Monday, October 3, 2022

Can peace be piecemeal? (1981)

From the October 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

On January 19 this year Harold Brown — the then American Defence Secretary — told Congress that an all-nuclear weapons exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union would kill as many as 165 million Americans and 100 million Russians. Speaking on Radio 4 in March, on the subject of “Home and Civil Defence” Lord Belstead, Minister of State for Home Affairs, told us that if we suffered the sort of nuclear attack which “we think we can expect” between 25 and 40 million people living in Britain would be slaughtered.

By the tone and terms in which some of these statistics are put to us you might have thought they referred to grains of sand, not human beings. The first atomic bomb weighed two kilogrammes — less than five pounds — and was a little larger than a cricket ball. On 6 August 1945 it killed 140,000 people, and has killed thousands since by the delayed effects of its radioactivity. Now, according to the Home Office Manuals, we must expect an attack with weapons of 10 megatons — 10 million tons of TNT — nearly a thousand times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb.

As the recession spreads further into the world economy, a major war is increasingly possible. The relentless grind of the commercial system towards war as the ultimate competition seems to create a horrific sense of inevitability. The Chinese Senior Vice Premier, Deng Xia-o-Ping, has said “a third world war is inevitable but we should adopt measures and policies to postpone its outbreak.” (Guardian, 2/9/80). Apart from channelling colossal resources into equipment for fighting a war the government is busily preparing for an aftermath. A Home Office circular which was only issued to senior local authority officers had this to say under the heading “Disposal of Human Remains”:
When radiological conditions permitted movement, District and London borough controllers should assume that one of the priority tasks for their staff, in areas where survivors were to continue residing, would be to collect and cremate or inter human remains in mass graves . . . the location of the mass graves and the method of disposal would be a local ad hoc decision at the time having regard to the availability of peacetime factories, the location of the bodies . . .
With human society teetering on the brink of unprecedented destruction there is a great clamour of groups opposed to militarism. The groups range from opposition to a particular variety of weapon in a particular district — ‘‘Keep Cruise Missiles out of Middlesex” — to total world disarmament — The World Disarmament Campaign. Prominent among all these groups is the resurrected CND. While many of its members are now born-again Campaigners from the early sixties, the majority in CND are new recruits. Since 1958, when CND was founded, nuclear weapons have become more sophisticated and widespread.

Whether or not the re-born CND suffers from the shortcomings of its predecessor (and most of those are inherent in such a campaign) it will be incapable of achieving its limited aims. It will be Canute defiantly attempting to halt the waves. Weapons are not designed and produced to defend or protect people. They are made to murder and maim. Their production in increasingly destructive designs continues in an organised way irresponsive to mass choruses of indignation and opposition. This is because the weapons of war are an integral part of the way we are currently organising society.

When you examine why it is that the world explodes into war it becomes apparent that until we reorganise the basis of society it will be as necessary to carry on producing armaments as it will be to produce truncheons for policemen and keys for prisons. As society is presently arranged, the means of producing and distributing social wealth (the farms, factories, mills, mines, offices, docks, airlines . . .) are monopolised by a small minority of people. This division, between the small minority who possess most of the wealth but do not contribute to its production and the great majority who possess almost nothing of the social wealth but produce it all, exists as much in state-capitalist nations like Russia and Poland as it does in the West.

Under this arrangement wealth is not produced simply and directly to satisfy human requirements. This creates antagonism between members of the owning class as they compete to capture markets for their commodities, to gain control over sources of raw materials, and to dominate strategic trade routes. The international competition between capitalists is sometimes conducted by negotiations (“business deals”, bribery and threats) at conferences, summits and through diplomatic relations, but periodically such negotiations will break down. At times, although many people may be starving or in need of all sorts of goods, too much will have been produced to be profitably sold and then the competition between the capitalists will intensify as they struggle to dominate fresh markets in order to maintain their level of sales.

