Thursday, September 15, 2022

Rights Act is promise to pay of the bankrupt (2000)

From the November 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
Although Labour has made a big fuss about the Human Rights Act, those rights are subordinated to the interests of the capitalist state
Whenever the Labour government are challenged for their uncanny resemblance to the Tories or for their authoritarian political tendencies, their representatives declaim loudly how they are the government devolving power to Scotland and Wales; that they are the government that has reformed the House of Lords; and that they are the government that has passed the European Convention on Human Rights into British law so that, for the first time in British constitutional history, the subjects of the United Kingdom now have individual “rights”.

Historically, unlike many of the European constitutions (and that of the USA) established in the 18th and 19th centuries, from first principles, under the influence of Rationalist philosophy, the British constitution has not guaranteed “rights” to its subjects. Rather, it has been understood that people were free to do as they chose, so long as no law existed to prevent it: a system, more or less, of negative rights. The documents that the pompous like to trumpet regarding the British constitution—the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights—actually only serve to establish the rights of certain structures of state, specifically Parliament and the monarchy, rather than Universal Rights of Citizens. Traditionally, the concept of “convention” has been elevated against European style constitutional rights.

This line of constitutional thought was first propounded by Edmund Burke, the 18th century dread opponent of the French revolution, whose thought now forms a bedrock of the modern Conservative Party. As against this conservative approach to constitutional evolution, the Labour Party has long had elements within its ranks who have propounded the Enlightenment model of a rational constitution, often terming themselves the progressives. Despite the apparent, and in most cases actual, accommodation to Tory fiscal and economic policies, the rationalist elements have retained enough centrality and strength to enable the Human Rights Act to be passed. This has been largely made possible by the fact that this law will be marginal at best to economic considerations, and has the advantage of presenting a genuine difference in approach between Conservative and Labour.

The Act itself was passed back in 1998, to relatively little attention. Recently, the Tories attacked Cherie Blair for an article of hers discussing the ramifications of its implementation this October, and implicitly attacked the Act itself, as a litigant’s charter. What the Act does is pass into British law the European Convention on Human Rights, a treaty signed up to by Churchill. Although Britain has long been bound by its strictures, it has not been enforceable in British Courts, but only through the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg. The Convention outlines the basic rights to be expected by the citizenry of the signatory countries.

The rights outlined therein are the usual fare of liberal politics—a right to freedom of association and expression; a right to life; freedom from torture; a right to due processes in law. As such it has little to distinguish itself from the fabled American Bill of Rights—save perhaps the absence of a right to silence and of a right to bear arms. A more significant difference, however, is that the terms of the Convention are not laid out in as much an absolute manner as those in America. Article IV posits the “Prohibition of Slavery and Forced Labour.” Within that article, though, subsection 3(b) states that “any service of a military character or, in case of conscientious objectors in countries where they are recognised, service exacted instead of compulsory military service” shall be exempted from the rights. That is, we are to have freedom from forced labour, except . . . er . . . when the states decides that we don’t.

Indeed, the whole Human Rights Act is riddled with exceptions—the rights to freedom of association, to privacy in family life, and to freedom of expression, are all limited by the caveat:
“No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.”
That is: these rights shall not be infringed unless the state wants to. Further, far from being universal, the various political rights are deemed not to be extended to “aliens” by Article 16.

Illiberal agenda
The Labour Government has, simultaneously to the activation of this law, provided us with a stunning example of its contradictoriness (as well as showing Labour’s real illiberal agenda), the appropriately named “Terrorism Act”. The Act defines as terrorism any act of which “the use or threat [of] is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and the use or threat [of] is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause” that (a) involves serious violence against a person; (b) involves serious damage to property; (c) endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action; (d) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public; or (e) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system”—a list of actions that are illegal anyway.

The Terrorism Act limits expression and association. The Act makes it an offence to belong to an organisation engaged in such activities, to materially aid such an organisation, to attend a meeting at which a representative of that organisation speaks (a meeting being defined as either a public or private event at which three or more people are in attendance), or to wear an item of clothing so as to “arouse suspicion of membership”. All of which carry sentences of up to ten years. Further, it is made an offence to not inform on someone for a breach of those sections, an offence which carries a sentence of up to 14 years. The Act makes it illegal to be in possession of information which could be useful for terrorist purposes. To enforce these draconian measures, police officers are able to arrest and detain someone suspected of contravening this Act for up to 7 days before charge.

Although many of the provisions of this Act are old news—indeed, they mostly come from the old Prevention of Terrorism Acts, they do represent a significant new change in that for the first time the Act applies to the whole of the UK, and for the first time is permanent rather than temporary legislation. The limitations it prescribes drive a coach and horses through those given by the Bill of Rights, but are allowed to be justified by the national security exemptions (certainly, British judges are more likely to accept such considerations than the Judges at the European Court, another reason, perhaps, for passing the rights into British law).

Further evidence of Labour’s illiberal tendencies can be seen in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, recently passed. Although intended to provide privacy rights for employees sending e-mails, it also imposes an obligation on firms engaging in e-mail service provision to install equipment in order to enable the security services to intercept e-mail. Further, the Act makes it an offence not to provide an encryption key (such as a password) in order to be able to access systems that have warrants served upon them. This would carry a two year jail term, as compared with the five years the Act imposes for disclosing that an interception warrant has been issued. Unsurprisingly, the businesses have objected to both the privacy provisions and the imposition of the costs involved. Some business groups have expressed concerns with regard to commercial confidentiality and the power of the state to snoop.

“Human Rights” have long been a feature of the capitalist programme. Capitalists’ business needs have required freedom of information flows, freedom of movement, and the freedom to buy and sell labour power. Having experienced the serious effects of arbitrary power on business—in terms of aristocrats refusing to honour contracts, and engaging in forced loans—the capitalist class has always been keen on propounding “the rule of law”. This means, however, that any rights brought about by the capitalist class will always be rights conditional upon the material practice of their class interest, and any abstract rights that get in their way will be overridden or ignored.

