedure or method, where in fact the word is properly used to describe the possession and exercise of state power. If you are the class holding power, you do see it as democracy in that you can exercise power to further your interests. If you are not the class holding power, you see it as dictatorship, in the sense another class has power and is using it to act against your interests.

If you fail to be clear that “the struggle of democracy” (“the battle of democracy”, depending on the particular version read), has a fundamental class basis which is to establish the power of the working class, “the struggle of democracy” can start to sound abstract, suggesting socialists should be fighting for democratic rights under capitalism as well as for socialism.

In my view, the struggle for rights under capitalism is a reformist diversion from the political task of winning a majority of workers for socialism. Another quotation you use, that the struggle for socialism “is the independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority” describes much better the principle that socialism can only be established democratically and by workers ourselves.
Andrew Northall, 
Kettering, Northants

We are far from sure that the passage in question from the Communist Manifesto bears either the interpretation you say we implied in our reply or your interpretation that it means that the achievement of democracy is dependent on the working class first establishing control over the state.

Of course full, social democracy, in which everyone has an equal say not just on administrative matters but also with regard to the use of the means of production, can only be established by the working class consciously using their control of political power to bring this about. But the context shows that Marx was not talking here about such social democracy (i.e. socialism) but only about political democracy as a form of state with universal suffrage and a sovereign elected assembly. So, what he was saying was that the first step in the workers’ revolution was the establishment of political democracy.

This is confirmed by Engels’s draft of the Manifesto where he answers the question “what will be the course of this revolution?”:
“Above all, it will establish a democratic constitution and through this the direct or indirect dominance of the proletariat. Direct in England where the proletarians are already a majority of the people” (Principles of Communism, Engels’s emphasis).
This was the point of view of the Chartists which Marx and Engels shared. As Marx wrote a few years later, when in exile in England, in an article on the Chartists:
” . . . Universal Suffrage is the equivalent for political power for the working class of England . . . Its inevitable result, here, is the political supremacy of the working class” (New York Daily Tribune, 25 August 1852, Marx’s emphasis).
Marx’s assumption that political democracy would be the equivalent of working class power was clearly based on an overestimation of the degree of class consciousness amongst workers, but at least it showed that he thought that socialism would have to come about democratically-though, as you point out, this was already more than implied in his statement that “the proletarian movement is the independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority”.

You are right on another point too. Marx did not believe that political democracy could be achieved peacefully, not even in England (Marx and Engels identified themselves with the “physical force” wing of Chartism). In fact, the translation as “battle of democracy” or “struggle of democracy” of the original German “die Erkämpfung der Demokratie” is a bit weak. The German means literally something along the lines of “the winning, by battling, struggling, fighting, of democracy”, which would be better conveyed by some such phrase as “the conquest of democracy”. If the English translation had said this (as most other language translations do) then the ambiguity would have been removed, both as to what kind of democracy Marx was talking about and as to how he envisaged it being achieved.

When, later, political democracy of a sorts had been established in some countries, whether by violence or other means, and Marx had had a chance to see how it worked in practice, he was obliged to abandon his earlier naïve assumption that it amounted to placing political power into the hands of the working class. He still held that this was the case, but only potentially, and that it opened up the possibility of the working class winning control of state power peacefully. But he now realised that winning control of political power required a higher degree of class consciousness than he had originally assumed. Political democracy could be used to dupe workers as well as being a means they could use to win power for socialism. Hence his call in 1881—which we wholeheartedly endorse—to transform universal suffrage (i.e. political democracy) from “the instrument of fraud that it has been up to now” into “an instrument of emancipation”.-Editors.

Teaching history

Dear Editors,

As a “time serving” History teacher (I must be serving time as I seem to have so little of it for myself) I have to admit to a certain measure of pique over Paddy Shannon’s assertions (“History as Mystery”, July Socialist Standard). He may well be describing his own unfortunate experiences, but he does not reflect mine.

When I studied History for GCE in the 1960s I was certainly taught about the Chartists. I also knew of the Luddites, extensively studied the nature of late 18th and 19th Century capitalism and the workers’ response, and briefly considered the ideas of Marx along with Adam Smith and Malthus. I was also informed about the 1848 European revolutions as the context for the later Chartist actions.

Thirty years later as a teacher I have recently covered the economics of the feudal system and the early glimmerings of capitalism in medieval towns with Year 7. The second year became quite heated recently when I explained the motivation of Richard Arkwright in terms of profit and how profit is generated through labour. The imperialist manoeuvrings and blatant competition that led to the First World War and the subsequent economic problems leading to the Second have been an important part of Year 9’s work on the 20th Century.