The industrial and commercial concerns will expand at the expense of others. The final stage in this sort of competition is war. It is an integral feature of the social process of the profit-system and in trying to gain superiority and bargaining power over one another, sections of the wealth owning class from different countries will have developed for their protection even more barbaric weapons. So long as the working class consent to the privilege and authority of this minority, it will be pointless and rather pathetic for groups (even mass groups) to haggle with governments about which weapons are and are not acceptable for social decimation. CND has taken its place on a long list of morally indignant crusades to ameliorate warfare by opposing each more horrific weapon as it has been invented. Campaigns were waged against making war on civilians, against artillery bombardment of towns, against aerial bombing, against poison gas, the blockade, submarine warfare and napalm bombs. But, of course, warfare is not concerned with welfare and the pleas of the campaigns were ignored by government and military officials.

An appeal to people solely on the basis of opposition to nuclear bombs will yield a membership with a confused mixture of political beliefs, perhaps even a majority of whom have no general opposition to war — like all those from the first CND who went on to support the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign. Again, suggestions that nuclear disarmament and world peace can be accomplished if we are all nice to each other are to be expected from a campaign which does not focus on war in general — the pleasant, “conventional” old-fashioned type — and trace its causes to the property basis of society. Lastly it is worth considering what the results would be if CND did receive overwhelming support in the Labour Party, a manifesto pledging total nuclear disarmament and a weighty back-up of trade union support.

How far would a Labour Government be able to implement such disarmament and how would we benefit if it was successful? To start with it should be remembered that the Labour Party has only ever stood for government with a manifesto to run capitalism which has included plans to spend huge resources on “defence” apparatus. The British atomic bomb was quietly developed under the Labour government of Clement Attlee, whose representative was present at the bombing of Nagasaki, and during the last Labour government 1974-79 the Cabinet agreed to replace the out-moded Polaris submarines with a new Chevaline warhead (guaranteed to destroy millions of “foreign” workers) for the Royal Navy. The cost, which was kept secret at the time, was £1,000,000 but they weren't that hard up for cash, what with the cuts they were making in the social services.

There is an episode in the CND recruiting film, All Against the Bomb, where a Labour councillor tells us that CNDers should be crusading alongside people who were protesting against cuts in the education, housing and health services, to emphasise the awful priorities of the destruction industry over welfare services. The only trouble was that the Labour councillor was having to say this in 1975 when the callous government in office was Labour! Even if you can conceive of a day in the near future when a Labour government tells you it has rid British soil of all nuclear weapons and Michael Foot, recalling images of Chamberlain in 1938 appears on television waving a piece of paper which is a promise from his Military Chiefs of Staff verifying the disarmament, could you then slump back in an armchair with relief at the thought that Britain could never again be involved in a war? Would you trust Foot? Would you trust the Military Chiefs of Staff? Would the Kremlin trust them?

The left-wing and fragmentary “radical” organisations are equally bankrupt of proposals; even their plans for nuclear disarmament are caught between bold statements that “only the overthrow of capitalism will create peace” and a myriad of reform measures that need to be immediately supported so that we can be in a better shape for “tomorrow” when we will begin to enact the revolution. In Big Flame no. 97 (July/August 1981) the paper of the Revolutionary Socialist Organisation Big Flame, the Editorial says that “In Big Flame we’ve always argued that capitalism cannot be transformed little by little by parliamentary means . . .". a following article maintains that one of our main tasks at the moment should be to try and persuade a particular local council not to adopt expensive plans for a post nuclear attack Health Service. Similarly, in Missile Madness, a Socialist Workers Party pamphlet, we are told “we cannot stop with simply aiming to get rid of a single sort of weapon” (p. 27), because as long as capitalism lasts wars will be fought with one sort of horrendous weapon or another, including chemical and bacteriological varieties, while a moment later we are urged to give every support to the divergent escapades of CND whose professed aim is simply to get rid of one sort of weapon.