“Rights” are an ethereal IOU of freedom that compensates for the absence of practice on the ground. You don’t need a right to silence if there is no agency trying to incriminate you, freedom of speech is meaningless without access to the public space to exercise it. Rights on paper are as meaningless as a bankrupt’s promise to pay, endlessly on offer but never obtainable. In a society that has such utter contempt for human existence, little else is to be expected. Only a society based on the co-operative equal worth of all human beings can guarantee the realisation of that promised human worth.
Pik Smeet

Imagine a world without law (2000)

From the November 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialism will be a society without law, but not without problems
The Law Society of England and Wales represents 76,000 solicitors. At the end of 1999 in the Society’s official poll for “Lawyer of the Millennium” the clear victor was Sir Thomas More the 16th-century Lord Chancellor. In some ways such a result seems unsurprising as More was an eminent lawyer of his day and has been respected by many subsequent generations of lawyers. On the other hand, it can be seen as a little more surprising when you consider that in Utopia, his most famous book, More depicted with apparent approval a society without law or lawyers. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, but lawyers, it seems, are possessed of a little less electoral foresight.

Sir Thomas More’s Utopia
More began writing Utopia in 1515 and it was published the following year. There is academic argument about whether the text should be read as a blueprint for More’s desired future or whether it should be seen simply as a provocative picture designed to generate debate. Either way, it is certainly worthy of our close consideration. Let me quote to you a few extracts. This is Raphael, the traveller who had visited the island of Utopia:
“I don’t see how you can ever get any real justice or prosperity, so long as there’s private property, and everything’s judged in terms of money—unless you consider it just for the worst sort of people to have the best living conditions, or unless you’re prepared to call a country prosperous, in which all the wealth is owned by a tiny minority—who aren’t entirely happy even so, while everyone else is simply miserable” (Penguin, 1961, translated by Paul Turner, p.63).
And again, and this is a theme worth warming to:
“I am quite convinced that you’ll never get a fair distribution of goods, or a satisfactory organisation of human life, until you abolish private property altogether. So long as it exists, the vast majority of the human race . . . will inevitably go on labouring under a burden of poverty, hardship and worry. I don’t say that the burden can’t be reduced, but you’ll never take it right off their shoulders. You might, of course, set a statutory limit to the amount of money or land that any one person is allowed to possess . . . You might make it illegal to buy, or even to apply for public appointment . . . laws of that type would certainly relieve the symptoms, just as a chronic invalid gets some benefit from constant medical attention. But there’s no hope of a cure, so long as private property continues” (p.66)
He goes on later to say that it was better “to provide everyone with some means of livelihood, so that nobody’s under the frightful necessity of becoming first a thief and then a corpse”.

In More’s perfect society there are no lawyers and every citizen was counted a legal expert. Since Utopians needed so few laws the simplest interpretation would always be the right one:
“they think it is better for each man to plead his own cause . . . the point at issue is less likely to be obscured . . . for if nobody is telling the sort of lies that one learns from lawyers, the judge can apply all his shrewdness to weighing the facts of the case”.
In Utopia he also says “they have no lawyers among them, for they consider them as a sort of people whose profession it is to disguise matters . . .” and as for the Utopians themselves he said,
“everyone of them is skilled in their law, for as it is a very short study, so the plainest meaning of which words are capable is always the sense of their laws . . . for it is all one, not to make a law at all, or to couch it in such terms that without a quick apprehension and much study, a man cannot find out the true meaning of it . . .”
Marx and Engels on law
In the 19th century the views of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels included an analysis of the way that law worked. In general it was their view that law was made to serve the interests of a ruling elite. For example consider this view from Engels:
“Laws are necessary only because there are persons in existence who own nothing; and although this is directly expressed in but few laws, as, for instance, those against vagabonds and tramps, in which the proletariat as such is outlawed, yet enmity to the proletariat is so emphatically the basis of the law that the judges and especially the Justices of the Peace, who are bourgeois themselves, and with whom the proletariat comes most into contact, find this meaning in the laws without further consideration. If a rich man is brought up, or rather summoned, to appear before the court, the judge regrets that he is obliged to impose so much trouble, treats the matter as favourably as possible, and, if he is forced to condemn the accused does so with extreme regret, etc etc and the end of it all is a miserable fine, which the bourgeois throws upon the table with contempt and then departs. But if a poor devil gets into such a position as involves appearing before the Justices of the Peace—he has almost always spent the night in the stationhouse with a crowd of his peers—he is regarded from the beginning as guilty; his defence is set aside with a contemptuous ‘oh, we know the excuse’, and a fine imposed which he cannot pay and must work out with several months on the treadmill.” (The Condition Of The Working Class In England).
In some ways, things appear to have changed:
  • Today’s judges, most of whom are younger than Mick Jagger, are proponents of human rights and are against the death penalty
  • The law is sometimes seen to be applied against erstwhile very powerful figures like Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer
  • The 30,000 magistrates of England and Wales are drawn from a wider social band within the working class—witness last year’s poster campaign from the Lord Chancellor’s Department “Have you thought about being a Magistrate?”, depicting ordinary people standing at a bus stop or mending a road
But all these recent changes to the composition of the judiciary are rather superficial and cosmetic.

Protecting the profit system – there will be no need for law in a classless society
The class system, and the chasm between the rich and poor is still here. Look at Bill Gates. As Bill Bryson points out in his marvellously funny book Notes from a Big Country (1998), if you initialled one dollar per second you would make $1,000 every 17 minutes. After 12 days of non-stop effort, you would acquire your first $1 million. Thus it would take you 120 days to accumulate $10 million, and 1,200 days—something over three years—to accumulate $100 million. After 31.7 years you would become a billionaire, but it would still take you over 1000 years of signing a dollar every second to become as rich as Bill Gates.