These are a few examples of how the teaching of History, whilst not Marxist, is nothing like the process of mystification the article suggested.
David Alton, 

We are sorry that you got the impression that we think history teachers are time-servers. That was not our intention and in fact was not what the author actually wrote (he was only describing his own particular experience at school). Nevertheless, we take this opportunity to make it absolutely clear that this is not what we think.

We can also accept your point that a history teacher who is a socialist does have some leeway, in some schools at least, to introduce a class rather than a nationalist element into their teaching and that this does happen and it’s a good thing. However, given that we are at present living in a non-revolutionary situation where most people see no alternative to capitalism and think in nationalist terms, this is going to be the exception for the great majority of school students.

In a non-revolutionary period, the ruling ideas, as Marx put it, are going to be the ideas of the ruling class and the school system will inevitably reflect this. Also, given the division of labour within the workforce under capitalism, there are two types of schools for the working class: those turning out workers for routine factory and office work, and those turning out workers for jobs that require a certain amount of critical thinking (engineers, managers, doctors, teachers, etc). The minority who are admitted to the latter type of school will be able to get somewhat less crude history lessons than the majority.-Editors.

Greasy Pole: Twisting the Arm (1998)

The Greasy Pole column from the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

As if they don’t have enough to do already, what with ushering in Blair’s Brave New Britain, some Labour MPs have been forced to agree that they will spend time every week speaking to, or telephoning, local voters. In fact the situation is rather worse than that—the MPs have had to agree in writing—in other words sign a contract—to do this work. Of course they could have refused but that would probably have meant them losing out when it came to support from Labour’s HQ in the next election. One person who was involved in developing the idea of the contracts—which also cover the MPs’ performance in parliament—is Margaret McDonagh, the new General Secretary of the Party whose promotion from deputy general secretary was greeted by Blair, in typical style: “Margaret’s effective, hard working and totally devoted to the party and people we seek to serve,” he raved.

No-one should deceive themselves that the MPs are being encouraged to buttonhole the voters because that is what, as the elected representatives of the constituencies, they are supposed to do. The contracts have so far been forced on MPs for 91 key marginals, which gives a clue to the reason for it all—to make sure that, by fair means or foul, Labour hold on to power at the next general election. This brings to mind the manner in which anxious Tories would once re-assure each other when things were going badly for their government-burbling that actually the government was doing very well; the problem was that they were not doing enough to convince the electorate of their success.

The same dubious motives will be motivating any assessment of how an MP “performs” in the Commons. They will not be judged on how well they grasp the details of any subject under debate or how effectively they speak on it. There will be no gold stars, in McDonagh’s reckoning, for the MP who takes the trouble to delve into the history of previous Labour governments and then denounces the Blair government for serving up the same weary and discredited mess of reforming capitalism so often tried in the past. There will be none for the Member who recalls the attempts of past Chancellors to control the economic weather of capitalism and announces to a packed House that Brown is just another in along list of futile tricksters.

Speeches like that would be effective—unlike most of what is spoken in the Commons they would be based on fact and would incisively use the past to assess the present and the future. But that is not what Labour’s bullies are looking for from their MPs. What they want is a servile adherence to the party line, that Blair’s government are tackling the problems of Britain in the Nineties, that progress is perceptible and with a little patience we shall soon see them successful beyond the wildest dreams. To question that-to act like a thinking, considerate person who wants to deal in reality rather than Blairite fantasies-is a grave offence in the Labour Party.

Dog licences
Some years ago Harold Wilson, when he was having a little trouble with backbenchers who were questioning whether they should support a government which was at war with the unions and trying to hold down wages while it supported the American war effort in Vietnam, muttered about not renewing “dog licences”. Unlike the situation today, nobody took Wilson seriously. It is a measure of how far the Labour Party has travelled towards being a repressive, centralised organ of capitalism that we have a fair idea that MPs who break their “contracts” will suffer-may even be put down. There are, for example, reports that this year’s Labour Conference will be somewhat different from those in the past because it will be designed to virtually eliminate any proper debate. There are several ways for a government to deal with criticism and the Labour leadership is determined that they will not try the one which demands that they face up to it. Their method will be to stifle the questions, to allow only praise and congratulations-all timed to get the maximum possible coverage on TV. This may be boring and trivial—it will certainly not be a debate in any sense of the word but it will serve the interests of the leadership, to erect a public façade of unity and satisfaction.

There are several questions to ask about this. If the Blair government is really so successful, if it is actually transforming capitalism in Britain so that the system is suddenly performing completely out of character—why do they need to obstruct an open assessment and discussion of their performance? Why do they need to suppress any tendency among their supporters to wonder whether everything might not be as wonderful as we are told it is? Why do they need their MPs to behave like robotic toadies instead of intelligent, responsive human beings?