Some CNDers agree that capitalism is the cause of war but state that although a new social organisation is desirable a nuclear holocaust would prevent the establishment of socialism for ever, and therefore the anti-nuclear movement should be given priority over the movement for socialism. But this argument assumes something which has yet to be substantiated: that CND will be able to prevent a nuclear war. For the anti-nuclear movement to succeed it would need a majority of people in all the major countries to be steadfastly opposed to nuclear weapons and ready to act against their governments if necessary. They would have needed to have shed all nationalistic feelings. Even then nuclear warheads could still be fired, but can anyone imagine that such a trans-national movement of solidarity could be moulded from such a disparate membership. At the moment, the means of production and destruction are the property of a minority, worked by us for their benefit. Only a democratic movement to put these things into the hands of the whole community will ensure a world of peace. Then we can carry out production for human enjoyment, not for profit, and melt down the weapons, perhaps keeping some as relics of pre-civilisation.
Gary Jay

The Troubled Air (1981)

From the October 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Like other industries, the airlines have been hit by the world depression. In addition they have had to face the enormous increase of petrol prices, the undercutting of fares by the Laker Company and, in America, the Air Traffic Controllers’ strike. Also, as in other industries, while some companies are on the verge of bankruptcy, others are still making profits. The nationalised British Airways lost £141 million in 1980 and Pan-Am is expected to lose £50 million this year, but British Caledonian and Laker Airways, and several American companies, are holding their own.

Inevitably the workers have suffered. Pan Am staff in America have accepted a ten per cent wage cut and a freeze on wage increases in 1982 and their staff all over the world, including Britain, are facing a similar demand. British Airways have announced a 9,000 cut in staff and the number is likely to be increased. All the American companies are standing workers off.

Financially hard-hit companies, under pressure from the banks anxious about safeguarding their loans, are being forced to sell assets to raise cash. British Airways is to sell its Victoria Air Terminal site, and has sold, for £80m, two Boeing 747 planes before accepting delivery: Pan Am sold its New York Head Office building for £22m; and its chain of profitable hotels for £265m to the British Grand Metropolitan Company.

Laker Airways also has its problems. It owes £130m to banks and the interest charge (payable in dollars) has risen sharply owing to the fall of the pound against the dollar. The Laker invasion of the market of the established airlines was based on the principle of offering “economy-class” travel, pruned of expensive “luxuries”, at an estimated 25 per cent below existing lowest fares, but with each plane carrying a full load, as against the often part empty planes of his rivals. But now Laker is to introduce a new transatlantic “luxury business class” with higher fares — claimed, however, to be comparable to the economy fares of other companies.

Of course the other companies had to cut their fares in competition with Laker or to offer new attractions like Pan Am’s “two seats for the price of one” to anyone who buys a first class return ticket to Miami before 30 September. Now, in face of increased petrol prices and other costs, all air fares are expected to rise. All the companies are waiting hopefully for the passing of the depression to get then out of trouble.

In the meantime the very great number of American internal services and the relatively few flights to and from America were disrupted by the American Air Traffic Controllers’ strike and the Government’s fierce reaction to it.

When a politically stable government, in full control of its armed forces and police, resolutely decides that a vital issue is at stake on which its policy and its own survival depends, it can and will take decisive action without regard to cost. (In 1921 when a combined strike of miners, railwaymen and transport workers was threatened, the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, called the leaders to a meeting and is reputed to have told them that, as the army was disaffected, if the strike took place the Government would resign. Had they considered their next move after that? Their reply is not known, but the miners fought a lockout on their own and were defeated).

In such a situation Trade Unions which contemplate “taking on the Government” can, perhaps, test the matter to find out if the Government really does regard the issue as vital to itself. If not it will quickly make concessions. But the Unions, before they act, have the elementary duty to weigh up very carefully whether the government’s position is such that it is bound to use all its powers to fight the strike. This the American Air Traffic Controllers’ organisation (like the British Civil Service Unions in their recent unsuccessful strike) signally failed to do. They may have been misled by the fact that, in different circumstances, the American post office workers in 1970 did strike with some success against the government, and equally illegally.