The bulk of law accepts and promotes the existing set of social relations. It could when you think about it, do no other.

Writing in Theories of Surplus Value, Marx is quite sardonic about what it is that law has actually contributed to civilisation, he notes,
“The criminal moreover produces the whole of the police and of criminal justice, constables, judges, hangmen, juries, etc; and all these different lines of business, which form equally many categories of the social division of labour, develop different capacities of the human spirit, create new needs and new ways of satisfying them. Torture alone has given rise to the most ingenious mechanical inventions, and employed many honourable craftsmen in the production of its instruments.”
There is an absolutely enormous quantity of law (and lawyers) governing our social relations today. And it is growing. There has certainly been a significant increase in the number of lawyers per capita of the general population. In 1968 there were 54 million people in Britain of whom 23,000 were solicitors, whereas today we have a population of 60 million (11 per cent growth) and 75,000 solicitors (44 per cent growth).

The law in the library has also grown considerably over the years. In his inaugural lecture at Oxford in 1883, the distinguished constitutionalist A.V. Dicey noted that even until well into the 19th century it was possible for a person to read the entirety of English law (presumably within the compass of an ordinary adult life). It could be contained in under 200 volumes. Today, an earnest reader would probably need to live for over 600 years to read all law and regulations applicable in Britain.

But, after all, law does confer some advantages on us. Listen to Marx again:
“The effects of the criminal on the development of productive power can be shown in detail. Would locks have ever reached their present degree of excellence had there been no thieves? Would the making of bank notes have reached its present perfection had there been no forgers? Would the microscope have found its way into the sphere of ordinary commerce . . . but for trading frauds? Doesn’t practical chemistry owe just as much to adulteration of commodities and the efforts to show it up as to the honest zeal of production? Crime through its constantly new methods of attack on property, constantly calls into being new methods of defence, and so is as productive as strikes for the invention of machines. And if one leaves the sphere of private crime: would the world market ever have come into being but for national crime? Indeed, would even the nations have arisen? And hasn’t the Tree of Sin been at the same time the Tree of Knowledge ever since the time of Adam?”
Law as propaganda
There are, of course, a great many branches of law, of which Criminal Law is only one. The question sometimes arises as to why this particular area of law plays such a vital part in ordinary public discussions, is covered so extensively by the mass media, and is always high on political agendas? A proposed change to the perpetuity rule in constructive trusts would not usually be the newspaper editor’s choice for a front page banner headline, whereas a relatively small and technical change in the criminal law or procedure (like the current debate about the right to jury trial) is usually presented as a major item of news. The basic reason for this is that criminal law carries a symbolic and propaganda value as well as being the main set of rules to govern public order. Alan Norrie has pointed to the political use to which the criminal law was put in the 19th century, quoting the 1843 Report of the Criminal Law Commissioners:
“The high and paramount importance of the Criminal Law consists in this consideration, that upon its due operation the enforcement of every other branch of the law . . . depends. [And] there is [no branch] which is so capable of being made intelligible to all classes of persons, or which, in its relations and bearings, is calculated to excite greater attention and interest—none, the knowledge of which can tend more effectually to convince all ranks of Your Majesty’s subjects that the laws are founded on just principles.”
The historian Douglas Hay’s Albion’s Fatal Tree (1977) has also looked at the operation of law in a class context. In his account of Criminal Law Processes in 18th-century England it is Hay’s opinion that “criminal law more than any other social institution made it possible to govern the country without a police force or large army”. He looks at the apparent paradox that this century witnessed—both an enormous expansion in the number of capital offences, but at the same time a weak and declining enforcement of the law with frequent acquittals of defendants on technical grounds as well as frequent pardons or commutations of the death sentence.

Contemporary reformers of that time argued to little avail that property could be better protected and crime more efficiently controlled by a more serious commitment to the detection of crime and to certain but graded punishments. This argues Hay, though seemingly irrational, is explicable if we adopt the perspective that the social function of the criminal law was not the management of crime but the sustenance of the moral authority of the gentry and the creation of a complex and richly articulated system of social relationships of personal dependency that constituted the structure of power. The law was important as gross coercion. But it was equally important, he argued, as ideology. It’s majesty, justice and mercy helped to create the spirit of consent and submission, the “mind—forged manacles” which Blake saw binding the English poor.

Not all rules are law
The Soviet jurist Eugene Pashukanis in his work Law and Marxism: A General Theory (1929) developed a theory of law which saw it as arising from commodity relations. He used an example provided by Marx who analysed exchange in terms of the labour theory of value, albeit that the price-form of commodities extends to cover things which do not contain labour or have no economic function at all, e.g. a rare bird. In much the same way Pashukanis claimed that public law relations, for example criminal law between the state and the individual are simply an extension of forms generated by relations between commodity owners, albeit that the contents of such public law relations are less than adequate to this form.

In bringing out the specific character of legal regulation of behaviour, Pashukanis contrasts it with technical regulation by arguing that in the latter, singleness of purpose can be assumed whereas the basic element in legal regulation is contestation—two sides defending their rights.

Pashukanis illustrates the distinction between technical and legal regulation by assigning to the former such a thing as a railway timetable and to the latter a law concerning the responsibility of the railways to the consignors of freight. Those drawing up the timetable assume that all concerned are interested in the smooth running of the service whereas those parties to the freight contract have an eye to such things as who should suffer the consequences if something gets lost.