The other questions are about those Labour MPs and members of the party who are, to put it mildly, uneasy about the way Labour is going. For example, one MP recently protested about ” . . . the growing Napoleonic centralist control of the parliamentary Labour Party . . .” Grassroots members are hard put to justify what is happening. It has to be said, first, that these attitudes are unreasonable since there has long been a welter of evidence to indicate that if Labour got back into power they would behave roughly as they are. And that brings us to the next question: if those MPs and party members are so disgruntled with Labour, why are they still members of it? Why do they persist in support of an organisation which they criticise in so bitter and fundamental a way? Why don’t they look at the case for the kind of basic social change which the Labour Party has always opposed?

While they fumble and evade the point, capitalism grinds on. A recent article in the Guardian to mark the 50th anniversary of the Family Service Unit—which struggles to smooth out the roughest of capitalism’s rough edges-stated that in 1965 some 7.5 million people were classified as “poor”, living on an income 40 percent above National Assistance levels. In 1990 there were 18.5 million living at the same level. The publicity about the 50th anniversary of the National Health Service highlighted the fact that, in spite of half a century of this most famous of Labour reforms, the poorer you are the younger you are likely to die and the more wretched your life will be.

Capitalism exploits and degrades its people and in the end it kills them. The miserable sycophants who bend the knee to Blair’s government should reflect on that and on what they do when they so easily sell their support for the approval of their leaders.

More Exploding Diarrhoea from the States (1998)

TV Review from the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

If you haven’t yet seen South Park (Channel Four, Fridays) the chances are you will have read a TV review about it. At the risk of saturating the market, here’s another one.

For the uninitiated, South Park is the most recent in a series of “adult” cartoons designed for television, following on from programmes like BBC2’s Ren and Stimpey and Stressed Eric. It is about as far from Bugs Bunny or The Hair Bear Bunch as you are likely to get. It is violent, coarse, shocking and disturbing in almost equal measure. It is also—at least periodically—rather funny.

Based on school life in a town in Colorado it centres on the bizarre and deranged activities of four young elementary school kids, one of whom gets slaughtered in each episode, hence the show’s catchphrase “Oh my God! They killed Kenny!” The storyline material can be best illustrated with reference to an episode last month when a grandfather of one of the children begged his grandson to kill him and put him out of his 100 year long misery. When the kids decided to string up a cow from and tree and drop it on him (“it’ll look like an accident”) a passing cop in his patrol car stopped to see what was going on. When he saw that he’d disturbed the kids and that they were only trying to kill an old man his response was to tell them to carry on before he drove off.

This illustrates why South Park is one of those programmes you laugh at but then in many ways wish you hadn’t. The effect is similar to laughing at one of Bernard Manning’s better jokes—profoundly unsettling. And every now and then one of the characters will berate another one by telling him he’s “an asshole” because his mother’s “a fucking Jew”. There is an underlying comic subtext to this—such comments are invariably apropos of nothing and designed to show how children (often mistakenly) pick up and use the language of the adults around them. Unfortunately, comic subtext is not always picked up by those watching, let alone those watching late night Channel Four (if in doubt try watching it with a group of young kids to witness the varying reactions and attitudes).

Help! Help! Here come the bores!
There are two standard reactions to phenomena like South Park. The first is the knee-jerk reactionary position of the Daily Mail and the so-called “moral majority”. This sees programmes like South Park as being part of some leftist plot to undermine decent family values, as the work of the devil himself, or even both. Their religious ravings notwithstanding, what escapes those promoting the conservative agenda is that to a large extent these programmes are reflecting what is already going on in society. A healthy society where peace and co-operation reigns is unlikely to produce programmes about young children murdering their grandparents. The sort of society that produces such programmes is a violent and sadistic one, plagued by division, suspicion and generation gaps. In other words, the sort of society that capitalism is.

The other standard reaction to South Park comes from the woolly liberals at the other end of capitalism’s political spectrum. If they see anything wrong or disturbing about such programmes they will justify them on the grounds that they are unlikely to do anybody any harm as they are only TV shows (hey, do you think all the kids are going to go around killing their grandparents now or something?). This is a simplistic view, typical of the left, which fails to understand the reciprocal and reinforcing nature of much of the material emanating from capitalism’s media. This is because while violent and anti-social TV programmes are a reflection of a violent and anti-social society, they are not merely a reflection of this as they have an impact and impetus of their own. No materialist can seriously argue that children exposed to violence and murder on TV every day of their pre-adult lives are not going to be affected by it. They may not immediately go out and start killing old people, but they will have built up a tolerance to violence and a certain perception about how to solve problems that others will not. The economic foundations of capitalism provide the origins of most modern violence, but it is its political structure and media apparatus which provides much of the impetus.