The Air 'Traffic Controllers “seriously underestimated the Reagan Administration’s determination to resist its demands”. The Union President, Mr Robert Poli, said in a television interview that his Union “could be accused of miscalculation. I was surprised. I didn’t really believe that they would have taken such harsh action” (The Times, 18 August 1981).

As government employees their strike was illegal and the controllers individually had signed the standard declaration that they would not strike. The government did indeed take harsh action. It gave them a short time to return to work or be sacked and cease to be eligible for re-employment in the government service. It got Court injunctions declaring the strike illegal, freezing Union funds, imposing fines of £55.000 an hour (later reduced on appeal) and putting several officials in jail for contempt of Court.

The government set about keeping the planes flying with Army air traffic controllers and the minority of strikers who returned to work, and started immediately recruiting and training new permanent replacements. The strikers received only expressions of sympathy from other American unions, though some Unions in other countries did, for a time, give help by blacking flights to and from America. Other air line staffs in America, including the pilots, continued at work.

There was chaos and hardship for air passengers for a time, mainly outside America, but by the end of August the Government reckoned that it could hope to maintain some two thirds of its flights until new staffs were trained. There was an obvious danger of air disasters, though the American pilots denied that the risk had been increased.

The American Air Traffic Controllers’ Organisation had last year supported Reagan in the Presidential election, but Presidents (like British Prime Ministers) are not in office to help trade unions but to keep wages down to a level which enables profits to be made. The Traffic Controllers came out on strike to get their average pay increased from the £22,000 a year which was on offer, to £27,000, but also to get their hours reduced from 40 to 32. This latter was probably their main concern because they complain that the excessive strain of work, and the conditions under which it is performed, undermine their health, causing heart disease and premature retirement.

One result of the strike and of the government’s action in planning a cutback of flights to 80 per cent of pre-strike capacity is that the profitability of the airlines inside America will be improved. “At a stroke it will remove the excess capacity which is bedevilling the business”.
This would boost profits because it would mean the airlines would scale back their costs to a level justified by the lower number of flights while the number of passengers and the revenue from ticket sales will stay the same.
(Sunday Times 16/8/81) 
This idiot’s progress of the airlines industry is how capitalism actually operates, as distinct from the smooth efficiency represented in the economic textbooks. For the workers the lesson is that there are no trade union solutions to their problems: at best they deal with effects and place limits on exploitation. Yet the unions everywhere continue their blind support for capitalism in the hopeless belief that they, or their Labour Party allies, can make it operate in the interests of workers.
Edgar Hardcastle

50 Years Ago: The Communists and the Labour Party (1981)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard 

At the 1923 General Election all pretence about ‘conditional support’ was dropped. Now the Communists were not only willing supporters, but were almost lyrical in their enthusiasm for the leaders of the party which they said “was not a Labour Party at all”. MacDonald they had formerly described as a “lackey of the Bourgeoisie”; now they felt so friendly that the Workers’ Weekly (December 7th 1923) affectionately called him ‘Ramsay Mac’. Their local Branch Secretary reported on their activities: 
“We Communists here are doing our best to help Ramsay MacDonald to beat the capitalist candidate”.
The Workers' Weekly described the election campaign as follows:
‘Local organisations of the Communist Party are working for Ramsay MacDonald in Aberavon, Bromley in Barrow, Ernest Hunter of the ILP in Hackney, J.R. Clynes in Manchester and in hundreds of other Constituencies’
(Workers' Weekly. December 7, 1923) 
In Barrow where they were helping J. Bromley, the Labour candidate, their secretary wrote:
“All our illusions and theoretical deductions have been hung out on the clothes line to dry”.
(From an article The Communists and the Labour Party: How Moscow helped MacDonald published in Socialist Standard October 1931.