Pashukanis (who was liquidated by Stalin in 1937), wrote:
“human conduct can be regulated by the most complex regulations, but the juridical factor in this regulation arises at the point where differentiation and opposition of interests begin”.
In a socialist society, critical decisions affecting whole communities will not, as is so often the case today, be made undemocratically by a Board of Directors meeting privately or by some autocratic state committee as in China or Cuba. Decisions will have to be made democratically by anyone in the community who wishes to participate in the process and vote. Everyone will need to have access to any information they require. There will be no separate economic interests, as now, but there will of course be multifarious social interests. Experts and campaigners will disagree. If that sort of debate and progression through the clash of ideas ever ceases, society will stagnate. Some people will favour more rail transport infrastructure and others will be opposed, some will favour one form of energy development while others will disagree. These disputes will need to be democratically settled according to set procedures not dealt with all over society in a sort of random, capricious, chaotic way according to whatever mode of decision-making happened to prevail in a particular area at a particular time.

In order for this to be done reliably, and in a way which allows all citizens the comfort of knowing in advance of any decision how it will be made and how, if need be, it can be challenged, there will need to be rules. Anyone who thinks that all rules, by definition, are bad would need to ask whether he or she would say, if caught in a hotel fire, “bugger the Fire Rules about the procedures to be followed in the case of a fire, I’m not being dictated to, I’m jumping out the 12th floor window”. Rules are not always made by one person or group to oppress another.

A socialist society will have to operate according to rules. There will be lots of them. Who can practise medicine, who can pilot planes, who can drive cars, what procedures will be required to be followed in order to stop an allegedly incompetent person from practising, the procedures for deciding on whether society wishes to build more roads, and the priorities of using resources will all need to be governed by a democratic process which will require rules. A democratic process is not something you can make up as you go along.

Laws are a consequence of a buying and selling society that casts people in oppositional positions. And as Gerrard Winstanley put it in an early observation in 1649:
“. . . we must make use of gold and silver, as we do other metals, but not to buy and sell withall; for buying and selling is the great cheat that robs and steals the earth from one another. It is that which makes some lords, others beggars, some rulers, others to be ruled; and makes great murderers and thieves to be imprisoners and hangers of little ones, or of sincere hearted men” (“A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England”, in The Law of Freedom and Other Writings, ed. Christopher Hill, 1973, p. 101).
Gary Jay

World View: Euro or Krone? (2000)

From the November 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 29 September Denmark awoke to a crisp, sunny day. Various people were nursing hangovers because the result of the previous day’s Euro referendum had been a “no” (53.1 percent—no, 46.9 percent—yes; 85 percent of 4 million eligible voters—turnout).

The Ministry of Finance distributed a (lengthy) booklet to households discussing the euro. TV had live, lengthy debates (where the audience could put questions to the panel) almost every day. There were even TV phone-ins where “Joe Bloggs” could question, e.g. the PM and leader of the Social Democratic Party, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen. Of course the real alternative to the euro didn’t get aired.

The summer months saw the hive of various parties’ activity grow nigh-on exponentially. (The Minority Party turned down a debate with the World Socialist Movement because they were too busy on their anti-euro campaign.) It was intriguing to see how parties, who are opposed to each other, took the same side and often put the same arguments. The most humorous propaganda of the whole campaign, has Holger Nielsen (leader of the Socialist Peoples’ Party) and Pia Kjaersgaard (leader of the ultra-nationalist Danish Peoples’ Party) in a stance parodying the film poster to Basic Instinct. The poster was produced by the (Young) Social Democrats, who urged for a “yes”, just like the Liberal Party (who are more conservative than the Danish Conservative Party, who are like the British Liberal Democrats—confused?). And our old “friends”, the Leninists, were urging for a “no”.

One of the major talking points prior to the referendum was Denmark’s sanctions, now lifted, towards Austria. The Liberals claimed this policy made voters, who were undecided, more inclined to vote “no”. the sanctions were a part of EU policy in the light of Jörg Haider and the Austrian Freedom Party’s electoral successes, where they form part of that country’s government now. As it was, 60 percent of Danes opposed those sanctions (57 percent in Nyrup’s party were against). The Liberals’ argument was fallacious because all sides had people against the sanctions. Political analysts (various sources) noted that the “no” camp was swelling because people found the government untrustworthy, and not because of its sanctions policy.

Statistics from the “Institutet for Konjuktur—Analyse” showed that 61.4 percent said the euro would be good for business, 52.1 percent said a nay would increase unemployment, 45.5 percent said a “ja” would make an independent fiscal policy difficult—33 percent took the opposite view, 73 percent thought a “yes” would lead to a “United States of Europe”, 57.1 percent said the euro was a threat to “Danishness”. And so on.

The statistics are of interest since they give some indication of the views held by Danish workers and Party leaders. (It would be wrong to say that the parties were unified around a “yes” or a “no”.) A few other arguments are worthy of note. The SDP leader Holger Nielsen said a “no” would make it easier for the Baltic states to join the EU. A fringe group, consisting of refugees and immigrants entitled to vote, urged a “yes”; they argued that a “no” would lead to a deterioration in the Welfare State and give fuel to Denmark’s already growing far-right parties. And then there was the notorious argument put forward a few days before the referendum by PM Nyrup: a “no” would force up interest rates and thus cost 20,000 jobs. (In fact the, unaccountable, National Bank director put up the interest rate by 0.5 percent the following day.)

In the statistics above, people argued that an independent fiscal policy would be made difficult by a euro. This is true. A central European Bank would have the control over the issue of euro notes and coin. But for how long? Countries can make agreements but history has shown that each country can and does break agreements or push for amendments, since each country’s government is the executive committee of the collective capitalist class. A European Bank would still have an inconvertible currency (the euro) and could still influence price levels via inflation. A Central Bank could never avert economic crises, which are an inherent part of capitalism, because it is a system of anarchic production.