In the episode of South Park already mentioned, Kenny—before he is murdered—contracts an extremely contagious case of “exploding diarrhoea”. Rarely in the history of television has a programme provided such a rich metaphor about its own origins in the jungle of market madness known as the USA, or about society’s future trajectory as it projects heap loads of shit all over the working class. Laugh? I nearly cried.

Party News (1998)

Party News from the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Council by-election
Due to the death of a councillor a by-election is being held in the Bede Ward of South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council on 3 September. The Socialist Party is standing a candidate. Offers of help and further information: North East branch.

Summer School
Over 40 people attended the Socialist Party’s residential summer school on “Marxism Revisited" in Birmingham at the beginning of July. Audio and/or video tapes of the five talks are available for sale. Details from:Tapes Department. (See box on p.18.)

Autumn Delegate Meeting
The Socialist Party's 95th Autumn Delegate Meeting will take place on Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 October, from 10.15am to 6pm both days, at our Head Office. 52 Clapham High Street. London SW4 (nearest Tube: Clapham North). As with all our meetings, this conference of branch delegates to review the work of the executive committee and plan activity for 1999, is open to the public.

For those who wondering what Owen did at the end of SC’s article “Minor Distractions on the Road to Freedom" in last month’s Socialist Standard the answer is that he done us proud. Our apologies for this omission due to a computer error at our printers.

50 Years Ago: Roundabouts (1998)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Between the two wars there was one Labour Government in 1924, and another in 1929/31, followed by a National Government with Ramsey MacDonald as Prime Minister with a coalition cabinet until 1935. These Labour Governments during their periods of office led the workers through such prosperous and happy times that on each occasion when next they had an opportunity to vote they sacked the Labourites, and reinstated the Tories! This story of the hard times suffered by the workers in between the two wars because of Tory mismanagement of affairs is a line of Labourite propaganda churned out with much repetition and emphasis. It must, however, not be forgotten that for three of these years Labour Governments were in office and for a further four years (1931-1935) the Prime Minister was J. R. MacDonald, the former chosen leader of the Labour Party. He and other ex-Labour Ministers, including Snowden, claimed that they were carrying on Labour Party policy as far as the crisis would allow, a plea that the present Government echoes.

Between the two wars the workers have been for many rides on the political roundabout. The main charge may have been a Labourite at one time and a Tory at another, but the workers have still been taken for the same ride on the same roundabout and every time they have come back to the place from which they started.

(From the Socialist Standard,
 September 1948)

Truth (1998)

A Short Story from the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

It sometimes seems to me that most of my life has been spent in conflict with other human beings, and I have recently come to the conclusion that this is not a desirable situation, in fact it can be acutely uncomfortable and so lonely that I once forswore the battle and went around for at least a month wearing a beatific smile on my face and dodging anything I perceived to be potentially controversial. Eventually of course I came to my senses and relapsed into being the argumentative, intolerant woman I really am.

I don’t think it’s genetic. It first happened when I discovered that there was something very wrong with the world. I think the seeds were sown early when my father talked about politics, but there was a time too, when at school I realised that some adults were so stupid that I was tempted to spend as much time as possible disagreeing with what they said. It all began when our class was asked to write an essay called “My likes and dislikes”. My essay was contentious enough but there was a girl in my class called Dorcas (her real name and how could anyone forget a name like that?) who wrote that she disliked lessons at school in general and nearly all the teachers, though fortunately for her she didn’t name names. My essay was read aloud to the class and the listeners either sneered or smiled indulgently but when Dorcas’s essay was read (as an example of how not to write) I was overcome with admiration for her. A mouselike girl, she sat at the back of the class and I had seldom given her a moment’s thought but when I heard her essay I glanced at her and noticed she wore a halo round her head. She was so forceful in what she had to say that I reeled under the power of it, as did the teachers only for different reasons. Poor Dorcas, she was castigated. Oh, so she didn’t like school, they said. So who did she think she was daring to undermine the work of so many good people who strove each day to knock some sense into her thick head? So this was gratitude-people were endeavouring to educate her and yet she had the nerve to say she didn’t like them, didn’t like school. What impertinence. And so on . . . Dorcas who had appeared to be relatively serene while her essay was being read went suddenly white and squirmed, then slumped back in her seat looking utterly dejected. My contempt for adults in general began thus. They didn’t want the truth. They preferred sycophantic little toads.

From that day my conviction grew that people, on the whole, do prefer other people to be nice and agreeable. It makes life so much easier when there is no confrontation. This way we can withdraw into our own little world of safety, secure in the knowledge that we are right. We must be, no-one else disagrees with us. I sometimes think that the biggest compliment we can pay another person is to tell them what we think of as the truth. As long as we don’t overdo it. We all know that truth is not necessarily objective, but there comes a time when to say to someone that “No, I do not share your adoration of the Royal Family”, or “Yes, I am aware of what the suffragettes did for me but I don’t want the vote, thank you”, is recognising that they are worthy of your honesty, and, if it makes them unhappy then you were also made unhappy in the first place listening to their crap beliefs.

Being a socialist always means seeing things from a different perspective, and it also means, if we are forthright, that we must at some time or other upset other people. My family are always telling me that confrontation is often pointless, but while agreeing with them one day, I’m off the next day confronting somebody else.

So I don’t find it at all easy to be nice, and, anyway, when was life ever easy for socialists? We see a world organised in such a way that it offends us and we seek to change it. In the process we challenge other people and so they feel like the teachers who hated Dorcas’s truth. I think of Dorcas from time to time and hope she didn’t draw her head back into her shell after the verbal whacking she got from the fearers of truth. I hope she’s still out there somewhere trying to tell the truth, and I hope it isn’t as painful for here as it sometimes is for me. What about you?
Heather Ball

A Small Victorious War? (1998)

Book Review from the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Chechnya: A Small Victorious War. By Carlotta Gall & Thomas de Waal. Pan 1997.

At most times it is possible for most people to find the capitalist system and its executive branch the state merely an annoyance, dangerous if crossed, a block to what really needs to be done but capable of being avoided or pacified, even of being used to advantage. But it is during crises and especially wars that the brutal and bloodthirsty nature of the state becomes transparent.

Carlotta Gall’s book is a particularly well written account of the background and circumstances behind the recent war in Chechnya and shows little of the slackness that many books by journalists have; clearly she has actually been to the place in question. The author shows what caused the war, its course and the all-too-familiar results, in a humane and non-partisan way.

In ordering the December 1994 invasion, Yeltsin was playing the nationalist card to counter Zhirinovsky. He felt certain of a quick easy victory in order to win the impending elections (one senior adviser is quoted as saying “It is not only a question of the integrity of Russia. We need a small victorious war to raise the president’s ratings”). He managed to gain public enthusiasm for the war by a most astounding misinformation campaign. The profit motive however, was not far beneath the surface—a Russian oil company demanded a stable Chechnya to run its oil pipelines through. On the other side Jokhar Dudayev, the Chechan leader, was unpopular due to economic decline and the state’s unstable political circumstances. Dudayev, the anti-Russian Chechan nationalist (who spoke Chechan badly and was married to a Russian), avoided any possibility of compromise, wanting to preserve his corrupt little fiefdom hoping that defiance would improve his standing.

The irony is that this was by no means a small victorious war. It was not small; one military figure said the number of tanks lost during the battle for Grozny (December 1994 to March 1995) was more than were lost in the Battle for Berlin in 1945. It was also by no means victorious: in August 1996 the Chechens occupied the ruins of the town in a swift overnight operation. The Russian government, fearful of starting another Afghanistan-type conflict, decided to call it a day and withdrew its troops.

The arrogant attitudes of the political leaders to the led are fully exposed in the book. Grachev, the Russian defence (!) minister, said during the height of the war “18 year old boys have been dying for Russia, they have been dying with smiles on their faces and we should raise a monument for them”. The ill-fed, ill-equipped conscript soldiers were less thrilled at the prospect; desertion was rife, insubordination answerable by firing squad. The unpredictable, possibly mad, Dudayev was as bad: as Grozny was in its final death throws he is said to have laughed and said “my mood is excellent”.

As to the result—of the one million population in this state less than the size of Wales over 250,000 have become refugees and 50,000 killed. Grozny, a town the size of Bristol or Edinburgh, was almost completely destroyed by house-to-house fighting and 27,000 of its population killed. As is customary the victorious Russian army ran wild after the fall of Grozny; looting, raping, atrocities, unprovoked massacres and murders of civilians were commonplace. Taught to kill and brutalised by the army life such occurrences always happen when discipline slackens after a “victory”. Perhaps the surprising thing is how amazed some people appear to be when this sort of thing happens.

The war in Chechnya as related in A Small Victorious War gives further proof, if any were needed, of the consequences of war in the modern world, but wars are inevitable while politicians are allowed to play with people’s lives and the desire for profit dictates their policy. In other words, they are an inevitable part of capitalist society.