Control of currency issue and interest rates, high or low exchange rates, etc and what monetary policies are carried out depend on which section of the capitalist class has enough lobbying power. Each party stood for a policy of running capitalism. Capitalism cannot work in the workers’ interests. It’s creed is profit.

The working class should not side with any of our class enemies. It should stand for its own interests—freedom from wage slavery and exploitation; socialism: a society of production for use and free access, where all will contribute according to their abilities.

Despite all the debating and statements and what not through the weeks and months, one thing was patently clear: the basic previous which the politicians based their specious arguments.on were not examined. Thus anybody could say anything without being asked any awkward questions, like “What is money anyway?”, “Why does money exist?” and “I don’t have enough euros, does that mean I’ll have to go without food still?”

As this article has hinted, a certain viewpoint was not addressed at all: socialism. Socialists are against capitalism. This means socialists are for a global union, and not nation states, federal unions or global capitalism. socialists are also not interested in what the name of a currency is, as we are for abolishing money.

The question of “euro or Krone?” was of complete irrelevance, as will be “euro or Pound?” when Britain holds its referendum, to the workers. The real issue is “Capitalism or Socialism?” That is why your humble scribe wrote “World Socialism—Abolition of the Wages System!” on his voting paper.
Graham C. Taylor

World View: Crisis in the Middle East (2000)

From the November 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to Temple Mount on 28 September, with his entourage of one thousand soldiers, was perhaps the final slap in the face for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers who had suffered decades of poverty, degradation and discrimination since Israel annexed the West Bank and Gaza in the wake of a failed Arab invasion in 1967

Like the black South African resistance movement, engaged in a long struggle against white minority rule, the stone-throwing youth of Palestine can perhaps be forgiven for perceiving their struggle to be one against a Middle Eastern form of apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

The statistical injustices which are very much part of the present unrest speak for themselves. Since the start of the Oslo peace process seven years ago, unemployment in some areas stands at 40 percent and the average income per head of the population living in Gaza and the West Bank is $1,500 (compared to $17,000 per head in Israel proper). The Israel/Palestine disparity is also echoed in access to land and water. Whilst Israel has 2.1 million hectares of land, with access to 2 billion cubic feet of water, the West Bank and Gaza share only 0.6 million hectares of land and have access to a miserly 232 million cubic metres of water. When it comes to other serious issues such as health housing and education, it is evident that Palestinian workers are very much second-class citizens.

Moreover, since the Oslo round of talks, Israel has continued with a closure policy which has restricted movement from one part of Palestine to another—a freedom of movement guaranteed under the Oslo and Wye Valley agreements—and has isolated towns and cities in pursuance of their policy of trying to prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.

There is nothing exceptional or unique about the present crisis in the Middle East. For the Palestinian state-in-waiting, it is a familiar tale about conflict over land and resources between an “occupier” and a “subject people”, an occupation deemed illegal by the United Nations under resolutions 242 and 338 which call upon Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories but sanctioned by the world’s only superpower—regardless of the hypocritical cant mouthed by US peace brokers at the negotiation table. As Tim Llewellyn commented in the Observer (15 October):
“The US of Bill Clinton and any foreseeable US of George W. Bush is the friend, mentor, armourer and financier of Israel, advocate, judge, progenitor and saviour of unilateral Israel’s rights and executioner of Palestinian aspirations.”
This is the US which allegedly plays an objective role at the negotiating table, whilst propping up the Israel state to the tune of $4 billion per year—money which is dressed up as aid, which is never accounted for and in breach of US legislation which outlaws the financing of a state with a covert nuclear weapons programme. Hence Senator Pat Buchanan’s remark that “Congress is Israeli occupied territory.”

Increasing lebanisation
The US has invariably steered peace negotiations away from the UN. Throughout his term in office, like his predecessors, Clinton and team have overtly and covertly worked the Middle East peace process to advance US-Israeli interests only.

At the UN, the US has consistently sided with Israel, the two countries almost alone in opposing resolutions censorious of Israeli policy; the two countries siding, in fact, as sole opponents of a myriad pro-human rights resolutions. Little wonder, with so much US support, Israel feels vindicated in invading Lebanon, bombing who and wherever it chooses, restricting the movement of Palestinians, annexing East Jerusalem and building settlements in areas that could only ever frustrate the peace process. In the seven years since Oslo, Israel’s “illegal” settler population in Gaza and the West Bank has increased from 110,000 to 195,000—60 percent of this increase in the West Bank.

Neither would it seem that Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO and heading the Palestine Authority, can deliver the much hankered-after peace. Arafat was the Great Leader that so many Palestinians invested their hopes in, but like all leaders he is at the mercy of those with even more power. In recent years there has been a growing image of Arafat as a puppet of Mossad and the CIA, whose reputation for corruption is not concealed by his life-long struggle against Israeli-perpetrated injustice. Only three years ago, his own accountants were forced to admit that $400 million had gone astray. Out of his current budget, some 60 percent is disbursed by Arafat to his bureaucracy and security forces. Of the remainder only 2 percent goes to infrastructure. While he surrounds himself with a police force of 40,000 (a 33,000 increase since Oslo), prepared to arrest and detain anyone perceived as a threat—union leaders, human rights activists, those militants Israel deems a serious threat to their interests—his régime censoring a press critical of his ideas, and with the Fatah faction and the tanzim militia bent on a pro-Hamas line that Arafat seems reluctant to follow, Palestine is looking increasingly like a dictatorial régime inside a more repressive state in which those with the most to lose are those with the least.

In recent weeks we have witnessed a painful fractioning across the whole Palestine/Israel area. In an increasing “lebanonisation” of the region, both sides of the religious/nationalist divide have organised into militias. Fatah commanders pursue a 1970s agenda of all-out war against Israel, whilst right-wing Jewish extremists refuse to acknowledge the rights of Palestinians in defiance of previous Israeli commitments. Despite the hastily cobbled-together Sharm el-Sheikh deal, seven years after the Oslo round of negotiations and two years after the agreement at Wye Valley that saw the PLO detach itself from its promise to destroy the state of Israel, the prospects of peace seem as distant as ever.