Notes by the Way: Heroes and Geniuses (1947)

The Notes by the Way Column from the May 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

Heroes and Geniuses

Back in 1918 Mr. Lloyd George told the soldiers that he aimed to build a country “fit for heroes to live in.” The disgusted sufferers in Lloyd George’s post-war Britain were soon telling him bitterly that only heroes could stand it. Mr. Aneurin Bevan, Minister of Health, has now been telling the National Institute of Houseworkers that housekeeping to-day (that means under Labour Government), has to be an art, “ and even sometimes a work of genius ” (Sunday Express, 13/4/17). Of course we are all heroes now, or so we were told during the ‘‘blitzes” by "We can take it ” Mr. Morrison, but how do we stand as geniuses? According to Dr. J. R. Rees, formerly chief psychiatrist adviser, to the army., we don’t shape very well—“nearly 30 per cent. of people in Britain are mentally backward, chronically neurotic or emotionally handicapped” (Sunday Express, 13/4/47).

The truth is that this capitalist bedlam is becoming unendurable even to heroes and geniuses and unless we break out of it soon the human race not only won’t live (as distinct from partly living), it won’t even survive.

America Seeks Democracy (and Oil) in the Middle East
Mr. Chester Morrow (Republican) told the House of Representatives to-day that any failure to approve President Truman’s programme 'will imperil American oil interests in the Middle East.’

"Mr. Morrow, who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said : ‘In the event of future trouble the almost illimitable supply of oil in Arabia will be of paramount importance to our national defence. To protect our national interests, and help to guarantee our security, we must not allow the Middle East to he overrun by the Power whose actions clearly indicate an unfaltering determination to dominate all the world.’ ” —(Manchester Guardian, 27/3/47.)

Flowers for the Funeral of Full Employment

Under the heading "Luxury Labour Exchange has flowers, settees,” the Evening Standard (January 29th. 1947). published a picture of a new exchange at Westminster. "There are no long counters, no queues, no benches at the new Labour Exchange for women . . . Instead, women wait on soft chairs and cushioned settees, are interviewed individually in small cubicles . . . and there are even flowers on occasional tables.” 

Dalton Promised an Age of Plenty

Speaking at Deptford on December 11th, Mr. Hugh Dalton. Chancellor of the Exchequer, said
“ It is true we had to put up with great shortages, but gradually we shall work our wav through the age of scarcity into the age of plenty and abundance is within our reach provided we organise our economic life in the interests of the collective effort, and in the national interest ” (Daily Mail. December 12th. 1946).
Mr. Dalton follows an ancient tradition. It is an old-English custom for Chancellors to promise "plenty.” In the meantime one industry seems to he doing well under Labour Government, the "Millionaire” industry. Since Labour came into power there have been some ten people who have died worth a million or more. The same issue of the Mail reported that Mr. W. J. Yapp, director of Carreras, the tobacco company, "has left a fortune estimated at about £4,000,000.” of which there will still be upwards of £1,500,000 left after payment of death duties.

Workers' Control?
"Lord Dukes—formerly Mr. Charles Dukes, the trade union pioneer—has been appointed a director of the Bank of England for four years.”

"The Hon. Hugh Kenyon Molesworth Kindersley, who has also been appointed a director for four years, is managing director of Lazard Brothers and Company Limited.”—(Daily Mail, 1/3/47.)

The Labour Government and the Idle Rich

Everybody knows that under Labour Government there are many people living in idleness at the expense of the wealth producers, though Government spokesmen profess not to know how many there are.

Back in 1937 when the Labour Party was in the political wilderness and its present leader had time to write books explaining what they would do when they got power, Mr. Attlee wrote:—"It is true that in the Socialist State people will be deprived of the right of living in idleness at the expense of the community . . .”  "The Labour Party in Perspective,” Mr. Attlee, page 143.)

Only a non-Socialist would refer to Socialism as the "Socialist State,” and all Socialists knew that the Labour Party had no intention of depriving the capitalists of the right to live on the proceeds of the exploitation of the working class. There were, however, Labour supporters who believed that a Labour Government would take that step: Had they not heard Labour speakers declaim against the war-time injustice of workers being conscripted while capitalists were left in possession of their property? Remembering this and remembering too how often the Labour Party pledged itself against conscription in peace-time it must be a bitter experience for many Labour supporters to reflect on the fact that it is their party that legislates for conscription in peace-time, and gets it passed with the votes of Churchill and the Tories..

The Usefulness of Henry Ford

The death of Henry Ford, the American motor magnate, whose fortune has been variously estimated nf from £150 million to £200 million. induced Mr. G. L. Schwartz in the Sunday Times (13/4/47) to discuss the usefulness or otherwise of millionares to the community. This is his case for the millionaires: —
"Here is a simple test. Suppose the price of a 20 per cent, all-round rise in the standard of living in this country over the next decade was the emergence of 50 new millionaires, bloated millionaires. if you like . . . Would you advocate foregoing the improvement for the sake of greater equalitarianism? We can quarrel about this, but let us quarrel intelligently.”
At first glance this may look to be a reasonable presentation of the conflict between Socialism and Capitalism, as Mr. Schwartz intends it to be: but only at first glance. It is actually a statement of the division of opinion between those who advocate unrestricted Capitalism and those, like the Labour Party, who advocate legislation to impose high taxation on large incomes, and high duties on fortunes passing at death. Socialists are not in either camp. Our proposition is that Socialism is quite different from and vastly superior to either wav of trying to run Capitalism, the American way or the British Labour Government’s way. In both countries the mass of the population live in constant poverty, in fear of losing their employment, and in fear of losing their lives in capitalism's wars—for wars and crises are just as much part of Capitalism as are millionaires.

So also is unemployment. In the much-quoted article "The Carrot and the Stick” the “Economist” (29/6/46) showed how necessary unemployment is to Capitalism in order to goad the workers into the degree of effort required by the employers. “Provided that no one is unemployed for more than a short time, an unemployment ratio of 5 per cent, is not only supportable but absolutely necessary to provide mobility and elasticity in the economy. Full employment, in fact, will not work without a million unemployed.” Now look at Mr. Schwartz’s assumption in the light of the facts. Note that he places his assumption in the future, why not in the past? If it is a sound assumption it should be true of the past decades as well as the coming ones.

So it now can be restated as ”Suppose there was an all-round 20 per cent. rise in the standard of living in the past decade . . .” Need we say any more than to challenge our economist to prove that British workers are 20 per cent. better off than in 1937, 40 per cent. better off than in 1927, and 60 per cent. better off than they were 30 years ago! We have had lots of millionaires: we have also had two world wars, two major crises, hundreds of strikes and lock-outs, bad housing, under-feeding and all the miseries of unemployment and insecurity.

We think these things are a high price to pay for Capitalism, and we are willing to quarrel intelligently with Mr. Schwartz about it.

Why Daddy Goes Down the Mine 

For a while the Labour Government feared that too many workers were listening to the old refrain: “Don’t go down in the mine daddy.” Then a campaign to popularise the miner’s life was launched, and now recruits are coming in: ”2,000 men join the pits every week ” (Daily Express, 21/3/47). But it isn’t all due to propaganda; that never failing Capitalist persuader, unemployment, is playing its part. “In January, fewer than 800 men a week were volunteering. Now all men under 35 who are out of work for four weeks are being advised to go to the pits ” (Daily Express, 21/3/47).

No More Sneers at Capitalism

Captain Raymond Blackburn, Labour M.P. for King’s Norton, Birmingham, has been in hot water with some of his constituents for a speech he made recently Declaring that an entirely new approach is needed he went on :—
“We in the Labour movement must realise that the export trade is in the hands of private enterprise. We must proudly acclaim its achievements instead of sneering at those who are successful. It is an odd paradox that the success of Socialism in Britain depends in large degree upon the efficiency of private enterprise

“I believe that despite the clear statement of our position in the White Paper and by the Prime Minister in his broadcast we are still heading for disaster. This is not pessimism, but realism.

“It seems impossible that we can survive as a great exporting nation in the years of competition that lie ahead, if there is any substantial reduction in the hours of work in our main industries.—(Daily Telegraph, 24/3/47).
What Captain Blackburn calls an odd paradox is more than that, it is utter nonsense. The success of Socialism has nothing to do with the Labour Party’s ability to run Capitalism. The truth is that the Labour Government is in a jam, as everyone who looked squarely at the facts knew it would be. They promised to give the workers the benefits of Socialism without abolishing Capitalism; to make the wage-earners comfortable, prosperous and contented without getting rid of wage-slavery. Two particular promises were higher wages (without higher prices.), and shorter hours. Now they are damping down on claims for higher wages and shorter hours because they have to make it possible for the Capitalists to get their profits. The Labour supporters who are surprised and horrified at Captain Blackburn’s statement have no real ground for complaint. If they had studied Labour Party literature with care they would have known what was bound to be the outcome of keeping the Capitalist leopard alive and in good health while trying to change its spots.

The Royal Trip to South Africa

Some Labour M.P.s criticised the Royal trip to S. Africa on ground of its cost—altering H.M. “Vanguard” cost £170,000 (News Chronicle, 19/3/47), and others on the ground of its obvious object, that of helping to prop up Smut’s government against his Nationalist rivals.

Mr. Hannen Swaffer, Labour Party supporter, admitted the purpose and that Smuts is “anti-native and an enemy of the trade unions,” but defended the trip.
“The King’s visit to a Dominion where there is a very strong anti-British republicanism may do infinite good to our relations.

“General Smuts is admittedly anti-native and an enemy of the trade unions. But he is a Prime Minister whose friendship for Britain was one of the deciding factors in the war. His loyalty to the Commonwealth will be greatly helped by a tour which, extravagant though may be its circumstance, is a normal part of constitutional procedure.—(People, 9/2/47).