Where socialists stand
So where do socialists stand in all of this? When it comes to the nationalistic zeal and religious fervour of recent weeks, there is nothing at all with which we can identify, for both are abstractions that have imbued the workers of the region with a false consciousness that prevents them identifying their real interests. The labels Jew or Moslem, Palestinian or Israeli do not camouflage the bigger and more permanent label of “working class”, a label most caught up in the present crisis could, if challenged, identify with.

Though we have focused here on the Palestinian grievances against oppression, it is fair to add that the majority of Israel’s Jews are also exploited and degraded and live lives of relative poverty, and within a system that depends on the exploitation of a global majority and their division for its continued survival. As the warring camps in the Middle East continue to vent their hatreds we can only maintain that there is more that unites them as members of that exploited majority, with the same basic needs and desires than can ever divide them along religious or national lines. For the real conflict is yet to be waged—that between ourselves, the exploited, and the master class—though with ideas, not rifles and catapults.
John Bissett

Letters: Who are the cowards? (2000)

Letters to the Editors from the November 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who are the cowards?

Dear Editors,

There could hardly be a better symbol for how governments treat their mass public, than the 306 “cowards”, executed by British authorities during the First World War. Nothing has changed, either. There is no essential difference between the military, flexing its muscles, or the Thatcherite revolution throwing people out into the street, or even a Blairite dogma to “modernise”, but actually preparing everyone and every aspect of life to be merely the plaything of global capitalism. Then, if war is an extension of diplomacy, and business is a substitute for war, all this becomes more understandable, but not defensible, given the catastrophic effects on society’s weaker members.

The incompetent Earl Haig treated his troops as cannon fodder; Thatcher said there is no such thing as society; and Blair’s modernity will expose the unwary to a life of being only a marketing statistic. All these three were, and are, immune to the shock imposed on others less able to defend themselves, by pursuing their social revolutions. They also maintain their advantage, through an elite status. Hence, “deserters”, the dispossessed and disabled, or the incapacitated, are treated by their elected leaders as inferior, and therefore, fair game. These people are losers, and consequently seen by the elite as an embarrassment to their inflated opinion of themselves—and here we have the underlying reason for New Labour’s attitude to voters in wheelchairs: punish them.
Jeffrey Wheeler, 
Nuneaton, Warwicks

The Morgenthau Plan

Dear Editors,

The article “Why war is no accident”, (August Socialist Standard) claimed that “on the eve of allied victory the leaders of the victorious countries accepted a plan drawn up by . . . Morgenthau to de-industrialise Germany” Not so. The Quebec Agreement between Churchill and Roosevelt on proposals to de-industrialise Germany was “initialled” (i.e. agreed to informally) by them on 15 September 1944. Neither Churchill nor Roosevelt had with them their top advisors and there were no representatives present from the Soviet Union, the third of the wartime alliance.

British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and American Secretary of State Cordell Hull were “horrified” by the proposals. Eden recalls in his Memoirs “I did not like the plan, nor was I convinced that it was to our national advantage.” Hull rejected it as being “a plan of blind vengeance.” The American Secretary of War Henry Stimson also strongly opposed it; it was “just fighting brutality with brutality.”

Historians have variously characterised the Morgenthau Plan as being “still-born”, “abandoned”, “pigeon-holed”, “did not…become official policy” and was “never put into effect.”

It was realised that a weak Germany with high unemployment brought about by de-industrialisation would be prey to political extremism (as it had been in the 1920s and 1930s) and liable to fall into the Soviet camp. American policy-makers planned for an “open” Europe of free trade which would be a market for US produce.

It has been suggested that Churchill had been reluctant to go along with the Plan but did so because he was at the time in negotiations with Morgenthau over post-war Lend-Lease arrangements. Britain had been offered $6.5 billion post-war credit and he did not want the promise jeopardised. His claimed that the Morgenthau Plan would leave Britain “chained to a dead body”. Although a de-industrialised Germany would remove an economic rival it would also entail the loss of a lucrative market for industrial goods produced in Britain.

A Germany integrated into a “United States of Europe” would be economically more efficient which would in turn (in the view of the US Department of State Division of Economic Studies at the time) give higher levels of real incomes leading to an increased demand “for imports of raw materials, food, and manufactured articles, of which the United States would be the primary beneficiaries.” (In 1937 Europe had been the destination for 41 per cent US exports and the source of 27 per cent of its imports).

It was these arguments that eventually won the day. Germany was not subject to “ongoing economic attacks” as the launching of the European Recovery Programme (the “Marshall Plan”) in mid-1947 demonstrates.

By 1946 there were an estimated 14 million “displaced persons” (i.e. refugees) in Europe—10 million in Germany (7 million in the Western Zones.) Deaths “may have been anything between 2 and 3 million” according to Hugh Thomas (Armed Truce). In their two volume study A History of West Germany D.L. Bark and D. R. Gress estimate that two million Germans died as a result of the immediate post-war disruptions. It is not clear on what authority the author of the article bases his claim of 5 million deaths and on what evidence it rests.

John E. Farquharson (in The Western Allies and the Politics of Food.) shows that the Allied system of food rationing was a continuation of the German one already in place. Ration allowances were supplemented by theft, forgery of ration documents, barter, recourse to the black market, self supply (e.g. allotments), and additional allowances for those employed in heavy work. In one area of occupied Germany the number of ration cards presented in one accounting period was twice the number officially issued. Less than a quarter of the population of the Western Zones were “normal consumers”, the majority claimed supplements of one kind or another.