Indian Nationalists and the Trade Unions

Indian workers who supported the Nationalist movement in the belief that the Indian propertied class would behave differently from British rulers in India are soon learning their mistake. The following statement, taken from the journal of the All-India Trade Union Congress relates to a Trade Union Bill introduced by the Interim Government:—
“ Mr. Jagjivan Ram, Labour Member of the Interim Government of India introduced in the Legislative Assembly (Central) on November 1st, 1946, a Bill which claims 'to make provision for the investigation and settlement of industrial disputes ’ but which, in reality attacks the worker’s right to direct action and strike. The Bill not only embodies all the objectionable features of the Trade Disputes Act, 1929, but seeks to incorporate the hated provisions of Rule 81A of the D. I. R banning strikes and thus perpetuate the wartime restrictions on the right of workers to strike so as to practically annul it. He seemed to be in such a great hurry to put this measure on the Statute Book that he moved that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee with instructions to report within a week.—(Trade Union Record,” Bombay, November, 1946).

What Is Prosperity?

Future historians who look back and read to-day’s descriptions of our own age will be puzzled by the restricted meaning applied to the word prosperity. It is usual in the Capitalist Press to apply the term to the propertied class only, and to ignore vast masses of the population. We are told that U.S.A. is prosperous, “the only nation to-day in which a glut of goods threatens disaster"—(Sunday Times, 13/4/47). Farmers and business men are jittery lest overproduction should lead to drastic price cuts and loss of profits, hut this doesn't mean that there aren't millions of poverty-stricken workers who need the products but cannot afford them. The "Economist" (5/4/47) thinks that the situation may be relieved by Government grants “to help local groups provide well-balanced midday meals at cost to all children in school, and free to those whose parents cannot afford payment"

Britain, on the other hand, is said to be a very poor country and Sir Stafford Cripps says: "We can't win through by chiselling and scrounging, by black marketeering or evading our fair share, or by trying to live on the industry of others"—(Daily Herald, 20/3/47.)

Yet the propertied class are living on the industry of others as usual, and doing quite well. The News Chronicle (12/3/47) reported a visit to a small grocery shop in South Audley Street where he saw caviare at £10 10s. a lb., and Truffles at 26s. 6d. a pint as well as other expensive delicacies. The owner of the shop told the reporter “that most of his customers are wealthy and spend lavishly to get what they want." This shopkeeper, by the way "considers the price of his caviare very reasonable. Another West End shop charges £12 12s. a lb."

Spain is another prosperous country, according to Sir. Mont Follick, Labour M.P. for Loughborough. He went to Spain and wrote about it in the Sunday Express (6/4/47). Here are some statements taken from Mr. Follick’s article:—
“Franco has introduced a large variety of reforms that benefit the working classes, though he has quashed their liberty to strike.

"There is no doubt that at this present moment there is extraordinary prosperity in Spain.

“But the working classes are very badly off.

"Everybody feels that something should be done for the working classes, but not a single subsidised house has been built for them, because it it not a business proposition to do so."
If we are to take Mr. Follick literally Spain is indeed a remarkable place. It is very prosperous but the workers are very badly off—this in spite of the variety of reforms Franco has kindly introduced for them—and everybody feels that something should be done for them but nobody does anything.

One at least of Mr. Follick's observations has a familiar ring, it is so true of all countries—"A man who has money in Spain has a life of luxury."

The Churches and the Dogs

The Churches are worrying about the spread of gambling and religion appears to be fading out. On March 11th the Manchester Guardian published a report of a Churches Committee on gambling which estimates that out of a working population of 20,000,000 16,000,000 bet regularly on football pools, horses or dog-racing. In the same issue of the Guardian the Lord Mayor was quoted as saying that "as few as 5 per cent. of the population of London attended places of worship."

If the figures are placed side by side it appears somewhat odd that the Churches (5 per cent. of the population) should be telling the Government to curtail the waste of man-power on betting, which interests 80 per cent. Mere weight of numbers suggests that the 80 per cent. should call for inquiry into the waste of man-power on religion, in which relatively few are interested. Point is given to this by the recent inquiry about religious knowledge made by the Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth. He examined young recruits in the Navy and found that only one in five could repeat the Lord's Prayer word perfect and only 45 per cent knew what Easter commemorates.—(Daily Mail, 12/4/47.)

Some Labour Party Pronouncements on Wages and Prices
"Maintenance of a high and constant purchasing power through good wages."—(From " Let Us Face the Future," Labour Election Programme, 1945.)

"A Labour Government will co-operate with the Trade Unions to improve wage standards ..." (“Labour's Immediate Programme," 1937.)
Now the unions are being asked to co-operate with the Government in avoiding claims for higher wages.
Edgar Hardcastle