This not to say that hunger and malnutrition did not occur, it did. However the “hard” figures represented by official ration issues for calories per day do not represent the true state of affairs. In the circumstances the Western Allies did what they could and it is incorrect to state that the Allies imposed blockade and starvation upon the defeated German nation. We do not need to exaggerate to make out a Socialist case against the pernicious nature of capitalism and its wars.
Gwynn Thomas, 
Colchester, Essex

Thanks for your interesting and useful clarification. The article’s main point was that blockading a rival state is a policy capitalist states are prepared to consider (as the existence of the Morgenthau Plan shows) and to implement (today as in Iraq) regardless of the consequences on the civilian population. And, as your letter brings out well, again as in Iraq, those capitalist politicians who oppose this option do so because they are more interested in export prospects than in the plight of the population. The source of the 5 million figure was the book Crimes and Mercies by James Baque, mentioned in the article.

How I became a socialist

Dear Editors,

In the beginning, way back in the 1960s, I became, in my late teens, a so-called “hippie”. The hippies were a more progressive, creative and imaginative development from the beatniks in the USA—who were basically scruffy, layabouts, poets and artists. I remained in the hippie phase for about eight years, until the early 70s, when I changed my outlook gradually and became, so to speak, politically “radicalised”. I began to support the left wing, and joined CND, voting Labour, attending meetings, and taking part in protests and demonstrations.

By 1979 I grew deeply disillusioned with Labour and rejected its policies and ideology: I was then far-left in outlook. Almost a Trotskyite, in fact. It seemed to me that only a violent mass movement would change society, and that “direct action”, including the general strike and armed insurrection, could and would overthrow the state and ruling class.

This barricades mentality persisted in my mind until the mid-1980s, when I began to study the various “schools” or styles of anarchism. Reading the works of Peter Kropotkin, Michael Bakunin, Errico Malatesta, Emma Goldman, etc, etc. I became a militant anarchist. I was very determined and began fighting the police; even after several jail terms (in which I fought the screws), I persisted and persevered in anarchism. But by 1986, grave doubts and misgivings surfaced; I discovered serious flaws and errors in anarchist theory and practice. My conclusion was that it actually leads nowhere and achieves nothing but more bloodshed and frustration.

So, early in 1986, I abandoned anarchism altogether. A few months later my attention was drawn to some examples of Socialist Party literature. By chance, I came across a few issues of the Socialist Standard. After reading carefully and reflecting on it, I accepted the concept of socialism. Then I obtained some of the works of Karl Marx from a public library—in particular, the Communist Manifesto of 1848.

This really transformed my whole outlook on history, society and politics. Marx profoundly impressed and inspired me in a way no-one and nothing ever had before. Thus, acquiring a Marxist understanding and analysis of capitalism and of how to get rid of it, I became a scientific socialist by the spring of 1986: after which I contacted the Socialist Party, and subsequently joined.

The one thing about the Socialist Party that persuaded me, above all else, to join, was that all its literature is strictly honest, truthful and accurate; also that the party is fully and truly democratic in its organisation and activities. This meant a lot to me: I realised that here was one political party which not only had genuine principles but stuck to them through thick and thin without any compromise or “sell-out”.

So that is how and why I became a socialist, fourteen years ago. I lapsed from membership some time ago—but that is solely due to chronic, incurable disabling illness and my personal circumstances, which make it impossible for me to travel around and attend its debates and meetings. The only sort of contribution I can make is by writing articles and collecting the party’s audio tapes. I also argue the case for socialism with friends and acquaintances—and, occasionally, with strangers I meet in pubs, cafés, etc. (I’ve made a lot of enemies this way!)

Through the years, I have amassed a great deal of vital information on many subjects—including political history, religion, ecology and conservation, anthropology, the history of the socialist movement, and so on—and have written a book on the origins and development of capitalism, comparing it with the only sane alternative, World Socialism. My final draft typescript of this book is now in the possession of the Socialist Party’s archivists. I hope some day that it will be published.

In conclusion, I want to express my gratitude to the Socialist Party for providing me with the understanding and insight I sorely lacked before; and to Karl Marx too, of course: we all owe him a great debt for the tremendous work he did and his great achievements. We can’t all be like Marx, but at least some of us might approach his level of intellect if we make the necessary effort. Marxian knowledge can increase intelligence, I have found: and it produces the “quantum jump” in consciousness among workers everywhere which makes socialism possible. Speed the day!
David E. Finlay, 

Labour history

Dear Editors,

I am writing on behalf of the North West Labour History Group. As part of our work in popularising knowledge of labour history we publish an annual journal and I would like to appeal to your readers for contributions to two forthcoming issues, one on the 1960s to be published in 2001 and one on the 1970s to be published in 2002.

We believe the time has come to examine the radical social, political and labour movement of those decades in the North West. We invite anybody interested in writing an article to contact us in the first instance at: North West Labour History Group c/o Working Class Movement Library, 51 Crescent, Salford M5 4WX.
Michael Herbert, 
North West Labour History Group

The Making of a President (2000)

TV Review from the November 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

What exactly is it that tempts people to stay up until four o’clock in the morning to watch Presidential debates? In the United States they only have to stay up until ten or eleven o’clock, and that is bad enough. Over here BBC News 24 obviously decided to target insomniac political junkies with its coverage of the three US Presidential debates between Al Gore and George W. Bush, and the Vice-Presidential debate between Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney.

While most viewers in the UK were counting sheep, it became apparent soon enough to those that weren’t that the Democrats in the US were clearly counting on George Bush to win them the election. Each debate was preceded by commentators anticipating that Bush would render the US public senseless with laughter through his propensity for malapropisms, mispronunciation and periodic fits of verbal madness. Newscasters even referred viewers to the existence of a web site run by the Democratic Party called Bush Lite, where the Republican candidate’s verbal contortions are on parade for everyone to see. But on each occasion the hopes of the Gore campaign, the TV commentators (and much of the audience, presumably) were dashed as Bush succeeded in mimicking his opponent’s legendary capacity for soporific oratory, with barely a misplaced syllable.

Not once did Bush tell Americans, as he had done previously, that they “ought to make the pie higher”, nor did he encourage parents to protect their children from foul language on TV by “turning the ‘off’ button on”. And neither—luckily—did he, as on a previous occasion when railing against trade barriers, conflate the two words and promise to knock-down “terriers”. Instead, just like his opponent, he was the typical politician—staid but with a folksy edge to give him the necessary “common touch”, evidently overly-ambitious, in possession of a highly selective memory and with an in-built propensity to be economical with the truth at every given opportunity. It was no wonder everyone was waiting for him to slip up.

A Gore draw
There would not, of course, be much justification for the BBC to show this spectacle at all if the pretence wasn’t maintained that there was some real difference between the contenders and that something of importance was at stake. If it was just knockabout stuff and comedy people were after, they could have scheduled it with all the other left-field and experimental stuff on BBC Choice. Instead, the coverage had to be justified in some way, although it is doubtful whether the BBC made a terribly good job of this aspect of it. The two political analysts it had hired for immediate post-debate discussion were, naturally enough, a staunch Democrat and a strong Republican. Naturally too, they were both academics. The sting in the tail was that they happened to be married to each other. Quite why the BBC chose to pick this couple is anyone’s guess but it simply had the effect of reinforcing the very attitude that the BBC was trying to disabuse its viewers of—that there was no major disagreements between the two camps and that the only differences in existence were superficial and cosmetic. Wives and husbands may not agree about everything but this couple certainly created a subliminal image of unity beneath a façade of disagreement (to get a real handle on this, when it comes to marriages between political animals rather than the only vaguely committed, how many dyed-in-the-wool socialists are contentedly married to raving fascists?).

The truth, of course, is that in its coverage the BBC was probably on a hiding to nothing anyway. Few people in Britain have ever taken US elections seriously and they do not show any sign of changing. What is interesting – and what the BBC’s coverage didn’t quite bring out as it might have done – are the parallels between politics in the US and politics as it is now becoming in Britain and many other parts of the Western world. This is a politics based not on differences of ideology, whether real or imagined, but the politics of competing managerial teams. Gore and Bush were like two putative chief executives invited before the board to give their presentations and to expose the other’s perceived weaknesses.

Gore versus Bush was a precursor to what Blair versus Hague will be like if ever such a debate takes place at the next election over here (something which is certainly possible, though at this stage, still unlikely). It will be—as the BBC billed the Presidential debates to be—a battle between gladiators. But they will be, again like their American counterparts, gladiators without a purpose, veritable “soldiers of fortune”, political mercenaries high on ambition but woefully low on content.
Dave Perrin

Sickness and the system (2000)

From the November 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who are drugs and medicines produced for and why are they produced? The rational answer (in a rational scheme of things) would be that they are to prevent or cure illness and promote well-being. However, we live under capitalism and, as we know, this means things don’t work that way. A striking example of the priorities of drug production in the capitalist system was given the Channel 4 programme Unreported World on 22 September.

This programme was about the rising incidence of sleeping sickness, a lethal disease carried by the Tsetse fly, in Sudan. After being almost eradicated during the 1960s this horrible disease is back with a vengeance. The situation is grim and you might be forgiven for thinking this might be because there is no effective treatment. In fact there is. it is known as DFMO. However, it is not an option as it is not being manufactured at an affordable price. In short, no pharmaceutical company is actually producing an existing treatment for sleeping sickness as there would be no profit in doing so. While it is needed desperately this medicine is thus withheld and for the lack of DFMO medical workers are forced to treat people using arsenic, of all things.

Some interesting facts came out during the report. Only one in every hundred drugs is developed for what are known as tropical diseases (diseases, that is, which occur in areas of the world where the majority of humanity lives). Of those that are, apparently many are by-products of different research. As there is seen to be no profit in producing drugs for people and health services who have little or nothing to buy them with the research is just not done. it is known for instance that really effective protection against malaria is a scientific possibility, but that it won’t see the light of day because the research wouldn’t be profitable for drug companies. The breakthroughs which could be achieved if scientific knowledge was not enslaved by the profit system don’t take much imagining.

The sick twist in the tale of sleeping sickness in Sudan was that the only hope of DFMO becoming an affordable treatment for those who need it there is the drug’s other known property—it slows facial hair growth. It is possible that DFMO may be marketed by Gillette as a cosmetic product and that this might lead to the price dropping enough for it to be affordable for the treatment of sleeping sickness. After the heart-breaking sight of a little child in terrible distress being given a spinal tap to see if the disease had entered her brain the truly disgusting nature of the upside-down priorities of capitalism could hardly be clearer. The answer to the earlier question is of course that drugs and medicines are produced with a view to yielding a profit. If people’s needs don’t fit in with this, then so much the worse for us.

During a chat I was having recently my mum, a professional nurse, commented that if people weren’t allowed medicines then what was the bloody point of making them. We were talking about a similar no profit—no treatment situation here in this country: namely working-class people with Multiple Sclerosis being denied access to the drug Interferon due to it being “too expensive”. The same goes for everything else; food, housing, clothes, electrical goods—if people can’t have them then what is the point of producing them? To sell or withhold them in the pursuit of profit as the boss class decides. All that wealth, produce and technology utterly wasted when it could be used for the benefit of us all.

The real question is not about whether we can afford medicine. It is about whether we can afford the profit system and the capitalist class. Whether we live in Sudan or in England, the answer is no. The sooner we get on and dump them the better.
Ben Malcolm